Diving Stories

  • It’s One Up, All Up!

    It’s common practise, when you learn to dive, for one instructor to take charge of six trainees, aided by a dive master. All well and good. In many parts of the world, groups of divers are escorted by a single dive guide, often misnamed a ‘dive master’, provided they act together in buddy pairs.

    However, it’s getting more common for solitary divers to turn up on paid-for dives and be paired in an impromptu way will someone they have not met before, do not know and have no real allegiance to. Sometimes, they are not paired at all, but thanks to that ritual transferred over from training, often as many as six divers go in and follow a single dive guide. Sometimes these groups are bigger and sometimes there is also a second dive guide bringing up the rear.

    All well and good -- until something goes wrong.

    What if a diver inadvertently drops a weight belt? One dive guide will be needed to stop them from ascending uncontrollably while the other has to go and retrieve the weights. That leaves five divers unattended.

    That might be an unusual situation (it happens) but what about if a diver needs or wants to curtail a dive early? A blown tank O-ring or an inability to clear ears might happen most likely at the beginning of a dive but what if a diver feels unwell or simply runs low on air?

    Dives cost a lot of money, not to mention their rarity thanks to the fact that vacations are usually fewer than we’d like. If you are paired with someone who wants to curtail the dive early, what do you do?

    There have been cases recently like the incident with Tammy R Schmitz, 43, from Denver, Colorado, on holiday earlier this year in Cozumel, where she wanted to abort the dive and the second dive guide with the group took her to the depth of a safety stop but she was found later dead on the seabed. We’ll never know what happened or why, because she was on her own when she died.

    The fact of the matter is, whether you like it or not, if your buddy wants to abort a dive, you should have no option but to do the same, staying together. Waving them goodbye as they head up and rejoining the rest of a group is not good enough. It you are diving in a concentric group without defined buddies, if one of the group wants to abort the dive, all have to.

    It’s one up, all up! If you want to dive within your own parameter of time and depth, you should either sport a solo diver or self-sufficient diver cert card or pay for a one-to-one guide.

    Annoying? Yes, but it might be a matter of life or death.



  • Fancy Buying Your Own Dive Centre?

    Fancy Buying a Dive Business? it’s not for the faint-hearted!

    With kids growing up and leaving home, it’s a time to re-evaluate your life and maybe do the thing you’re always denied yourself in the past. It’s a time when some middle-aged men buy big motorcycles and some ladies take up tennis! We divers usually take this as an opportunity to book all those dive trips we promised ourselves and some of us even go one stage further.

    Some change their lives by doing a PADI (or other) instructor course. Others want to be their own boss. What would it be like to own your own dive centre somewhere exotic, where the sun always shines and everyone is intent on having a good time?

    Last year, a young Australian man, 26-year-old Josh Ptassznyk, won such a Pacific island dive resort at Kosrae in a raffle. It only cost him a US$49 ticket! Most of us would need to invest a lot more, but with property prices in most cities booming, it may be tempting to sell up and make a life-changing move.

    So what’s available and what would it cost? We caution any would-be buyer that besides the capital investment there’s also the initial running costs to consider so you’d need a cash cushion to see you through the early days. Many sellers offer a hand-over period when they stay on (normally for around three months) to see you safely past any pitfalls waiting for the unwary or inexperienced dive resort or centre owner.

    At the same time, many such businesses are up for sale because of the ill-health or old-age of the incumbent owner, so it’s not something that would be suitable for the aged or infirm to buy.

    Once we started to investigate, we came across a plethora of business opportunities, varying from some that were close by civilisation and others that were very remote indeed.

    Have You Linguistic Skills?

    Do you speak French? How about a centre in Tikehau, an island in the Tua Motos of French Polynesia? It has some of the best shark diving in the world but i’s a very long way from medical help should you need it. The Philippines might be more appealing. There’s a PADI 5-star center up for grabs in northern Palawan. Either will set you back around a quarter of a million dollars. Can you speak Spanish? For less than half that price, there’s a dive centre in Taganga, Santa Marta, Colombia for sale.

    If you’re not ready to go the whole hog, you could investigate a partnership before you find yourself in deep water. For a mere 60 grand, someone is looking for a partner for their growing Discover Scuba Diving business at Koh Samui in Thailand. Of course, partnerships can be fraught with difficulties so it’s worth consulting a local lawyer first.

    For half-a-million dollars there’s a lot of choice. What about a set up on a small remote island in North Suluwesi, Indonesia? It’s a Bangka resort with seven rooms but the potential to expand. Life is full of unplanned surprises and the current owners have got a new family and want to move their family back to the UK for the sake of their education. Their baby is still young so they won’t be disappearing too quickly. They’ll probably be around for a couple of years to hold your hand while you take over the reins of the business. For around the same amount of money, a boutique dive hotel in the Maldives is looking for an investor who will get involved in the day-to-day running of the business.

    Fancy a small liveaboard that takes six passengers? Norwegian Freddy Storheil, a pioneer of diving in the Red Sea and later Thailand and the Mergui archipelago, has decided to retire at long last and his steel ketch Colona II, now laid up in the Philippines, is up for sale for US$180,000. It’s a vessel familiar to many European divers and you could even sail around the world in her. (Freddy has!) If you were looking for something bigger, there’s a diving ship available in Croatia for a mere one-and-a-half million dollars. It takes up to 22 divers. The present owners are Swedish and in the three years it took to make everything legal, they’ve changed their minds about the activities they want to pursue and are concentrating instead on their hotel and restaurant on the Croatian island of Brac.

