Scubysnaps Photography: Blog en-us (C) Scubysnaps | Paul Woodburn | All Rights Reserved (Scubysnaps Photography) Sat, 17 Aug 2013 09:54:00 GMT Sat, 17 Aug 2013 09:54:00 GMT Scubysnaps Photography: Blog 90 120 Scubysnaps blog moves to Facebook only  

I am syncronising my blog with my Scubysnaps facebook page to save duplicating, please like it to follow, thank you...


(Scubysnaps Photography) Sat, 17 Aug 2013 09:54:21 GMT
My scubymobile campervan is now on the road! 0718_untitled_710964

(Scubysnaps Photography) Wed, 19 Jun 2013 11:34:32 GMT
I now have the Nikon D7100 complete with the Nauticam NAD7100 (Scubysnaps Photography) Wed, 29 May 2013 11:31:52 GMT First canvas printed I decided to print our first canvas, heres how it looks on the wall. This one is a premium large panoramic canvas by Photobox, delivered in less than a week......highly recommended!!

(Scubysnaps Photography) canvas print turtle Thu, 24 Jan 2013 18:33:08 GMT
BSoUP Best Beginners' Portfolio 2012 BSoUP Best Beginners Portfolio 2012BSoUP 2012 Beginners Portfolio


I was chuffed to hear that I won 1st place in the BSoUP Beginners Portfolio for 2012. I recieve a trophy and a cheque for £100, and I'm featured in next month's DIVER magazine

(Scubysnaps Photography) Mon, 26 Nov 2012 13:00:01 GMT
Eiffel Tower visit We were lucky enough to get a free trip to Paris on Saturday, how could I resist to get a shot of the Eiffel Tower while we were there!Eiffel TowerEiffel Tower

(Scubysnaps Photography) Arc Champs Eiffel Elysee Paris Tower Triomphe de Sat, 30 Jun 2012 23:00:00 GMT
The new Underwater Photography Flag by Paul Woodburn of Scubysnaps The new Underwater Photography Flag by me, Paul Woodburn of Scubysnaps. I've done some googling about and not found anything like this anywhere, so its all mine! Mwa ha ha ha haaa!!


The new underwater photography flag by Paul Woodburn of Scubysnaps

(Scubysnaps Photography) DivePhotography Flag Paul Photography Scubysnaps Underwater Woodburn flag Tue, 12 Jun 2012 18:00:00 GMT
Gallery population initiated After intense distraction re-enhancing a lot of my images with the new Lightroom 4 software, I have decided to start populating my galleries bit by bit, please keep checking for more additions. Automatic update alerts available on twitter @scubysnaps

(Scubysnaps Photography) 4 lightroom photography underwater Thu, 07 Jun 2012 06:43:09 GMT
My wife, Lisa, is now a UK diver After 10 years of perserverance, my wife, Lisa, became a regular diver in Bonaire, so soon as she has, she also has become a UK dry suit diver..warming up for our seal trip in August!

(Scubysnaps Photography) Sat, 02 Jun 2012 07:15:00 GMT
Bonaire trip to be published in Sport Diver Our adventures in Bonaire will be published in the up and coming July isssue of Sport Diver magazine UK, available mid June 2012

(Scubysnaps Photography) Sun, 20 May 2012 07:00:00 GMT
My first wedding shoot I've been interested in branching out my photography skills elsewhere in the field, and I've just completed my first wedding photography shoot. Here it is!  Please contact me if you're thinkng of hiring my services, areas close to Gosport, Fareham, Portsmouth, Southampton, basically south east Hampshire are charged with no transport costs.

(Scubysnaps Photography) Fareham Gosport Hampshire Portsmouth Southampton Wedding Wickham bridal photographer photography south wedding Sun, 22 Apr 2012 10:30:00 GMT
Bonaire Easter 2012  


Underwater Gallery                                        Land Gallery

 Bonaire, an island in the Dutch Caribbean with a gift in that it has the flexibility and freedom for each diver to shore dive when and wherever around the island they choose by means of hiring a 4x4.

For the 12 years I’ve been diving; my wife, Lisa, has had great difficulty in accepting the sport, she gained her Open Water a year after me and ever since then she was never confident enough to pursue it. Last year I qualified as a divemaster and all the underwater photography Lisa has seen of mine, her confidence and interest has been growing steadily back. Rather than being selfish and just choosing my next trip for my scuba snaps, I was looking for a trip that would suit her to get her into gear.

An old friend, Niels who has been an instructor in Bonaire for 5 years, recently asked me when we were going to visit him, soon enough, the idea came to me, this would be ideal for Lisa, she has never been fond of proving her abilities to dive centres every time we visit somewhere new. Here, we could just do what we want, when we want, and with the added bonus of our friend Niels.

I suggested to Lisa it may be a good idea to take her advanced course over there with Niels, to add even more confidence. I was happy to hear that she would give it her best, so a lot of reading was done in advance and her confidence was soon coming back. She did a scuba refresher and we did 4 sessions in the pool beforehand to make sure she was happy with everything.

Everything went well and we were soon jetting ourselves there. Niels was waiting for us at the airport with another one of our friends, Dax, who decided to join the trip travelling to join us from Holland.

