Monthly Archives: March 2015

  • It's Not a Competition!

    Scuba diving should be in no way competitive. If you are part of a group of divers, you want everyone to have a good time. That said, the human spirit is without doubt naturally competitive and we will find ways to compete, however irrelevant.30-31-5 copy You’ll often see divers post-dive comparing how much air they used. Somehow it’s often seen as clever to use less than the next person. I was on a dive trip once where my buddy used exactly half the gas I went through. Did this mean he was a better diver? Another friend of mine was supremely fit. When his family came to visit, his wife and daughter would drive over from their home ten miles away but he would always prefer to run. The London Marathon? He completed runs across the Sahara! However, when we went of a dive trip together I was amazed at the rate of knots with which he went through his air supply. I put it down to poor technique at the time. Then I went away diving with a young television Gladiator, Hunter.

    Hunter the TV Gladiator needed a bigger tank!
    He was young and fit and made me look totally puny by comparison. It was lucky he could easily manhandle an 18-litre cylinder because that is what we had to get for him to allow him any time underwater on the shallowest and most benign of dives. On the other hand, Umberto Pelizzari, formerly the free-diving world champion, uses yoga to reduce his breathing requirements to negligible levels.
    Umberto Pelizzari, champion free-diver, uses yoga to reduce his air consumption.
    One quickly comes to realize that women generally use less air than men on dives. Is it because they are serene and become part of the underwater environment unlike men who tend to be more active? Or is it because they are usually smaller than men and thus have smaller lung capacities? I’ve dived with elderly over-weight ladies who went through less air than me, and a lot of other people, so it’s probably a combination of both. Recently, I was diving with twin-cylinders on a deep dive in Truk Lagoon. A rather large lady of a certain age did the dives with a single 11-litre cylinder of air while her very muscular husband went in with her, armed with twin-cylinders (like me) plus an additional side-slung tank. The dives required considerable decompression stops. I asked if he carried the sling-tank for his lady wife but was told she didn’t need it. He did! What about my lightly breathing friend? Well, he could come back with half a tank of air when I was completely out but he couldn’t get through the night without waking up for a cigarette. He was a very heavy smoker. He also ended every dive with a humdinger of a headache.
    Women tend to breathe a lot less air than men whilst diving.
    Am I saying that divers should take up smoking? Definitely not! New Zealander, Professor Simon Mitchell has investigated a subject that could be connected with the smoking phenomenon. He has studied carbon-dioxide retention in divers. Some people are able to retain a lot more carbon dioxide during the act of breathing than others and as you may know, it is the build-up of carbon dioxide that triggers our breathing reflex. It’s not the lack of oxygen but the raised levels of carbon dioxide that makes us have the desire to breathe. As I understand it, carbon-dioxide retainers breathe less. As a complete non-scientist, I wonder if heavy smokers with their constant lung exposure to carbon monoxide get a raised tolerance to carbon dioxide too, so that they can skip-breathe, leaving longer intervals between inhalations. Maybe their lung volumes have simply become very small due to the build-up of tar. Whatever the reason I’ve noticed they are more economic with their air supplies underwater.
    Bradley Wiggins during his Gold Medal Olympic time trial triumph in London 2012.
    Cyclist Bradley Wiggins is supremely fit. After winning the exhausting 2172-mile Tour de France, a few weeks later he was competing in the London Olympics road race. How’s that for stamina? I read on the BBC website that he probably has huge left ventricles to his heart, which allows more oxygen-rich blood to be pumped to his muscles than we more ordinary folk.
    Chris Boardman - cyclist and scuba diver.
    Chris Boardman, the Olympic Gold medalist in the Pursuit at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, with whom I once dived a lot, had a resting heart-rate at his peak of around 38 bpm which indicates a large heart. I noticed he was an experienced diver who was able to be very relaxed on dives, with good technique and perfect neutral buoyancy, so that he didn’t rush through his air.
    Chris Boardman
    A person’s endurance can be measured by taking a reading, which indicates how much oxygen is used every minute for each kilogram of body weight. It’s called a VO2 Max reading. A typical young male might have a VO2 Max of around 40 whereas a top cyclist might have a value of twice that, so that not only are they able to use more oxygen, they can also keep their muscles active for longer periods of time. Of course, cyclists have a never-ending air supply whereas for a diver it’s totally finite. I suggest it’s not clever to use less air than anyone else on a dive, although it may under certain circumstances be fortunate. I suggest it’s more intelligent to take sufficient gas with you for the dive in question and to manage that supply in such as way that you get back safely. Unlike running races and competitive cycling, it’s not a competition. A gas-integrated diving computer will help you manage your air supplies.
    Take sufficient gas for your needs.
         

