Mike Gerken's
UW Photography &

Diving Blog

View some of Mike's latest photographic and video works and read about the stories behind the images. 

 

Club Aeolus

August 06, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Photo of the Week
Barracuda
Taken on the wreck of the W.E. Hutton AKA Papoose. (New)

©Mike Gerken

 
     The shark lounge at "Club Aeolus" was re-open for business yesterday for the divers on board my boat, the Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center. Sand tiger sharks have been seen with regularity hanging out inside the wreck of the Aeolus for the better part of the season, but I will say that we saw more sharks at any one time on yesterdays dive.  About a dozen or more bold sand tigers were cruising up and down the port companionway and round and round under the top deck where the ship was broken in two some years ago by a hurricane. These sharks did not frighten easily and made for a great encounter not to mention a very productive photo shoot.
 

The M/V Olympus's very own first mate, Bud Daniels paying me a
 visit on wreck of the Aeolus. (New)
 
     Prior to this dive on the Aeolus, my group dived the wreck of the Spar only a few hundred feet away and might have encountered one or two sharks. It would seem that Spar, although still a great dive overall, is no longer the hippest hottest nightspot in town for the sharks. This trend of why they linger around one spot over another is little understood and with no doubt later this year or next the sharks will find another stomping ground to hang out at.
 
     As a photographer, you could not have asked for a better situation to photograph these sharks. With visibility edging over 50 feet and the water blue in color, the lighting was optimal as was the back drop. Getting close was absolutely no problem since the sand tigers were bumping in to my dome port and swimming directly underneath my arm pit. Making an effort to not touch them proved difficult, but when inadvertent contact did occur the sharks did not startle.
 
Sand tigers at "Club Aeolus". (New)

 

The gang from American Divers Supply. 

     Prior to yesterdays dive, the dive group from Northfield, NJ, American Divers Supply, headed up by Geoff Graham, finished out the there five day stretch on board the Midnight on Friday with only one bad weather day spent at the dock on Wednesday. Not a bad record by North Carolina standards, although batting a perfect 100 would have been preferred.


     The last day of diving on Friday brought us back to the Atlas tanker and the Caribsea for one dive a piece. This was the first dive we had on the Atlas this season and with 30' viz on the bottom and twice that on top of the wreck, it made for a very 'sharky' encounter. 
 
     Unfortunately, I personally was unable to dive this day, but received reports that were very similar to my dive experience several weeks ago on the Caribsea. Sharks by the dozens are still hanging about in the mid water cruising into the current. Many of the divers were thoroughly entertained. As far as I could tell the entire group from American Divers had a blast and I must say it was a pleasure having them on board.
 
Carcharias taurus. (New)

     For you camera buffs out there, I can report that so far my experience with the new Nikon D800 has been a positive one. I just recently added the Nikkor, 16-35MM 4.0 lens to my gear list and am working out the bugs using this ultra wide angle lens. All of the shark images in this blog were shot with this lens. The zoom feature makes it easier to fill your frame up with shark without placing the dome port within 12 inches of these usually shy critters. A full review of the D800 with Sea & Sea MDX housing will be coming soon.

 
    As for the rest of this week, the 'Midnight' does not have any trips until Friday and then will be busy through the weekend. With cooperative weather I will have some more images and stories next week.
 
Happy Diving!
 
-Mike
 
 
Photo Gallery
 

Bud Daniels of the M/V Olympus having fun with the sharks.

 
 

Many of the sharks had gouges in there faces and upper body areas.
Probably a result of mating and breeding practices.

 

"Club Aeolus" is hopping. 

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     
 

 
 
 

Double Headers

August 01, 2012  •  Leave a Comment


Photo of the Week
Carcharias taurus or the "Sand Tiger Shark".
Taken on the wreck of the Caribsea, North Carolina. (New)

©Mike Gerken
 
 

      One of the unwritten laws in North Carolina diving is, "when you find a dive that's great, do it again".  In other words, leaving a wreck site and chasing after better dive conditions for the second dive after you just had an outstanding dive on the first is not playing it smart. These last three days of diving on board the Midnight Express had dive groups who were following this North Carolina law to the tee. 

 
     On Sunday, July 29 we dived the wreck of the USS Schurz and found at least 40 feet of visibility on the bottom with at double that 15 feet off the bottom tot he surface. The hazy layer of water on the bottom was not soupy enough to declare the dive a poor one so we stuck around for a double on this fascinating WWI wreck. In fact, the divers from Scuba Diving Magazines, "Diver to Diver" (D2D), who chartered the 'Midnight' over the weekend, thought the dive was stunning and I had to concur with them after I got back from my photo shoot on the wreck.
 
