Ocean Leisure Diving and Photography Blog

  • 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!

  • New Compact Cameras for Underwater Photography

    I have to admit that during my twenty-one years with Diver Magazine as its Technical Editor, I was never much of a fan of compact cameras for underwater use. I found that generally speaking, their response time and underwater white-balancing left a lot to be desired. Even using a compact to record my children on a beach holiday in the Maldives left me feeling frustrated because the time-difference between pressing the shutter-release and recording the image left me with lots of pictures of vacant sand where the fast moving kids were no longer present. All that has changed. For example, the latest range of Canon compacts, starting with the S120 and peaking with the G7X, has a wide range of manual white-balancing specifications for in-camera jpegs that can be activated with a single press of one button once that option has been chosen when setting up the camera. Not only that but each takes a picture almost instantaneously the shutter release is pressed. They both also shoot RAW files with all the advantages those represent when it comes to home computer post-processing but these take a little longer to record onto the memory card in the camera than a conventional jpeg.

    Canon G7X
    The Canon S120 is the latest incarnation in a long-running range of little cameras that have long been popular with divers and costs only around £490 when bought as a package with its proprietary housing, but the Canon G7X has a much larger sensor meaning it can be used at higher light-sensitivity (ISO) settings without any electronic noise disfiguring the pictures. This means it gives excellent results by the light available at greater depths. With a polycarbonate Canon proprietary housing, expect to pay around £700 for it. The fly in that particular ointment was until recently the fact that the only submersible housing originally available for the G7X was one that did not accept ancillary lenses. Without a wide-angle wet lens fitted, one had to stand off the subject further than would otherwise be normal and the ensuing loss in quality thanks to the extra water it shot through lost the G7X any advantage over the S120 it might have had. recsea_rx1003_rearAgain, all that has changed with the advent of housings for the G7X by third-party manufacturers and the soon-to-arrive Inon adapter for the proprietary Canon housing. These can accept both wide-angle and macro lenses that fit directly to them without resorting to any adapter. Of course a bespoke precision machined aluminium housing such as that made by Nauticam at around £765 comes with a cost differential that puts it beyond the budget of many people but the neat little Recsea housing bridges the gap between that and the polycarbonate entry-level version. (Incidentally, there will soon be an additional fitting available at extra cost that will finally allow you to fit wet lenses to this too.) recsea_g7x_frontThe Recsea housing costs around £475 meaning this package of G7X and housing totals approximately £975. The housing is machined in Japan from durable corrosion-resistant POM and acrylic and as such is lightweight. POM is an engineering thermoplastic used in precision parts requiring high stiffness, low friction and excellent dimensional stability. In common with many other synthetic polymers, it is produced by different suppliers with slightly different formulas and sold under various names such as Delrin etc. The Recsea housing is rated to operate down to 50m deep and its clear acrylic back-plate is kept closed on to its water-tight sealing O-ring by a dial locking system. It offers full access to all the regular camera controls including the rotating front ring around the lens. You can use it in full Manual mode with access to both shutter-speed settings and lens apertures. A camera strobe diffuser and strobe mask with external strobe connection mount is included.recsea_g7x_open It weighs a mere 678g out of the water yet it is conveniently just negatively buoyant with camera installed when diving. Most importantly, the fixed front port of the Recsea housing has a 67mm thread that allows the user to fit a wide-angle or macro lens. The Inon UWL-S100 ZM80 (around £350) and the Subsee +10 Close-up lens (around £210) are popular examples. There is also a similarly neat Recsea housing available for the Sony RX100 mkIII camera that employs a sensor of almost identical specification to the Canon G7X. Both these cameras offer an interesting compact solution with picture quality approaching that of the more bulky and commensurately more expensive micro four-thirds cameras in their own submersible housings. recsea_g7x_rearI anticipate seeing a lot on the camera tables of dive boats and can recognise that the G7X and Recsea combination will appeal to those travelling Economy class by air without too much carry-on baggage allowance because it weighs so little and takes up so little space. You can buy both Canon cameras and housings at Ocean Leisure Cameras.

