Beneath the Surface…

Every year we travel to Roatan for a week of SCUBA diving at CoCoView Diving Resort.  Rustic and simple, you couldn’t ask for a better dive setup.  The dive boat captains are on top of your every need, and the resort is mapped out for simplicity.  Accessed only by boat, it is also a quiet place to hang out.  There are no phones, and no television.  All the entertainment is beneath the surface of the ocean that is right at your doorstep.

I became SCUBA certified in 1992 when we lived in New Orleans.  We went to Mexico where I did my certification dive, and I had the opportunity to marvel at the amazing coral and sea life that was Palancar Reef.  Six months later, my husband and I obtained our advanced SCUBA certification where the check out dives were done off the coast of Florida.  This was my first experience with sea sickness, as well as the night dive that not only heralded SCUBA divers, but spear fishing participants.  Following a day of semi unconsciousness from the effects of dramamine, there was a dip in a naturally fed spring where the temperature was 53 degrees and we were required to stay down for 45 minutes.  So far, my perceived value of obtaining an advanced certification was roughly nil.

Shortly after, we moved to Virginia where I promptly gave birth to three adorable little boys in eleven months, and the wonderful memories of Palancar reef and the amazing sea life were relegated to the distant past.  Then in 2001 my husband was introduced to a gentleman that taught SCUBA diving as well as organized SCUBA trips, and suddenly life beneath the surface became forefront for us again.  It was another two years before we took another trip to SCUBA dive, this time to Roatan to dive with the group from Holladay SCUBA.

It wasn’t love at first sight with me.  My biggest complaint then is still my biggest complaint now.  The water around Roatan, and CoCoView Resort are fairly rough, and it’s a struggle for me to enjoy getting on a boat because of this.  I’ve tried every seasick remedy known to man, finally settling on Scope Patches.  They aren’t perfect, but the best resource for me.  This first trip after a hiatus of roughly 10 years was like starting all over, and I didn’t enjoy it.  For some reason, we saw little sea life, I was uncomfortable, and I left not only wondering what I had ever enjoyed about it to begin with, but also thinking it wasn’t something I wanted to do again.

Then a curious thing happened.  Our oldest, when he was 14, expressed an interested in SCUBA diving.  He took lessons, and my husband took him to Roatan.  I secretly thought is would be a disaster, because of my recollection that there just wasn’t a lot to see there.  But when they returned, they had pictures from a simple point and shoot underwater camera that my husband had invested in that showed a variety of sea life I simply couldn’t believe.  Eventually, his twin brothers became certified, and we’ve taken all of them to Bonaire and to Roatan.  The oldest accompanied my husband to Indonesia for ten days on a live aboard (seeing that I don’t do boats very well), which turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.

I enjoyed Bonaire the most, simply because of the water factor.  Smooth and easy, I did every dive and never got sick.  The downside is, it’s fairly expensive, whereas Roatan is more reasonable.  There is one dive site in Roatan that provides a fairly smooth ride and that is French Cay Cut.  Located  between the reef and shore, this is a muck dive; the boat drops divers in a sandy muck bottom–teeming with micro life, but little else.  You can make your way however, through the cut and along the wall of the reef for an excellent exploration of larger sea life–even a turtle or two, but be prepared for fairly large surge on top of the coral.

So I made my return to SCUBA diving in 2010.  Only this time my hobby of photography coalesced with SCUBA diving, and an entirely new horizon opened up before me.  A horizon of maddening moments, sheer frustration, and epic failure that only hardened my resolve to prove to myself that I wasn’t really as stupid as I felt with a camera in my hand below the surface.  In my extremely humble opinion, underwater photography is not only the most difficult photography to practice, but it seems to contradict so many rules of land based photography.  It is it’s own world.

So without going on too much longer, here are the first of three years of underwater photos that I’ve felt halfway decent about.  If you would like to see some of the top photographers in this realm, check out these links:  Todd Winner or Scott Geitler.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Piece de Resistance

Forgive my incorrect punctuation, but my knowledge of such matters as accents on a keyboard are slim.  Must correct that at some point.  Today I wanted to share with you my DH photo’s from our trip, as some of them are quite good.  I missed this guy, as he was on one of my no diving days.

I missed this guy as well.

When I saw this guy, I said, “What’s the matter with that sea horse?  Why is he all straight?”  DH rolled his eyes, then laughed.  “It’s a pipe fish.”  No, I’m not usually that slow.

I don’t know what this thing is, but his green color is beautiful.

This guy is called a Nudibranch.  They come in an amazing array of shapes, sizes and colors.

And the ever present Lion fish that has become such a problem.  It has no known natural predators, and therefore they have overpopulated the Caribbean.  The divers in Roatan have begun spear fishing them and feeding them to the eels to try to teach them they can eat them.  It has had good results, as now the eels are fat and happy (with the exception that when they see divers they now expect to be fed), and the lion fish population has become manageable.  This also means that everything they were eating are beginning to come back as well.