    Be aware that is some countries you need a local as a business partner to operate legally. Evidently not so on the island of Niue in the South Pacific. Here there’s a dive business complete with a house to live in, for sale at half-a-million dollars and the deal includes five boats and four cars. The seller cites health concerns as a reason for selling up.

    If you’ve already read that new novel by KL Smith, Tropical Ice, you might be tempted to spend $650,000 on a dive business at Ambergris Caye, Belize, or for $395,000 there’s dive centre on Roatan, Honduras. It’s on offer, with up to one year as a hand-over period from the previous owner. For the same sort of money, there’s a dive business for sale in Honiara, in the Solomon Islands. Again, the present owner is retiring.

    If you wanted somewhere close to the US, there’s a start-up dive business for sale in Baja California for only $40,000. You should be aware it’s only been in operation for a year and the season lasts only eight months of the year.

    Everyone needs to go home eventually. $180,000 will buy you a thriving PADI/SSI business in Playa Herradura and Playa Jaco in Costa Rica. The owner says he’s getting old and wants to return to Italy where he has another dive centre that needs some time dedicated to it.

    Failing health is a common reason for owners to sell their businesses abroad. It’s the case with a dive centre in Utila, Honduras. The Deep Blue Resort is accommodates up to 20 guests with three ocean front buildings and a weather-safe dock for its dive boat. It’s available for $1.2 million. (That’s less than the price of an average house in London.)

    Somewhere Closer to Home?

    Europeans readers might find a European dive centre more appealing because you’re still in range of EU health-cover – something that’s important as you get older – although the warm weather might only lasts for five months of the year. How about an established sea-front PADI 5-star IDC centre in Gran Canaria for €195,000? Or something similar on Spain’s Costa Brava for €240,000? Half that amount will buy you a dive centre on Portugal’s Madeira and half of that again will see you picking up the keys to a dive centre on the Spanish mainland at Cala Honda, Granada.

    Some Sage Advice

    A word of caution from someone who had his own dive centre once: Retirement is an important aspect to consider. Operating a dive centre can be hard work. It’s not for the faint-hearted. Out in the boat, while the customers are enjoying the ride, the owner has one eye on the weather. While those same customers are enjoying a riotous evening, the dive centre owner might be hard at work stripping down the compressor. It’s not a business for someone wants to take it easy. It certainly isn’t something to do when you retire and remember if you want to make a small fortune from diving, it’s best to start with a large one! You’ll find more information at www.divecenterforsale.com/listings






  • An Avoidable Tragedy in Cozumel

    Mexico’s Caribbean island of Cozumel provides some startlingly good diving, which is often experienced by American divers since it is so conveniently close to the US. Diving tends to be organised in groups. It is not unusual for individual divers to turn up for dives.There are strong currents. This can lead to problems if one of the divers needs to return to the surface during a dive and that is what happened to a lady recently, with fatal consequences.

    The dive had not started well. It is reported that she had trouble with the inflator mechanism of her BC. Presumably, it tended to jam open or her own BC was not compatible with the regulator and direct-feed she had rented. So she disconnected it, intending to only connect the direct feed when she needed to put some air into her BC. This may be something that a well-practised regular diver can cope with but if anything else went wrong, it could lead to an incident pit.

    And something did go wrong. During the dive, she decided to abort and the dive guide went with her to the depth of a safety stop at, say, 5m deep. He had to be quick because on the current: He could easily lose contact with the rest of the group he was escorting. So he left her there, assuming she was competent enough to make it the short distance to the surface. He successfully rejoined his charges ar depth and continued the dive.

    We don't know what happened next. Her computer would not have recorded whether she actually made the surface or not, but her lifeless body was discovered by an entirely different group of divers some time later. It may well be that on achieving the surface, she forgot how to inflate her BC orally. She probably struggled to reconnect the direct-feed hose whilst finning furiously to stay at the surface. She might never ever have done that. She might have been carrying too much lead. She certainly did not drop her weights. Consequently, she eventually dropped and drowned. Drowning is never like it is portrayed in the movies. Struggling to keep afloat, she would have become exhausted and quietly slipped away. Nobody would have seen her go.

    What can we learn from this tragic series of events, a series of events that happens only too often with leisure divers? Firstly, never go diving unless your equipment is working one hundred percent efficiently. Secondly, be neutrally buoyant at all times. This means never wearing more lead than you need. If you think you need a lot of lead to go under, you are probably holding a large lungful of air. A properly weighted diver needs only to exhale fully to leave the surface.

    If you are neutrally buoyant, you will have no trouble swimming up to the surface, but wearing your tank and weights, you might need supplementary buoyancy to be able to stay afloat, breathing the atmosphere comfortably. This is when you need to inflate your BC and use it as a life preserver.  Know how to inflate your BC orally. That is why it has a corrugated hose. You do not need to use that hose to dump air (through the oral inflation valve) as many instructors still appear to teach. You have a dump valve positioned at the shoulder for that.

    If for some reason you cannot inflate your BC, you can still achieve flotation by dropping the lead weights you carry. I know that many worry about replacing integrated-weight pockets or a weightbelt after it has been dropped in this way, but it’s a small price to pay for your life, isn’t it?

    Think about it. Familiarize yourself with these actions. There is no reason to die in such foolish circumstances. And don’t expect anyone else to save you from your own folly. Don’t abdicate responsibility for your own well-being or even your life to a third person, someone you probably only met a short time before you went diving. Know how to work all your gear. Check that you know how to drop your weights and practise inflating your BC orally. Practice helps muscle memory so that it becomes second nature.