The day after we arrived we got to it. Most of the diving is on the sheltered west side, and we chose to start our diving at Buddy Dive resort, an easy entry for Lisa off the pier. Lisa chose to buddy up with Niels, safe from the interfering husband’s help! Dax and I decided to go deeper, out of harms way! Some things that make the dive planning easier here; there’s rarely any current at Bonaire, if there is, its very slight so as PADI suggests always choose to swim into the current to start the dive, then the return is not as demanding. The majority are wall dives, the sea bed is mostly at around 30m, and its not far to snorkel to the drop off. A lot of reasons here to make you think that this island was born to be for divers!

The next day we dived at Salt Lake pier, only advised when the pier is not used for conveying salt from the ocean, here they produce salt for one of Bonaire’s probably only exported products. Pyramid shaped piles of salt, storeys high, can be seen here with a backdrop of a pink salt lake, the pink pigment comes from the bacteria in the algae that is seen when the salt is evaporating, something that can also be seen in the local wild flamingos. Its funny that the first time I saw flamingos was outside a large hotel in Cairo overlooking the pyramids there, how coincidental. Back to the dive! You can find barracuda dangling between the pier legs, and some Tarpon and shoals a bit deeper. This was my first time underwater near Lisa in a few years, immediately I noticed how much better she was in the water, and her face shone a lot more with interest, especially when she seemed to overreact when something appeared that I just took as something normal, really pleasing J Her trim still needs some attention, but as soon as I signalled to her, she corrected without any problems.

A lot of the dives involved traipsing through the rolling surf which proved a bit too much for Lisa. Because of this, it knocked her interest down a bit and we kept at least one dive a day to an easy entry. One of them was from a small unnamed pier with a slow drift to Buddy reef, this passed a small neighbouring wreck. Once we ended the dive we saw people pointing into the shallows, it was a small Manta ray, about a metre in span. Apparently they have only been around here now for a year or so, great news for everyone, I’m sure. Later on during our stay someone showed us their video from their day, of a large Manta ray following them for the whole of the dive, awesome!

Twice on our stay here we dived the Hilmer Hooker shipwreck, this was an 80m cargo ship abandoned with marijuana still onboard, the authorities eventually sunk it in 1984 to boost the growing diving interest the island was attracting. Her 2 masts are still intact, resting onto the 30m white sand bed, holding her steadily on her starboard side 15m proud. Niels took us on a tour past the masts, in a hold, and through the superstructure, and the first time I’ve encountered breathing in an air pocket, a strange experience!  All in all, it’s a very nice intact wreck, with plenty of features to attract the divers’ eye.

As well trying some of the 63 marked dive sites (marked on the free tourist map and highlighted on the road entrances by a yellow rock with the dive site name on it) we were keen to try some of the unmarked ones, the first one of these was called Tailor Made. This is on the far north west coast where you have to go off road for a couple of miles. The site is marked roughly by a wooden stick and a couple of tyres. Coral was obviously a lot more untouched here.

Easter weekend on Bonaire is a time where the government allow anyone to camp on the beach. We did another dive by a small pier close to the airport, here I saw a local family getting acquainted with their temporary home, quite a surprise to see the father lifting a full porcelain loo onto the beach, I dread to think where that was plumbed in to!? On this dive Niels decided to do a spot of spearfishing, this is a “hard to grasp” legal sport in Bonaire for locals, the main target advised is Lionfish, as you may have heard, the Caribbean is being somewhat invaded by Lionfish as they are at the top of their food cycle. He was lucky to get a large target that day and we enjoyed it that evening fried in a little oil, very tasty it was too. While I buddied with Lisa I realised her confidence would not let her get too close to the coral, a shame for my photography, but all in good time. Later I spoke to her about her plans, she was happy just doing one dive a day for this holiday so has decided to leave it there. Despite her not doing her AOW, I am extremely happy with her doing 7 dives, I  thought maybe her confidence would have been improved if she did her advanced, but she said she would prefer to get more dives under her belt at a steady pace first. Her plans are to continue in the UK with me, for her main goal, diving with seals this August. Good luck there Lisa.

The east coast of Bonaire is a very quiet windy side, mainly frequented by windsurfers, there are only 2 recognised sites here, and we dived 3 of them! The first one is called Baby Beach, we were lucky as we had a few days of calm easterlies, entry here is usually though quite a bit of surf, harder than the west side but wasn’t too bad. Eventually we went down onto a white sandy bed and found 2 large sting rays, which is what we came looking for. Another east dive was White Hole, the real tester! Here we had to walk about 200m over uneven shallow water, very hard with 2 tanks on my back and an SLR hanging on my chest. It was a long snorkel out here to the drop off, that was nothing compared to the walk out! The attraction to this dive was guaranteed turtles and a white sandy bed full of hunting tarpons, sure enough we got all of that, earlier on that day a school of eagle rays was seen too. It was a shame the viz was down a bit, but at least the surf was down on entry.. Our last east coast dive was La Cai. Entry here was very easy, dropping into a small channel of 3m viz; almost immediately, we followed the channel along to find a rare site on Bonaire, a field of anemones. Once we passed this we dropped into the Tarpon pit, similar to the White Hole but a lot smaller and the Tarpon were a lot closer together, just hovering, waiting for their night’s hunting, there must have been about 50 of them, viz was still down unfortunately but still a good surprise to see them so close. Soon the viz cleared up as we hit the reef wall, coral was so much more prolific here, another highlight to this dive was that it was one of the few places you get an 80% chance of Eagle rays, sure enough I saw a nice one about a metre wide. This dive had so many good things about it I recommended it to Lisa, easy entry, and bad viz to start (a nice warmer for UK diving!) Sure enough we did it again and saw an eagle ray again. Navigation for this dive is a little trickier so if you decide to choose this one, I would recommend hiring a guide, actually for any of the east dives.