An excellent example of an fat and sassy Eel, being cleaned by a Banded Coral Shrimp.

This guy is called a Hogfish.

“Honey,” DH says, “THIS is a Seahorse…”

These guys are extremely difficult to photograph.  They are usually moving with a darting motion rather than a lazy swim, and they are skittish.

This little guy is called a Yellow Headed Jaw Fish.  They are able to raise their bodies out of those holes and drop straight back down , effectively swimming backwards in a downward motion.  It is very interesting to watch them.  The males will hold the eggs in their mouths to incubate them until they hatch.

This is a Patterson Cleaner Shrimp.  The yellow in the body are eggs.

We couldn’t figure out what this guy was, but he lit up like a neon sign.

This little guy was pecking away at the jelly fish to the left of him.

And the last photo, the fierce Barracuda.  All the ones we saw were around 4 feet long.

Moving Photography

The last difficulty with photography is movement.  The water is moving, you are moving, the fish are moving.  How on earth can you get a photograph that is worth anything if EVERYTHING is moving?  Persistence.

I’m sure the longer you do it the easier it gets.  The simplest things such as breathing can cause you to move up and down a foot or two.  Inhale, rise.  Exhale, drop.  And you really shouldn’t hold your breath underwater, lest you get a lung injury, which can happen with as little as two feet of ascent while holding your breath, depending on your depth.  Having had a pulmonary embolism once in my life, I wasn’t keen on another lung injury.  But the overwhelming urge to hang still found me trying to hold my breath just to get that illusive photo.  It’s more difficult closer to the surface where neutral buoyancy is a little more difficult and the surge is greater.  Not to mention that the fish don’t really like to pose, although admittedly there are some who don’t shy away as easily as others.

The male Stoplight Parrot Fish is one that just does not stop swimming.  He is really hard to get a photo of, and I followed him for 15 minutes or so, and snapped about as many photos.

The angel fish is equally illusive.  He never stops swimming, and rarely swam in my direction.

These little guys tended to be curious, and head-on shots were a little easier with them.

Then there are the Sand Divers who lay on the bottom and blend in, hoping not to be seen.  Photo courtesy of DH, as mine did not come out well.

These little guys are about an inch long, and cover the bright orange coral.  I found them difficult to photograph because of their size and movement of the surge while using macro required tweaking of shutter speed and f stop.

This last guy is less than an inch in length, so I think the fact that I got him was probably nothing more than dumb luck.

Fascinations of the Deep

Yesterday I talked about White Balancing photography in the shallows, with full sunlight while Scuba Diving.  Once you get below 30 feet or so, the white balance doesn’t work quite as well, and you really need to switch to flash.  This proved to be more difficult than it seemed if only because my aging eyes couldn’t judge distance very well underwater.  And if you are too far away, the flash is ineffective, whereas if you are too close, the image is lit up, but blurry.  The following is coral that I was 3-4 feet from.  But being as large as it was, the flash only lit up the bottom and side portion to a pale green.

I swam in to get closer, and this was what happened on my second attempt:

And my third, that shows it’s true color, and the fact that I probably was not 3-4 feet from it like I thought, judging from the size…

This guy was just hanging out at about 70 feet, just watching us swim by…

As was this guy…

DH found this guy (he does have bifocals in his mask), who was about 1-1/2 inches long, and not happy that we were flashing lights at him.  Out for a nice walk at the end of the coral, he scurried back the other way towards the reef when we started taking pictures.  I am to understand he is some type of shrimp, I think.

And of course, this beautiful Butterfly-fish…

Sea Life

Unfortunately, the sinus thing didn’t really get much better, and even now two weeks later I’m still treating it.  That didn’t stop me from doing as much as I could, however.  I did shore dives when my balance was off and couldn’t take the rough pitching of the boat, and did the boat dives when it was a little smoother.

The class on buoyancy was fantastic, and brought to light the issues regarding different BC’s or buoyancy compensators.  I was using a BC with a rear bladder.  When these inflate, they have a tendency to hoard air in pockets unevenly, and if you don’t know how to handle it, it will cause you to roll.  DH uses this model and loves it.  Me, not so much.  I spent more time being rolled over on to my side or back, and fighting it.  It was not very enjoyable, so by the third day I decided to rent one that did not have that type of inflation.  It made the difference between have a really good time underwater looking at creatures and spending all my energy trying to stay in the right position.

So that problem solved, it was time to start photographing some sea life.