 
 

The D2Der's at Olympus Dive Center.
Photo courtesy of Jim Stradling. 

     The Schurz was completely inundated with bait fish that were seeking shelter from marauding packs of little tunny's and amberjacks. Visibility on the wreck dropped to a mere few feet each time the predators would swoop down to try there luck at the hapless bait swirling around the wreckage. It was quite a sight to see.

 
     Monday brought another double header, but this time on the wreck of the Caribsea with American Diving Supply chartering the Midnight for the entire week; the Caribsea was the scene of a recent mind blowing dive just a few weeks ago where over a hundred sand tiger sharks were found lurking about on the wreck. (If you don't believe me click this link to watch the video from July 17.)
 
     With visibility in the 30 foot range with slightly clearer water higher in the water column, the divers managed to find themselves surrounded by still plenty of sand tiger sharks not to mention a mass of bait fish dodging for survival from more predators circling around the perimeter of the wreck. Every now and again you could watch a ball of bait instantly gather tightly around a cruising sand tiger shark while a jack would pass near bye. Sometimes the mass of bait would be so thick that the shark would disappear within them. 
 
A Sand Tiger Shark surrounded by baitfish. (New)

     I managed to get in the water for a photo shoot with me new Nikon D800 and try my luck at some shark poses. I have had a concept for a shot where a shark would be emerging from one of these perfectly shaped bait balls and have not had much luck achieving what I wanted; that is until today. 

 
     After snapping more than 130 images I managed to nail two shots that I am proud to show you on this blog report. Sometimes that is how photography underwater work; one will spend a lot of time and effort on a dive to return at the end of the day with a single 'keeper' photo and feel like the day was a success.
 
     The Caribsea was not the last double header we had this week so far. Yesterday, the same group from American Diving Supply wanted to check out the wreck of the Papoose some 32 miles from Beaufort Inlet. We experienced heavy rains and threatening storm systems the entire ride out to the wreck site but eventually made it there safe and sound.
 
Midnight Express mate, Mike Phillips.

     After my mate, Mike Philipps tied us off to the wreck he radioed up on the com that the viz was about 60-70 feet or better. "It is about as pretty as it has been all season" he stated through the head set. Once again all on board had a stunning dive with Caribbean blue water with temps in the high 70's nearly to the bottom. 

 
     The American Divers all made the jump in partly sunny skies that turned the water in to a deep hue of blue beneath. The warm clear water made it easy to see large segments of this ship that was turned in to a wreck at the hands of a German U-boat in WWII. There were a handful of sharks present as well as a school of beautiful african pompano and the usual multitudes of over sized amberjacks and barracuda. 
 
Proof of the blue water on the wreck of the Papoose.
The photo shoot wasn't a complete bust I suppose.

     I jumped in for a dive on the surface interval while all the divers sat atop huddled under the canopy in the pouring rain. Although I had abeautiful dive down there the photo shoot did not pan out so well. I suppose Mercury wasn't aligned just right with Pluto and Saturn thus throwing the universe out of kilter for me. I just couldn't get the shot I wanted. This too is a fact of life with underwater photography; sometimes you come home empty handed. 

     Three days of double headers came to an end today on Wednesday when a strong weather system offshore has kept us at the dock for the day. We are scheduled to run the rest of the week in to the weekend and when I have some new news I will be back with an updated Dive Blog Report.
 
Happy Diving!
 
-Mike

Sand tiger sharks in the greenish blue hued water of the Caribsea. (New)
 
from the wreck of the Caribsea July 17, 2012.
 

 


They're Back

July 17, 2012  •  Leave a Comment


Photo of the Week
A gathering of sand tiger sharks on the wreck of the Caribsea off the
Outer Banks of North Carolina. (New) Taken with a Nikon D800.

©Mike Gerken
 
     Due to work obligations to the boat I skipper, the Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center, I was unable to dive this past weekend and was subjected to the torment of diver after diver coming up the ladders with reports of awesome conditions and dozens of sand tiger sharks on the wreck of the Caribsea.
 
     Feeling rather dejected, but not defeated I woke up early on Monday to go diving on board the Olympus on my day off. As luck would have it, my brand new Sea & Sea MDX D800 housing arrived in the mail the day before and I was to be armed with my new DSLR with a whopping 36.3 Mega Pixels and 1080p HD video. In addition, Capt Robert Purifoy of the Olympus indicated they were diving the Caribsea again that day. With a promising weather forecast and Venus aligning with Mars all was right in the universe and the potential for a great photo/video shoot was now possible.
 
