Nowadays we tend to want any information instantly and in a concise form. Reading anything longer than the few words of this blog would make a daunting task, especially if you were viewing this page on the screen of your smart phone. So that's the secret of the great success of the likes of Google. Who would have thought twenty years ago that anyone would have access to the entire knowledge in the world via a small device carried in your pocket? However there's still something undeniably nice about a book or even a collection of books on your shelf. Whether it's the smell of the paper and ink, the weight of the tome or the tactile experience that comes with turning the pages, who knows? At the same time, the likes of Amazon has revolutionised the sale and distribution of books on-line. You can choose a book today and have it delivered tomorrow. Book stores that used to feel a bit like libraries are disappearing fast, and even those that survive cater for the popular demand for those publications that end up being sold in vast quantities, the million sellers. That leaves a problem for those small specialist publishers that might provide us with books about sailing or scuba-diving for example. Print runs have become small and useful books are very soon out-of-print and hard to find. Ocean Leisure has a book department and we've tried to stock every available book about sailing, whether instructional, fact or fiction, in it. This includes every facet of life on the water, from windsurfing and kite surfing to the lore leisurely pursuits found on our inland waterways. We stock a vast array of marine charts too. At any given time you will spot people browsing in our book section. The same goes for what goes on beneath the surface and books about scuba diving. If Ocean Leisure hasn't got it in stock, it's probably long sold out and you'll need to search for a secondhand copy. These aren't necessarily the training manuals of the scuba training agencies but rather guide books and books about the various experiences possible in the world underwater, as well as marine life identification books and those rich volumes that reflect the work of talented underwater photographers. On the subject of photography there will always be helpful books that show the route to getting good results yourself. Visit the Ocean Leisure book department at the vast Aladdin's Cave that is the store on London's Victoria Embankment, to see what you can find. There are some hidden gems waiting for you to discover. If you cannot get to London, of course you can search through this website in the many pages of book sections in both sailing and scuba diving to see what you can find but you won't be seduced by the smell of the paper and ink until you open the parcel that we have dispatched to you! An added bonus can be to get a book dedicated and autographed by our author-in-residence. Amazing Diving Stories and Shark Bytes are the two titles available with this added-value. Either can make the perfect present.
Monthly Archives: November 2015
Way back in the early 'fifties when the pioneers of scuba diving were still making names for themselves, René Hugenschmidt decided that he wanted to make a career in the embryonic industry. A talented Swiss engineer, he produced an underwater housing for European cameras like the Hasselblad and Rollieflex, but as Japanese 35mm cameras began sweeping all before them in the market place he soon swapped over to accommodating 35mm Nikons. His housings were so beautifully engineered, they were the equivalent of an exotic German or Italian sports car. The only problem was that would-be owners had to join a waiting list that might be several years long. Hugyfot housings were in a class of their own.
Time moves on and René Hugenschmidt is no more but exactly fifty years after he first started, his brand and its reputation got taken over by an engineering company based in Belgium where Hugyfot housings are engineered today.
As a long-time professional underwater photographer, I've owned housings but all of the top makes including Subal, Seacam, Aquatica, Nexus,and Sea & Sea. They are all good but when Hugyfot introduced its vacuum leak-test I was totally convinced that was the housing for me. The primary function of a submarine housing it to keep the camera inside it dry and functioning. Now all of the housings I mentioned can do that provided there is no user error. Alas, in more than 350 individual dive trips, I made that error a couple of times. The scars never heal. Not only do you lose your camera and lens but often it means a trip completed without any pictures. Although I always carried a duplicate spare camera with me in case of mishap, once you flood one, you are overly concerned you might flood the spare camera too.
The Hugyfot vacuum leak-test checks with a pressure sensor that no air is leaking into a housing that has previously been pumped down to a negative pressure inside. A red light signals danger whilst a steadily pulsing green is good. Once I had equipped myself with a Hugyfot housing, I could travel with a single DSLR and the green pulsing light would enable me to sleep comfortably whereas a red would see me out of bed in a moment. No more jumping into the water, wondering if this was the last time that camera inside the housing was going to be serviceable. I never lost a camera in a Hugyfot housing and I never carried a spare from that day onwards.
Hugyfot housings are very robustly built, and their design is relatively simple. The controls are mainly push-buttons that pass directly through the bulkhead of the housing. This means that the position of the control buttons are dictated by the position of those controls on the camera. Nauticam housings are now much more sophisticated with offset controls for a better anatomical design but you must decide if the complications of that are too much of a liability if you are going to be shooting in a remote location. Sometimes there's merit in simplicity.