  • The Physics of Underwater Photography

    _FFF8337 The rules of physics apply to all underwater photographers. Get close!
    When it comes to water everyone realises that to get your camera wet spells disaster. It’s either got to be designed to be waterproof or it must be enclosed in a waterproof housing. Water pressure is such that at only ten-metres deep it’s twice air pressure at the surface and much more as you go deeper so designers of housings take that into account. However, there is much more to underwater photography than simply keeping the camera dry and the same rules apply even if you have the very best kit. Photography is all about light and light acts in a different way in water to the way it does in air. For a start, water is never as clear as air. If you had 30-metres of visibility under water it would seem gin-clear yet the same visibility on a motorway would see you driving very slowly. It’s all about turbidity. Water is full of detritus and tiny life-forms. The secret to getting clear sharp pictures is to reduce the amount of water between your camera and your subject, to get as close as possible.
    Daylight is naturally filtered blue by the water.
    Water also absorbs light but it absorbs light selectively. The longer wavelengths of light, the reds and the greens, get filtered out within only a few metres from the surface so that the brightest daylight looks blue under water. You can make the most of what red and green light gets through by filtering out some of the blue with a reddish filter or by repeatedly white-balancing your camera as you find yourself at different depths. You can take some portable white light with you in the form of an underwater flashgun (or strobe light) for stills or a bright video light for movies. However, remember that the light from these is affected in the same way and the range of such accessories is limited, possibly to less than two metres, so you still need to get close to your subject.
    LibertyWreck An independent flashgun or video light will give good colour to closer subjects.
    At the same time you need to position these lights well away from the camera’s lens axis or they will simply light up all that detritus in the water and give you a very messy result. We call it ‘backscatter’. Mounting a flash or light on the end of an accessory arm does the trick but for convenience sake we normally have this attached to the camera housing via a suitable tray and manipulate the light via a series of one-inch ball joints and clamps. Ocean Leisure Cameras stocks a vast array of these to solve every mounting problem whether it be for a GoPro, for a top-of-the-range DSLR camera rig, or for something in between. Light is refracted when it passes from water into air through a flat glass camera front so that things appear at least one-third closer. It effectively makes your standard camera lens slightly telephoto. So having got close to our subject, we might find that we cannot include all of it in the shot. This is where a wide-angle lens comes into play. Under water, wide-angle lenses are used differently to the way they are used on land. They allow the camera to come close to the subject with the minimum of water between them, while at the same time restoring the image size.
    Bantin62-63-2 A wide-angle lens enables close positioning to larger subjects.
    A dome port combined with a wide-angle lens or a compact camera’s zoom lens at its widest setting will restore the angle of view by reducing the amount of light refraction. These are available to fit some compact camera housings as well as housings for cameras with interchangeable lenses.
    _DSC3408 Macro photography is a good place to start,
    Many underwater photographers start off by concentrating on macro subjects. A macro lens allows you to get very close indeed to the smallest of subjects and by using a flashgun on a mounting-arm, you take in with you your own ready-made mini studio set-up. Good results are assured because as your lens gets very close there is so little water to contend with. Flat housing ports help in this case because the refraction of light helps you stand off from your subject so that you can light it more easily. In summary, you need to prevent water ingress to your camera, you need to make the most of the full spectrum of natural light that penetrates the water, you need to avoid lighting up the turbidity of the water and, by getting as close as possible to your subject, you can reduce the effects of the poor optical quality of the water. The people working at Ocean Leisure Cameras can provide you with everything you need to achieve that. You just need to perfect your diving skills so that they become second nature while you take pictures or record video.

