Diving Gear

  • Ocean Leisure after Brexit is Complete

    Poacher turned gamekeeper, after a career in the advertising industry I made a name for myself as the scourge of poor quality under-performing diving equipment, by exposing it in the UK’s Diver Magazine. It was a time when some manufacturers threatened to sue me and others invited me to visit their factories to discuss where they might be going wrong. It was almost a thankless task – one British importer has never forgotten that he was left with a garage full of unsalable regulators after I had revealed how badly they performed, conveniently forgetting I might have saved him from a manslaughter charge!

    Another went out of business, citing me as the reason the poor quality regulators he imported stopped being made, while a third British importer sent an email (a copy of which I still preserve) telling his manufacturer that the regulator they made was faulty and that if I, John Bantin, got to hear of it, they’d be ruined!

    Then there were the diving computers that gave you extra bottom time (at the expense of risk to your health). One doyen of American diving equipment manufacturers more recently told me I was a pillar of the diving community, conveniently forgetting the lawyer’s letters he’d sent me two decades ago.

    So what has this all got to do with Brexit? Well, all this went on before the days of EU regulation and the CE-marking of life-support equipment. I was testing regulators on an ANSTI machine long before it became mandatory for manufacturers to do the same and meet the EU-mandated performance requirements.

    Today, it’s difficult to buy life support equipment in the UK that does not meet these set standards. It does mean that it has taken the fun out of being a vociferous critic in print. Equipment reviews in diving magazines have been reduced to little more that rewritten manufacturer’s press-releases. However, I moved my talents to the US where I now write for an on-line subscription newsletter called www.undercurrent.org. The US makes rich pickings for someone of my talents and Undercurrent has no advertisers to try to please.

    The US has none of this regulation from which we have benefitted during the last 30 years in Europe. They have a system that waits for the problem to happen and then pursues the miscreants by litigation in the courts. Good news for American lawyers! Undercurrent is frequently full of reports of such cases. When Brexiteers boast that we will do away with European red tape and regulation, they mean following the American model. Bad news if you die, but don’t worry, your estate will be able to sue afterward!

    The Editor in Chief of www.undercurrent.org frequently asks me what equipment failures we have seen at Ocean Leisure. Started in 1975 as a direct counterbalance to the advertising-driven diving publications found in the US, exposing shoddy products is part of the life-blood of that publication. These examples of unsuitable or badly designed/manufactured equipment are frequently discovered on the other side of the Atlantic, but I surprise him by telling that Ocean Leisure in London rarely gets any life-support equipment for diving, or other water sports, returned because it does not meet manufacturer’s promise. That (some would say ‘evil’) EU regulation has seen to that.

    However, times might well change. Deregulation might be an opportunity for the importation of less good products into the UK and a return to the good old days for diving equipment journalists and their job of trashing the bad.

    What I can tell you is that the staff at Ocean Leisure are all keen users of what the store stocks. They are all either regular divers or sailors and will soon discover any suspect product so that you will not find them here. Leaving the EU might mean a future influx of poor quality imports but you can always rest assured that what you purchase at Ocean Leisure will be up to the task. You can use it with confidence.

     

     

  • Safety Isn't Sexy!

    Seatbelts in cars, helmets for motorcyclists, smoke detectors in homes -- none of these have been universally adopted by individuals except in those countries where they have been mandated by law. Why is that? They clearly save lives. Well, frankly, safety precautions are not sexy.

    “It’s never going to happen to me.” That’s the ever-optimistic sentiment of most people. You never felt the need to have a fire extinguisher in your home until it was ablaze. The Titanic set sail with insufficient lifeboats for the number of passengers it carried. Well, it was unsinkable, wasn’t it?

    Divers might be slightly different, because whenever we break the surface after a serious dive, we have that momentary feeling of being alone in the ocean. In fact, we have abdicated our well being to the efficiency of those who are tasked with coming to find us. The foolhardy expect that task to be easy. They haven’t considered how tiny a diver’s head may look among the vastness of the ocean’s waves.

    This scenario was encapsulated many years ago by six Japanese divers who got separated from their boat in Palau. There followed a massive sea search. One woman diver wrote on her slate, “We can see you searching but you can’t see us.” They found the slate attached to her body some days later.

    Safety is such a boring subject, but the two separate events concerning lost divers reported in October in the Seychelles and Malpelo plus two more in November in Australia might have made you change your mind .