The Hugyfot designer eschewed cam-catches and went for bolts. This means there is no risk of a Hugyfot housing being accidentally unlatched in the freshwater rinse tank and as a side effect of the vacuum leak-test, the housing is impossible to prise open while the green light is showing thanks to ambient water or air pressure. You might even need to tighten the bolts after vacuum sealing the housing since the vacuum pulls the two halves of the clamshell tightly together.
The company has specialized so far in making housings solely for popular DSLR cameras, in particular those bearing the Nikon or Canon brands, with lens ports for the most popular lenses used underwater. However, the company now also makes a housing for a GoPro Hero 4 and its immediate predecessors, and this is remarkable in that it has the option to mount a submersible housing for a monitor. It turns the GoPro into a really professional bit of kit.
Pressure-rated to 200 metres, it allows a continuous operation of the GoPro for 6 hours instead of a more usual 40 minutes and in Pro Plus guise it bears a separate 4.3 inch external monitor mounted on its double-decker rig with standard one-inch balls for mounting additional lights. The GoPro housing can also take a red filter or macro lens that simply swings into position when you require. The Hugyfot accessories for the Gopro have redefined that little camera's role in making professional video recordings underwater.
All Hugyfot housings have these standard mounting balls fitted and they can be used in conjunction with variable buoyancy arms that you can adjust to make your rig perfectly balanced in the water.
Now here is the good news! Ocean Leisure is now able to supply you with Hugyfot products direct from the manufacturer in Belgium. This means that any product is available from stock to the UK within a couple of days. Ocean Leisure will be able to give after-sales-service on Hugyfot products that is second to none and better than most. Come in and compare what's available.
Whenever I have written an article about sharks for the mainstream media, they have invariably illustrated the item with a picture of a Great White shark, its head staring toothily out of the water. For most people there is only one type of shark and that is the type portrayed in Peter Benchley/Steven Spielberg’s JAWS. This means we all grew up with an innate fear of sharks and it certainly took me a few years scuba diving to get over it.
There are some very diverse opinions about whether it is good to bait sharks (as in shark feeding by divers) in order to get close encounters. People don’t let personal experience get in the way of their opinion forming processes. Sharks are often believed to be dangerous undiscerning predators that enjoy hunting man. It's easy to believe that shark feeding must be dangerous!
I was amazed and dismayed by the vitriolic response to underwater photographer Michael Aw posting a picture on FaceBook that revealed he had sustained a bite during such an event, even though it was ironically from a little grouper that was waiting in the hope of getting some crumbs form the sharks’ table.
Sharks come in as many diverse forms as there are opinions about this subject and I confess that I am not a shark-hugger and not someone who insists that they are like pussycats. They are feeding machines with a lot of teeth and very much at home in their own environment.
Where can you see sharks? Some sharks can be encountered where there are fast currents. Most requiem sharks need a flow of water over their gills so they either have to keep swimming or let the natural flow of a current do the job instead. Some sharks are nocturnal feeders, hunting at night, and can be found resting during daylight hours. Tawny nurse sharks, leopard sharks and white-tip reef sharks fall into this category. Be aware that nurse sharks are implicated in more attacks on scuba divers than any other species probably because divers are prone to interfere with them while they are resting. Their mouths can suck with up to one-thousand pounds of pressure.
A good place to encounter sharks and other elasmobranchs like manta rays is at known cleaning stations. Check with the local guides as to which species of fish tend to do this important grooming task locally and look out for aggregations of them. It you wait patiently and quietly you may get a close encounter. Those with close-circuit rebreathers enjoy a stealth advantage for this when seeking to get close to sharks - provided they keep still and don’t give away their position.
The function of most sharks is to rid the ocean of ill and injured fish so that there are no epidemics of disease. They also feed on carrion. The oceanic white-tip roams the oceans of the world, seeking carrion and opportunistic meals at or near the surface. In the Red Sea, the narrowness of the busy shipping lanes to Port Suez and the fact that most galley waste is tossed over the side from the very many freighters passing through it means that this particular population of oceanic white-tips have learned that the noise of engines and the sound of splashing indicates a meal. It rings the dinner bell for them.