We had 2 non dive days, one of them we went to the national park where there are some fabulous beaches, iguanas, goats, flamingos, cacti, all in one day trip, 4x4 recommended for extra off road fun! There are a 2 or 3 dive sites on the park’s west side, we took a look but they all seemed as if the entry was far too difficult looking like you needed to abseil in!? How you got out, that one I’ll leave up to you to figure out. Entry to the park is free with your diving marine park ticket and some ID.

On our last non dive day Niels took us to a cave for some snorkelling. This involved hauling ourselves on a rope down a 6 metre rock face, through the tiniest of holes, Lisa was unsure a few times to continue, but once we got to the water, it was such a relief to feel the coolness on our skin. It wasn’t a long trip into the main cave room, here we could snorkel into corners and squeeze ourselves in making sure we didn’t raise our head too much onto the spearing stalactites. On a couple of occasions Niels invited me to free dive into other rooms, this was fantastic! I was under for about 20 seconds, once I came up I shouted for the others, when I got back they couldn’t hear me at all, proof we were in a completely separate room with rock and water just between us. Niels and his colleague have tried diving this before through deeper holes beneath, not a very advisable thing to do he says!

Marine life spotted:

Trumpetfish, Squirrelfish, Christmas tree worms, Turtles, Boxer shrimps, Arrow crabs, Porcupinefish, Trunkfish, Drumfish, Tarpon, Barracuda, Surgeonfish, Needlefish, Manta rays, Sting rays, Eagle rays, Lionfish, French angelfish, Queen angelfish,

(Scubysnaps Photography) Bonaire beginners diving manta photography rays turtles tyarpon underwater Sun, 15 Apr 2012 15:15:00 GMT
All set for Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean We're all set for Bonaire, 2 weeks of shore diving with 2 Dutch friends in the Dutch Caribbean

(Scubysnaps Photography) Fri, 30 Mar 2012 07:15:00 GMT
New website created Aftert several months choosing the most suitable software and creation, my new website is up and running! More images to be added in due course once a lot of revision has been taken place

(Scubysnaps Photography) Sun, 25 Mar 2012 07:00:00 GMT
Komodo with Alex Mustard        

                    Underwater Gallery                                             Land Gallery                                           

I joined the WWDAS team led by Alex Mustard on the Indo Siren for my first ever photography biased dive trip.

(Scubysnaps Photography) Alex Dive Indo Komodo Mustard Sail Siren Worldwide and Mon, 31 Oct 2011 12:59:00 GMT
Finalist in Veolia Natural History Museum Wildlife Photography Competition 2011

I received notification that I was placed in the Finalist stage of the underwater category for the 2011 Veolia Natural History Museum Wildlife Photography Competition with this image taken in Hanifaru last August. Chuffed to say the least!

(Scubysnaps Photography) 2011 Competion Hanifaru History Manta Natural Photograpahy Veolia Wildlife ray Fri, 01 Jul 2011 13:05:00 GMT
Getting to grips with an SLR Paul Woodburn, Underwater Photographer

Published in "Sport Diver" June 2011


I've been taking underwater photographs now for over 8 years, once I became more interested I started feeding my habit I joined relevant internet forums, that’s where the addiction started! Being a perfectionist, with a big trip coming up to Indonesia in 2009 I still wasn’t too happy with my results, I decided to look into an upgrade to my wide angle converter lens, it was very costly for what I had already spent on my G9 and Ikelite set up at the time, eventually sought the help eventually of Martin Edge, he seemed a good bet as I’d already read his book, and was only 50 miles from me. Once I read his course syllabus I saw that he offers a play with a dSLR, I usually don’t like hanging around with opportunities and soon put 2 and 2 together and realised this was the best option to go. At that particular time, the cogs started turning and it all made sense to me then to make the move, within 2 months I had my new dSLR system and had sold my old one. I went for the Nikon D90 it was a slight mark up from entry level and the make was Martins recommendation. I chose Aquatica to house it as that was, again, just slightly up from entry level housings. I also took a SLR for beginners’ course with Going Digital, another good move. I also took another course at Visions 2009...before too long I was all good to go!

A month later I was on the A380 to Singapore bound for Manado. The first thing I noticed was how much time is consumed in putting everything together, I felt like a hitman and his rifle with all these bits! It was just the same after the day was done, having to take it all apart to charge batteries, change your lens and get your SD card, this never had to be done everyday as the battery was about 3 or 4 times the power of a compact battery, but if you want to make sure your photos are backed up, god forbid you have a camera flood, all your camera gear may be backed up with insurance, but your pictures are not. I had 2 lots of batteries for my camera and strobes, so I didn’t have to wait more time for them to recharge, and if I did, it every night I was guaranteed a full days diving without any changes.