    One of the first rules of safety at sea is to stay with your vessel, but we divers habitually jump off into the unknown. What steps do we take to make sure our surface support can find us easily?SafetyMotherBuoy

    Many divers carry a bright orange or red safety sausage. Inflated, they can rise about a meter out of the water. In daylight, a boat operator with a high viewpoint and good binoculars can spot one about half a nautical mile away. The driver of an inflatable will be less able. Taller safety sausages are available, but rarely purchased by divers. Some divers carry an emergency flare in a watertight container, but if it works (and you never know until you try), it’s a one hit wonder. Rescue dyes don’t offer a panacea either. Their effect is soon dissipated in anything but a flat, calm sea. As for whistles, the noise generated by a vessel’s engines, plus wind and waves, make them almost impossible to hear. A search party in a small boat would need to cut the engine and listen.SafetySurfaceFlag

    A large bright yellow flag on an extending pole can be seen from a far greater distance than a safety sausage. The pole comes in several sections of plastic tubing that slot together and are held in place by an elastic cord that runs through the middle. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in the UK, who test many devices, found that bright yellow was the most conspicuous color at sea. Alister Wallbank, leading the team of researchers, reported, “The folding flags were by far the most reliable and cost-effective device we tested, particularly the Day-Glo yellow [flag]. It was consistently spotted at up to two nautical miles. Yellow was the most conspicuous colour, even with breaking wave crests, and could be located in deteriorating light when it was impossible to locate pennants of any other color. Red and orange flags were located at up to one mile. Two of our observers who suffered from degrees of red/green colour-blindness, had difficulty spotting these colors, particularly in intermediate light. Not surprisingly, flags were most easily located when the search heading was abeam to the wind direction so that the pennant presented the greatest visible surface area. Though of no value at night, a flag is a low-tech solution for daytime. A diver can lash a folded flag to his tank and deploy it single-handed. al1100np_800x600

    When a dozen divers went missing at the Elphinstone Reef in the Red Sea, they were finally discovered at night because some had dive lights. The divers lost at Malpelo in September carried no lights, although they went into the water late in the afternoon. They might have been luckier had they done so (two perished). So a fully charged dive light, carried and reserved for emergencies and not used routinely during the dive, should be part of every diver’s kit -- and during a predive check, verifying that it functions properly should be as important as monitoring the air supply.

  • Talk About Tank Valves!

    We divers are creatures of habit. We like to do things the way we always have. Instructors who teach their trainees exactly what their instructor taught them exacerbate these habits. Outdated techniques and theories are handed down like gospels. Sometimes, a better way presents itself, but there is often a reluctance to step off the well-trodden path into the undergrowth of a new experience.

    Take the tank valve. It’s like a water tap. ‘It’s lefty loosey, righty tighty.’ One shouldn’t need to know more than that. However, with a tank valve, you’ll want it either fully open or fully closed. This is where old habits can interfere with good practice.

    Back in the day, tank valves could jam if they were opened too far. Older divers were taught to open the valve all the way and then close it a quarter of a turn. All well and good if you are precise in your habits, but what of the diver who does that and then forgets he’s opened the tank and closes it by mistake, turning it back open a quarter of a turn? His air supply will be uninterrupted at the surface, but as he goes deeper, it will become harder and harder to breathe. If he’s lucky, he’ll see his pressure gauge drop to zero on each inhalation before returning to the full-tank position. If he’s unlucky…well?

    Today’s tank valves don’t jam in the open position, so open the tank all the way and leave it there. When you want to shut off the gas, close it all the way. No half-measures, no quarter turns, and you’ll stay safe.

    If you are using higher percentages of oxygen, you should know to open a tank valve cautiously, especially the O2 tank on a rebreather. A sudden rush of oxygen could cause a fire.

    Also, do you give your regulator dust cap a blast of air to dry it after a dive? That’s no better at removing water than using a towel, and it is exponentially noisier and can be harmful to the well-being of a person standing nearby, by startling them. Furthermore, that blast may actually drive water droplets into the uncovered first-stage of a regulator -- now you have to service it -- or dislodge the O-ring of a tank suitable for use with an international A-clamp. Using a towel can save you from scrambling around your dive boat, looking for that missing O-ring.

    These outdated habits regarding tank valves simply refuse to die. Changing the habit of a lifetime can save your reputation as a serious diver, maybe even save your life.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Know What Your Computer Tells You!