 
Carcharias taurus. (New)

     The morning of the dive I was scrambling to set up my new housing and get her ready for the dive. After hooking up the strobes and switching out the dome ports I was ready except for one thing. I needed to insure this pricey rig before leaving the house. So there I was at 0530 online with Diver Alert Networks equipment insurance plan signing my gear up for coverage. With that very important detail taken care of it was time to get going.

 
     We arrived at the Caribsea a few hours later and got all of the divers in the water and on there way to a great shark encounter. My plan was to wait until all had returned before heading down myself. Capt. Robert would be going in as well armed with his video camera. 
 

 

 

Captain Robert Purifoy of the M/V Olympus
perched atop the bow stem, filming the hordes
of sand tiger sharks. (New)

     Word had it that the grouping of sharks were down towards the bow hovering in about 50-60 feet of water with 40-50 feet or more of visibility. The water temp on the bottom at 90 feet was about 71F with 25-35 feet of visibility. With this information I made my way down toward the bow of the wreck fiddling with my new camera and checking for leaks while I kicked.

 
    As I approached the bow I didn't see many sharks at first until I looked straight up and there they were, over 50 sharks parked end to end, side by side as far as I could see. I immediately swam for the tip of the bow, turned the video camera on and starting shooting. Pretty soon, Capt Robert showed up with his camera rolling and proceeded to sit atop the piece of metal that is left of the bow stem. Both of us spent the next 35 minutes shooting this awesome gathering of sharks. There was no shortage of subject matter. 
 
     Every time I have witnessed this event I have noticed the sharks are more docile then usual and getting in close to them without startling them is much easier. Every once in a while a shark would bump in to another shark causing both sharks to bolt away creating a loud shotgun blast sound with the whipping of their tails.
 

 

 

 

A mere handful of sand tigers that were present
on the Caribsea wreck. (New)

     Switching back and forth from stills to video and back to video again, I found the versatility of the D800 superb. My only problem was getting use to the new location of the buttons, knobs and switches on this unit. I struggled at times missing a few good opportunities but for each missed one I had two others fill its place. Over all, it was a super dive and photo shoot. Both Robert and I surfaced after that dive with a very satisfied look on our faces as did all of the divers on board that day. I can't wait to get back there.

 
My cousin Melissa Miehling on the stunning wreck
 of the USS Schurz. (New) Taken with a Nikon D300.

     Earlier in the week my cousin Melissa Miehling visited me from Virginia to do a bit of diving and enjoy the topside attractions of the Morehead City area. We managed to get out diving to the wreck of the U352 and the Spar as well as the USS Schurz. With good visibility and a strong presence of marine life we had a great time diving together. You can enjoy a few of the photos I took of her in the photo gallery at the bottom. The next time I see her may very well be in Palau when she comes to visit once I move their to be captain of the Palau Siren starting in October of 2012. More to come on these events in the future.

 
Happy Diving!
 
-Mike
 
  Photo Gallery
 
Schooling sand tiger sharks on the wreck of the Caribsea, NC. (New)
 
Melissa telling fish stories underwater. 

A sand tiger on the wreck of the Spar. (New)

When I said to get closer all I got was an "ok this is far enough" look from my cousin.

Lots of bait fish and a happy diver. (New)
 
 
 
 

 


July 2, 2012 - Sand Tiger Night Club

July 02, 2012  •  Leave a Comment
Photo of the Week
Carcharias taurus within the wreck of the Aeolus. (New)
©Mike Gerken
 

      The wreck of the Aeolus, which lies 28 miles south of Morehead City, NC was the sight of a very exciting photo shoot for myself this past Saturday where numerous sand tiger sharks, maybe a dozen strong, had gathered within the wreck. Every once in a while you will find a shark or two loitering about inside the wrecks here in North Carolina, but to see this many is a rare occurrence. From the stand point of a photographer, this makes for some great subject matter.


     With my favorite 10.5mm Nikon fisheye lens and D300 camera I carefully made myself at home inside the stern section of the wreck and snapped away until my fingers bled. OK, maybe that's a stretch; my fingers didn't actually bleed, but the opportunities for great photos were everywhere and my flash was firing rapidly. The eerie light emanating from outside of the deteriorating wreck made for a superb backdrop for the sharks lurking about within their dark night club. I was a kid in a candy store with one 'keeper' photo after another filling my camera's memory card.

 

     Several sharks even swam up and down the companionway on the port side of the wreck which is lined with stunning brilliant purple colored sea fans. There's nothing like adding a little color to a scene to spice it up your image. Human models couldn't have posed for a better shot than these sharks and I don't have to pay them.