My first dives were on the local house reef at Tasik Ria, Hey! Were they good! I couldn’t believe the difference in life here, this was the first time I’d ever come further than Thailand to dive. I certainly made the right choice when to go SLR. Shutter lag was now non existent, focus was quick, I couldn’t believe the critters to be seen there, and how close I could get with good focus. I now found the buzz of shooting macro The only downfall I had made a firm agreement with myself to stick with manual settings, including the strobes, I was manual for a while before, but adding the strobes into the equation as well, meant there was a lot to consider. Previously I used TTL on my Ikelite and was advised against this as you cannot control your desired effects as good. As TTL conversion was extra, I took their word for it!

Using my fisheye lens was a feat on its own, controlling such a huge mass of equipment once you are in the water, positioning the flash arms, was a challenge, its amazing the field of view from a fisheye lens and how the dome part lets it all in, even the strobes despite the length of the arms. The last dive of the day always ended up a macro dive, I was rather dubious of taking my camera equipment apart on the boat, but soon got the hang of it in the cabin, you’ve just got to remain calm, patient and very meticulous, not easy for me! Luckily with the Aquatica you only have to take the front port off and there is a lever that releases your lens off the camera for you, then quick changeover to macro, and all set.

Wide angle subjects were pretty sparse in Bunaken, so I looked into my next trip as soon as I got back, now becoming a hard choice as I no longer wish to be in a group doing the follow the leader thing. Time is needed on each subject, looking out for a chain of divers is not on the priority list, a good picture is. My wife doesn’t dive (that’s one reason why I can afford to go SLR! No children helps too!)

With these factors in mind I knew of an online friend visiting the Similan Islands without a buddy so that was top of my list, I went here 2 years ago with my G9 and saw dozens of Manta rays so this was ideal for my next trip so I could upgrade my collection. I went the same time of year too, in March. There are so many bits to remember for each trip,

I thought I had a fairly decent plan I could build on, but alas not! Once I had boarded the Thai liveaboard and started to set up my kit I had this ghastly discovery (or not!) that I had forgotten the camera saddle (it holds the camera in place in the housing). Well that put me right down in the doldrums, my US buddy lent me his compact back up which was very good of him, but it still just didn’t help, if you know what I mean, a couple of days passed and there was word on the radio that Mantas were up ahead, I got my best thinking cap on and eventually came up with a replica saddle made from 2 taped up AA batteries and lots of tissue paper. Yes it worked! The settings were not easily to adjust but I could still take photos within reason! So there we were waiting for Mantas amongst a shoal of rainbow runners. Sadly they never turned up for us, not once. I learnt form this that just because it’s the same time of year as last time you will not always get the same fish in the sea, yes there are plenty, but there’s more sea, than there are fish!

I also dive in the UK, so I had plenty of opportunities at home too, living on the South coast I usually was diving for photos every other week, a decided to make a trip to Lundy again to visit the seals, finding that the seals were a great wide angle subject for the UK. I was happy with my results, but a lot to learn still with my shutter speed, and aperture, and even focus, especially when the seals move quick, its not too easy, sometime they were below me, sometimes they were above; so I learnt from this that I either had to stick looking up or down for each dive, either that, or use shutter or aperture priority, it was too much work for someone who is still getting used to the settings, it take more time than I realised – reflexes take their time, well at my age they do!

My next trip was to the Maldives for my wife’s 40th, funnily enough it was a resort near Hanifaru, home of the manta aggregation, what sheer coincidence I surprise her with a trip to here, I’m so happy she has her birthday in August now!

As soon as I got here I heard the mantas were gathering, I didn’t waste time and checked in ASAP. I’ve seen mantas on about 5 trips before this one, but never! Have I ever seen them like this, most of the time I have seen them they were at cleaning stations, here they were feeding, so much more active, they were tumbling from left right and centre, and didn’t seem to care divers were very close to them. The main problem I found was the visibility, tough call, my photos required a lot of post processing to make them look anywhere close to decent, even though I tried my best to keep the strobes pointing just away from the subject. My best surprise here was snorkelling with a whale shark, my first encounter, absolutely awesome.

I decide to do another trip to see some seals, but this time to the Farne Islands. Due to terrible Autumnal weather we only managed to dive 1 day out of 3. But I was rather happy with that, there were a lot of young pups about and they were so playful and they came really close to me, it was after this days diving that I realised it wasn’t just having a SLR camera that improves your shots, it’s the fact that you have a 8” reflective dome in the front of you! These creatures are so inquisitive to see another one of them looking at them. Such a lovely experience in the Farnes, my favourite place in the UK so far.

My last trip of the year was a shark trip to the Bahamas. The same thing happened with the dome port, the lemon sharks just seemed to be attracted by their own reflection, but as they got closer, they turned away, so I started moving my camera last second into their path so I could get even closer.

