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.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? 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
I have been diving for a very long time indeed. Many years ago, before the term ‘Technical Diving’ was invented, I made a friend of cave diver Rob Palmer and we went diving together. He had some ideas on how diving could be made more adventurous without making it any more hazardous. We used ideas first put forward by Dick Rutkowski of NOAA. This included mixing extra oxygen with our air and even adding helium to it when we thought it gave us an advantage. Of course at that time we had to keep what might have been considered witchcraft strictly secret. The training agencies of the day would have pilloried us. Today those mixtures are called 'Nitrox' and 'Trimix'. We often took a pair of cylinders with us (a twin-set) filled with air but side-slung an extra tank that was as much as fifty percent oxygen so that we could cut short the otherwise onerous decompression-stop times that we needed thanks to the extra depth we went to. Sometimes, toting a massive camera, I preferred to avoid the extra encumbrance of the sling tank and made do with one cylinder of air alongside one of what we know today as a Nitrox mix of, say, thirty-six percent oxygen, both on my back. Rob introduced me to a giant of the diving world, Bret Gilliam. An American, Bret had worked for years as a US Navy diver, photographing nuclear submarines at depth when the only gas available was air. He held a record for the deepest dive on air at 150-metres deep and was and to this day remains one of the most competent divers I have ever known. Rob died later in an unfortunate diving accident (not related to the subject of this story) but Bret and I are close friends to this day, even if he does insist on calling me Mick Fleetwood!Bret was a technical diving pioneer with IANTD and then broke away from it to start TDI with Rob Palmer. Together, they wrote the first books on technical diving. If I am away in a comfortable diving destination such as Bikini Atoll or Truk Lagoon and want to dive a wreck that is just a little deeper than is suitable to use nitrox32 for, I still tend to dive with air and take a second cylinder with a richer Nitrox mix so that, in conjunction with a Nitrox gas-switching computer, I can reduce the mandated decompression-stop time I might otherwise need to endure if I only used air. This is where one gentleman in particular and a few other divers come into the story. My application of a simple rig of two independent cylinders on my back, swapping regulators when I got shallow enough not to exceed the maximum operating depth of the Nitrox, upsets some people because it was never written up in a textbook. Rob Palmer might well have done that had he lived and Bret has no problem with me using it. (I hasten to add it would be foolhardy to do this with a manifolded twin-set.) In some circles it has become known as ‘the Bantin rig’ and not always with polite intentions. My critics questioned what I would do if my air regulator stopped working (an unlikely occurrence) beyond the MOD of the Nitrox in the other tank, to which I answer that I would put the Nitrox regulator in my mouth and breath off that, making my way at a safe ascent rate up to where there would be no danger of oxygen toxicity. Oxygen toxicity is subject to total exposure that is both a combination of time and percentage. I have needed to rescue divers from more than fifty-metres deep more often than I would like whilst equipped only with a single tank of nitrox32 and although I wouldn’t ever recommend it, I am here to tell the tale. My critics seem to think it is OK to take a tank of Nitrox side-slung but not conveniently on my back. I hasten to point out that I am often doing these dives alongside those equipped only with a single tank. They wonder if I might put the ‘wrong’ regulator in my mouth by mistake. Well, anyone who does that probably should not be underwater in the first place. I go in with one regulator in my mouth and the other one is for the ascent. There is no confusion. A number of my friends including my wife have dived this way when it’s a dive that is suitable for this approach. The wreck of the San Francisco Maru in Truk and the wrecks in Bikini Atoll are good examples. It’s a way of having plenty of gas for what otherwise might be a deeper than usual dive and at the same time cutting long waits on the decompression bar. That one particular gentleman decided to become my bête noire on the Internet during the time I wrote regularly for Diver Magazine. It is ironic that he actually worked for Ocean Leisure in those days. Although I’m very happy to take four or more tanks with me if the dive requires it, as Bret Gilliam says, “If it works for you, that’s what matters.” Choose an appropriate solution and dive safely within your abilities..