  • Choosing a Liveaboard Dive Boat

    Some years ago I was asked to write a feature about the worst liveaboards in the world. It was easy for me. I didn’t need to do much research. I simply wrote about the ones I had experienced and, shamefully, even one that I had worked on as a dive guide. We all tend to be rather naïve when making purchasing decisions. We are led by marketing hype, brand image and, quite frankly, the features that are important to us personally. When we chose which liveaboard to take a diving trip on we are often keen to confirm that the cabin will be large and comfortable enough, the food will be to our taste, and that the vessel looks like our idea of the sort of luxury yacht that will make our friends and neighbours envious of our holiday. Quite rightly so. However, recent tragedies that have happened in the world might give us pause for thought. Who would have thought that a magnificent luxury cruise liner would run into a reef near an Italian island and turn turtle? Who would have thought that a modern Boeing 777 would simply disappear in flight? When we choose a liveaboard we should remember one very important aspect; it isn’t simply a hotel that we choose to spend a period of time in. It’s a vessel that is floating on the surface of the ocean and that only by the grace of Archimedes’ principle.

    This vessel was lost to a fire while the passengers were diving.
    Coming back from a dive to find that your mothership no longer exists is an experience that will live with you forever, but it has happened. Abandoning a vessel during a trans-ocean crossing is not something that I’d recommend as a character-building experience. Swimming with nothing more than you were wearing in your bunk (mainly nothing) because your vessel went down in the night might save your life but it takes the edge off your vacation. You might think that these are extreme examples but, without pillorying any particular liveaboard operation, they have all happened recently and on more than one occasion. So what tips can I give you to help in deciding which liveaboard is best for your needs? I’ll leave the details of creature comforts to you to decide on and deal with aspects that you might not have thought of, bearing in mind that all boats float on and are at the mercy of the ocean.
    An Egyptian liveaboard dive boat that touched the reef.
    Firstly, there are mainly two types of hull construction, wood and metal (usually steel but sometimes aluminium). Wooden vessels are quick and cheap to construct and easy to repair – but then they need to be. Back in the early ’nineties, the steel hulled motor yacht that I worked on, as a dive-guide, in the Sudan ran onto the reef-top nearly every night when the wind changed and the impossibly difficult skipper refused to accommodate that idea when we moored up. If we had been in a vessel with a wooden hull, it would have been damaged, possibly fatally, the first time but the heavy German steel of our vessel took it out on the reef each time rather than the other way around. We crew only had the regular task of pulling it off as soon as we heard the first tell-tale groaning sounds that were only matched by our own as much needed sleep was interrupted. Today, most Egyptian liveaboard are built from wood and despite being finished to afford the height of luxury for the passengers, the Red Sea is littered with the remains of those that ‘touched’ the reef. That said, nothing sinks quicker than a steel vessel full of water, which is where watertight doors become essential. If a vessel is divided into sections separated by watertight doors, safety in a worst-case scenario can probably be assured. I remember the owner of one newly-built steel vessel proudly showing me round and pointing out such a watertight door at one end of the companionway below decks but being unimpressed when I in turn pointed out that the stern end had no such protection and was effectively open to the sea. After some years of operation, that otherwise lovely yacht. Mv.Oyster, lies on the seabed near the reef it hit at speed. Hull shape can be important too. If the vessel is likely to meet anything more than a glass calm sea, it will need to be a ‘dry’ boat in that water does not pour down the decks and it should not roll so alarmingly that the passengers are left clinging to their bunks. Wooden vessels tend to bob on the surface while steel hulls plough through the waves. Wooden vessels are lighter and can be faster while steel-hulled vessels are often more ponderous but more stable in rough water. Ask about the sea-keeping qualities of the vessel. Safe open ocean crossings demand the safety of two engines. A vessel without motive power is a vessel at risk. If your itinerary remains close to shore and help should you need it, a single-engine vessel will probably be safe enough. A good example of this is any vessel working within the weather-protected atolls of the Maldives where the mothership is usually closely permanently accompanied by a large ‘diving dhoni’. Other examples might be vessels working within the calm lagoons of Palau or Truk (Chuuk). Consider the intended route, ask how many engines a vessel has and make an informed decision.
    Panorama Explorer on its maiden voyage.
    Should it be intended to make a long ocean crossing such as that made out to Cocos Island or Aldabra Atoll, a single engine is one too few. I have been amazed to see a local bangka boat, constructed mainly from bamboo poles and fishing line, powered by a single improvised truck engine, hundreds of miles from shore at Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines. Some popular vessels that were designed with a single engine in the style of those you might see working safely within the close knit islands of the Indonesian archipelago, have recently been fitted with an auxiliary engine to satisfy safety requirements but I wonder how easily, in the event of need, they are steered by a propeller set well to one side of the rudder. You’ll want to know about generators and water-makers because running out of either electricity or water can be very inconvenient but the loss of generators can be disastrous (I know!) so you need to know that the vessel has more than one. Much of the vessel’s essential equipment depends on the ability of the generators to deliver. Thankfully, most vessels now have good navigation equipment but it still depends on the crew’s ability to use it. Back in my day as a crew member aboard the mv.Lady Jenny V, I always marvelled at the way the passengers slept soundly in their cabins while we made night crossings. Apart from the captain and I, the crew were all ‘backpackers’ working their passage in exchange for some free diving. None of them were competent to drive the boat but they each had to take a turn in the wheelhouse. We had auto-pilot, radar, a compass and the new-fangled GPS so it should have been simple but it seemed to me that every night when I took over I needed to avert an otherwise imminent disaster. One night all the passengers fell out of their bunk when our ‘engineer’ suddenly realised he was about to hit the shore and turned the vessel so abruptly he nearly sank it. It should never have happened. Ask about the competency of the crew.
    Royal Evolution is certified as an international passenger-carrying vessel with all the safety requirements.
    Communications equipment is vital. Does the vessel have a powerful marine VHF radio and are all the passengers briefed on a Mayday procedure before setting off? It’s not good having the means if the only person who knows how to use it is incapacitated or fallen overboard. Are the life-rafts regularly serviced? I was recently on a fabulously well-appointed boat but realised after a couple of days there were no life-rafts. (There are now!) People never like to think about these things. Let’s hope you never have to. Finally, what medical facilities are there and what happens in the event of the need for an emergency evacuation? All good passenger vessels, whether small liveaboard motor yachts of vast Italian cruise liners should give the passengers a proper safety briefing before leaving port. Evidently the passengers of the Costa Concordia were due to get one on the third day of their trip and that was after disaster had happened.
    Liveaboard mv.Orion in the Maldives.
    Ask the questions and get the reply in writing before you book.