  • Ocean Leisure Does Not Sell Rebreathers

    There’s a good reason for this but it may come as a surprise when I was at the forefront of promoting this new way of diving as far back as 1993. In those days I had the privilege of using a prototype PRISM rebreather, taught under the auspices of its inventor Peter Readey. I wrote an article for Diver Magazine (UK) that was entitled “I have seen the future and it works”.

    However, the units we used had neoprene counter-lungs and we even dried out our scrubber material in the sun before repacking it, promising CO2 poisoning. How we were not killed was down to luck.

    The author with Peter Readey 1993 The author with Peter Readey in1993 (note the stylish wetsuit!)

    I experimented on terra firma with hypoxia by breathing from the unit with the O2 turned off. I wanted to know what the symptoms of oxygen starvation were. I discovered there were none. I simply went out like a light. If I was underwater I would have drowned but luckily I only suffered a severe headache for a day.

    Next, I was certified by Rob Palmer as TDI SCR diver No4 on the Dräger Atlantis, even though during the course one of the other trainees suffered a bad soda lime influx.

    My introduction to closed-circuit came courtesy of Martin Parker and Dave Thompson who had made some prototype rebreathers that were the forerunners of the Inspiration. Every time we surfaced, we joked it was amazing that we were still alive, we used so little gas. An article in Diver Magazine (UK) followed. I couldn’t wait to get to use a production model and within a couple of years, I found myself away in the Maldives with Martin with the very first units.

    Dave Thompson and Martin Parker with prototype Inspirations Dave Thompson and Martin Parker with prototype Inspirations.

    I was so excited about the performance possible that I wrote about this too in Diver Magazine (UK). We didn’t have any dive computers that were appropriate for closed-circuit diving so we introduced a bit of guesswork into the dives by setting the equivalent nitrox mix on our OC computers for the planned deepest part of the dive. One dive did not go as planned!

    I became certified as APD CCR Rebreather Diver No4. It seemed No4 was my lucky number. At that time, the duration of the Inspiration scrubber unit was thought to be to be 6.5 hours but the manufacturer had not considered how mean divers were and there was one notable death caused by running the same material for more than 10 hours. The manufacturer’s specification for the duration was soon changed to 3 hours to accommodate this phenomenon. That’s the duration at the CE test rate - 40RMV in 4°C. Later, the manufacturer introduced a temperature stick that gave an indication of scrubber efficacy. Nevertheless, divers still had to pack and manage their CO2 scrubbers efficiently.

    I then took an Inspiration on various diving trips and boat owners were very accommodating, allowing me to dive alone since CCR divers were few and very far between. The popularity of CCR seemed assured.

    It was in Cocos when I managed to do a dive and, being distracted by a whaleshark, failed to set my high set-point and could have seriously injured myself if I had not opted for in-water recompression (using the unit as an oxygen rebreather). Later, manufacturers introduced automatic set-point switching after they realised there were stupid people like me using them! Nowadays the calculations of deco computer built into the units take care of that sort of error too.

    The author with a Sentinel CCR (photo: Kevin Gurr) The author with a Sentinel CCR (photo: Kevin Gurr)

    However, during this earlier time there were some mysterious deaths by early adopters, all very experienced divers. Some had turned off their O2 supply in the shallows (to save gas?) not realising that the body needs a greater volume of oxygen as the ambient pressure decreases. Some were simply unexplained. I gained my own theory about these unexplained deaths when away in the Sea of Cortez with a closed-circuit PRISM. I found that it was possible to install the scrubber canister upside-down in the darkness of early morning and thereby by-passed it. I suffered a CO2 hit on the surface before diving but managed to still jump in the water, I was so confused. Recovered to the boat, I nearly suffered a heart attack but survived after a full day’s rest. It was devastating. If it had happened during the dive, I would have been credited with having had a heart attack. The scrubber canister was redesigned!

    The author and Dave Thompson with JJ rebreathers. The author and Dave Thompson with JJ rebreathers.

    I then went on to use the Sentinel rebreather under the watchful eye of its inventor Kevin Gurr, and the Scandinavian-made JJ Rebreather with Dave Thompson. Articles in Diver Magazine followed. Advances in oxygen cell technology and electronics had made oxygen level management a cinch. There were also adventures with the Evolution, a travel version of the Inspiration and Recreational versions of both Evolution and Inspiration that promised to take all the errors out of practical use. I then tried the user-friendly Poseidon Mk6 under the guidance of Jack Ingle. That company hoped to start a mass market for ordinary leisure divers. A vast number of divers have taken to rebreather diving.

    Technical divers began doing dives that were unheard of using traditional open-circuit scuba due to the amount of gas they would have needed to carry. However, obsessed with hypoxia as a danger, we had all overlooked hypercapnia or CO2 poisoning, another real killer. It had taken a back seat as a danger from the past.

    Familiarity can breed contempt. Confident divers were still coming to the surface with counter-lungs inflated as their unit attempted to give them more oxygen in the shallows than they needed at depth. This meant they could float comfortably without resort to their BC. If they closed the mouthpiece and breathed fresh air, I suppose there was no problem. However, many stayed breathing from the unit and if they turned off their O2 supply, as a prelude to getting out of the water, unconsciousness followed by loss of buoyancy as the mouthpiece fell from the mouth. It could occur almost within seconds, followed by drowning.