    Depth and Ignorance Can Kill. Was it the lure of depth, his lack of awareness of how deep he was, or the inability to understand his computer? According to witnesses at a Cayman Coroner’s Court, Victor Crawford, a 62-year-old diver from Alabama and passenger aboard the Cayman Aggressor, had dived to a depth of 95 metres whilst using nitrox with a maximum operating depth of 33 metres. Health Services Authority pathologist Dr Shravan Jyoti said the cause of death was seawater drowning as a result of ‘nitrogen toxicity’.

    Mr Crawford went missing in March last year during a group dive before divers from Ocean Frontiers, a well-known Cayman technical diving operation, discovered his body. His death had been the subject of controversy when the ambulance took more than an hour to arrive at the East End dive shop to where he was recovered and then left without the body.

    Although witnesses said that the deceased was an experienced diver, Department of Environment deputy director Scott Slaybaugh said the case involved “a series of actions which were significantly hazardous and far beyond the standard of safe diving practices.”

    These included leaving the group to dive alone and ascending rapidly without making the decompression stops mandated by his computer.

    Coroner Eileen Nervik read statements of four witnesses to the case, before the jurors deliberated and came to their verdict of misadventure. (Abridged from the Cayman Compass)

    There’s a feeling of instant camaraderie among the passengers on a liveaboard dive boat because it’s in the interest of everyone on board that nobody has an accident. However, you don’t usually know everyone beforehand, neither do you know their levels of diving skill.

    A diving computer in time-keeping mode. A diving computer in time-keeping mode.

    We will never know what the true circumstances of this tragedy were, but it is likely the casualty did not read or was unable to understand what his computer was telling him. Clear calm water can be seductively dangerous.

    The water at Ras Mohammed, a wall  at the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai, can be incredibly clear . The water here is said to be around 600 metres deep so you don’t want to drop anything. It’s so clear in fact that you can be misled into going deeper than you intended

    We might have all done that but imagine swimming alongside that steep wall of Shark Reef at 30 metres deep, breathing nitrox 32, and seeing one of your fellow divers in distant perspective way down below you?

    What to do?

    Already the dive had not been going as planned. Our dive guide opted to take the rest of the passengers in another direction and I found that as a former dive guide, I’d somehow been co-opted into leading this small group.

    We had intended to drop in at Shark Reef and swim round to Jolande Reef but the current was intense against us that we were all working hard at making any headway at all. Then suddenly I noticed this member of our group down at great depth.

    The water was so clear I could see that he was wearing a tank marked as containing nitrox just like mine so I took the risk of passing my maximum operating depth and hurtled down as fast as my ears would allow to signal to him to check his computer and follow me back up. He had been at almost twice the operating depth for the gas he was breathing.

    Imagine my horror when only a few minutes later he was back down at more than 50 metres deep, swimming along happily oblivious to the danger he was putting himself in.

    I swam down hurriedly again, thinking that it would be my bad luck if it was me that got an oxygen hit in the process of rescuing this diver who was totally unaware he needed rescuing. Again I signalled in an extremely animated way that he should look at his computer, pointing at his mask and then at my own computer that by now was singing a merry tune thanks to exceeding the maximum PO2 I had previously set on it. It was this moment at which he responded by offering me a naked wrist that indicated he was not wearing a dive computer.

    What an idiot. I was furious and took his arm firmly, dragging him back up to the apparent safety of 20 metres. I didn’t let go of him for the rest of his dive. Where was his buddy? It was his teenage son who’d obviously given up on his father and was swimming above us with two other divers, in the shallows, trying to conserve his air against the hard finning he was doing.

    I was angry to say the least. I kept thinking that this person whom was known to me only because we were on the same liveaboard boat, had forced me to take risks with my own health and seemed oblivious to that fact. On the other hand, had he gone missing it would have ruined the trip for everyone on board.

    Eventually, after a precautionary extra wait at 6 metres (since I had no idea of his dive actual profile and mandatory decompression stop requirements) we broke the surface at which point I emphasised in no uncertain way, “Nigel, if you forget to put on your computer, you must go back to the boat and get it.”

    If your computer was to display this, would you know what it meant? If your computer was to display this, would you know what it meant?