  • It’s Amazing!

    The aft deck of dive boats regularly ring with anecdotes of past experiences delivered with relish. Divers enjoy an adventurous pastime and we all have had experiences, both good and bad, that are unusual. As a diving journalist of over twenty years with more than two hundred and forty different dive trips under my belt I had more than most, so when a publisher approached me to write a collection of diving stories to sit alongside its Amazing Sailing Stories and Amazing Fishing Stories my ego was boosted and I thought I was obviously the man for the job. It was only when they told me they needed around sixty-five different stories that my confidence began to falter. It seemed rather a lot. So I negotiated an extra few months to the manuscript delivery date and went home to sit down and write it.

    Trapped! (p225)
    It’s funny how one story reminds one of the next and it was only a couple of months before the job was done. Although I witnessed or was directly involved in most of the events I retold, the book is in no way autobiographical. I decided to write myself out of the commentary. It reads better that way. Once I had sent copies of the text to each of the other divers featured, so that they could confirm that I had got each story factually correct, it went off to the publisher.
    Lord Tebbit and the Turtle (p11)
    I was away on holiday at my old stamping ground in Mallorca when the first finished copy of the book was delivered to me and I was able to show it to a few old friends who lived there. They immediately asked if I included the tale of when the girl diver got bitten in the face by the conger eel, followed only by enquiries about the time we fell out of my dive boat at speed and it circled round unmanned, trying to kill us. These were just two of the sixty-five stories.
    Mauled by a Dinosaur! (p157)
    It’s not a ‘how to do it’ book nor is it a book of photographs. It is simply a collection of true events, set all around the world and as varied from each other as can be possible, so that each is atypical but retold as it happened. Five thousand hard-back copies of Amazing Diving Stories were sold within the first year, which is unprecedented for a diving title. It has recently been reprinted as a paperback and it’s in stock at Ocean Leisure (£12.99) if you’d like a copy signed by the author and if you already have a copy, bring it in to be signed.