I had 3 problems on this trip with my set up, Aquatica said if I pay the postage to Canada they will sort it all out for me free of charge, I couldn’t get fairer than that!

I just cant wait to do all these trips again, maybe not in exactly the same places, the worlds too small for that, mainly just to continually improve my final product, as I said I am a pref3ctionist, a really expensive habit I know.

One last thing, On our journey back from Manado, I was charged $50 a kilo excess baggage for 7 kilos, one of the main problems with SLRs. I now have a big coat with 9 pockets, and a pair of cargo pants, one of the pockets includes a dry bag, so after check in all my pocket contents goes in that. An alternative is to fly BA (I found a return flight with them direct to Miami for only £550) as they don’t have weight restrictions on your hand baggage (just a generous size limit) and you’re also allowed a good sized laptop bag too. I always carry my camera round my neck too. If you do this make sure your hand baggage wheels are strong enough, as I had about 15 kilos in mine on a trip and they just and so lasted!

(Scubysnaps Photography) Diver Getting SLR Sport an grips to with Fri, 10 Jun 2011 14:59:00 GMT
Maldives Divemaster course


Underwater Gallery                                                       Land Gallery 

I've been really keen to get fit for a long time now, my air consumption is terrible, my pot belly obstructs my underwater rear view; and I pant more than my dog, Scuby, after a half mile run!

The trouble I’ve found, it is very hard to motivate myself to lose weight and get fit. I've been qualified as a PADI Rescue Diver for 3 years now, I have also been a member of BSAC for 18 months, and bridged over to a Sports Diver. I have always had a desire to teach, so I thought it appropriate to further my training and get fit at the same time by taking either my PADI Divemaster course or BSAC Dive Leader. One year later and I still have had no opportunity to do the Dive Leader course locally, they seem to busy teaching ocean and sports diver courses to do anything more advanced. One opportunity I had was over 100 miles inland, apparently they completed 7 skills in one weekend, for about 20 student divers, seems a little intense in my opinion, but things can be done quickly if you are lucky with your timing and location.

Based near Portsmouth, the options of taking my PADI Divemaster on the south coast are unfortunately non existent, unless I was willing to travel 170 miles to Portland and back every other weekend, I also wasn't keen to take the course inland 2 hours away, at Vobster or Wraysbury. Eventually I decided to complete my PADI Divemaster in the Maldives and my theory with Triton Scuba at home. It wasn’t straight forward to arrange at the time, but since I booked my course PADI have now the facility to do the theory online.

Three months later after chewing though several books and exams, my theory was complete, my swims were done with a total of 16 points, I completed the 400m swim in 9 minutes (compared to an unfit attempt a year ago of 28 minutes, so my fitness had obviously improved!), my weight also had, I was 16 st 1lb when I started my diet in January; it was over 4 and a half days a week and was simple - a healthy cereal or a cereal bar, a hefty homemade salad for lunch, and 4 pieces of fruit through the day, that was it. My fitness training replaced my evening meal 4 nights a week, it was always intense; it consisted of spin class to start the week (its important to have someone at some time in your session to be pushing you), then interval training and weight circuits on other days. Each night varied from 1, to 1 and a half hours. By April I was a healthy 13 st 12lb. - Very chuffed to say the least, roll on the Maldives!

This was our sixth time to the Maldives. My wife loves the secluded tranquility of the lush green wilderness of herons, geckos and fruit bats, the silver beaches, and also the pleasantly social side of the resorts. We chose Ellaidhoo on this occasion as it came recommended by a few holiday makers we’ve known for quite some time and the house reef comes well recommended by many, which I thought a great advantage for the course. A seaplane was also not necessary to get there. We found this handy, as the transfer was quick and easy. No more checking in, waiting, and paying for excess luggage that was free on the charter flight, just straight on the speedboat (hoping for no big waves!).

At least 3 weeks were necessary to complete my course. I mentioned this to the tour operator and as it crossed 2 seasons, they sorted us a 25 night package. I requested room 101, the closest standard room to the dive centre.

Ali was my instructor, a 47 year old Maldivian, who had been in the dive business for 27 years.  He obviously knew his job, initially he seemed a bit of a loose cannon to me. With my first day on a dive boat here, I had the supreme pleasure of seeing a pod of dolphins, a sailfish and 6 mantas, and that was just on the surface, this was enough to tell anyone that the majestical Maldives was certainly a place that ticks all the boxes . As time went on, and Ali put me through my paces, I found that I loved guiding the inexperienced, it gave me plenty of challenging opportunities to make them relaxed with problems they had.

Only a few days into the course, I woke one morning to have pain in my left ear. Nerves struck immediately (not in my ear I hasten to add!) I spoke with the Dive Centre and they recommended I should see the resort doctor. Worry was setting in even more; the last thing I wanted was to find I couldn't complete my course, never mind another dive! I saw the doctor almost immediately; he diagnosed an inflamed middle ear infection. In 13 years of diving, and nearly 400 dives I've never had any problems whatsoever with my ears, so was very concerned. But he re assured me that it would be clear within 2 days once I'd taken a course of ear drops, and anti-this that and the other,  2 days later, I was fully recovered and got back to work! It was nice to have a break though, although the dive centre was visited once or twice with concerns why I was seen drinking at the bar in the afternoon!

