Ocean Leisure Diving and Photography Blog

  • 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!

  • With Respect to my Bête Noire.

    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!

    DSCN3899 Independent twin cylinders.
    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.
    _EBC4349 Japanese tank on the deck of the San Francisco Maru.
    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
    Staff car deep in the bowels of the San Francisco Maru Staff car deep in the bowels of the San Francisco Maru
    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.
    Truk4389 My wife reading a book whilst enjoying an accelerated decompression stop with the right (red hose) regulator in her mouth.
    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..    

  • The GoPro Hero 4 Underwater

    hero4What a marvellous piece of kit the GoPro Hero range of action cameras is. They have an application for almost any activity and especially suitable for anything with any appreciable amount of risk that might destroy a more conventional camera. It doesn't matter whether you are skiing, riding a bike, taking selfies as a tourist or jumping off a tall building with nothing more than a wing-suit. No wonder they have proved to be the most popular Christmas present of 2014. Naturally, at Ocean Leisure Cameras we maintain a large stock of accessories and it goes without saying that many of our customers want to take their GoPro Hero 4 with them when snorkelling or scuba diving. The standard housing is good for 40m deep and if you want to go deeper there's a tougher diving housing available too. It's simple to bolt a GoPro Hero 4 to a bike but once you go under water, the characteristics of light conspire to make it more difficult to get good footage. It matters little whether you use a GoPro Hero 4 or a Red Epic camera that costs many thousands of pound, the physics remain the same. e8601920-10fc-4e5f-abd8-bad79331f9f4POV Buoy (2) Firstly, you need to keep your camera steady if your material is going to be watchable. We thoroughly recommend some sort of handle and one that can be made neutrally buoyant will be best. You neither want your precious Go Pro Hero 4 to float off nor to drop away to great depths. If you are doing some dare-devil activity, you'll be happy with whatever you record but underwater you'll want to be very much more selective. An LCD screen that shows what the camera sees is essential. The Silver Edition of the GoPro Hero 4 comes already equipped but in order to keep the retail price as attractive as possible, the much higher quality Hero 4 Black Edition (it will shoot 4k video and also will run at a higher frame-rate to smooth out the action) does not. gopro_touchscreen However, an economically priced LCD screen is available for the Black Edition that plugs straight into the camera and it comes with the fatter back door for the housing to accommodate it. Water absorbs light but it does it selectively. The warmer wavelengths of light, the reds and the yellows, get filtered out first so that as you go deeper, everything starts to look very blue. You can make the most of the red and yellow light that penetrates the water in the first 15-metres by filtering out some of the blue. gopro_SRP_filterThe GoPro Hero 4 has such a wide-angle lens that, although a flat red filter will work, a domed filter will be more effective over the whole width of the image and sharpness won't suffer at the edges. bigblue_dualsetupIf you want decent colour when you go deeper, there's no escaping the fact that you will need to take some white light with you in the form of some lamps. The same applies whatever camera you shoot with. Still cameras can use flash but for live action you need a constant source of light. A diving torch will not give light that is even enough. It will be patchy but not only that, the GoPro Hero 4 will try to look into the shadows leaving the lit parts burn-out. You need video lights. Ocean Leisure Cameras has a selection available at a range of prices. Check that part of this web-site for more details. What else do you need? A spare battery and charger will come in useful. That battery can be charging while you are under water with your GoPro Hero 4 and be ready for the following dip under water.  

  • Octoporn!

