• The Wonderful Islands of the Maldives

    As Autumn makes itself known to us with cooler air and wind and rain, memories of Summer vacations begin to fade and minds inevitably drift towards the possibilities of Winter sunshine. Among visitors to Ocean Leisure's store on London's Embankment near Charing Cross, the most popular destination must be the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives.

    Inter-island travel is by speedboat or seaplane. Inter-island travel is by speedboat or seaplane.

    Scattered across a swathe of tropical sea, the Maldives are a chain of around 1200 tiny palm-fringed islands that are mainly just north of the Equator, arranged around the rims of what are thought to be sunken prehistoric volcanoes, now ring-shaped reefs called 'atolls'.

    The islands are so small that any that have resorts based on them have only space for one. Some of these resorts represent the highest quality in tropical accommodation likely to be found anywhere in the world whereas others suit travellers on a budget. You choose.

    Private plunge pool of water-bungalow at the Constance Halaveli Resort Typical private plunge pool of a water-bungalow.

    Transport between the islands and the airport is either by speedboat or be seaplane depending on the distance involved. You may opt for a beach villa, a garden villa or a water-bungalow, but once you've grown accustomed to the abject luxury of it all, you'll be irrevocably drawn to the sea. Each island is built upon a reef so you won't have to go far to start swimming with the tropical fishes and while the majority will be content to snorkel off the beach, it's a perfect opportunity to learn to scuba dive because nearly every resort has a dive centre attached. Now although the Maldives has a reputation for high-voltage diving on the ocean side, within the atolls it can be very easy. Some resorts have even sunk old and unwanted vessels for the benefit of visiting divers and with time these have turned into vibrant coral reefs.

    A Maldivian wreck sunk for the benefit of divers burgeons with marine life. A Maldivian wreck sunk for the benefit of divers burgeons with marine life.

    You won't have to travel very far. The marine life comes close to the beach. If you prefer to simply snorkel the dive centre can rent you a mask, fins and snorkel but there's something nice about having your own. The wise traveller tries on a mask and fins before purchasing. That's because, although Ocean Leisure has a wide range of different masks available and they are all good, faces are infinitely variable and you'll want a mask that's comfortable and doesn't leak. Buying fins is like buying shoes. It doesn't matter how good they are if they're not comfortable so try before you buy. If you plan to scuba dive with your own equipment, don't forget to get your regulator serviced in good time before you go away.

    Maldivian dhoni/ A Maldivian dhoni will take you further from the resort.

    Snorkelling around the house reef can be a relaxing affair but you might find the urge to go further afield. The resort will have a fleet of dhonis (locally built boats) for this purpose.

    So what marine life are you likely to see? Well, hawkbill and green turtles are common in that part of the world. Be patient and you're bound to see one. The ubiquitous blue-lined snapper is the signature fish of the Maldives and these hover around in great yellow clouds as a defence strategy against predatory fish.

    You'll want to bring back more than just memories of what you see. A little amphibious camera such as the Canon D30 is watertight to 25-metres deep and will withstand the rigours of being taken to the beach every day.

    Green turtle on a Maldivian reef. Green turtle on a Maldivian reef.

    An Olympus TG4 is only good for 15-metres deep but it has a submarine housing available for it that will allow it to go much deeper. This will take ancillary wet lenses and an off-board flash, should you so wish. A different solution comes in the form of the Fujifilm XQ1

    Maldivian reef manta with attendant remoras fish. Maldivian reef manta with attendant remora fish.

    This represents a bargain in that it is bundled with a proper underwater housing, carrying case and memory card. If its live-action you want to record, the phenomenal GoPro range of action cameras, once fitted with a filter for underwater use and a neutrally buoyant grip to make handling easy, are almost unbeatable by price and performance. You'll be kicking yourself if you get to see a gracefully cavorting manta ray while you are in the Maldives and come back without a record of the experience.

    Whatever your plans, we at Ocean Leisure can ensure that you arrive in the Maldives with the best options for either snorkelling or scuba diving and bringing back a tangible record of the things you have seen.

    Blue-lined snapper huddle together in a big yellow cloud. Blue-lined snapper huddle together in a big yellow cloud.
  • What's a Reef Hook For?

    We recently received a FaceBook message from a very happy customer to Ocean Leisure, who told us what a godsend the reef hook we had suggested was. He had called by on his way to the Sudan and equipped himself with all the underwater photography equipment he needed as well as a lot of new scuba diving equipment. As usual we asked him where he was going and on hearing that he was joining a member of the Cousteau family on a trip we suggested he took with him a reef hook.