    His reply was unprecedented. He said in a quite matter-of-fact tone, “I decided not to bring my computer because it had stopped working. It went into SOS mode on the previous dive.”

    There are some fabulous new computers available at Ocean Leisure and the staff will be pleased to show them to you. However, they cannot demonstrate the core function of a computer without being underwater with you!

    Please read the instruction manual of your diving computer. Although you may always use it in No-stop diving mode, be aware what the display looks like should it go into Deco-stop mode. It will show a stop depth and either a total ascent time or a stop-time or both at this time. Don’t ignore it. Your computer will help keep you from danger, but only if you’ve read the instructions and fully understand its display.

  • What Causes a Regulator to Free-flow?

    It’s very annoying, isn’t it? You jump into the water and your regulator starts to free-flow. It could even be life-threatening if that happened at depth. It’s as if someone has pushed the purge valve of the regulator in and held it there, losing you precious air. What causes it to happen?Dive2005B

    Modern day regulator manufacturers compete with each other to give the diver the most efficient and natural way of breathing. When you inhale from your regulator, the drop in pressure inside the body of the second-stage of the regulator drops and allows the second-stage valve to open, supplying you with air. Regulator designers try to make the valve as finely balanced as possible so that it takes the minimum amount of effort to pull it open against its closing spring, the spring that holds it shut and stops the gas escaping from your tank. Modern regulators can be so finely balanced in this way that it is often more effort to force the exhaust port open when you exhale than inhaling. (ANSTI breathing machines prove that!) So why do they sometimes free-flow?

    If you pull very gently on a regulator, the second-stage valve only opens a little to let air pass. The more you suck or the deeper you are the more it has to open to satisfy your needs.

    The depth the diver is at affects the pressure-sensing diaphragm. It operates a lever that pulls open the second-stage valve and also doubles as a ‘purge valve’. If for some reason the purge valve gets pushed in for a moment as it might when passing from air at the surface to water (a sudden increase in hydrostatic pressure) the valve opens and lets a whoosh of air past the back of the pressure sensing diaphragm. This fast moving air, just like the air moving fast over the top of an aircraft wing, causes a drop in pressure directly behind the diaphragm. This causes the valve to open even more and – viola! It’s exponential. The more the valve opens the greater the drop of pressure behind it and that leads to it opening the valve even more, resulting in that annoying rush of lost air.

    Luckily, that only normally happens at the cusp between air and water; that is to say at the surface. Putting your thumb over the mouthpiece is usually sufficient to cause a momentary increase in pressure inside the second-stage body to stop it. It’s annoying when it happens at the surface but it could be more than annoying if it happened at depth. Alas, in water that is colder than 10°C, it can happen at any depth if the mechanism of the valve is iced up or affected by ice. This is when it gets more serious than just annoying.

    Why is there ice? When air (or any other gas) is depressurised, it experiences a drop in temperature alongside the drop in pressure. The converse is also true. When a tank has been freshly pumped full, it feels hot to the touch.

    The water you are in may be at 10°C together with the air in your tank but that air in the tank might be as pressurised as much as 200bar. The first-stage drops it down to eight or ten bar more than the pressure of the water it is surrounded by. That’s a huge drop.

    It could easily cause a drop in temperature as much as 20°C and if you are in cold fresh water at 10°C you realise that it equates to minus 10°C for the air passing through the regulator’s first stage. This causes the water in its immediate proximity to freeze.

    Luckily, seawater rarely gets colder than 10°C around our temperate coasts but it’s a fresh water inland sites you might experience this problem – and it can be life threatening.

    You should have been taught how to breathe from a free-flowing regulator on your first diver-training course. The remaining air in your tank will give you time to get to the safety of the surface. Every diver should know how to do that.

    If you are in the habit of diving at inland sites, get a regulator designed for the job. They usually have first-stages that are environmentally sealed, with no working part coming into contact with the water, and they include extra metal to act as a heat sink to transfer what little warmth there might be in the water to the much colder air coming from the tank. Ask about that when you next buy a regulator. Ocean Leisure stocks cold water approved regulators by both Apeks and Scubapro.

  • An Intro to Diving Computers

    When we go under pressure, our bodies start to absorb the inert part of the air we breathe, the nitrogen. At normal atmospheric pressure we are saturated with nitrogen but by going underwater breathing compressed air, we allow our bodies to soak up more.