My favourite accomplishment, apart from teaching Russians who couldn’t speak a word of English, was guiding two 12 year old PADI Scuba Divers with only 2 dives under their belts, a lot of responsibility was on my shoulders. I calmed them in the water successfully and they had a great dive! I completed my rescue assessment, the surface tow, and rescue of an unconscious casualty. Personally, I could have done with more practice, as when Ali showed me how to do it, it was evident there was room for improvement. On the same day I also did my equipment exchange, we were neutrally buoyant in medium current about 9m deep, we had to exchange our mask, fins and BCD whilst sharing one regulator, what a rush! I did this twice with no problem apart from being a bit selfish on the regulator. To add to the stress test my BCD was inflated and air was turned off once or twice, bring it on!

Ellaidhoo was a great location to do my DM. The house reef is amazing, a lot to see, they have a small wreck just off the pier and the wall starts around 3-5 metres. I've done over 400 dives now; my 400th was luckily on this trip, it was on a popular nearby dive site called Fish Head with a Maldivian friend; Shaff, who runs the odd liveaboard trip. While I was in the Maldives, he was doing a trip in the area, and offered to pick me up for a couple of dives, it was great to get away from it all for a couple of days.

My 401st dive was my last dive to complete my DM course, I gave a boat briefing, checked the current as usual, and led the dive. I’ve always admired Maldivian dive guides checking the current, now it was my turn, currents weren’t very fast for us, so it was very difficult to give Ali an answer for the strength and direction, when there wasn’t much. Part of the judgement was to look at which direction the majority of the fish were swimming as they tend to swim into the current so it makes it easier for them to consume particles within the water, sometimes I had to free dive down to around 10m to get a better view. Other exercises I did were teaching someone an underwater photography speciality as part of their advanced open water (which was very easy for me), mapping a dive site was fun, demonstrating 20 basic Open Water skills, which involved a lot of practise, and to create a diver emergency plan. All of these were performed satisfactorily enough to pass me. One problem I felt, was doing the course in an active business where they had unexpected customers coming in, causing my plan to change last minute quite a few times, quite frustrating, but that’s what PADI’s about I guess. Looking back on the course, I would have preferred more time practicing all my skills, but not really possible within 3 weeks in my opinion, especially if the dive centre are busy and slightly understaffed, I think this was what made Ali seem a bit of a loose cannon, as he had the responsibility to make sure I had training relevant to my course, as well as keep other customers happy at the last be fair.

So that was it, the course was complete, with 3 days left to do some pleasure dives, and relax with my wife and some newly acquainted friends. I did a 5-10 metre dive one day, on the edge of the reef wall and managed to get right round the island. It was disappointing for me to discover that my air consumption is still not much better, as that was using my indie twins.

Its now the end of May, and I've just completed my HSE medical in Portsmouth, and thankfully passed the Viagra honesty test (that’s another story!). I now hope to continue working at least once a month as a DM on top of my current job, and my hobby as an underwater photographer. I may do my IDC next year, something I hadn't really planned on, but I just love it! Living the dream.

(Scubysnaps Photography) Alfonstraub Ari Atoll. DM Divemaster Ellaidhoo Maldives course Wed, 01 Jun 2011 14:49:00 GMT
Bahaman Sharks


      Underwater Gallery                                             East Florida Land Gallery  

Published in "DIVER" magazine June 2011

I’ve just checked in at the Ocean Spray Hotel on Singer Island, and settled for a Mojito at a good party bar down the road called Jonny Long Boats. Amongst the regulars at the bar are a huge crab and an enormous shark hanging from the ceiling! I’ve had 4 days on South Beach, Miami, and 6 nights on the Dolphin Dream at Tiger Beach, Bahamas. It’s a shame I didn’t have any energy left as I was only a mile away from Blue Heron Bridge, one of USA’s best macro dive sites.

The four days at South Beach was part of a compromise agreement with Lisa, my wife, wasn’t too bad a deal!  We hired a Chevy Camaro at the airport for a cracking last minute deal and checked in at the Carlton Hotel, not bad for $100 a night considering we were a block away from Ocean Drive, where the old home of Versace (now a hotel) charge $1200 a night! Ocean Drive has about a dozen or so restaurants with good deals and relatively good food for the price.  The Ocean Drive strip attracts all sorts of poseurs, Lamborghinis drive up and down, skateboarders with hockey sticks and whatever else grabs their imagination to the wandering eye. In our 4 days there we visited the Miami Sea Aquarium for some guaranteed killer whale and dolphin action, an alligator trip to the Everglades on an air boat, a three and a half hour drive to Key West, and not forgetting to mention a trip to the largest dive store in the world, Divers Direct.

So then it was time to drop Lisa off at the airport and let go of the Chevy Camaro, such a sad parting, never mind I can always come back and hire her out again, the Camaro not Lisa!

I then headed North on Route 95 to board the Dolphin Dream at Riviera Beach, such a handsome looking boat, it’s an 86ft ocean expedition charter yacht that started out as a shrimp trawler and has been used by Captain Scott Smith since 2005.  Once on board I had the rest of the night free before we set sail, so the Tiki Waterfront sea grill bar was the place to go to pass time; a heavy rock band was performing a good mix of covers while I snacked on some great seafood.