    Whether this was actually what happened or not, one could easily imagine the Sharkwater film director doing something similar before he dropped and died in the first days of February 2017. He had surfaced and given an OK signal when his buddy went unconscious. The boat crew, distracted with saving his buddy, took their eyes off Rob Stewart who was found drowned in the seabed directly below where they were, some days later. It was a tragedy.

    The author with a modern Inspiration The author with a modern Inspiration/Evolution CCR

    Modern CCR units have many convenient features built-in, unlike those early prototypes. However, there will always be the insidious dangers of hypoxia and hypercapnia, both unforgiving in a water environment. People often obsess with oxygen toxicity but subject to effective oxygen cells being employed, this rarely happens. Nor has any CCR manufacturer been successfully sued for making a faulty unit although one manufacturer found all its profits going to lawyer’s fees. Many CCR users have personally modified their units from the manufacturer’s specification and some have paid the ultimate price for that.

    Unlike conventional open-circuit diving, rebreathers leave little room for mistakes. The fact I got away with it in the early days, I put down to luck and nothing more. In the meantime, Ocean Leisure prefers not to supply such equipment. It’s not for every diver.

  • The Dangers of Social Media

    Occasionally, a boat crew witnesses some diver doing so incredibly stupid that, rather than dismiss it as a one-off event, it’s simpler to write it into the boat’s policy or procedures. Like the liveaboard I worked on once; we had a rule that divers, equipped with tanks in place, should step down the ladder at the side of the hull and step backwards into the inflatable pick-up boat.

    That was because someone once decided to come down the ladder with his back to it and fell off into the boat, injuring those he fell on!

    My mother-in-law is not young and she has become a very cautious diver. My wife, her daughter, gets very impatient with her at times. She says she has lost her driving confidence but maybe it’s because she’s simply seen too many bad things happen.

    We are daily regaled with video clips of people bravely doing hazardous things on social media. At the same time we see for example, car ads and motoring programs on television shows where cars are being driven very much unlike the way my mother-in-law drives. Despite mandatory warnings about doing the same however, they might persuade young drivers to try to emulate them.

    Like driving, scuba diving is not seen as a spectator sport. Divers actively participate. This can lead some people to think they can do the same as the divers they admire, which often is not realistic.

    As a journalist, I have done many dives in my past where I was a sort of pioneer. Not many had dived the Thistlegorm in the Red Sea, the Saratoga in Bikini Atoll or the Bianca C in Grenada when I first dived and wrote about them. I was one of the first (with Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch) to dive with the bull sharks in Walkers Cay and more recently I was one of the first to photograph Great hammerheads in Bimini. In every case I was followed by endless numbers of divers, who seeing my articles in magazine, quite naturally thought, “I want to go there too!”

    And why not?

    I was in at the beginning with close-circuit rebreathers, diving several prototypes, and I gave them massive positive publicity -- only to later feel really guilty when some very highly-thought-of divers paid the ultimate price of insufficient knowledge. (I had been lucky.)

    Today we have social media in the form of Facebook, Youtube and Instagram, where we can instantly post pictures of what we are doing for the delectation of others. People take little POV cameras on dives and all is revealed almost the instant they surface.

    When divers hear about a really cool new bit of kit, a new all-singing-and-dancing computer or they see a really exciting dive site, they naturally want to have the same. It’s very seductive.

    There might be hidden snags. It’s like looking at a beautiful West African beach in a photograph. You can’t see the amoebic dysentery!

    The diving video of the wall dive looks cool but you cannot see the massive down current. The inside of the cave is stunningly beautiful, but you cannot see that it’s a long swim back out to daylight and a clear surface.

    Some divers are probably less than competent to be in the water. Some are sublime professionals with everything under control – like Exley, Palmer, Parker, Shaw, Bennett and Molchanova. Like them, they got it right many times over but they only needed to get it wrong once.

    Take someone out of a familiar environment and it can go wrong. A hugely experienced diver in the tropical Philippines might experience great difficulty confronted with diving in a cold lake wearing a drysuit.

    Someone who’s often dived in caves with still water might get freaked out in the strong flow of water diving in a tidal Bahamas Blue Hole.

    Some of us have done thousands of dives. I had up until a few years ago when I was diving intensely, but I’m out of practise now. I’m also older and a lot less fit. On the other hand, the golden years now that the kids have left home, are usually an opportunity to do those things we always wanted to do. Elderly men buy that motorbike they always wanted and find themselves sitting astride a space rocket they can no longer handle. Elderly divers might splash out on the DPV they always wanted or or a rebreather. We are tempted to buy all that stuff we previously denied ourselves.

    The question is, are we still fit enough? Are we dived-up enough? Only you can answer that!

    Most of the readers of this blog will be holiday divers. We might make several trips to dive each year. By the end of a dive trip, we’ve got quite good again, but I bet there were a few snags each time at the beginning.

    The majority of Ocean Leisure readers will be intelligent enough to know not to push themselves beyond perceived limits but I bet you’ve witnessed a few other divers doing what might be crazy things. How can that be? I blame it on peer pressure but whereas peer pressure was once confined to the people you met face-to-face, social media allows you to be ’friends’ with some of the biggest names in diving.

    This allows some divers to be misled into thinking they can do the same sort of diving. It’s easy. It rarely goes wrong in the memory card of the POV camera. They should remember that few keep a visual record of their foul-ups.

    You never get to see the called dives and near misses, the dives that went really wrong. Few are self-deprecating on their social media posts because so many of the very experienced divers are also touting for business, selling course and instruction.