  • The Best Place to Dive?

    There’s a great team of people working at Ocean Leisure with an extensive product knowledge. I’ve joined to add to that my knowledge of dive sites around the world. After making nearly three hundred dive trips to many different places, there are few dive spots I haven’t been to. Inevitably people will ask me which is the best.

    Seahorse in Lembeh
    It’s an impossible question to answer. I ask in turn what they are interested in. How can you compare diving over a three-thousand-year-old rubbish dump that is the Lembeh Strait and its plethora of weird and wonderful macro marine life with diving surrounded by tiger sharks and lemon sharks at Tiger Beach off Grand Bahama?
    Scalloped Hammerheads at Malpelo
    How can you compare being surrounded by schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks in Malpelo, Cocos or the Galapagos with being surrounded by manta rays at cleaning stations in the Maldives? If it’s coral reefs that draw you, the remote islands of Raja Ampat in West Papua will be your ultimate aim yet as far as soft corals go these reefs fade into insignificance when compared to Rainbow Reef area of Fiji. French Polynesia has no such soft coral whatsoever but these islands have a burgeoning shark population and provide a high voltage diving experience. If its wrecks that you love diving near to, the far off dive sites of Micronesia, Truk Lagoon or Bikini Atoll, offer the dedicated wreck diver a Mecca to aim for yet the wrecks of the Northern Red Sea are a lot nearer to Europe and the Thistlegorm compares with the best.
    Military motorbike on the Thistlegorm.
    The Americans have purposefully sunk wrecks all down the coast of Florida. They make spectacular dives despite their artificial nature. Four similarly sunk wrecks are to be found off the Algarve where the Portuguese navy donated four large vessels including a frigate to make a diving destination. How many of you have dived the wreck of the Don Pedro outside Ibiza town or the wreck of the Zenobia outside Larnaca? Both were the result of accidents.
    Grouper at Ribbon Reef No10, Great Barrier Reef.
    Both East and West coasts of Australia provide fantastic diving opportunities. My favourite is diving with the giant groupers at Ribbon Reef No10 near Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Don’t forget the Caribbean. The British Virgin Islands have some great and varied diving with both wrecks and reefs as do the twin sister islands of Grenada and Carriacou further south. The list is endless. The Dutch Antilles, Mexico, Belize, and Baja California on the Pacific side of Mexico -  they are all worth visiting.
    Mediterranean Scorpionfish
    The Mediterranean may have less colourful marine life but it can provide spectacular diving during its four to five month season, with water that has incredibly low levels of plankton and incredible clarity.
    Don Pedro, Ibiza
    Maybe you should decide what you want to see and then ask which is the best place to see it. We’ll do our best to advise you. On the other hand, tell us where you are going. Between us we’ll tell you what it’s going to like and what you’re likely to see. We’ll make sure that you are properly equipped. We’ll do our best to ensure that if it’s a wide-angle location or macro location you take the right camera equipment and most of all we’ll do our best to ensure you manage your expectations. For example, if you are going to he Maldives during the wet monsoon we’ll point out that the diving is still good but a non-diving spouse might not enjoy a rain-sodden desert island. If you are going to dive in Egypt during our winter, you should be made aware that the diving is as good as ever but that it will be very windy and the boat might rock and roll more than you’d like. I’ve mentioned here only a tiny number of destinations with remarkable diving. We form a great team at Ocean Leisure and we’ve accumulated a vast amount of knowledge between us. It’s our pleasure to share that with you.  

  • The Right Stuff.