    _DSC3979The common octopus can be found throughout the temperate and tropical marine waters of the world and makes a good subject for your camera. It is an intelligent mollusc that has a complex eye mechanism that leads us to believe it can see very well. It can pass its boneless body through the tiniest of holes and it has the uncanny ability to change both its colour and texture at will by rotating tiny discs within the structure of its skin. This is used primarily as a strategy to avoid being detected by both prey and predator but is also a useful tool for communication and the expression of emotion. Never try to describe an octopus by its colour. This can range from a serene pale blue most often seen by divers at night, to an angry deep red with a white central stripe encountered by divers that try to interfere with one of these remarkable creatures. During the summer months the male octopus seeks out a female with which to mate and having done so begins a courtship ritual that encompasses all his flamboyant abilities to change his appearance. I was lucky enough to find two octopuses romancing together and photograph the whole forty-five minute sequence of events._DSC4093 The male stood erect, puffed up and demonstrating his ability to become dark and knobbly. She in turn will made herself smooth and silky, often embracing herself with her own tentacles as if to appreciate her own sensuality. Octopus have the ability to alter their size too. At this time the male was big and impressive while the female appeared small and demure. _DSC4107The male specially adapts one of his tentacles to become a sexual organ and it is this that is used to pass packets of sperm to the female. He proffered this tentatively, hoping to seduce her into accepting it. She coyly rejected him at first while he put on alternative displays of colour and texture in the hope of hitting upon a combination that pleased her. _DSC4138aThis game went on for a long period of time until he successfully persuaded her to accept his advances and penetration ensued. At this time she too changed from smooth and silky to be as knobbly as he was, and then back again. They took no notice of me, the camera-toting voyeur, even though I was extremely close to them. The male octopus pursues the female until she catches him! They stayed locked together for some time while his sperm was passed in special packages to her. They seemed to be enjoying it immensely and took little notice of the clatter of my camera or the pulses of light from my flash. _DSC4152Once the job was complete, she became impressively large while he looked very much deflated. She kept hold of his precious tentacle and dragged him off unwillingly. Was she taking him shopping? No, she’s looking for a suitable home. Does this story sound familiar? _DSC4150Once the female octopus finds a suitable place to lay her eggs she demonstrates what a dedicated mother she is. She stays will her eggs, oxygenating them regularly by blowing fresh water over them via her siphon. She stays until they are hatched, never leaving them to feed and consequently finally ending her life in the process. The male however escapes, usually leaving that specially adapted tentacle behind with her. He eventually grows a replacement but in the mean time he goes off looking for more action. You might see the occasional lucky male octopus with very few tentacles left while he cruises the reef, still looking optimistically for more action! You can get material like this on any underwater camera set-up, from GoPro, through compact cameras to the full nine-yards of a digital SLR. If you want to know how to get pictures as sharp and clear as this, check with the people at Ocean Leisure Cameras. If you need an octopus-rig for your regulator, the main store at Ocean Leisure has a selection to choose from. If you've enjoyed reading this blog, you will enjoy Amazing Diving Stories by the same author.

  • What a Fuss it Caused at the Time!

    Sometimes there’s a conspiracy of silence and you’d often do better not to disturb it. That’s what I inherited back in the day when I first joined Diver Magazine but I spoke up when others preferred to stay silent. My introduction to the readers was a gradual one with frequent if irregular contributions to the editorial content but by 1993 I had become a regular. The publication was a gentlemanly affair in those days. With no real rival to speak of, the publisher had a free hand to do what he liked but in fact became emotionally indebted to the the British Sub-Aqua Club that had given him a contract that was almost a license to print money in those days. His Technical Editor was among the BS-AC committee that had awarded him the contract so what that man said held sway. It didn’t seem to matter that he was also drawing a salary from a well-known manufacturer whose products also became de-rigeur in diving clubs. However, he was getting old and curmudgeonly and soon I in mere middle-age was able to replace him. I came from the world of the media and saw the monopoly afforded to the magazine as an advantage in that it could afford to offend advertisers if need be, if it was to the advantage of its readers. I believed that building the readership beyond club membership was the secret to a successful future for the magazine. For example, when the magazine proprietor asked me to explain to him what PADI was, he was obviously shocked. He hadn’t heard of PADI but even back in those days it was certifying more new divers with British addresses than the club was enrolling new members. Once the proprietor came to understand that there was a future beyond the comfortable confines of the club circulation he decided to give me a free hand to write features that might have been a little more controversial and informative than in the years before. I relished the idea. I started comparing regulators side-by-side underwater. This alone caused a furore. There were some shocks among the results. In those far off days before CE-certification, some regulators were clearly not good enough for anything more than the shallowest dive. Lawyer’s letters began to arrive but we weathered the storm. The proprietor told me to carry on. Advertisers withdrew their advertising revenue but with nowhere else to go in those days, they were soon back. Next I did an in-water side-by-side comparison test of seven popular dive computers. I went to Sharm el Sheikh where there was deep water directly off the shore and enlisted the help of Sarah Woodford, who was working as the local rep for Regal Diving at the time. Sarah still lives in Sharm. The plan was to take the computers, strapped side-by-side together on a rig, down to 50m deep, put them into decompression-stop mode and see how they differed in the information they dispensed during the ascent.