Back on board later on, we were given our boat brief and eventually set sail. The bunks are all below the main deck, they are very comfortable with plenty of power sockets to keep your gear well charged. The dive deck has all twelve cylinders lined up ready for you to start your dive. The crew consisted of just four that we saw, Captain Scott, Mike and Connor the dive crew, and Gail the cook.  There were eleven other divers joining me on the trip.  Wolfgang Leander, in his 70s now, a skin diver with a massive passion for sharks, he joins this trip about 6 times a year and seemed to know a lot of the divers on board, the other divers ranged from a brain surgeon to a Baron, I didn’t feel out of place at all!

We all awoke for breakfast at the Bahamas to check in for Customs, then we had a 2 hour sail to Tiger Beach. On our trip there they had a couple of fishing rods out and caught a Wahoo and Mahi-Mahi. Both were used for our dinners, very nice treat indeed!  About 25 miles north of the west end of Great Bahamas, we had arrived at Tiger Beach, its only around 6m deep where Scott moors, he anchors the boat on a big old ships chain on the sea bed. Once settled in it was time to do a bit of wrangling! This is done to try and attract more sharks; especially the tigers prior to our days’ diving. Mike and Conner tied the head of a defrosted grouper onto a boom and dangled it off the dive platform. I took some photos at a comfortable distance on the step with my 300mm zoom lens, some scary moments even from there; the sharks nearly came right out of the water fighting for the head. As the days went by, my confidence grew with the sharks (not really a good thing) I decided to lower my camera and housing into the water off the dive platform, maintaining a firm grip, and the sharks got very curious and head butted my dome port quite a few times, it wasn’t that hard to do, and didn’t think there was a real need for a pole cam.

All diving is done independently, usually from 10am to as late as you wanted; you can jump in and out as often as you please. Quite often I had done one dive and they filled my tank while it was still on my back, 15 minutes later I was back in the water.  Mike and Conner look after your camera well, they use two large fresh water buckets to keep them in, they have their own SLR cameras underwater so know how careful to be. Luckily Mike had the same set up as me so proved a great help when I needed a spare part! They have a drift line always out, which did cause more of a problem than an aid as it got in the way of a lot of photos, but it’s not an option!

While we were at Tiger Beach Gail and Scott then fished and usually caught yellow tailed snapper, these were used for dinner too, and also chum now and then. Dinners weren’t just fish; a good variety was cooked with nothing too spicy. They had 2 large tables just the other side of the dive deck, for us to eat and chat over, and also play with our photos. Mike was a great help with post processing for a lot of people. Beer on the trip was free, which some found very welcoming, especially as breakfast wasn’t until 8am!

I would hazard a guess that this is one of the only few places in the world where you can get real close to lemon and tiger sharks, great value for money too. Tiger sharks seemed not to appear as much as the lemon sharks, so caution is given not to get that close to them as they seem pretty shy. We only saw 2 tiger sharks over a week, but we saw them every day, close encounters were not as easy as it was with the lemons. A hammerhead was also seen in our week, but only briefly. I had so much fun with the lemon sharks, as they came towards me they usually swerved to avoid me right at the last second, so eventually I started to lower my camera into their path to get a good portrait which seemed to work very well.  Once I got one with her snout on my dome port following me while I did about 2 full rotations, they remind me of my playful dog and tend to play more for snacks.  I saw Mike on the surface once having chum thrown in in front of him for a shot, not before too long I was doing it too.  Once I had the settings ready on my camera I gave one of the crew the nod and they threw a bit of fish near me, I positioned myself as quick as I could, then the sharks approached, just one at first but once she had a taste of the fish she soon spread the word and her friends then arrived looking for some too.  Not before too long I was closely surrounded by about a dozen lemons, they were right on my dome port without even a treat in sight.  At one point I didn’t have my camera in front of me and I had three swimming right up to my face, I found it quite comfortable enough (not much choice really!) to push them sideways out of my way.  After this had happened, I thought I’d tempted fate enough and headed to the boat ladder.  Wolfgang and the crew said they’d rarely seen anyone do what I’d done before, so beware!  The sharks were mainly females; Wolfgang told us that the males don’t tend to be so playful.  The lemon sharks looked so full of character; if you look closer you will see they have “eyebrows” and crow’s feet, so funny, as they look like they are smiling too! The tiger sharks on the other hand, have this big dark eye, and you can certainly feel their presence when they turn up. One tiger shark had the right hand of her jaw disfigured assumingly from a bite by a fisherman; she even had a small remora over the top of her eye which altogether made her get the name Groucho from me, all she was missed was a fat cigar and a pair of glasses! As the week went by I decided to do a twilight dive on the chain, not a bad dive too, morays, peacock flounder, a shoal of snapper around a coral whip, squirrelfish. The sharks past us now and then, we sort of ignored, quite a surreal thing to ignore a shark! Looking back, all the dives were relatively easy and gave me a good opportunity to dive with a single tank which I rarely do.