     After about thirty minutes of pure bliss with my 'fave' sharks, it was time to head up to my divers waiting up top. This past weekend a group from Seahorse Scuba in Midlothian, Virginia chartered the boat I skipper for Olympus Dive Center. They too had a look at the Aeolus and her sand tiger shark squatters.

 

     The past few years the Aeolus has had sporadic sand tiger sightings on her remains while the neighboring wreck of the USCGS Spar was the hot spot for shark sightings. Although the Spar still has sand tigers on it this season, the Aeolus seems to attract more this dive season. Not much is known why or where sand tigers roam in their range of habitat but studies are being done in Delaware State University by Dr. Dewayne Fox and by The Guy Harvey Research Institute. By attaching transmitters much is being learned of the sharks migratory patterns. When I find out more about the results I'll be passing this information on to you.

     The Aeolus wasn't the only wreck visited by the divers from Seahorse Scuba. They also got a taste of the USCG Cutter Spar and were introduced for the first time to the wreck of the legendary U-352. A visit to the North Carolina coast to dive would not be complete until one scratched a few lines into their dive log about this wreck experience. Visibility has been around 30-40 feet depending on where you dive. These conditions certainly aren't the best North Carolina has to offer, but not the worst either.

     Presently, the Midnight Express has been grounded due to bad weather on this day, but we are scheduled to run again on Tuesday and Wednesday with the gang from New Joisey's, Ocean Explorers headed up by Jim Masters and Donna Gunn. I'll have more about their dives very soon. Rumor has it we are heading to the Caribsea to see some sharkies. So what else is new?

Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken

 

Photo Gallery
 

 

Crazy Outer Banks weather can be scary and awe inspiring at the same time. This storm dumped more than

an inch in a few hours and caused damage up and down the eastern coast of the US.
Shot taken on July 1, 2012 at the Olympus Dive Center dock.

 

Sand tiger shark on the wreck of the Aeolus. (New)

 

Sand tiger with brilliant purple sea fans. (New)

 

Sand tiger 'strolling' down the port companionway
of the Aeolus. (New) 

 

Sand tiger hanging out in 'Club' Aeolus. (New)

 

Annette Papa shooting with her new D7000 on the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose.

 

A black and white sand tiger shark. A very rare species.

 

Annette Papa posing with her new 'baby'.

 

Annette Papa hanging out in the deep dark and dangerous.
 
 





     

 

June 22, 2012 - The 'Naeco'

June 22, 2012  •  Leave a Comment



Photo of the Week
The Wreck of the Naeco; the stern. (New)
©Mike Gerken


Papoose
    Midweek charters on board the Midnight Express at Olympus Dive Center were a little slow these past five days, so I took advantage of the down time and stowed away on board the M/V Olympus on Wednesday June 20 to dive the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose for a pair of dives. It was a good day to play hooky from my desk jockey responsibilities and go diving. The seas were flat calm with visibility edging over 30 feet on the bottom but with much bluer water above that. 
 
     I also managed to go diving with my lovely girlfriend, Annette who was anxious to display some of her new underwater modeling tips she learned from professional photographer Chris Crumley. (Please visit his web site to learn more about Chris and the beautiful work he does). Annette drove all the way to Virginia a few weeks ago to take Chris's course and so far so good with her new poses.
     
     With the visibility a little on the low side getting close to subjects would be the name of the game to achieve any decent images. As Annette and I swam down the wreck we started to come across some very large sand tiger sharks, but none of them appeared to want to cooperate for a close encounter photo.
 
 
Annette Papa and a very friendly giant southern stingray. (New)
 
 
     Pretty soon we stumbled upon a large southern stingray with a pair of very large cobia swimming underneath it. Cobia are well known to follow stingrays and dart to and fro as if they were following a Pied Piper. This image of ray and cobia has been on my shot list for years now and I thought I might have a chance to nail it this time, but unfortunately neither party was interested in having their portrait taken and they swam off in to the blue green water with indifference to the eager photographer behind them.
 
     Suddenly Annette and I found yet another jumbo stingray laying partially buried in the sand and I decided this might suffice. Without having to so much as look at Annette, she maneuvered herself carefully in to position so not to startled the resting stingray for a photo. After a few test shots and a very cooperative ray, I managed to get a 'keeper' for the photo album and all thanks to Annette.
 
    
Ashton Allgood inside the wreck of
the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose. (New)

     On our trip back to the boat, I practiced firing off some portraits for practice for the both of us. With her new talents as a UW model, hopefully, you will begin to see Annette in print more and more in the future. Don't tell her I said this, but I think she enjoys it as well.