  • Regulator Testing by Diving Magazines

    Everyone has had the experience of a broken domestic iron because it got knocked off the ironing board but would you think it a legitimate comparison test of domestic irons to see how well each fared subject to a drop test? No? I thought not, but that’s equivalent to what a British diving magazine has resorted to with its latest comparison test of regulators. They wanted to find out which regulator was toughest when subjected to the sort of disaster that rarely happens, by dropping a scuba tank on each or dropping a scuba tank in turn with each regulator fitted. Not very scientific nor easily kept consistent between each drop but they did it anyhow. It was like testing and comparing domestic irons by dropping them on the floor! Magazine editorials have been reduced to performing such stunts because since CE-certification for regulators was introduced and the ANSTI regulator-testing machine was developed to give an objective computerized result, quite frankly all regulators, certainly all those sold at Ocean Leisure, will give an easy breathe.

    Test divers with multiple tanks head out to deep water. Test divers with multiple tanks head out to deep water.
    86-87-1 Two divers breathe simultaneously from one regulator.
    I’m partly to blame for this state of affairs because around thirty years ago I started doing comparison tests of regulators, not only with a breathing machine but with groups of divers who actually breathed off each tested model at depth and compared the qualities of each. When we started doing this we discovered some horrors. Some regulators were not safe to take deeper than eighteen-metres while others were excellent breathers. The test made good copy for the magazine I was technical editor of and we managed to get the overall quality of regulators available up to a high standard. I went with a group of divers and multiple tanks each time down to fifty-metres-plus where they were able to experience the different way in which these regulators delivered air (the densest gas likely to be put through such a device) and make notes. In fact copious notes were made and two divers would breathe off one regulator to check each was good for an out-of-air emergency.
    Copious notes were made at depth. Copious notes were made at depth.
    It was uncanny in the way the experiences of the different divers coincided. I was always careful to choose experienced divers who were competent to work at depth and checked by springing upon them a written test at depth for nitrogen narcosis before we started the regulator comparisons in earnest. Then CE-certification came in and manufacturers had to make sure their products met the standard or go out of business. In the most recent tests I orchestrated, we found that there was little to choose between them unless any had a positive manufacturing fault. Most recently we were reduced to noting cosmetic differences and by-and-large these tests became pointless. Hence the ‘toughest regulator test’ we have recently witnessed. Of course there are some design differences. Piston-type regulators deliver the most air and for this reason they prove popular with those that dive in warm water conditions, but they are less suitable for use in cold fresh water than diaphragm-type regulators. Many of these have heat-sinks incorporated to take what little warmth there is in the water and transfer it to the very cold gas that is passing depressurized from the diver’s tank. If you are going to use a regulator in water polluted with muck or fine sand, one that is environmentally sealed might be more appropriate._DSC0159 Then there’s the question of servicing. Some makes are less well supplied with spare parts in remote parts of the world than others. Some enjoy very long servicing intervals indeed whereas others should be serviced annually, The staff at Ocean Leisure are exceedingly knowledgeable and if you can tell them your particular needs and requirements will be able to advise you which regulator is best for you. Whichever you choose to buy, hopefully, you won’t experience a car driving over your regulator anytime soon and they all breathe well!

  • Choosing a Suit for Diving.

    Water is a great conductor of heat. It conducts heat twenty-five times faster than air, which is why we use it in our central-heating systems. However the same thing applies when we are surrounded by water. It conducts away heat very quickly and no matter how tropical it may be, unless the water is as warm as your normal skin temperature, you will eventually get chilled. The right suit for the prevailing conditions will keep you comfortable. You may only need a skin, or maybe a 3mm neoprene wetsuit, but it will make all the difference between a long and relaxed dive and maybe one that is shorter and ends with the shivers. People vary greatly in their physical make-up together with their tolerance for discomfort so there are no strict rules. While a 3mm suit might be right for one person, another might demand a 7mm-thick wetsuit. Ocean Leisure stocks a range of suits from the lightest of lightweight dive-skins through to the warmest of warm drysuits. What is really important is that whichever suit you choose, it fits you properly and the changing rooms at Ocean Leisure are busy with people checking just that. Luckily, the modern materials from which these suits are made of are so flexible that these suits are easy to slip in and out of.360836 You may feel comfortable swimming in nothing more than a skimpy swimming costume but another advantage of a diving suit is that is makes the wearing of scuba equipment much more comfortable and it also stops your skin from getting inadvertently damaged by knocks against coral or rocky substrate. Abrasions to your epidermis can be significant especially in the tropics as there are a plethora of pathogens in sea-water. Your skin is your first line of defence and a break in this can lead to infections that can end up being more than inconvenient. Not only that but a wetsuit can protect you against the ravages of man-eating plankton too. This minute zoo-plankton is formed from tiny animals that inhabit all tropical seas and in some areas its irritating effect is known as sea-itch. That’s why we tend to recommend a full-length suit. 310175A dry suits keep you dry while the insulation against the cold is provided by the garments worn underneath it. This can vary from a mere thin woollen undergarment that one might wear in Egypt’s Red Sea in the colder months to the full nine-yards of a thick undersuit more suitable for use in Britain’s chilly waters. If you are surprised at the suggestion to wear a drysuit in Egypt, bear in mind that while the water temperature might be equable, a cold wind can blow off the desert and this can leave those who climb out of their damp wetsuits feeling quite chilly while the drysuit user is still comfortable and warm.   132053Some people will tell you that the fit of a drysuit is less important. We disagree. A properly fitting drysuit will allow you to swim as freely as you would in a wetsuit. Whichever suit you choose, make sure it’s one that fits you properly. Spend time trying on more than one. The helpful people that form the staff at Ocean Leisure are there to help you choose the suit that’s right for you and the water in which you will be diving.

