Monthly Archives: January 2015

  • With Respect to my Bête Noire.

    I have been diving for a very long time indeed. Many years ago, before the term ‘Technical Diving’ was invented, I made a friend of cave diver Rob Palmer and we went diving together. He had some ideas on how diving could be made more adventurous without making it any more hazardous. We used ideas first put forward by Dick Rutkowski of NOAA. This included mixing extra oxygen with our air and even adding helium to it when we thought it gave us an advantage. Of course at that time we had to keep what might have been considered witchcraft strictly secret. The training agencies of the day would have pilloried us. Today those mixtures are called 'Nitrox' and 'Trimix'. We often took a pair of cylinders with us (a twin-set) filled with air but side-slung an extra tank that was as much as fifty percent oxygen so that we could cut short the otherwise onerous decompression-stop times that we needed thanks to the extra depth we went to. Sometimes, toting a massive camera, I preferred to avoid the extra encumbrance of the sling tank and made do with one cylinder of air alongside one of what we know today as a Nitrox mix of, say, thirty-six percent oxygen, both on my back. Rob introduced me to a giant of the diving world, Bret Gilliam. An American, Bret had worked for years as a US Navy diver, photographing nuclear submarines at depth when the only gas available was air. He held a record for the deepest dive on air at 150-metres deep and was and to this day remains one of the most competent divers I have ever known. Rob died later in an unfortunate diving accident (not related to the subject of this story) but Bret and I are close friends to this day, even if he does insist on calling me Mick Fleetwood!

    DSCN3899 Independent twin cylinders.
    Bret was a technical diving pioneer with IANTD and then broke away from it to start TDI with Rob Palmer. Together, they wrote the first books on technical diving. If I am away in a comfortable diving destination such as Bikini Atoll or Truk Lagoon and want to dive a wreck that is just a little deeper than is suitable to use nitrox32 for, I still tend to dive with air and take a second cylinder with a richer Nitrox mix so that, in conjunction with a Nitrox gas-switching computer, I can reduce the mandated decompression-stop time I might otherwise need to endure if I only used air. This is where one gentleman in particular and a few other divers come into the story. My application of a simple rig of two independent cylinders on my back, swapping regulators when I got shallow enough not to exceed the maximum operating depth of the Nitrox, upsets some people because it was never written up in a textbook. Rob Palmer might well have done that had he lived and Bret has no problem with me using it. (I hasten to add it would be foolhardy to do this with a manifolded twin-set.) In some circles it has become known as ‘the Bantin rig’ and not always with polite intentions. My critics questioned what I would do if my air regulator stopped working (an unlikely occurrence) beyond the MOD of the Nitrox in the other tank, to which I answer that I would put the Nitrox regulator in my mouth and breath off that, making my way at a safe ascent rate up to where there would be no danger of oxygen toxicity. Oxygen toxicity is subject to total exposure that is both a combination of time and percentage. I have needed to rescue divers from more than fifty-metres deep more often than I would like whilst equipped only with a single tank of nitrox32 and although I wouldn’t ever recommend it, I am here to tell the tale.
    _EBC4349 Japanese tank on the deck of the San Francisco Maru.
    My critics seem to think it is OK to take a tank of Nitrox side-slung but not conveniently on my back. I hasten to point out that I am often doing these dives alongside those equipped only with a single tank. They wonder if I might put the ‘wrong’ regulator in my mouth by mistake. Well, anyone who does that probably should not be underwater in the first place. I go in with one regulator in my mouth and the other one is for the ascent. There is no confusion. A number of my friends including my wife have dived this way when it’s a dive that is suitable for this approach. The wreck of the San Francisco Maru in Truk
    Staff car deep in the bowels of the San Francisco Maru Staff car deep in the bowels of the San Francisco Maru
    and the wrecks in Bikini Atoll are good examples. It’s a way of having plenty of gas for what otherwise might be a deeper than usual dive and at the same time cutting long waits on the decompression bar.
    Truk4389 My wife reading a book whilst enjoying an accelerated decompression stop with the right (red hose) regulator in her mouth.
    That one particular gentleman decided to become my bête noire on the Internet during the time I wrote regularly for Diver Magazine. It is ironic that he actually worked for Ocean Leisure in those days. Although I’m very happy to take four or more tanks with me if the dive requires it, as Bret Gilliam says, “If it works for you, that’s what matters.” Choose an appropriate solution and dive safely within your abilities..    