    Provided we stay no longer at depth than a slow ascent to the surface can give time for our bodies to off gas, we experience no problems. If we exceed these ‘no-stop’ times, we need to make stops at points during the ascent to allow our bodies to ‘catch up’ with this process.

    An advanced computer watch A typical computer watch

    All certified divers should know this and nowadays most wear a computer to monitor the potential state of decompression during and after each dive. I say ‘most’ because I have recently heard of cases of individual divers who eschew a computer saying ‘they know how deep and for how long they can stay’. This is very dangerous thinking.

    Of course, many years ago when computers were in their infancy, conservative divers refused to use them, believing a watch and depth-gauge combined with a decompression table was safer. They might have been safe if their watches and depth-gauges were accurate and they were disciplined in their use.

    One way to make leisure diving ‘safer’ in this regard is to breathe a gas with less nitrogen in the mix – nitrox – but it is only safer if you don’t take advantage of the longer no-stop times available. Stay longer and you still soak up just as much nitrogen as you would breathing air for the shorter no-stop time mandated.

    Computer manufacturers try to make things as safe as possible to keep them away from possible litigation. That’s why they build in a few precautions that sometimes casual users fail to comprehend.

    suuntodx_elastomerIf you dive with your computer set in ‘air’ mode, it will not allow you to switch to another mode such as ‘nitrox’ until a sufficient period has passed – usually twenty-four hours. If you want to switch between air and nitrox, it’s important to start off in nitrox mode, setting air as nitrox 21 (which it is).

    For the same reason, if you want to use your computer simply in ‘gauge’ mode, reading only depth and time, it will not be able to calculate your residual nitrogen levels should you wish to then switch to a nitrox or air diving mode, so it will lock you out for a period, up to forty-eight hours if you have been diving deep.

    Diving computers have a sampling rate typically of every 10, 20 or 40 seconds. Normally the 20-second setting is the default setting. During a leisurely dive this is entirely practical but it is not suitable for free-diving.

    Some computers have a mode specifically for free-diving when the sampling rate is much more often, even every second. This is because if you swim down to, say, 20-metres deep, a less frequent sampling rate might make a sample point at ten-metres on the way down and the next at 15-metres on the way up, totally missing the fact that you went to 20-metres in between. So gauge mode is unsuitable for use by free divers. You may need a computer with a ‘free-diving’ mode. Choose a computer that has the modes you require.

    Some of our customers tell us they want to free-dive between scuba dives. Current medical thinking believes this to add a degree of hazard to the activities because the scuba diver’s body will still be loaded with residual nitrogen at this time and that will be recompressed during a breath-hold dive. No computer can calculate for these short bounces while in diving mode because of the aforementioned sampling rates. For this reason, no computer should allow you to switch to free-diving mode while it is still calculating nitrogen levels during a surface interval.

    Some foolish divers will leave their computer to ‘off-gas’ at the surface while they go for a swim, ever tempted to duck-dive below the surface. That is a silly as leaving a computer tied off to a rope at the last decompression stop to ‘offgas’ while the diver climbs back on board. We positively do not recommend this. Nor do we suggest you buy a second instrument and switch between them during a day’s diving. That is the road to decompression illness.

    A diving computer can only monitor the nitrogen loading of your body if it is attached to you while you on-gas and off-gas. Use it properly and it will keep you safe – although, since everyone is physiologically different and the computer’s algorithm was written for a theoretically typical person, no computer manufacturer can guarantee this.

    Always read the instruction manual and be familiar with what you computer displays. Too often people go into decompression status during dives, especially where the water is warm and clear, and fail to understand that this is what their computer is telling them.

    A range of different computer displays at depth A range of different computer displays at depth
  • Technological Advances in Underwater Lighting

    If you are diving inside an unlit wreck or at night, it’s pretty obvious you’re going to need some form of light and there’s a plethora to choose from. What may not be so obvious is that if you are diving in water under bright tropical sunshine, everything will look monochromatic thanks to the fact that water selectively filters the light so that more than a few metres away from the surface, everything looks blue. Not only that, but try looking under ledges for any animal that might be lurking there (and that’s where a lot of animals lurk during the brightest part of the day) and everything gets lost in deep shadow.