 
    Dive two on the Papoose was another enjoyable portrait photo shoot with long time Olympus employee, Ashton Allgood. On this dive, Ashton and I swam through the internal remains of the Papoose to try to obtain a tone of deep, dark and mysterious in our photos. Considering this was Ashton's first time posing for me I'd have to say it went rather well. She hasn't seen any if these images as of press time so I will let her decide.
 
(Scroll down to the Photo Gallery)
 
Naeco
     That night, after the Papoose dives, I received a phone call from Captain Bobby Edwards of the 'six pack' dive boat, Atlantis IV that operates out of Atlantic Beach. He asked me if I would like to dive the wreck of the Naeco the next day since I had the day off. The Naeco was sunk in WWII by a German U-boat approximately 41 miles due south of Beaufort Inlet. She lies in about 130-135' of water and is known to have fantastic visibility and warm waters from the Gulf Stream. I hadn't been to the Naeco in more than 10 years and I dared not turn down such a gracious invite. I told Bobby I would be happy to go.
 
Northeast divers on the Atlantis IV.

     That morning at the dock, as we were loading gear, I was introduced to the group of divers that had been chartering the Atlantis IV all week. One of the guys, by the name of Charlie, had looked awfully familiar to me, but I could not place the face. On the ride out to the dive site we got to talking and low and behold we discovered that we had dived together on several occasions in the north east some 15 plus years ago.  On one such trip, after diving the wreck of the USS Bass off of Block Island, RI, our dive vessel nearly sank in a wicked squall that swooned down unexpectedly upon us. The rain, wind and seas were powerful enough were we began donning our drysuits in the event we should sink. Believe me, it was hairy!

 
    Needless to say we did not sink and came through the storm much better than the S/S Minnow did. We pulled in to Block Island and sought out the nearest bar, sat out the second dive and opted for a cold beer to calm our rattled nerves. An event like this one sticks in your mind rather well and Charlie and I hugged and joked about almost perishing in that storm together. Thankfully we could laugh about this event since the alternative outcome was too grim to think about.
 
The Naeco steering quadrant in the background. (New)
 
     Once arriving at the Naeco the five divers on board jumped in for their dive as I followed slightly behind. My goal was to shoot some wide angle images with my Nikon D300. The visibility was an easy 70 feet and ideal for the type of shot I wanted to get. As I arrived at the bottom some 130' below I framed a shot and fired the shutter. The camera clicked, but the strobes did not fire. I knew that it could be a bad connection in my sync cord or just a tad bit of grease on the hot shoe. 
 
     Confronted with this problem before I decided to drop back even a little further than usual and shoot ambient light only rather than abort the dive. In the back of my head I knew that converting such photos to black and white would work well. So that is what I did and in the end I was pleased with the outcome, but I wish my strobes had fired all the same. Any photographer will tell you that if you can land one really nice 'keeper' image per dive your doing pretty well.
 
     The second dive of the day was on the  Wreck of the U-352. One of the divers on board had never been and the other four quickly agreed that it was a must dive for him to experience. The visibility however was a little on the low side at around 20-30 feet so I left my camera on the boat and took up a pole spear and caught a few black sea bass for my dinner table instead. Sea bass are in season now and abundant on the many wrecks. Many will tell you, including myself, that these modest sized fish are some of the tastiest in the ocean. Keep an eye out for my fish recipes in my next Dive & Photo Newsletter.
 
Blue water diving NC style. (New)
 
     At the end of the day, I shook hands with Charlie and all the guys, exchanged business cards and said, "see you out there again".  I have no doubt that we will see each other again. The diving industry is a small one and you never know who your going to bump in to on a dive boat in the middle of the Atlantic.
 
     I'll be back in action on the Midnight Express starting tomorrow and Sunday. The weather looks promising so we shall see. As of right now there is plenty of space on board for the following midweek dives so give us a call and book your dives. We would love to share with you what we already know is world class diving.
 
Thanks for following!
 
-Mike
 
 
 
Photo Gallery
 
Instructor Bubba Flores on video shoot for the Military Channel
with his Go-Pro head cam. (New)

 

Annette Papa swimming the hull of the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose.

 

Ashton Allgood inside the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose. 

 

Ashton on the ascent.

 

Annette Papa hangin' out.
 
 
 

Rush hour on the ascent. 

 

Ashton and Annette stopping for a pose. 

 

Ashton Allgood, Annette Papa and Nema Triplett.

 
 
 
 
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