The viz went down gradually over the last 2 days, big shame but I had already taken so many photos, so this gave me time to sort out my favourites.  I most certainly will be returning on this boat at some time in the future, maybe to skin dive with Dolphins, maybe the sharks as well, as they do combo trips.

I flew with British Airways from Heathrow T5 to Miami, the best way in my opinion if you have a lot of photography equipment; they let you have 23kgs in the hold, and the same again if you want it for only £30.  Your hand luggage has a good size restriction with no weight limit; you are also allowed a lap top bag with only size restriction too. They were also one of the cheapest at around £550 return booked online. West Palm Beach is the closest airport at only 20 minutes from the boat, but the flights I found for here were usually a lot dearer and involved a change. Miami was a direct flight but involved either a hire car transfer or an hour and a half train ride which I used for my return, and was easier than first thought at only $5 a ticket plus a $20 taxi ride. All in all a great trip for the dollar!


(Scubysnaps Photography) bahamas dolphin dream florida lemon sharks tiger Wed, 01 Dec 2010 15:35:00 GMT
Reethi Beach and Hanifaru     

Underwater Gallery                                                    Land Gallery

A year ago I had to work on a surprise for my wife, Lisa’s, 40th. She loves the Maldives, so I thought it apt to think on that idea, luckily her birthday was in August, and I had only recently found out about the world’s unique, Manta Feeding Frenzy at Hanifaru; Lisa being a non diver, a liveaboard was a bit too selfish as a surprise, so a good resort was found to visit it from. Not before too long I had it all booked, even more good news I found that BA now fly to Male every other day so we could go for as many nights as we wanted, and choose just 9, 2 weekends and one week off work.

Once onboard the plane we were happy to find the plane was only a third full, we had 3 seats each to sleep on , a change for a Maldives flight, the drink was all free too, with no extra to pay for all the movies.

BA has the best option for extra luggage, you can pay £30 for an extra 20kg, and their hand baggage rules are one laptop bag to stow behind your feet and an overnight bag that you are able to lift into the overhead locker, they both have the usual size stipulations but that’s all. Despite this you still have to pay $2 per kilo extra if you choose to fly on a seaplane for anything over 55 pounds each, funny to see them mixing imperial and metric up on their own rules…whatever!

As the seaplane drifted over the islands, it wasn’t too long before we “landed”, as it was Lisa’s 40th they gave us a free upgrade to a luxury bungalow facing the beach, and a bottle of red wine with our meal, sweet.

The day after my check dive I was straight into the thick of it at Hanifaru bay, about 2 dozen mantas partying on plankton, I swear I’m never gonna moan about plankton blooms again! Mantas to the left of me, mantas to the right; here I am! Stuck in the middle of Hanifaru bay, oh boy, what a rush! Mantas rolling round and round, greedy devils these are, I’ve never seen Mantas so active in the 5 or 6 times I have seen them in the past. We only dived Hanifaru Bay maybe 3 times as it wasn’t always active, and if there aren’t any mantas then there isn’t much else there to see, on the 20m white sandy bottom, there are a couple of small bommies with pulse coral around them, a leaf fish was found there, plenty of humbugs and green chromis, once we only saw one Manta there, a strong westerly brings them in , but the dive guide said a few days after the full and half moon works well. The day before I got here they had about 70 mantas and 2 whale sharks!! Shucks!! There are other dive sites dotted around Hanifaru where Mantas play, turtle reef was a good one, I dived there one day and was so frustrated to have a macro lens on (apparently for small turtles!) when I saw a huge (inflatable!) turtle feeding in front of a circling Manta, what a picture that would have been. We went there the day after and the Mantas were out in the blue in their dozens again. Just before we had jumped in, a whale shark passed underneath us, it didn’t hang around for long. It was good on this dive to see a huge shoal of fusiliers all lined up vertically measuring about half a metre wide by 5 high. The day after I decided to go to Hanifaru on a snorkelling trip. Luckily we weren’t required to wear life vests, I snook in a kilo weight into my wetsuit to help me get down quicker, in we went, Legs and arms everywhere! I tried to keep outside of the group for obvious reasons. I got down ok and got very close to the Mantas, the guide (he swims round the island in 48 minutes!) at one point asked everyone to get back on the boat…he then said to me…”lets go for the whale shark!” and before we knew it we were back in again for a fast swim over to the big boy…wow! What luck we had I was right on top of him, I dove down about 3-4 metres and he opened his huge mouth, I was so close and worried I might fall in!!! In all the panic, I only had time to take a couple of shots, one with his mouth open and one with it shut! Next time I was over him as he passed under me, wow he was huge, when we were done I got back on the boat and saw the size of his fins out of the water! Flipping heck!!

They have sting ray feeding on the island by the dive jetty every night at 6pm, the best we have seen, they don’t allow snorkelers in while they feed them but I got in just prior to them starting and got very close…they also have a guitar ray/shark that’s about 6 foot long which visits most evenings, the rays were around 4 foot wide and obviously on steroids.. or was it just the daily feed of fresh fish that did it!?

(Scubysnaps Photography) Hanifaru Maldives Manta feeding frenzy Sat, 21 Aug 2010 13:59:00 GMT