    A light will illuminate the corals in their true vibrant colours A light will illuminate the corals in their true vibrant colours

    So in actual fact a powerful diver’s light is just as useful during daylight hours as it is when there is no natural light by which to see your way. The difference between having a weak light and no light at all is clearly obvious too at night, but during the day you’ll need a light that can compete with the daylight, filtered as it is by the water. That’s why you’ll see successful underwater photographers using powerful underwater strobes to light up their subjects and videographers often using powerful video lights.

    Years ago, underwater lighting was limited by the size of the battery that could fire up a conventional halogen lamp. Powerful lights tended to be both huge and heavy. More recently, lithium-ion battery technology combined with modern LED bulbs can give us a powerfully bright light with a useful burn-time combined in a compact package.

    A lamp will light the way wherever there's no natural light. A lamp will light the way wherever there's no natural light.

    A good example of that is the Nanight Sport dive torch. This Swedish torch uses a cluster of three Cree XM-L2 U2 LEDs in a single module to push out up to a massive 3000 lumens fired up by its lithium-ion battery pack and the beam so produced can either be a narrow 12° suitable for those diving in low visibility conditions and who want a tight penetrative beam, a 35° beam that is generally very useful, or a wider 55° beam for those diving at night who may be a little nervous about what might be close by but not immediately lit up. It’s important to choose the appropriate one for your needs.

    Kansho4619 Inside the engine room of a wreck.

    For example, I took a torch limited to a narrow beam on a trip to dive the wrecks of Truk Lagoon. It was a mistake. Swimming about inside the engine rooms and holds of these 1944 relics from the Pacific War, I missed a lot of details because the beam was too selective. The next time I went I made sure to use a torch with a wide beam and missed nothing.

    The burn-time at a full 3000 lumens is a little under one-and-a-half hours, which is more than enough for any daylight dive when you might need the maximum intensity, but you can progressively dim it in four stages and the burn-time increases pro rata. This is effected by a magnetic switch that functions sequentially and a micro processor controls the light intensity. If you are worried that the light might overheat, the LEDS are temperature monitored.

    You might find that 750 lumens is quite enough once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness and should you be doing a series of leisure dives on wrecks, there will be more than enough power in the battery for a full day’s diving, with some to spare. You’ll only need to recharge the torch once each day.There is a battery charging indicator that turns from red to green as it is charged. Recharging from flat takes a few hours and before the light extinguishes due to low battery power it continues with progressively lower light output. That equates to something of a get-you-home mode.

    Nanight Sport Nanight Sport

    All this technology is contained within a tube that is around 15cm long and 5cm in diameter. It weighs a mere 500g and is depth-rated to 100m, which is enough for most people! When you first switch it on, it flashes up to four times to indicate the state of battery charge.

    If you want an even longer burn-time, the Nanight Tech dive torch uses a similar head that is powered via an umbilical by a larger 20cm long battery pack and weighs around a kilogram. It will run for two-and-a-half hours at full output with an extra hour with gradually reducing light output. The battery canister attaches to your tank, backplate or other convenient place and the head, only 8cm long, is supplied with a Goodman handle that allows hands-free use. It comes with the two reflectors for the narrower beams.

    Nanight Tech Light Nanight Tech Light

    One last point: When using extremely bright lights like these, avoid shining them towards the eyes of other divers. If you wish to signal, point the light at your signalling hand.

  • The Philippines

    Did you know that the Philippines have more miles of coastline than almost any other nation? That's because they are a multitude of islands and the diving is diverse as the people that live on these islands. The Philippines have only recently become popular with divers. We don’t know why, but often when customers at Ocean Leisure are buying lots of stuff for a trip, we ask them where they are off to and more often than not they are set for a trip to the Philippines.

    A typical bangka boat. The design draws little water so the vessel can be driven right up onto the white sand beaches. A typical bangka boat. The design draws little water so the vessel can be driven right up onto the white sand beaches.

    Whether you are planning to cruise around the Camotes Sea in a bangka boat (visiting Malapascua in the north or the jetties of South Leyte or Bohol in the south), diving the World War II wrecks of Coron Bay, enjoying the varied diving out of Puerta Galera with nearby Verde Island, visiting the green turtles at Apo Island and marvelling at the the macro life, muck diving at Dumaguete, or setting off from Puerto Princessa aboard a liveaboard dive boat to visit the remote reefs of Tubbataha, the diving will never cease to amaze you and make you wonder why you left it so long.

    Typical Jeepnee with plenty of chrome. A Jeepney with plenty of chrome apparent.