    The starting spread from the feature in Diver Magazine. The starting spread from the feature in Diver Magazine.
    It’s impossible to remember fast changing displays so key to the operation was the facility to take pictures of the displays at crucial moments whilst under water. Alas, during the initial moments of the descent, it was discovered that the camera had gone faulty. We retreated back to the beach and Sarah went off to find an alternative camera. It was more than three hours later that we able to get back in the water and by this time all the computers had recovered from their brief dip in the sea and their displays were clear. In those days computer algorithms varied widely. That's the mathematical calculation it uses to calculate nitrogen uptake. Nobody seemed to know what was correct. During our test dive one particular computer gave hours of no-stop time when compared with the others before flipping almost instantly into a very long deco requirement indeed. The whole exercise, including the aborted initial dip, was reported accurately in the magazine. My whole modus operandi was to tell the unvarnished truth to readers despite regular howls of protest in those days from manufacturers. The article was entitled "Learning Curve" and it caused yet another furore from both some readers and that one manufacturer. Firstly, I received an ocean of criticism from readers who said that I had broken a cardinal rule and should not have done a deeper dive second. It was if they were saying that when I discovered the camera wasn’t working, I should have gone down beyond 50m deep so that my second dive to 50m was shallower. I preferred to turn back before I’d loaded much nitrogen. History and current medical thinking bears me out that I was right but that was not what it said in the BS-AC manual at the time. More seriously, the manufacturer of the computer that was so far out of step with the others that it was almost laughable decided to threaten to sue me. Things were getting serious. It was only when it occurred to them that the other manufacturers would be enthusiastic witnesses in court on my behalf (they were hardly going to admit that their own algorithms were not safe) that it backed off. So it seemed I had upset both some readers and some advertisers. They would have all hung, drawn and quartered me if they could. I’m pleased to say that the failure to sell as many units as it would have liked eventually encouraged that particular manufacturer to offer an entirely different algorithm with its computers and today (twenty years later) all the different computers available in dive stores  are much more in agreement with what will keep the user safe – although none can guarantee it since everyone's physiology is different.  Provided you keep track of your dive profiles with a suitable diving computer it is no longer seen as essential to do the deepest dive first. If you've enjoyed reading this blog, you will enjoy Amazing Diving Stories by the same author.

  • How Long Will Your Air Last?

    The big question that every new diver wants answered is about how long the air in the tank will last. It all depends on how much there is to begin with, how deep it is going to be breathed at, and how much the diver is going to breathe it.