  • Shark Feeding - The Rights and Wrongs?

    Bull shark in the Bahamas with Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch
    It seems that many modern-day divers have very mixed feelings about methods to get close-up and personal with sharks. They want to say they have dived with sharks but many don’t want them close enough to see properly or for them to feel it’s they that have been seen by the sharks. Dive guides in the Red Sea will protest that they get plenty of close-up interaction with sharks without baiting but these are Oceanic White-tip sharks that are ocean wanderers and opportunistic feeders. They will make a close pass of anything including a diver to check out if it’s a potential meal. Interactions are exciting but brief in the extreme.
    Oceanic White-tip Shark in the Red Sea
    These sharks are regularly fed because they follow the busy shipping movements on the Red Sea, a main route between Asia and Europe. All the trash is thrown overboard from these vessels. They’ve been doing this for more than 100 years. The bigger diving liveaboards that are now in evidence make the same noises and ring the dinner bell for these animals. On the other hand, the big populations of grey reef sharks and other reef species have, in the main, long since gone from Egyptian waters. Most sharks are cautious. That’s how they get to grow old in a shark-eat-shark world, and size matters. Divers are usually bigger in comparison to most sharks and sharks usually prefer to stay away from them rather than risk injury from what might be another large predator.
    At a Caribbean reef shark feed in the Bahamas
    Of course, there are many different ways to attract sharks and I’ve witnessed shark-feeding techniques in many parts of the world. Bearing in mind that sharks tend to be big animals with mouths full of sharp teeth, my opinion of the different methods I have seen is quite variable from the orderly method using one piece of bait at a time at the end of a short spear as developed by Stuart Cove, the famous shark-wrangler to the movie industry, to the rather risky methods I witnessed in French Polynesia. There, the dive guide carried a severed mahi-mahi head under his BC and would cut bits of with a knife, offering it in his bare hand to passing hungry sharks. I questioned if this was not just a bit too risky? I think he finally agreed after he had his hand sewn back together later. We hear all sorts of arguments along the lines of how sharks lose their ability to hunt naturally if they are fed. I would suggest that the amount of food offered at a typical shark-feed is tiny in proportion to the number of sharks present so it represents nothing more than a free snack. Sharks have a hierarchy and defer to larger sharks. None want to get injured by another shark so that when dead bait is offered there is little sense of competition among the animals. Sharks are not the undiscerning predators depicted by the media. Stuart Cove will tell you that he uses different types of bait for attracting different species of shark. For instance Caribbean reef sharks love grouper heads whereas Great Hammerheads look for stingrays in the sand. In the absence of any stingray cleanings being available, he’ll use barracuda parts. For an expedition to photograph oceanic white-tips, I saw him buy 500lb of bonito, and so on. We also hear opinions that shark-feeding encourages sharks to associate humans with food and yet there are no facts to back this up. There are far more shark attacks off the coast of Florida where shark-feeding has been banned for years than almost anywhere else in the world.
    If you want dramatic close-ups, like this Great Hammerhead shark, you've got to get close!
    At the same time Mike Neuman, owner of Beqa Adventure Divers in Fiji says he is against the ‘shark huggers’, that’s to say, those people who say that sharks are harmless and need our affection. I think we can all agree with him in that requiem sharks generally have a mouth full of sharp teeth and if you want to get close to them you should be aware of that but if you want good pictures of sharks, you've got to get close – very close!

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