    You can get to Manila via HongKong or Singapore, for example and whether you make landfall in the city of Cebu or the capital Manila, more often than not you will need to connect via a local airline to get to where you intend going. The Filipino people are extremely welcoming and well travelled. The greatest export from the country is its people and everyone you meet is either back from Europe or North America, is about to head off there, or at least knows some members of their family who are doing so.

    Filipino people offer an extremely warm welcome. The Filipino people offer an extremely warm welcome.

    Nearly everyone speaks good English so nothing is difficult for the Brit abroad in the Philippines. A popular vehicle is the Jeepny, originally developed by converting WW2 Willys Jeeps but now manufactured locally in the same style but enlarged.

    During my career, I regularly travelled via Manila to other destinations in the middle of the Pacific but it was only towards the end of my career that I decided to stop off and dive in that country.

    I was knocked out by the quality and the variety of the diving. If you are an underwater photographer  you'll need to take both macro and wide-angle set-ups. One dive you'll be photographing pigmy seahorses or elusive mandarin fish and the next it will be whalesharks in front of your camera!

    Tiny mandarin fish only conduct their courtship rituals in open water during the first moments of nightfall. Tiny mandarin fish only conduct their courtship rituals in open water during the first moments of nightfall.

    One moment you're looking at a seahorse and the next it's a whaleshark! The author at work. One moment you're looking at a macro subject and the next it's a whaleshark!

    Whether you shoot with a sophisticated DSLR, a micro four-thirds camera or a compact, we can supply you with any accessory lens set-ups that you might need to make the most of your trip. All we ask is that you don't leave until the last minute and call into the Ocean Leisure store on you way to the airport! (you'd be amazed at how many people do that!)

    Some of the places you might stay in the Philippines will be decidedly 'developing country' style while others will compete with the most sophisticated resorts in the world. It's all about budget and you can get by in the Philippines on a very small one. What about the weather? Well, nearly every autumn the Philippines get into the news when the islands are inevitably hit be a typhoon. However, they are quick to rebuild and by the time you go in the Spring, everything will be back to normal.

    Instead of passing through Manila or Cebu on your way to some Pacific destination, why not stop off and savour what the locale has to offer? The Philippine offer some of the best tropical diving in the world. We know it well. Next time you pass by the Ocean Leisure store, stop by for a chat and we'll try to advise you of the differences between the different locations  within this tropical archipelago. Enjoy!

    Turtles and jacks. It's busy underwater at Tubbataha! Turtles and jacks. It's busy underwater at Tubbataha!
  • In Memory of Dick Bonin.

    Original Scubapro Jetfins Original Scubapro Jetfins
    What with skateboarding, kite-surfing, wake-boarding and wind-surfing being sports that evolved in the last few years, it is easy to forget that scuba diving is an activity that has proved popular only recently in the greater scheme of things. Most of us in Europe grew up aware of the undersea film productions of Jacques Cousteau, not least because he was the master of self-publicity, but it is easy to forget that many of the pioneers of scuba diving are, or have been until quite recently, still with us. Dick Bonin, who passed away in early December 2015, was one such pioneer of scuba. He together with Gustav Dalla Valle founded a company that has become one of the leading brands among manufacturers of diving equipment. It is Scubapro.

    Bonin started his career as a Navy officer who was assigned to dive teams demolishing beach approaches in some of the most distant locations in the world. He could envisage scuba diving becoming a leisure pursuit and once demobilised he began selling diving equipment, but soon realised that if he wanted to sell equipment he had faith in, he would need to design it himself. He met another diving pioneer, Gustav Dalla Valle, when they worked for the same company. Dick was brought in to manage a new division for diving equipment that would be sold under the name Scubapro. When the parent company failed Gustav bought the rights to the name and Dick Bonin joined him. That was in 1963.

    Dick Bonin Dick Bonin

    Together, they built the company into the great success it was to become and it attracted the attention of a number of conglomerates that wanted to buy into the various businesses that now served a burgeoning leisure market. Finally, in 1974, they sold Scubapro to Johnson Worldwide and Bonin continued as  President of Scubapro, directing the company’s growth, until he retired in 1991.