    How long your air will last depends on several factors including your own physiology. How long your air will last depends on several factors including your own physiology.
    The first two parts to this are easily identified. You can read on the shoulder of the tank its fixed volume and you can read from the pressure gauge how much it has been filled. Multiply one by the other. A 10-litre tank filled to 200 bar has 2000 litres of air in it. A 15-litre cylinder filled to 230 bar has 3450 litres of air. It is best to set aside a reserve of air and conventional thinking suggests that quarter of the initial supply is kept aside. This may be over cautious with a large tank but you have to make a judgement based on the circumstances you expect to encounter. Let’s assume that our 10-litre tank has only 1500 litres of air at our disposal with the rest (50 bar) is held in reserve. The next thing to identify is the depth the air is going to be breathed at. At 30m deep, the regulator delivers air at four times the pressure as it would at the surface. Thus if we are diving at this depth, we have only 375 litres of air compressed to four bar to breathe. The final part of the equation has a big question mark hanging over it. How much air do you need? A woman with small lungs will probably breathe a lot less than a male heavy-weight boxer. A man with large lungs will have the ability to pump a huge amount of air through his lungs. A relaxed man might breathe only eight litre every minute but increase his heart-rate by increasing his work load or stress him in some way, and this can easily leap to 30 litres each minute. It has not too much to do with fitness either. An old diver who has smoked all his life may not be very fit at all but if he is relaxed, and often that comes with experience, he will use less gas than a young trained athlete who is working harder than he should underwater. Even thinking hard uses a lot of energy. If you have to swim hard you will consume more than if you are merely hovering in the water. So what figure should we use for a breathing-rate in this calculation? Training agency manuals usually use a figure of 25 litres per minute in their examples of how to calculate air consumption. At 30m, our 10-litre tank (with 50 bar held in reserve) would last only 15 minutes. So what does it feel like to breathe from a regulator underwater? You can easily try this for yourself because it feels exactly the same as it does if you try it on land in a dive shop. You suck, there is a faint resistance and the valve pulls open. The mouthpiece floods with air that you inhale. It stops when you stop. When you exhale, there is also a slight resistance as the exhaust valve opens and allows that air to escape. It bubbles away past your head. Remember, the amount of air in your tank is divided by your respiratory mean volume or breathing-rate multiplied by the absolute pressure in bars at the depth at which it is breathed. If you can get your head around that you are well on your way to understanding your air consumption.

  • Choosing the Right Pair of Fins

    There is no doubt that a good pair of fins will enhance diving performance. The problem is deciding which are the most suitable fins for you. Assuming that you select a pair that fit you comfortably, fins can be conveniently divided into three types. The super-long fins beloved of free divers will propel the user a long way down below the surface with only a couple of kicks but would be very inconvenient to use for leisure snorkelling or for normal scuba diving. They’d just get in the way. Snorkellers want fins that are lightweight to carry and can be used in combination with bare feet or neoprene swimming socks. Many have a slipper integrated with the fin. There are also some open-heel fins with straps that can be used in this way. When it comes to scuba diving, most divers want to use fins in conjunction with neoprene boots. Ocean Leisure stocks nine or ten different types of these scuba diving fins in a price range from £50 to £187 per pair. So what’s the difference? They all work but some work better than others. If you were to try them all in the placid waters of a swimming pool, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in their performance. However, if you are going somewhere subject to strong current such as the Dampier Strait in Raja Ampat or any of the islands of Indonesia where the tidal flow forces through between the Indian Ocean and the smaller seas to the north for example, there will be moments when you need to get you head down and go for it. It’s at such moments as this that you will find if the performance of fins you’ve got is wanting or not. There has been some confusion also about the efficacy of split-fins. This design was originally conceived by American Pete McCarthy and sold under license to various manufacturers. The first company to buy into the idea was Apollo in Japan. They made their fins from a heavy rubber compound and they were very effective but were never properly imported into the UK and they weighed a tonne. Other manufacturers bought into the idea but concentrated on making their fins as comfortable in the water as could be possible at the price of loss of propulsion. They were seductive until you really need to propel yourself forwards. This had the effect of destroying the split-fin concept and today you may still hear people insisting that split-fins are no good. This is simply not true. There are some very good split-fins and some that are not worth bag space. The Atomic split-fin is one of the most effective fins available and I have proved that with the side-by-side comparison tests of fins I made over the years for Diver Magazine. I used a specially built underwater speedometer to objectively compare different fin performances and whereas some split-fins were very disappointing, the Atomic fins were not. Atomic also makes a less expensive paddle-style fin, if you don’t believe me! AquaBionic2 Another fin that will be up to performing well when the chips are down is the Aquabionic Warp 1. The designers went back to the drawing board for this one and came up with a fin that actually alters its shape according to the load put on it. Like the Atomic split-fin it’s not cheap but it makes the most of any effort you put in. I was in Raja Ampat at a site called Mike’s Point with two young fit Germans. We turned a corner in the reef where we had the full force of the flow presented to us head-on. The two Germans never made it any further whereas I was able to get past this current-point and make it to a lee in the reef further on. Later, they said that they were impressed at the strength of my kicking but this old-age pensioner knew it was because the fins I was using made the most of my muscle power. AquaBionic If you are off to any place with high-voltage diving, whether it be the Galapagos, Cocos, Aldabra, the Maldives or any of the archipelagos further East, I really recommend you invest in a pair of fins that won’t let you down. The pain of the price is soon forgotten and all you are left with is how good they are.  

