I wish I had someone to give me the answers! I have wanted to have my own dive business since I started diving. I've worked as an instructor in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the UK, and Fiji, returning to the UK to study and work in between.
I have worked for a lot of people and had been fortunate to have seen a lot of different approaches to running a dive business. I somehow convinced my husband to embark on an adventure with me – after an engineering degree, he decided to go for it and so we left the UK together in 2012 to build Nomad Divers, Bangka.
Buying the island
After a month of motorbiking in Cambodia and diving in Thailand, we flew into Manado, North Sulawesi to have a look at some land for sale on the island of Bangka. We spent a week there with the current owner and fell in love with the place.
We then spent a month thinking and negotiating – there was another partner involved who lived in Europe. The land for sale was different from the land originally listed, and there were lots of Indonesian laws and rules that we needed to research and get our heads around before making a decision.
The main thing I loved was that the diving was spectacular; the first day we went diving we saw a group of dolphins playing alongside the boat. I spotted a dugong on my third dive, and we also saw turtles, pygmy seahorses, mantis shrimp, nudibranchs, huge amounts of fish species – it’s just incredible.
From Bangka, you can also reach Lembeh and Bunaken by boat so this would enable us to take our guests to do an even bigger variety of diving!
Bunaken offers fantastic wall diving whilst Lembeh’s world-renowned muck diving speaks for itself. We had considered looking at the diving in Cambodia and Vietnam but knew it would simply not be anywhere near as good.
Speak no English
There were a few basic buildings there already – a restaurant with a kitchen behind it, a dive shack and staff quarters. The water supply came from a well and the electricity supplied by a generator.
The negatives mainly consisted of us having no Indonesian language – although I spoke a bit of Malay and the languages are quite similar – the amount of Indonesian law we needed to learn, and the fact that we have never built anything before!
So we went for it! We just went with the attitude that anything is possible with enough work and determination, so we had to give it a try. For the first month, we were back and forth between Manado and Bangka. It takes around forty minutes by boat and an hour in the car to reach Manado We did this every week at least once or twice.
The first thing we did was to try to price up how much it would cost us: buying the land, what we thought we needed in terms of buildings, a boat, a compressor, equipment, furniture, everything we could think of.
We went to a million shops in Manado pricing up toilets, bed linen, tools, fridges, whilst staying in a little guest house run by a family who spoke no English. With their help, we started to pick up a bit more Indonesian!
Getting at it
Everything really kicked off when we had made our payment and arranged working visas. Our accommodation we found in the highlands around an hour out of Manado.
There are loads of carpenters there who make beautiful wooden bungalows, and we visited one guy and arranged to buy four units. They arrived at the end of January along with twelve carpenters! It took them two weeks to build the first two, and the second two are now complete!
My main role so far has been the scuba marketing and sales of the business, whilst my husband has been overseeing the construction of the facilities. I couldn’t believe how much Indonesian he was learning and was so impressed after a couple of weeks when he was discussing nails, cement, and hammers with our builders! Of course, no-one on the island speaks English so we have had to learn quickly.
I quickly started learning about website design and SEO and different advertising options. With our limited budget, it’s difficult to decide which routes to go down so it’s been a lot of experimentation so far!
The final result
The construction has been a huge learning curve for us – my husband has a degree in mechanical engineering and is very practical and has been brilliant at adapting and looking at things differently.
The guys we work with from the local village have some amazing skills and are always on hand with a smile to advise us how it’s done the local way which is generally better than our original idea!
Our first customers arrive in a couple of weeks and we have quite a lot of finishing touches to complete! I will be mainly sewing curtains, painting and sorting out the dive center whilst my husband is finishing the electrics and overseeing the completion of a million other jobs!
Do you have a dream of opening your own Dive Resort? Follow the build of a dive resort! If you have any questions to Sophie send her a message or leave a comment below!