    Every day, people come through the doors of the Ocean Leisure store on the Embankment in London’s West-End with the intention of equipping themselves for a dive trip to somewhere exotic. They buy masks and fins, wetsuits, dive computers, reef-hooks, regulators and all manner of paraphernalia that will enhance their trip. Some step into Ocean Leisure Cameras, a store within the store, and buy underwater cameras or accessories for cameras they might already own. One of the questions that the staff inevitably asks them is where they are intending using the things they buy. It helps the diving experts that work at Ocean Leisure to advise customers properly. For example you’d feel a little chilly in a 3mm shortie wetsuit if you intended diving in Egypt’s Red Sea during the early part of the year. This year they enjoyed a fall of snow! It never ceases to amaze me that people baulk at the cost of some essentials. For example there was the gentleman who wanted an inexpensive red filter for his GoPro camera. When he told me he was off to Truk Lagoon in Micronesia I asked him if he had any lights and was very much surprised when he answered in the negative. Truk Lagoon is unique in that it is a place where the American forces bombed and sank a stupendous number of Japanese supply ships during World War II. Today it is a mecca for wreck divers.

    Submarine periscopes stored on the Hein Maru.
    Although I suppose you could spend a trip simply swimming round the outside of them, the joy of diving at Truk is to enter the stricken vessels and see their cargoes and to swim around their engine rooms. I told this gentleman that if he didn’t take a diving lamp he was going to bang his head a lot. As for recording video footage on his GoPro, he certainly needed some video lights. These start from around £400 and quite frankly he did not want to spend that sort of money. On the other hand, I asked him how often he intended going to Truk Lagoon. He was not young and admitted he’d probably only go the once.
    Engine room detail of the Fujikawa Maru (Truk).
    He was off on a trip-of-a-lifetime involving four long flights to get there and that was costing him around four-and-a-half thousand pounds. He soon realised that to go without the right stuff would be folly. I asked him to come back and show us his footage from his trip. Another person was off to Socorro, Cocos, Malpelo and the Galapagos, high voltage dive sites in the Pacific of the coast of Central and South America. We at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras take it as a personal responsibility that people arrive at these distant places with the appropriate equipment. On the other hand, besides those taking trips to somewhere enviable with the required huge travel costs spent, we get those people on much more modest budgets come in to the Ocean Leisure store and it’s our task to find solutions that match the funds they have available.
    Manta ray in the Maldives.
    If someone asks if it’s worth buying a diving computer rather than always needing to hire one at their chosen dive resort, we are happy to guide them towards the basic instrument that is probably all they need. If they want a gas-switching all-singing all-dancing device, we’re happy to help them in that direction too.
    Shark feed dive in the Bahamas.
    When it comes to camera kit, it’s very easy for underwater self-styled underwater photography gurus to advise people to fork out for a high quality DSLR with tailor-made housing and two top quality flashguns at around £8000 but some people just want to take a few snaps of their buddies having fun underwater and a £300 amphibious camera that goes to 25-metres deep might fill the bill. Of course, if we sense that someone will possibly get hooked on the pastime of underwater photography, we’ll direct towards something that can evolve along with their ambitions and accept an ancillary flashgun and additional lenses later when they are ready for that. We always ask where you are going. If it’s the Lembeh Strait in North Suluwesi we know you’ll need the ability to photograph exceedingly small things whereas if you are visiting the Bahamas to dive with the sharks, for example, or you want to photograph mantas in the Maldives, you’ll certainly need a wide-angle capability with your camera.
    Pigmy Seahorse (extreme macro) in Lembeh Strait.
    People often spend hours discussing their needs. That’s what we are there for. We want our customers to come back with a smile on their faces and triumphantly show us the pictures from their trip. We like the tiniest forms of marine life like pigmy seahorses as much as we like the big animals. Buying equipment for underwater photography can be daunting at times but we do our best to demystify it and send you away equipped for one hundred percent success in your endeavours and and the combined expertise of the staff at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras is at your disposal. Please visit our store, handily positioned near to Waterloo and Charing Cross main line stations and over the Embankment Underground station on the District Line.

  • Legendary?