I loved the coral, I think because I tend to like landscapes.  But getting the white balance to work underwater proved pretty tricky.  You really have to keep an eye on your depth, because you lose wavelengths of light as your depth changes (or gain back if you are coming up).  As a result, you really have to WB every couple three feet.  If you are not paying attention, then your photo’s color will be off.  Also, once you get below 30 feet, WB really isn’t effective at all, and you need to go to flash.  The thing about flash is, unless you’ve invested a ton of money on strong flash equipment, your effective distance with a flash has to be pretty darn close.  Which is easy with coral, but fish have different ideas.  My first day with a camera was rather a disappointment.  I found I really needed bifocals in my mask, because I thought they were good pictures underwater, but many turned out to be blurry.  We spent a lot of time in the shallows just shooting with white balance.

I did find out what happens when you are trying to use WB and also turn on the flash…

Yikes!  If there is a way to fix this with photo editing, I have no idea what it is.  And believe me, I tried.  I read an article that said it is always better to get the picture correct when taking it than to rely on correction after the fact.  And I tend to be a purist anyway, I don’t like spending time correcting photos or tweaking them on photo software.  I’d rather just have a beautiful photo.

Here, I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.

CoCo View Resort

My sinus and ear issues sidelined me for a couple of days, so I wanted to take some time and show pictures of CoCo View Resort.  The dive master of the group we traveled with (and his wife) have been coming here for 31 years, and they had some stories to tell!  One they told of years before was about having to choose between having hot water for showers or air for the dive tanks, because they had been having electricity issues.  They couldn’t heat the water and fill the tanks, so they took a vote.  Air for tanks won, of course, because why would you come to a dive resort and not dive?

For me, the first time I was here was nine years ago, and they have made steady improvements over the years.  They have added more lounge chairs and hammocks for the docks, the food is better than I remember, the rooms are of the Island Bungalow type–very relaxing–they have a slew of bikes (which I admit, I don’t remember from the first time, but I wasn’t looking either), walking paths, beautiful flowers, a fountain, a dive shop and everything you need to take care of your gear in the easiest manner possible.  There is a nurse if you get sick, and very knowledgeable staff who are happy to help you with anything you need, including but not limited to reminding you to actually put your regulator in your mouth before you jump off the boat, as happened to me one day. (I’m sure he was thinking, How do you plan on breathing underwater if it’s not in your mouth?)   I cannot say enough about the guys that run the dive boats.  They will be right behind you helping you walk with all your gear, making sure everything is in order.  They find the even the tiniest sea life that I for sure would miss.  Tripadvisor ranks them highly in places to go for scuba diving.

The grounds are beautifully cared for and the temperature of the water is consistently 79 year round.  Winter day time temps are around 82, summer 87.  It doesn’t get any easier than this for scuba diving.  The setup is amazingly simple.  There are tanks for rinsing gear, and separate tanks for camera equipment.

They now have wifi throughout the property, and it’s lovely to sit at the outside seating area and look and the ocean while you sip on a drink from the bar and look at your photos, answer email, or blog.  There is also an exercise/spa building where you can get pedicures, manicures, and massages.

So even if you are stuck and can’t dive, there is plenty of relaxation.  They also have kayaks to take out and paddle around in, and the beach snorkeling is lively as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This little anemone crab was by the dock in 5 feet of water as was this little guy.  Just like fishing, by the time tomorrow comes around, the fish will be bigger.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

The first day and a half didn’t go so well, but a fresh nights sleep, a great breakfast and I was ready to go again, although with some trepidation.  Some of the others in our group were having sea sick issues as well, so I didn’t feel quite so alone.  I tried a neoprene hat to combat the hair issue.  But that didn’t prove to be quite the fix.  What I ended up with was one of the cotton head covers that my husband wears, goofy as it looks on me.  It’s completely practical and does the job quite nicely.  One problem solved.

The next problem was my mask.  New masks need to be treated to remove the factory coating that causes fogging.  We’d treated it before we came, but it needed another treatment.  A couple of drops of anti fog, and some quick pulls to tighten it, along with the new head cover, and another problem solved.  I just don’t know how women keep masks on with their hair in a cute pony tail.  Wish I did.

The next dive was a major improvement even if I was diving with intensely colored chili peppers on my head.  But I was still having trouble with buoyancy control, and my regulator adjustment never seemed to be right.  Air wouldn’t come out easily or it was free flowing, but there seemed to be no in-between.  We finished the dive, but not before we saw a few creatures.

This little guy came swimming up over the wreck of the Prince Albert and met me head on.  Was nice of him to smile for the camera, don’t you think?

The flounder was hidden in the sand right below the fish on the left.

Beautiful Corals were everywhere.  Tank low, time to come up.  Next stop, Buoyancy class, and after that, photography class.  Tim Blanton does underwater photography at Coco View, and also does scuba diving. He has amazing skill, and is a really great guy.  I highly recommend his photography class to learn how to get those really great photos underwater.  And on that note, I’ll leave you with one last photo taken by my husband.  Underwater he is a much better photographer than I am.