    A Reef hook with braided line and clip.
    The water that forces itself over the deep water tongues of each reef in the Sudan can be forced to speed up just as the air over the top of an aircraft's wing has to increase its velocity resulting in often strong currents. Places like Sha'ab Rumi are famous for this phenomenon and that is what encourages the sharks. Requiem sharks need forward motion to force water through their gills in order to breathe. If they find a place with a strong current, they can relax in the flow letting the forces of nature do the work for them. It's not unique to the Sudan. Water forces its  way into the channels of the Maldives, through the passes of the Tua Motos in French Polynesia and between the islands of Indonesia as tidal differences in the ocean affect the height of the water within the lagoons of atolls of the water levels in the minor seas to the north of the Indonesian archipelago. Among many other places, Palau has some powerful current points like that at Pelelui Cut and Blue Corner too. We should not forget the diver's flavour-of-the-year, the Dampier Strait in Raja Ampat, either.
    Grey Reef Shark in the Maldives Grey Reef Shark in the Maldives
    It can make scuba diving arduous but many divers think it's worth the effort. Why? Because once you have swum down and located yourself at the point on the reef wall where the action is to be found, you merely need to cling on and watch the show. Of course, clinging on to a coral reef is to be discouraged thanks to the damage it does. Even if you were able to cling on to bare rock as one can in the waters of Cocos or the Galapagos, you'd need a strong pair of leather gloves if your hands are not to be torn. Gloves more often used by sailors are appropriate. Neoprene diving gloves get ripped to pieces within a few dives.
    Enjoying a strong current at Rangiroa in French Polynesia. Enjoying a strong current at Rangiroa in French Polynesia.
    Better still, why not avoiding touching any surface altogether? That's where the reef hook comes into its own. You simply hook in to a suitable area of rocky substrate and allow yourself to be pushed back by the flow of water. The reef hook is at the end of a length of line that is hooked to a strong part of your BC such as a suitable stainless steel D-ring. A little bit of air added to the BC gives to enough buoyancy to fly like a kite above the reef and you hover there comfortably while you watch the sharks and other fishes putting on a show.
    Flying like a kite with a reef hook to enjoy diving in a channel in the Maldives. Using a reef hook to enjoy diving in a channel in the Maldives.
    When it comes to time to go, you simply pull yourself down the comfortably braided line and unhook, not forgetting to dump that buoyancy air from your BC before you are swept back into the channel behind you or into the lee of the reef. A reef hook is an inexpensive item of kit that is stowed in a BC pocket forgotten until you need it. If you are going anywhere that currents are featured, we certainly recommend it. If you've enjoyed reading these blogs, you will enjoy reading Amazing Diving Stories by the same author.

  • The Right Stuff.

    Every day, people come through the doors of the Ocean Leisure store on the Embankment in London’s West-End with the intention of equipping themselves for a dive trip to somewhere exotic. They buy masks and fins, wetsuits, dive computers, reef-hooks, regulators and all manner of paraphernalia that will enhance their trip. Some step into Ocean Leisure Cameras, a store within the store, and buy underwater cameras or accessories for cameras they might already own. One of the questions that the staff inevitably asks them is where they are intending using the things they buy. It helps the diving experts that work at Ocean Leisure to advise customers properly. For example you’d feel a little chilly in a 3mm shortie wetsuit if you intended diving in Egypt’s Red Sea during the early part of the year. This year they enjoyed a fall of snow! It never ceases to amaze me that people baulk at the cost of some essentials. For example there was the gentleman who wanted an inexpensive red filter for his GoPro camera. When he told me he was off to Truk Lagoon in Micronesia I asked him if he had any lights and was very much surprised when he answered in the negative. Truk Lagoon is unique in that it is a place where the American forces bombed and sank a stupendous number of Japanese supply ships during World War II. Today it is a mecca for wreck divers.

    Submarine periscopes stored on the Hein Maru.
    Although I suppose you could spend a trip simply swimming round the outside of them, the joy of diving at Truk is to enter the stricken vessels and see their cargoes and to swim around their engine rooms. I told this gentleman that if he didn’t take a diving lamp he was going to bang his head a lot. As for recording video footage on his GoPro, he certainly needed some video lights. These start from around £400 and quite frankly he did not want to spend that sort of money. On the other hand, I asked him how often he intended going to Truk Lagoon. He was not young and admitted he’d probably only go the once.
    Engine room detail of the Fujikawa Maru (Truk).
    He was off on a trip-of-a-lifetime involving four long flights to get there and that was costing him around four-and-a-half thousand pounds. He soon realised that to go without the right stuff would be folly. I asked him to come back and show us his footage from his trip. Another person was off to Socorro, Cocos, Malpelo and the Galapagos, high voltage dive sites in the Pacific of the coast of Central and South America. We at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras take it as a personal responsibility that people arrive at these distant places with the appropriate equipment. On the other hand, besides those taking trips to somewhere enviable with the required huge travel costs spent, we get those people on much more modest budgets come in to the Ocean Leisure store and it’s our task to find solutions that match the funds they have available.
    Manta ray in the Maldives.
    If someone asks if it’s worth buying a diving computer rather than always needing to hire one at their chosen dive resort, we are happy to guide them towards the basic instrument that is probably all they need. If they want a gas-switching all-singing all-dancing device, we’re happy to help them in that direction too.
    Shark feed dive in the Bahamas.
    When it comes to camera kit, it’s very easy for underwater self-styled underwater photography gurus to advise people to fork out for a high quality DSLR with tailor-made housing and two top quality flashguns at around £8000 but some people just want to take a few snaps of their buddies having fun underwater and a £300 amphibious camera that goes to 25-metres deep might fill the bill. Of course, if we sense that someone will possibly get hooked on the pastime of underwater photography, we’ll direct towards something that can evolve along with their ambitions and accept an ancillary flashgun and additional lenses later when they are ready for that. We always ask where you are going. If it’s the Lembeh Strait in North Suluwesi we know you’ll need the ability to photograph exceedingly small things whereas if you are visiting the Bahamas to dive with the sharks, for example, or you want to photograph mantas in the Maldives, you’ll certainly need a wide-angle capability with your camera.
    Pigmy Seahorse (extreme macro) in Lembeh Strait.
    People often spend hours discussing their needs. That’s what we are there for. We want our customers to come back with a smile on their faces and triumphantly show us the pictures from their trip. We like the tiniest forms of marine life like pigmy seahorses as much as we like the big animals. Buying equipment for underwater photography can be daunting at times but we do our best to demystify it and send you away equipped for one hundred percent success in your endeavours and and the combined expertise of the staff at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras is at your disposal. Please visit our store, handily positioned near to Waterloo and Charing Cross main line stations and over the Embankment Underground station on the District Line.

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