    It’s not a question of loss of confidence. It’s about being cautious. It’s about coming back to tell the tale. So stay safe. Don’t encourage others to undertake dives that might be too difficult or too daunting for them. And keep an eye on those that might have a bigger ambition than competence. Scuba diving is real life. It’s not a social media experience.

  • 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.

  • Fantasea Line - a bit of diving history

    Howard Rosenstein was a Red Sea pioneer. He set up one of the first dive centres at Sharm el Sheikh and was responsible for promoting the Red Sea as a popular diving destination.  He even had a hand in the discovery of the wreck of the Dunraven at Beacon Rock. You can read that remarkable story in a chapter of Amazing Diving Stories.

    Next, he managed one of the first liveaboards in the area, Fantasea II. It was a top-end vessel aimed mainly at the rich American market so few British divers ever enjoyed her facilities but they often looked across the water enviously at her from the other somewhat primitive liveaboards that operated there back in the 'eighties. When Americans stopped going to that area thanks to political upheavals, he moved the vessel down to the Seychelles where he offered trips to the idyllic atoll of Aldabra. Just to give you an idea of the standard of quality of that vessel, the Duke of Westminster once chartered it as a private yacht for his family’s vacation. Eventually, Fantasea II got sold, renamed as Pelagian and continues to operate out of Wakatobi in Indonesia.

    Fantasea for Canon G7x mk2 Fantasea line for Canon G7x mk2

    But the Fantasea name lives on in a different venture started by Howard Rosenstein - Fantasea Line camera housings. Originally, Howard concentrated on supplying housings for compact Nikon cameras, cameras that did not prove so popular with divers in the UK. Now Fantasea Line produces a range of housings that suit the Sony RX range of cameras and some Canon compacts, and very good they are too. This includes an interesting option for the Canon G7X mk2.

    Fantasea for Sony RX100 mkIII and IV Fantasea line for Sony RX100 mkIII and IV

    They are robustly made and offer full access to all the controls of the cameras, plus they accept any accessory wet-lenses, both wide-angle and macro, with a 67mm mount. At a time when the falling pound is making some Far Eastern alternatives very expensive, the Fantasea Line housings make a welcome addition to the range of housings for compact cameras available at Ocean Leisure Cameras, and at the moment they cost less than £500.

    Naturally, they allow for full synchronisation with up to two strobes (flashguns) via fibre-optic cables.  One thing that becomes quickly obvious is Howard Rosenstein’s long history with the diving industry because, unlike some housings designed by people who are not actually divers themselves, all the features have been well thought-out from the point-of-view of using them underwater. Howard is a diver and it shows!

    Especially interesting is the Fantasea Line housing for the Canon G9X. This is because this camera still provides the one-touch white-balance feature that made Canon compact cameras so popular with underwater photographers in the past. Alas, Canon has chosen to omit the simplicity of this feature on later models (although white-balancing is still available but less intuitive than it was).

    Although the Canon G9X is not the most recent compact camera to join Canon’s product line-up, we believe it to be one of the most useful entry-level cameras available for aspiring underwater photographers. You can find all the information about the housing for it by clicking here.

    If you are intending to upgrade or replace an older compact camera housing that might have seen better days, it’s comforting to know that your accessories such as strobes, mounting arms and lenses have a high degree of certainty of interfacing easily with a new Fantasea Line housing

    Fantasea for Canon G9X Fantasea for Canon G9X
  • Twenty Ways to Improve Your Diving

    Most Ocean Leisure customers are experienced divers who don’t need help improving their technique, but at the risk of teaching our grandmothers to suck eggs, here are a few suggestions and, who knows? You might spot a useful nugget among them!

    Get Your Trim Right. Often, divers carry the right amount of weight but in the wrong place. Consider where the fulcrum or pivoting point of your body will be. Integrated weight pockets on a BC might be too high up on a long-legged diver. A weight harness allows weights to be slung lower. On the other hand, a diver wearing a lightweight suit and using an aluminum tank might need to add some weight higher up and, if the BC in use has no trim-weight pockets, you can always add a couple of kilos to the camband that goes round the tank. You need to be comfortably horizontal in the water without any tendency to invert.

    Deploy a Marker Buoy Easily in Mid-water. Why do so many divers make a mess of this? Is it because they haven’t been shown how to do it? If you carry a big camera, learn how to do it easily with one free hand. Buoyancy changers appear to be the main enemy of a slick deployment. Using exhaled air to inflate the buoy avoids this because the buoyant air is simply moved from one location to another. Stream the buoy so that it floats above you. A tiny bit of exhaled air in it will help keep it up. Pull off as many metres of line that is practical, so that your reel hangs below you. Take the open end of the buoy and hold it with fingers and thumb above the upper side of the exhaust-T of your regulator while holding your head a little to one side. Have the line passing through but not gripped by your hand. Exhale into the buoy. It will start to ascend. Inhale again immediately releasing your grip on the buoy and grab the reel as it gets pulled up to your hand. Release the line from the ratchet of the reel. Watch the buoy go. Tighten off the ratchet, taking up the tension on the line, as soon as the line becomes slack because the buoy will have reached the surface.

    Carry a Flag. It was recently reported that Australian diver Jacob Childs spent a worrying afternoon alone, drifting at sea, before he was picked up. Childs had an inflated surface marker buoy, which is good for being spotted over a short distance but less good when in more dire circumstances. High-tech electronic solutions need to be kept fully charged and you don’t know if they are going to work until you need them. A low-tech solution is a big flag at the end of a long pole. Three lengths of plastic tubing that fit one to another and a length of elastic bungee running through the middle snap instantly together to form a tall pole with a large yellow flag at the top. When not in use it’s carried strapped under a couple of elastic straps round your tank. If you’ve dived in many remote places, most of which enjoy powerful currents and you’ve used it in earnest you’ll appreciate its efficacy. It’s low-tech, it’s cheap to buy, it can be deployed single-handed, and once used you wouldn’t go diving without it.