  • Be Ready To Drop It!

    Contrary to expectations of a sport that was years ago considered dangerous, there are few fatalities through scuba diving, but I was present in the Bahamas when a diver tragically lost his life during a dive. What happened? He went off on his own, ran out of air and at only around 18m deep he struck out for the surface. As designed, the Suunto computer he was wearing did not record the time he spent between 2m and the surface but it recorded everything else in its log and told the story. He probably made it to the surface but he dropped back down and drowned. He was a recently certified diver who had made a previous dive-specific trip so he was not totally inexperienced but why did he drop? When we recovered his body all his equipment was still in place. That is to say he was still wearing his weightbelt. Running out of air to breathe is obviously very serious. Every diver should manage their air supplies properly by keeping an eye on their pressure gauge. I admit that there may have been times when, distracted by an underwater photography subject, I have cut it very fine and arrived at the surface without enough pressure in my tank to inflate my BC. It’s not something I recommend but I’ve been able to orally inflate it instead. That’s what the oral inflation valve at the end of the corrugated hose is for. If this unfortunate person had reached the surface he could have done that but I am inclined to think that by this point he’d got into a panic and might have lost all sense of reason. He might have tried to use the BC’s direct-feed control but of course it would not have worked if his tank were empty.

    Make sure you get your weightbelt clear of your body before you drop it. Make sure you get your weightbelt clear of your body before you drop it.
    There is another option. Think about dropping your weightbelt in an emergency. Struggling to swim with full kit at the surface, if that diver had thought to drop his weightbelt he would still be alive today.You should not have to do this in order to swim up to the surface if you are correctly weighted to be neutrally buoyant, but you might need to do it once you are there. Dropping your weightbelt has the effect of making you buoyant so you don’t really want to do it at depth and enjoy an out-of-control ascent. You must also be careful not to drop it on divers that may be below you and for this reason practicing this act is discouraged at crowded inland dive sites. Before BCs, and their forerunner the ABLJ, were invented, dropping the weightbelt was enshrined in diver training. It was the only way to stay at the surface during an emergency. Correct use of a BC allows for neutral buoyancy at any depth and one only has to swim up a little for the gas within the BC to expand and start to become positively buoyant. You then need to jettison some air for reasons of controlling the speed of ascent. Dropping the weights effects a sudden increase in buoyancy that could get out of control. For this reason dropping weights tends to be glossed over in training. So how to drop a weightbelt? It used to be the last thing you put on in the old days. That was so that it was never fouled by other straps passing over it. Today, it’s often put on before the BC and tank.

    It is not sufficient to simply flip the buckle and let it fall. You need to be sure it falls away cleaning from you without snagging. Think about dropping you weightbelt and its ramifications. Avoid being over-weighted so that you can be neutrally buoyant at any depth but know that you can always drop your weightbelt once you are near to the surface. Unhitch it and swing it away from you and once it is clear, before you drop it!