The advent of very large liveaboard dive boats making the same noises and furnishing seductive splashing sounds by divers entering the water, at the same time visiting reefs close to these busy sea lanes, means that these predatory animals will investigate divers in shallow water who get a fleeting if high-adrenalin encounter from time to time. To my knowledge no diver has sustained an investigatory bite but avoid snorkelling at the surface or you will be asking for trouble. An investigatory bite can be catastrophic.
So putting these cases to one side, the best way to see other sharks close-up and personal is to join a dive where there is organised shark feeding. (There needs to be some benefit to the sharks or they will stay away.) Is it right or wrong to do it?
Well I have attended many such feeds in different parts of the world and seen them done in very different ways. Some are safe, some are incredibly safe for participating divers and some are less so.
I’ve witnessed sharks being fed with bait dispensed with an unprotected hand from a plastic bag. This invites the shark to grab all of the bait with consequent danger to the person holding it. I’ve witnessed sharks being fed with pieces of fish held in a bare hand, the pieces cut from the head of a mahi mahi held under the arm. I’ve also seen the hand of someone feeding in such a way receiving the multiple stitches needed afterwards.
I’ve seen people spearing live fish to use as bait. The behavior of sharks when they sense carrion in the water is entirely different to that when they sense the vibrations from an injured fish. In the first case they are relaxed and circle round. In the second case they enter a frenzy of excitement that could be hazardous for those divers in close proximity. Similarly you should keep well away from anglers. Reeling in a dying fish at the end of a line encourages a shark to chase them and because a shark closes its eyes with a nictitating eyelid when it distends it jaw to bite, it can be less than accurate and other people sharing the same water have been injured. Any shark can make this mistake.
Some dive centres employ a frozen chumsicle of fish that is suspended in mid-water. The sharks circle round feeding from it as the bait thaws and divers can choose to get as close or stay as distant as they like. The sharks treat the divers like any other big predator there for the meal.
On Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I’ve been shepherded into a cage to watch while little grey reef sharks are brought to a frustrated frenzy by being denied the bait contained within a ventilated steel container so that they lived up to the expectations of watching divers who believe that sharks are undiscerning will bite anything. Of course, it was impossible to take pictures under such circumstances since the bars of the cage were too close together but it was incredibly safe from the sharks.
It seems to me that the safest and most visually effective way to feed sharks from the human perspective is to strictly control the bait as it is handed out. This is normally done either with a short spear or a gloved hand. Nowadays many such shark feeders wear full chainmail suits and helmets to protect themselves from sustaining an accidental bite although they are not immune to injury. One chainmail-clad feeder got a shark caught in the links of his suit and it broke all of the bones in his hand, his arm and his shoulder, in the struggle to get free. He wasn’t bitten though!
What happens if someone does get bitten? The underwater environment is no place to be injured in such a way and there has been one case of someone dying from blood loss before they could get medical attention. On the other hand, in the days before they used full chainmail suits, a young shark-feeder, Michelle Cove, made the mistake of diving into an accidentally upturned bait-box to preserve the cuts of fish that spilled out from the competitive sharks and got accidentally bitten in the head for her trouble. Head wounds bleed profusely, so much so that the captain of her boat fainted when she climbed on board, but it precipitated no feeding frenzy. Sharks are very choosy eaters!
With some sharks, like tigers and lemons, it is only necessary to dangle a bait-box in the water so that it lets out a seductive scent trail. Great hammerheads look for their prey under the sand so that is where the bait must be buried.
So what about the well-being of the sharks? Some say it causes abnormal aggregations of sharks but I can tell you that the channel of Bikini Atoll swarmed with sharks back in the ’nineties even at a time when few humans had been there. (Bikini Atoll was the site of more than sixty atomic and hydrogen bomb tests from 1945 to 1960.)
Some say that it causes the sharks to lose the ability to hunt. I’m told a typical shark needs to eat around four per cent of its body weight each day. That means that at a typical Bahamian shark feed, the feeder would need to carry around twenty kilos of bait when in fact the sharks get little more than a canapé and many attending sharks get nothing at all. Some sharks disappear for weeks before returning to a staged feed.
Some say that it causes sharks to associate food with humans. I’m no expert but I would offer that sharks associate food with food wherever it is. The human influence is purely incidental. Does it cause them to be more ready to attack humans?
