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Santa Goes Diving on Zamami

By: John Chandler

Date Posted: 2000-12-29

It was the Saturday before Christmas. My wife was out doing some of her last minute Christmas shopping and I was getting ready for my second dive in the Keramas just south of the lighthouse on Zamami Island. I don't want you to think that this is just another routine day of awesome diving in the Kerama Islands because conditions were good enough that it would have been great anywhere, on any island in Okinawa, but today it was particularly exciting on Sea Fox. This was our annual Christmas Dive.

So there I was making sure that my NITROX mix was properly entered into my hoseless computer (last year's Christmas gift, and that I had properly loaded film into my Nikonos V (really old) with the new 15mm lens that my daughter had talked my wife into getting me for my birthday, and then on to checking the zippers on my new titanium wet suit to ensure I had a good seal when someone walked up and said "Look at the beach it looks like reindeer walking on the shore." Oh yeah sure Reindeer, I thought. Too much Christmas hoopla for this diver, or maybe she should be a little more careful with Nitrogen Narcosis between dives "Ya think?" But just to humor her I looked up and saw some animals that from a distance on that deserted stretch of white sand beach may have resembled a reindeer to someone really trying to make the stretch. And just to humor her more I told her Santa had probably stopped here on his way down from the North Pole to warm up just a bit before having to hit the cold cities like Chicago, Tokyo, London and New York. What a fantasy all this Christmas stuff is anyway! And anyone who dives the Keramas more than once knows that her reindeer are really wild goats. But her thoughts were cute and what the heck it is Christmas and I do have a lot to be thankful for. My daughter is home from college, most of my family is together and we are all out diving on a great day. So I played along and hummed a few bars of Jingle Bells while everyone else continued to ready their gear for the next dive. There was a certain excitement in the air coming from the fact that everyone had brought presents on board and after this second dive we were all going to play "Dirty Santa." It is a game of exchanging, then re-exchanging, then almost stealing gifts from one another. Sounded like fun to me. So I did my air check, 3400 psi (steel tanks - Father's day present 1999) and I headed toward the back of the boat for final buddy checks. Everyone was wearing these cute red stocking hats and looked like a boatload of Santa's Elves. I dove over the side and into the emerald green waters of Zamami Island.

Now I have been diving for a years and you will learn that as the years pass there are those in diving who will opine that you lose that initial rush of energy and excitement. That DOES NOT happen with me. Every dive is just as exciting as the last and everyone will tell you I NEVER have a bad dive. So with my usual excitement I began my descent in search of Sea Fans, Cuttlefish, and of course my beloved Clownfish that I know have several colonies beneath the boat, or very near the anchor line. I get my bearings while hearing a strange and very low pitch sound. I figured it was the reverb from a distant boat in the channel chugging by. Swimming now toward my favorite colony of clown fish all dressed up in holiday fashion with red and yellow crinoids (those feathery looking little critters that set on top of the coral looking like poinsettia plants) and I heard the sound again. This time three distinct reverbs in a very low tone, but beginning to be very audible. Swimming forward and toward the clown fish that I know set on this mound of coral in the center of this quiet bay I come up and over and see a sight I have never seen in my life underwater. I am not kidding I have never seen Santa Claus underwater before. I have seen him in my dreams, at the mall, in Stars and Stripes and even at the BX/PX but never before have I had to un fog a mask to see Santa Claus hovering near my favorite colony of clown fish. There he sat greeting everyone with a water-muffled "HO HO HO." As soon as I saw this I immediately checked my computer to see if for some crazy reason I have exceeded a nitrogen or oxygen exposure limit, I had not. I cleared my mask again, and looked again and what did I see again? Santa Claus handing out "GOLF BALLS." Now I am anything but a golfer so I certainly did not need a golf ball but if Santa is handing out golf balls then I guess I should get one.

Now dear readers, and faithful friends of diving, if you think I have made any of this up you are wrong. This is an absolute unblemished re-telling of what really happened on 23 December 2000 just south of Zamami Island and I pledge my collection of Nikonos V cameras, all my lenses, and all my SCUBA gear that this really happened. Rich Ruth, owner of FATHOMS DIVE SHOP, working in concert with the owner of the dive boat SEA FOX, worked out a surprise to have Santa, or a diver dressed up as Santa, help the boat load of Japanese and American divers get in the holiday mood for Christmas. The golf balls it turned out corresponded to a gift that was waiting for the divers back on the boat. What a wonderful creation of Rich and the owners of SEA FOX. When I got back on the boat from this mystical second dive everyone had smiles on their faces and laughter in their voices. Some folks had even won door prizes provided by FATHOMS. The divers graciously received a Titanium wet suit, backpacks, and an assortment of diving trinkets during this wonderful Christmas outing.

You cannot go diving without being reminded of what a wonderful world we live in, what wonderful people there are in this world who make diving and living on Okinawa fun, and most importantly the wonderful reefs and clear water made by our Creator for all of us to enjoy. At the end of this day of diving 25 divers loaded up their gear and empty tanks heading back toward Sunabe. All were thankful and thoughtful that this is the season to remember one another, and remember what Christmas, and the Christmas Season is all about.

If you want to see the smiling faces of these divers and get proof for yourself (even if you don't believe me) just log on to www.diveokinawa.com" or www.jwchandler.com and click on the Santa and you will see for yourself that I am not stretching the truth. Santa really did go diving on Zamami! See you at the beach and Merry Christmas. (A special thanks to Mr. RC Smith for these wonderful photographs of Santa and all his helpers)

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