    Get Your Weight Right. The human body is more or less neutrally buoyant. Take a big breath and you float. Empty your lungs and your heavy head will go under. If we didn’t wear buoyant kit such as our suits, we wouldn’t need to wear weights. If you want to get your weight right, exhale hard at the surface and the weight of your head in the air should push you down. Add an extra amount of lead to compensate for the weight of the gas you might exhale out into the water during the dive and you’re perfectly weighted. So why do so many divers wear too much weight? Is it because they are used to plummeting to the seabed and trampling around before putting air into their BCD to make it back to the surface? Neutral buoyancy is the very essence of pleasurable diving.

    Long-Hose Your Octopus. The alternate air source you carry is not for you. It’s for use by another diver, in the event of his or her own gas supply being unavailable. Rigging your alternate air-source (octopus rig) on the left side of your body will ensure it’s the right way up and easy to use by another. It takes the drama out of air-sharing. Better still, employ a long hose of about a yard and a half or more so that they can use it without any drama for either of you. You can rig this long hose in a number of ways. It will be easy to stash under an elastic strap or two round your tank, as long as you can access it easily. Some advocate passing it under the right arm, tucked under a waistband, passing it up across the chest and round the back of the neck so that it becomes the primary regulator. They then pass this over if need be and go for an alternate second stage rigged where they know where to find it easily. Whichever way you rig it, make sure it’s visible and works properly at the beginning of every dive so that you’ll know it will work should it be needed in a hurry.

    Use a Regulator Necklace. Putting your regulator on a necklace arrangement is a good idea if diving in low visibility. If the hose gets snagged on something as you pass or a buddy accidentally hooks it out of your mouth, it won’t be going very far and you can soon replace it. A necklace is a good idea for your own alternate air-source if you are using a primary regulator on the end of a long hose as your primary regulator and likely to need to donate it. You can buy a purpose-designed necklace from your local dive store or make one yourself from surgical rubber tubing.

    Take Enough Gas. It’s obvious that for the same amount of work, a bigger diver will use more gas than someone smaller. It is also obvious that a bigger diver will be able to handle bigger tanks. If you are working to get good pictures, you’ll use a lot more gas than if you are just hanging about feeling slightly bored. Don’t battle to keep your gas consumption within the same range as someone else. Start off with sufficient gas to do the dive. This might mean requesting a bigger cylinder or even twinning up a pair of what’s available, using, for example,  twinning blocks and bands.

    Use a Current Hook or Reef Hook.  It’s a fact of life that big fishes are attracted to current points. That is to say, the places where the flow of water has to speed up to get up or around an obstruction such as a reef or wreck. It can be fierce. Some of the most notable places for observing this phenomenon are also known for the absence of any living coral on the reef top due to the fact that so many divers have clung on there. A current hook, so deployed that it attaches only to substrate or a handy rock, enables the diver to anchor in place while making himself slightly positively buoyant in such a way that he flies above the coral reef rather than ruining it by lying on it or colliding with it. What is a current hook? It’s an open-ended hook that can hold at its point, attached to some sturdy line or narrow gauge webbing that is clipped to a convenient D-ring on the diver’s BCD. Some local dive guides don’t allow the use of these hooks because they don’t trust their divers to use them responsibly.

    Wear a Suit That Fits Properly. If your drysuit fits your perfectly, there will be less of a drag when you are swimming. If your wetsuit or semi-dry is too big, cold water will flush around it under the arms and around the groin so that you’ll soon feel cold. If your drysuit is too small you either won’t be able to sit down in it or you’ll be limited to the choice of the undergarment you can wear with it. If your wetsuit or semi-dry is too small, it might interfere with your ability to breathe. If you can’t find the right size off-the-peg, get one made-to-measure. In the case of a drysuit, it might mean visiting the manufacturer a couple of times in order to get it right.

    Be Well Hydrated. Being well hydrated is not just a matter of drinking lots of water. In tropical countries the fresh water supplied in plastic bottles is often produced from seawater by reverse osmosis. This makes it pure but pure isn’t good enough. We need minerals in our water supply to get benefit from it, so make a point of adding a rehydrant powder or effervescent tablet to the designated amount of water so that it forms an electrolytic drink, at least once per day when away somewhere hot. Beer is a good rehydrant because it is mostly water and contains plenty of minerals but the alcohol contained within it suppresses the production of anti-diuretic hormones and you’ll just simply pass it through -- not to mention the brain damage that it gives you too. So the first beer of the day signals that you’ve enjoyed your last dive.

    Get Spring Straps. The single most important thing that can improve a pair of fins is the substitution of a pair of stainless-steel spring straps or elastic bungee straps for the rubber straps they were supplied with. It’s not just the fact that you avoid that embarrassing moment when a rubber strap breaks as you pull your fins on and you don’t have a spare with you. Spring straps enable you to pull the fins on and off in a moment and they contrive to hold your foot firmly in the foot-pocket of the fin. There’s no wobble and all your effort goes towards propelling yourself forwards. Stainless-steel spring straps are available for every fin that has an open heel.