  • The GoPro Hero 4 Underwater

    hero4What a marvellous piece of kit the GoPro Hero range of action cameras is. They have an application for almost any activity and especially suitable for anything with any appreciable amount of risk that might destroy a more conventional camera. It doesn't matter whether you are skiing, riding a bike, taking selfies as a tourist or jumping off a tall building with nothing more than a wing-suit. No wonder they have proved to be the most popular Christmas present of 2014. Naturally, at Ocean Leisure Cameras we maintain a large stock of accessories and it goes without saying that many of our customers want to take their GoPro Hero 4 with them when snorkelling or scuba diving. The standard housing is good for 40m deep and if you want to go deeper there's a tougher diving housing available too. It's simple to bolt a GoPro Hero 4 to a bike but once you go under water, the characteristics of light conspire to make it more difficult to get good footage. It matters little whether you use a GoPro Hero 4 or a Red Epic camera that costs many thousands of pound, the physics remain the same. e8601920-10fc-4e5f-abd8-bad79331f9f4POV Buoy (2) Firstly, you need to keep your camera steady if your material is going to be watchable. We thoroughly recommend some sort of handle and one that can be made neutrally buoyant will be best. You neither want your precious Go Pro Hero 4 to float off nor to drop away to great depths. If you are doing some dare-devil activity, you'll be happy with whatever you record but underwater you'll want to be very much more selective. An LCD screen that shows what the camera sees is essential. The Silver Edition of the GoPro Hero 4 comes already equipped but in order to keep the retail price as attractive as possible, the much higher quality Hero 4 Black Edition (it will shoot 4k video and also will run at a higher frame-rate to smooth out the action) does not. gopro_touchscreen However, an economically priced LCD screen is available for the Black Edition that plugs straight into the camera and it comes with the fatter back door for the housing to accommodate it. Water absorbs light but it does it selectively. The warmer wavelengths of light, the reds and the yellows, get filtered out first so that as you go deeper, everything starts to look very blue. You can make the most of the red and yellow light that penetrates the water in the first 15-metres by filtering out some of the blue. gopro_SRP_filterThe GoPro Hero 4 has such a wide-angle lens that, although a flat red filter will work, a domed filter will be more effective over the whole width of the image and sharpness won't suffer at the edges. bigblue_dualsetupIf you want decent colour when you go deeper, there's no escaping the fact that you will need to take some white light with you in the form of some lamps. The same applies whatever camera you shoot with. Still cameras can use flash but for live action you need a constant source of light. A diving torch will not give light that is even enough. It will be patchy but not only that, the GoPro Hero 4 will try to look into the shadows leaving the lit parts burn-out. You need video lights. Ocean Leisure Cameras has a selection available at a range of prices. Check that part of this web-site for more details. What else do you need? A spare battery and charger will come in useful. That battery can be charging while you are under water with your GoPro Hero 4 and be ready for the following dip under water.  

  • Octoporn!

    _DSC3979The common octopus can be found throughout the temperate and tropical marine waters of the world and makes a good subject for your camera. It is an intelligent mollusc that has a complex eye mechanism that leads us to believe it can see very well. It can pass its boneless body through the tiniest of holes and it has the uncanny ability to change both its colour and texture at will by rotating tiny discs within the structure of its skin. This is used primarily as a strategy to avoid being detected by both prey and predator but is also a useful tool for communication and the expression of emotion. Never try to describe an octopus by its colour. This can range from a serene pale blue most often seen by divers at night, to an angry deep red with a white central stripe encountered by divers that try to interfere with one of these remarkable creatures. During the summer months the male octopus seeks out a female with which to mate and having done so begins a courtship ritual that encompasses all his flamboyant abilities to change his appearance. I was lucky enough to find two octopuses romancing together and photograph the whole forty-five minute sequence of events._DSC4093 The male stood erect, puffed up and demonstrating his ability to become dark and knobbly. She in turn will made herself smooth and silky, often embracing herself with her own tentacles as if to appreciate her own sensuality. Octopus have the ability to alter their size too. At this time the male was big and impressive while the female appeared small and demure. _DSC4107The male specially adapts one of his tentacles to become a sexual organ and it is this that is used to pass packets of sperm to the female. He proffered this tentatively, hoping to seduce her into accepting it. She coyly rejected him at first while he put on alternative displays of colour and texture in the hope of hitting upon a combination that pleased her. _DSC4138aThis game went on for a long period of time until he successfully persuaded her to accept his advances and penetration ensued. At this time she too changed from smooth and silky to be as knobbly as he was, and then back again. They took no notice of me, the camera-toting voyeur, even though I was extremely close to them. The male octopus pursues the female until she catches him! They stayed locked together for some time while his sperm was passed in special packages to her. They seemed to be enjoying it immensely and took little notice of the clatter of my camera or the pulses of light from my flash. _DSC4152Once the job was complete, she became impressively large while he looked very much deflated. She kept hold of his precious tentacle and dragged him off unwillingly. Was she taking him shopping? No, she’s looking for a suitable home. Does this story sound familiar? _DSC4150Once the female octopus finds a suitable place to lay her eggs she demonstrates what a dedicated mother she is. She stays will her eggs, oxygenating them regularly by blowing fresh water over them via her siphon. She stays until they are hatched, never leaving them to feed and consequently finally ending her life in the process. The male however escapes, usually leaving that specially adapted tentacle behind with her. He eventually grows a replacement but in the mean time he goes off looking for more action. You might see the occasional lucky male octopus with very few tentacles left while he cruises the reef, still looking optimistically for more action! You can get material like this on any underwater camera set-up, from GoPro, through compact cameras to the full nine-yards of a digital SLR. If you want to know how to get pictures as sharp and clear as this, check with the people at Ocean Leisure Cameras. If you need an octopus-rig for your regulator, the main store at Ocean Leisure has a selection to choose from. If you've enjoyed reading this blog, you will enjoy Amazing Diving Stories by the same author.