  • Making Movies That Don't Bore Your Neighbours

    Movies4187Back in the day when I made television commercials, my first movie was quite an undertaking. It was 1980. I used a huge Panavision 70 camera, involved a lot of people with specialist skills, it cost £250,000 and lasted only thirty seconds, yet a lot of people bought a certain brand of tea because of it. A decade later, video cameras made things more economic. I shot the first commercially available instructional video for scuba diving. It only cost £10,000 to post-produce. Things have moved on apace since then and costs have plummeted. Now everyone can afford to shoot video. Some of you will only use your cameras for video clips, the moving equivalent of a snapshot. Indeed, often these clips get no further than being viewed on the LCD of the camera, never to be seen again. Others want to produce something more ambitious, in the form of a viewable programme. Whether you shoot on a Red Epic camera, digital DSLR, a compact or a little POV mini action camera like a GoPro Hero 4, air-side or underwater, the rules of move-making are the same. Still pictures can stand-alone whereas movies rely on the shot shown before and the one after. It’s a sequence that forms an event that might not have actually happened but it’s got to be believable to work. So gather your shots to tell a story. Look for an opening shot that will grab your viewer’s attention, something dramatic and something that can be used to bring your sequence to an end. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Think of each short shot as a brick that will go with others to form the architecture of your final result. Bear in mind that your viewers may not be as engaged with your subject matter as you are and consider twenty minutes as the longest time they’ll watch your completed production before they make their excuses and leave. Continuity is crucial. Underwater, we have to think in terms of continuity of lighting, mainly dictated by the time of day and if we feature divers in a sequence shot over more than one dive, they need to be wearing the same kit in exactly the same way. Inserting a shot from night into a broad daylight sequence will never look right. Gather the shots that will become useful when it comes to constructing your movie. Shoot a wide establishing shot, a middle-distance action shot and close-up of each subject. You’ll be amazed how useful the material so gained with be when it comes to assembling a production. The subject moves and the camera remains still. Often more easily said than done underwater, but professional film-makers go to extraordinary lengths to keep their cameras steady while the action goes on in front of it. Ironically, the latest generation of little action cameras are harder to keep steady whilst recording. Following an animal as it moves is seductive when you are actually there but don’t do it for too long. It gets boring to watch. Let the animal move into frame, follow it for a bit and then let it clear the frame. These will give you the moments to cut from a previous shot and cut to the next one. A cardinal rule on land it to imagine there is a line down the middle of the path your moving subject takes. Never cross that line with your camera or it will look as if your subject has changed direction and gone back the other way. Less crucial with underwater subjects, ‘crossing the line’ often gives the impression that there is more than one subject, and that can make the action busy. “Not another video of blue fish!” I can still hear the groans of my friends from my early days of underwater video-making now. Light underwater is filtered so that only the shorter blue wavelengths penetrate much more than a few metres from the surface so if you are shooting elsewhere than the shallows, when a colour-correction filter over the lens will work, you’ll need some independent lighting to give you a full spectrum of colour. Increasing the camera frame rate from the viewed 25 frames per second to, say, double the speed, gives a slow motion effect. This smoothes down the action and is especially useful with fast moving underwater subjects and avoids that juddery effect often encountered when panning the camera at a normal frame rate. Slow-motion is almost standard procedure with professional underwater wildlife films. A cut-away is a shot that allows the editor to cut away from the main action for a moment and comes in very useful when constructing awkward sequences. The effect is to imply that these animals so recorded are bystanders to the main action. Luckily, you can use almost any underwater subject as a cut-away but it’s important that the camera is steady if these shots are to be inserted in a moving camera sequence. Once you get to edit your material, be ruthless. The cutting room floor is as important as the retained material. Choose the essence of the action. Keep it brief. Keep your audience wanting more not less. When you’ve got a lot of footage, the cameraman can be too emotionally attached and that is why Hollywood movies are traditionally edited by people who were not present at the shooting stage.Hammerhead and Video On the other hand, you might be just as happy collecting video clips that are the moving equivalent of snapshots. The choice is yours.

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