    Entering the Water With a Camera. You’ve prepared your underwater camera housing by gently greasing the O-rings and making sure their grooves are free from detritus, but you still feel insecure about jumping in with it. Boat crews can be helpful, but they are not camera experts and they may mishandle it. You may be required to do a negative entry because of the current. Under those circumstances, coming back after jumping in for the camera to be passed down by a crewmember might well result in your missing the dive site entirely. Whether you’ve spent a few hundred dollars or more than $7000 on a camera outfit you’ll be just as circumspect when it comes to getting into the water with it. The best trick is to hold the camera in your hand, dip it into the water and, without letting go of it, follow it into the ocean. This works whether you’re on the swim platform of a big boat or doing a backward roll from an inflatable. It may not look elegant but it works.

    Hang About and Look. There’s a new kind of diver around, rather in the same way as there is a popular style of skier. In the Alps they call it ‘en-piste’. Many divers get in the water and spend all their time swimming to catch up with the diver in front. They don’t see what’s down there. They simply complete the dive. It’s rather like a skier coming down a blue run and never taking time to examine that breathtaking view. Take you time. Have a good look at what’s there to see. Get yourself a compact digital camera. They are easy to use, offer a high success rate with macro subjects, will give you an interest in the smaller animals, and you’ll come back with a lasting memento of every dive. If the dive-guide swims onwards, they’ll soon be back to find you, especially if they want to keep their job. Often. It’s the smallest things that make a dive interesting and it’s shame to be down there, swimming on endlessly in the blue without seeing it.

    Stalk the Wildlife, Don’t Chase It! Everyone seems to have an underwater camera now, but they behave very differently with it underwater than they would if they were on safari on land. Why? Do they think they are invisible? If you see a dramatic pelagic animal, don’t chase it. You won’t get a close-up picture that way and you’ll simply drive it away from everyone else. It has seen you coming and even Michael Phelps wouldn’t be able to overhaul it. Instead, avoid looking directly at it. Marine life is tuned to be threatened by the eyes of predators. Swim to where you think it might be going. Take into account what other divers who might have seen it might be doing. They can be employed as unsuspecting beaters. ‘Head it off at the pass’. The only way you’ll get close to it is if it swims up to you. Turn yourself into an ambush predator. As old-time jungle hunters used to say, “Slowly, slowly catchee monkey.”

    Learn to Line-lay. If you penetrate a wreck or other overhead environment, you should lay line. The late Rob Palmer, doyen or early technical divers, used to say that line laying was an art. If you enter a wreck or cavern and are intent on finding your way out, it’s a good idea to copy Theseus with his ball of string. In the Greek legend, he found his way out of the Labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur. Lay it on the way in and follow it on the way out. The problem comes when the water moves -- and wrecks and caverns offer more hazards than any Greek mythological hero encountered. You can inadvertently pull a line into a place that it will snag and will not allow you to follow it back, or some other diver can inadvertently do that for you simply by the downwash of his fins. Belay the line as you go, tying it off at various convenient points so that this can’t happen.

    Get Your Kit Off Easily. When you get picked up by someone in a boat, there’s a good chance you’ll be close to what might well be a boat hazard, such as a reef with breaking waves. The wind might well be pushing the boat that way. It’s imperative that you can pass up your weights and any loose items you might be carrying, and get out of your gear in a timely manner. Inflate your BCD so that nothing will sink beyond reach. With your regulator still in your mouth and your mask and fins still in place, unclip the sternum strap and waist strap and one buckle at the shoulder. You can now swing the whole thing off your right shoulder while still holding on to the grab line of the boat with one hand. Push up from underneath to help the boatman avoid a hernia. If you have a one-piece harness with no shoulder buckle, the best thing to do it to pull it over your head. Actually, what happens is that you duck underneath it as its weight pushes you down. Keep your mask in place until you are safely in the boat. So often the mask is one of the first things that gets passed up. It makes the diver vulnerable because they can’t see what’s going on underwater and the mask vulnerable to getting broken in the bottom of the boat too.

    Learn How to Access a RIB or any Inflatable. Why is it that some younger people cannot climb easily in and over the inflatable tubes (sponsons) of a RIB from the water yet most old-age pensioners can? It’s because nobody has shown them how to do it? It’s not about strength. It’s about technique and knowledge. First choose the tube on the side where everyone is sitting. The other tube will be higher out of the water. Once you’ve passed up all your gear save your mask and fins, take hold of the grab rope (they are properly called ‘beckets’) with your hands about equal to the line of your shoulders. Take a breath and push vertically downwards as hard and fast as you can. You’ll momentarily fight your buoyancy, which will send you rushing back upwards. Fin hard at the same time to get as much upward velocity as you can. Straighten your arms, locking out, and tilt your head and chest forwards over the boat tube so that you tilt into the boat. Bring a knee up onto the tube. You’re there. Get someone to help you off with that first fin if need be before bringing the other leg inboard.

    Wear a Hood. Some people think that wearing a hood is done to keep a diver’s head warm. Well that is obviously the case and although medical men might argue about how much heat is lost through the head, your brain has an exceedingly good supply of blood and there’s precious little fat on most people’s head to insulate that from the cold water. There are other reason’s to wear a hood too, and that includes when in tropical waters. Tropical waters are rich in zooplankton and much of it carries nematocysts or stinging cells. The less skin you leave exposed the less chance you’ll have of suffering an irritating sting. Gentlemen who sport a moustache and leave plenty of stubble in place on their faces find it protects from the man-eating zooplankton too. Ladies might not have that option. Another reason for wearing a hood? When you are at the surface there’s a lot of ultra-violet light on your head and it’s reflected from the water. A hood keeps you from getting sunburned.