  • What a Fuss it Caused at the Time!

    Sometimes there’s a conspiracy of silence and you’d often do better not to disturb it. That’s what I inherited back in the day when I first joined Diver Magazine but I spoke up when others preferred to stay silent. My introduction to the readers was a gradual one with frequent if irregular contributions to the editorial content but by 1993 I had become a regular. The publication was a gentlemanly affair in those days. With no real rival to speak of, the publisher had a free hand to do what he liked but in fact became emotionally indebted to the the British Sub-Aqua Club that had given him a contract that was almost a license to print money in those days. His Technical Editor was among the BS-AC committee that had awarded him the contract so what that man said held sway. It didn’t seem to matter that he was also drawing a salary from a well-known manufacturer whose products also became de-rigeur in diving clubs. However, he was getting old and curmudgeonly and soon I in mere middle-age was able to replace him. I came from the world of the media and saw the monopoly afforded to the magazine as an advantage in that it could afford to offend advertisers if need be, if it was to the advantage of its readers. I believed that building the readership beyond club membership was the secret to a successful future for the magazine. For example, when the magazine proprietor asked me to explain to him what PADI was, he was obviously shocked. He hadn’t heard of PADI but even back in those days it was certifying more new divers with British addresses than the club was enrolling new members. Once the proprietor came to understand that there was a future beyond the comfortable confines of the club circulation he decided to give me a free hand to write features that might have been a little more controversial and informative than in the years before. I relished the idea. I started comparing regulators side-by-side underwater. This alone caused a furore. There were some shocks among the results. In those far off days before CE-certification, some regulators were clearly not good enough for anything more than the shallowest dive. Lawyer’s letters began to arrive but we weathered the storm. The proprietor told me to carry on. Advertisers withdrew their advertising revenue but with nowhere else to go in those days, they were soon back. Next I did an in-water side-by-side comparison test of seven popular dive computers. I went to Sharm el Sheikh where there was deep water directly off the shore and enlisted the help of Sarah Woodford, who was working as the local rep for Regal Diving at the time. Sarah still lives in Sharm. The plan was to take the computers, strapped side-by-side together on a rig, down to 50m deep, put them into decompression-stop mode and see how they differed in the information they dispensed during the ascent.

    The starting spread from the feature in Diver Magazine. The starting spread from the feature in Diver Magazine.
    It’s impossible to remember fast changing displays so key to the operation was the facility to take pictures of the displays at crucial moments whilst under water. Alas, during the initial moments of the descent, it was discovered that the camera had gone faulty. We retreated back to the beach and Sarah went off to find an alternative camera. It was more than three hours later that we able to get back in the water and by this time all the computers had recovered from their brief dip in the sea and their displays were clear. In those days computer algorithms varied widely. That's the mathematical calculation it uses to calculate nitrogen uptake. Nobody seemed to know what was correct. During our test dive one particular computer gave hours of no-stop time when compared with the others before flipping almost instantly into a very long deco requirement indeed. The whole exercise, including the aborted initial dip, was reported accurately in the magazine. My whole modus operandi was to tell the unvarnished truth to readers despite regular howls of protest in those days from manufacturers. The article was entitled "Learning Curve" and it caused yet another furore from both some readers and that one manufacturer. Firstly, I received an ocean of criticism from readers who said that I had broken a cardinal rule and should not have done a deeper dive second. It was if they were saying that when I discovered the camera wasn’t working, I should have gone down beyond 50m deep so that my second dive to 50m was shallower. I preferred to turn back before I’d loaded much nitrogen. History and current medical thinking bears me out that I was right but that was not what it said in the BS-AC manual at the time. More seriously, the manufacturer of the computer that was so far out of step with the others that it was almost laughable decided to threaten to sue me. Things were getting serious. It was only when it occurred to them that the other manufacturers would be enthusiastic witnesses in court on my behalf (they were hardly going to admit that their own algorithms were not safe) that it backed off. So it seemed I had upset both some readers and some advertisers. They would have all hung, drawn and quartered me if they could. I’m pleased to say that the failure to sell as many units as it would have liked eventually encouraged that particular manufacturer to offer an entirely different algorithm with its computers and today (twenty years later) all the different computers available in dive stores  are much more in agreement with what will keep the user safe – although none can guarantee it since everyone's physiology is different.  Provided you keep track of your dive profiles with a suitable diving computer it is no longer seen as essential to do the deepest dive first. If you've enjoyed reading this blog, you will enjoy Amazing Diving Stories by the same author.

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