    Distinguished marine biologist and shark scientist Dr. Eugenie Clark recently passed away, aged 92 years. How many of you know that she was almost single-handedly responsible for the establishment of the Ras Mohammed Marine Park? Many who knew her thought she was legendary. After more than two decades of regular exposure in Britain’s most popular scuba diving magazine, and also in Scandinavia and the USA, my face became well known to a lot of people who participated in the sport. Total strangers would come up to me at airports on the way to popular diving destinations and engage me in conversation as if they were old friends. This happened in places as far apart as Costa Rica, Indonesia, Micronesia, Australia and Africa. I could be forgiven for thinking I might be famous. I was not. Recently someone wrongly ascribed the term ‘legendary’ to my name. When I worked in the advertising industry during the ’seventies and ’eighties we would often joke that one of our number had become legendary in their own lunchtime! That's what we thought of the term. This has given me pause for thought. Scuba diving is such a minority interest even today and without any competitions to win, people can only claim to be as successful as they say they are. Who is legendary? Those who tried to break diving records like Dave Shaw and Audrey Mestre paid the ultimate price and have been long forgotten by the public.

    Rob Palmer descending on a dive shortly before his demise.
    Rob Palmer, not the well-known guitarist but the founder of technical diving in the UK, died during an incautious dive and few now remember him. The same can be said for others like Shek Exley, Carl Spencer and Wes Skiles. Famous for a time, they are remembered now only by those who were close to them. Lotte Hass recently passed away. She and her husband Hans made television films in the ’fifties that rivalled those of Jacques Cousteau and, since so few were doing that, Cousteau and Hass had a clear monopoly and their films gave them fame. Hans and Lotte became disenchanted and went on to do other things. Maybe they were forgotten too whereas the Cousteau Foundation has kept that name alive in the public consciousness.
    Bret Gilliam now lives in Maine.
    Fame is a fickle mistress. Bret Gilliam, a pioneer of diving himself in the USA, has written a book about the pioneers on his side of the Atlantic yet few people over here are aware of him now or what he did, or of the others he so eloquently describes. So who were the famous divers elsewhere? Commander Lionel Crabb, a war-time diving hero, was made famous by the media when he disappeared during a covert mission to examine the underside of Kruschev’s battleship during a state visit to Britain yet journalists continually get his name wrong and confuse him with the American Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe. Few can recall Willy Halpert kick-started diving in the Red Sea in Eilat together with Brit Alex Flinder who wrote a pivotal book about diving the Sinai. German Rudi Kneip pushed on with diving in the Red Sea while compatriot Herwarth Voightmann gave the Maldives and diving the publicity it needed with his shark circus. His best-selling book about photographing sharks might have made Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch famous when it was published in 1987 but he now lives a reclusive life in Cornwall and has long since stopped diving. Even iconic dive guide Larry Smith, the man that gave us ‘muck diving’ when he was first based at Lembeh Strait and later died of a lung infection bringing Raja Ampat to our notice, has gone off the radar.
    Umberto Pelizzari free diving.
    Presumably Umberto Pelizzari is still free-diving somewhere though his depth-record has long been broken. Free divers risk their lives to break records yet I fear the general public care little for their endeavours, out of sight and out of mind. Australians Ron and Valerie Taylor were famous for their television appearances. Ron has since left us and I recently noticed some footage of Valerie with a moray eel on YouTube getting some criticism from those who were obviously unaware of whom she was. Dick Rutkowski, the man responsible for giving us Nitrox and changed diving forever, is still alive and living quietly in Florida.
    Stan Waterman prepares his camera in Cocos at eighty.
    Stan Waterman, the man that was responsible for filming Peter Gimble’s iconic Blue Water White Death and the underwater sequences with Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep is still with us. For his ninetieth birthday he went to Mexico’s Guadaloupe Island to dive with Great White sharks. However, I’ve been on liveaboard dive boats with him and witnessed those that patently don’t know his history giving this elderly man, now frail, advice about diving. He’s always very patient with them despite having spent more time underwater than they have been alive. Forgive me for not mentioning any diver you think to be famous. Today, thanks to social media, we can kid ourselves we are more famous than we really are. Andy Warhol was right with his prediction that everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. I simply caution those that wish to be famous through diving that the nomenclature ‘famous diver’ is something of an oxymoron. Legendary is something else!

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