    How to Wear Wetsuit Boots. Why do you wear socks with your shoes? You’d probably get blisters otherwise. Many experienced divers wear a pair of socks with their wetsuit boots for the same reason. Try a pair of seamless airline socks. You know the type. They often give them to you on long-haul flights. Sophisticated socks intended for runners are constructed from two layers. So try two pairs of airline socks. Result? Luxury! Wear two pairs of seamless socks with your wetsuit boots and you won’t look back. They have the side effect of making it easy to pass your feet through the legs of your wetsuit too.

    Use a Weight Harness. Instead of strapping a lot of lead around your waist where it might ride up or slip off your hips, or instead of using an integrated-weight system of a BCD that might lead to your weights being positioned too high up your body, which in turn puts your fulcrum too far from your feet (leading to inversion in a drysuit) use a weight harness. By adjusting the supporting shoulder straps, you can wear your weights down by your hips. This not only makes carrying the weight more comfortable, but it puts the ballast where it needs to be. A properly designed weight-harness allows you to drop the lead in an emergency yet keeps it totally secure at all other times.


  • Photographing Sharks

    It’s easy to impress your non-diving friends and neighbours with the photographs you might take of sharks. Shark encounters come in a number of types: Chance encounters such as you might get ocean-roving oceanic white-tip sharks, encounters where currents attract requiem sharks that enjoy surfing on the flow, encounters with bottom feeding sharks such as nurse sharks and leopard sharks that like to lie up and rest during the day, and where sharks are feeding.

    The normal rules of underwater photography apply, in that it’s best to use a wide-angle lens and get as close as possible. Reduce the amount of water between your camera and the subject.

    Oceanic white tip shark Ocea-roving oceannic white tip shark


    Ocean roving sharks tend to be close to the surface so it’s quite possible to get reasonable pictures without an underwater strobe or flash but these are ambush predators so designed as to offer a low contrast image to intended prey. A correct flash exposure can give contrast and add drama.

    They tend to swim around 6m deep, constantly investigating anything that might be the source of a meal. That is why they approach divers, often only to turn away at the last moment when they consider us to be animals too big for them to take on. Sharks appear to judge size by height rather than length so if you want a shark to come close, present as small a frontal area as possible by being horizontal in the water. Go vertical and you will almost certainly scare off such a shark.

    Those sharks that lie about during the day such as nurse sharks can be approached with caution so as not to disturb them and you will have time to get more than one exposure adjusting the lighting and exposure to suit. The same can be said of white-tip reef sharks, although these are much more skittish. They lie about on the seabed during the day because they are able to force oxygenated water through their gills without forward motion like most other requiem sharks, but be aware that because they are grey and again designed for ambush, they need careful lighting just the same.

    Scalloped hammerheads at a cleaning station Scalloped hammerheads at a cleaning station

    Then there are the cleaning stations. Find out from the local dive guide which fish are the resident shark cleaners and find where they are aggregating. Then you just need to be patient, keeping as still as possible, waiting for the sharks to approach for a visit to the manicurist. It’s the only way to get pictures of scalloped hammerheads because they are so skittish. You need to sort out your overall exposure so that the background is reproduced an acceptable blue, adjusting the power of the flash (or strobe) to suit the foreground shark.

    When it comes to feeding sharks, things become a lot more frenetic. You need a fast shutter-speed but you will be limited to the fastest speed with which your camera will allow you to synchronise your flash.

    Sharks feed in two distinctly different ways. When chasing live prey they become very agitated and it’s best to keep clear at this time, even exiting the water. Sharks have more senses than we do but it’s a fact that they have a nictitating eyelid that covers their eyes to protect them at the moment of biting so that they virtually do the last part of an attack with their eyes closed. Mistakes can happen. Anyone who has attended a night dive at Manuelita Island near Cocos will attest to the fact, it can be chaotic, and that’s when it’s only little white tip reef sharks start hunting small fished by the light of the divers torches. Bigger sharks can explode with energy when they sense a live prey.

    White tip reef sharks competing for live prey at night. White tip reef sharks competing for live prey at night.

    On the other hand, when sharks sense there is a meal of carrion to be had, they are much more leisurely in their approach. There are no vibrations of injured or dying fish to excite them or ring their dinner bell, just the odour of an easy meal wafting on the ocean currents. So they tend to swim round in an orderly manner.

    Staged shark feeds such as they often do in the Bahamas and some parts of the Caribbean will give any diver witnessing the event that sharks, although impressive beasts, have a pecking order and act in an orderly manner so that they do not risk injuring each other. They still move quite quickly so you will still need to choose the fastest shutter-speed you can, in order to get sharp pictures. If you do not, the flash will record a sharp image but there will also be a less sharp ghost image due to the daylight exposure being too long.

    Using twin flashguns can also be counter-productive because those guys in the grey suits need a bit of contrast to light them up with plenty of shape and contour. It’s one occasion when the single flashgun reigns supreme.

    Caribbean reef shark at a staged shark feed. Caribbean reef shark at a staged shark feed.

    With plenty of sharks attending a staged feed, you won’t be able to judge where any are at a given moment. You’ll need to take a lot of pictures because inevitably one animal will obstruct your view of another, many times when you release your camera’s shutter. If you shoot RAW files, you’ll be able to adjust these after the event and not have to keep adjusting your flashgun’s output to account for sharks being at different distances from the camera.




  • 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.








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