    Dick Bonin’s contribution to the design of Scubapro products can still be seen in the genesis of some familiar products of today:

    Scubapro MK25/S600 Blacl Scubapro MK25/S600 Black

    The current Scubapro Mk25/S600 can be traced back to enduring flow-through piston design of his regulators, beginning with the immortal Mark 5 introduced in 1970. He introduced the first low-pressure BC inflator, the first back-mounted BC for widespread distribution, the first silicone mask when latex was a more familiar material and the first jacket style BC  - something that was vilified at the time because it was not a ‘life-jacket’. Today, snorkels with valves are almost the norm but it was Dick Bonin who promoted the snorkel incorporating an exhaust valve that made clearing effortless. SP-Spectra_Dry_Snorkel_redHe introduced the first integrated inflator/second stage regulator called the AIR II, the first analog decompression meter, and last but not least, the celebrated Jet Fin that forever changed the design of what used to be called “flippers.” It’s a legacy unequaled to this day and perhaps forever.

    I am grateful to Bret Gilliam, a personal friend of Dick Bonin, author of Diving Pioneers and Innovators and himself a diving pioneer in the field of leisure and technical diving, for giving me the above information.

  • iPhones Have Taken Over!

    Reef5220There was a time when photographs you took had to be big. That's because it you wanted to print from them, the requirements of professional printers meant that file sizes had to be enormous. Since then the digital revolution has moved on apace and we have seen a revolution in camera use, not least in the substitution of smart phones for compact cameras when taking snapshots. The quality of pictures taken by these little marvels cannot be understated. In fact, the most important newspaper in Chicago, USA, recently fired all its photographers and distributed iPhones among its writers instead. It won't be long before the same thing happens over on this side of the Atlantic.

    Today we get so much of our information via our computers, our smart pads and our smart phones. The pictures that are sent to us this way are necessarily of small size and low resolution. It's all that’s needed. We now live in a digital age.

    The fact of the matter is that the ongoing death throes of print media may be bad news for traditional photographers but it's good news for anyone with a mobile phone. Today, a lot of what is published in the on-line news media and on television news is recorded via a mobile phone that a member of the public has witnessed. Not only that but we now usually get the benefit of a live-action recording too. (If only the camera/phone operators would remember to hold their phones horizontally so that they get a landscape shape image that fits our computer and television screens.)

    Of course, there is no benefit of a zoom lens (yet) on a smart phone, so users have to get in close to the action. However, all they have to do is point the lens towards the subject and hold their phone steady while they are doing so. The quality of pictures now achievable with the iPhone 6 are nothing short of spectacular.

    So how does this translate to underwater photography?

    Well, thanks to i-Pix, you can now buy a housing that will enable you to use your iPhone5,

    iPix iPhone5 housing i-Pix iPhone5 housing

    iPhone6 or iPhone6 Plus as an underwater camera. The first rule of underwater photography is to get close  to reduce the amount of water through which the camera has to look. No zoom lens is not a drawback and instead you can fit a supplementary  wide-angle wet lens instead. This will enable you to get closer to larger subjects without cropping the picture. If you want to make close-ups, there is a close-up lens available for each housing too. These 'wet' lenses are interchangeable when you are underwater.

    The housings themselves are rated to either 56-metres deep or 40-metres deep respectively but since you cannot synchronise any off-board flashgun with a smart phone (yet) it means staying shallow and using natural light. A red filter will ensure that you get good colour in your results.

    iPix Iphone6 housing i-Pix iPhone6 housing

    Already I can hear you asking how on earth you can use the touch-screen to control your camera phone while you are under water? Well, of course, when it’s in its housing you cannot. Instead you can download a free app from the Internet that will allow you top control the camera functions of your phone be means of a set of buttons provided.

    Buttons are alternative to a touch-screen Buttons are alternative to a touch-screen

    The other functions of the phone are disabled at this time.  You won’t be able to make phone calls while you are under water. Even nuclear submarines have to send up a buoy on a line with an ariel to do that!

    Sick of seeing people taking pictures with their phones at the end of a selfie-stick? Go one better! You can even take underwater selfies! You could be uber-cool, taking your iPhone under water and the pictures you can take with it will wow your friends. You can email them or post them on FaceBook as soon as you surface.

    As an added side-effect, once your iPhone is safely installed in its underwater housing you can take it virtually anywhere. You won't have to worry about humidity or other inhospitable conditions affecting its performance. If you want to take your iPhone even deeper than the depth-limits already mentioned, there is the Patima iPhone housing rated to an 80-metres operational depth. Enjoy!

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