Florida, where shark baiting in order to view them is illegal, has more instances of shark bites than anywhere else in the world. To put things in perspective, in 1996, 43,000 Americans were injured by lavatories and thirteen by sharks. You are more likely top get killed by a falling coconut or a faulty toaster than to get bitten by a shark. In 2014, twenty-four were injured by sharks off Florida’s beaches while only two instances were recorded in the Bahamas where shark-feeding dives have become a big industry.
So what have sharks done for us? They maintain the health of the oceans and the fast disappearance of sharks in some parts of the world, thanks to industrialised shark-finning, has resulted in mass fish die-offs recently. How can we counter this?
Some people are appalled that anyone should try to run a business and make a profit from shark feeding dives. It offends their sensibilities yet they would happily pay to visit an aquarium or dolphinarium. Well, we are all aware that the Dollar is king. By increasing the Dollar value of a live shark it provides the animal with financial protection. Those nation states that have taken steps to prevent shark-finning fleets operating in their waters have all got a vibrant scuba diving industry. That’s no coincidence. A live shark in the Bahamas is said to generate more than 250,000 US Dollars in tourism during its lifetime whereas a dead shark is worth only a tiny fraction of that. Do the mathematics!
One final bit of advice: If you are worried about meeting a shark whilst you are diving just be aware that if you don’t interfere with it, it will ignore you. Sharks have evolved to eat their particular prey over millions of years and, quite simply, we newcomers underwater are not on the menu.
If you would like to read about some of my own personal experiences whilst diving close to and photographing sharks over a thirty-year period, read my book Shark Bytes, published by Fernhurst Books and available from the Ocean Leisure book department.
We received an email from Jakarta. It was from a family that had called in to Ocean Leisure Cameras while on their way to take their daughter to boarding school in Shrewsbury. It seems they don't have departments in Indonesian stores like Ocean Leisure Cameras so they wanted to get equipped with an underwater photography outfit to take home with them.
Their message to us on returning home was that the results from the photography set-up we had suggested and supplied them with had exceeded their expectations in every way. They were very happy indeed. In fact happy enough to write to us to tell us.
So what did we sell them? The lady of the family wanted a camera that she could use in a fully automatic mode and was not going to be an imposition to carry on a dive with her. It appeared that cost was no object provided the camera and accessories would do what she wanted without her needing to develop much in the way of photography skills.
The Canon G7X is a compact camera that employs a sensor that is among the biggest available in its class. This means it produces high quality files even when light levels are low and it can be set up for one button white-balance operation. An alternative might have been the Sony RX100.
We combined this with a high quality Nauticam housing. The lady and gentleman in question liked the idea of fitting a vacuum leak-test system because it takes away the stress of wondering if the housing has been closed up properly and won't leak. The green light indicating this is very comforting.
The lady expressed an interest in photographing whale sharks and we explained that the less water she had between the camera and her subject, the clearer her pictures would be. We supplied an i-Das UWL fish-eye lens that can be fitted directly to the front of the Nauticam housing via a 67mm adapter. This lens will allow her to get as close as possible and still include all of a whale shark in the picture. However we pointed out how the G7X needs to be used in conjunction with a short port and the zoom locked off by means of the lock on the Nauticam's zoom lever to stop it accidentally being zoomed forward.
At the same time, since they lived in Indonesia and were conveniently sited to visit its well-known macro dive sites where all manner of strange critters live, we suggested an AOI +12 dioptre macro lens. This too screws directly to the front of the housing.
As for lighting, our suggestion that a Sea & Sea YS-D1 would be a good idea was met with the request to buy two since the gentleman of the family thought they would eventually progress to a double flash set up and getting an matching flashgun later in Jakarta might be virtually impossible. We were happy to oblige and provided a tray and arms with one-inch-ball mounting system.
Of course this Indonesian family had an extensive budget but don't be put off by the cost. You could get equally satisfying results based on the economic Fuji XQ1 package that pairs the camera with a proprietary plastic housing, despite it being at an entry-level price. Be adding a lens mount base, this camera can be paired with the exact same auxiliary lenses and you don't need to have the top-of-the-range flashgun.
If you want something in a price range between the two, what about the Olympus TG4? Its housing can too be combined with the lenses we mention (using a step-down adapter ring for the i-Das UWL fish-eye lens) and it confers the added advantage that the camera alone is water-tight to 15-metres deep so that takes a lot of pressure off the worry that you might not have closed up the housing correctly.
However much or little your budget may be, we want you to go away with the equipment most suitable for your needs and that fits your budget. Come in to the store and discuss it with our knowledgable people. We take pleasure in making you pleased!