August 3, 2011 - Blue Water + Calm Ocean + Sharks = Superb Diving

August 03, 2011  •  Leave a Comment

Image of the Week
Atlantic Spade Fish exiting from within
the wreck of the USCG Cutter Spar.
Recovering divers with the M/V Olympus in the background.

     As of last Wednesday July 27th, the dive boats of Olympus Dive Center have been running dive charters every day and sometimes twice a day. The diving has been great, the weather has been great and even my attitude has been great. Well maybe that's pushing it.

     Regardless, it was a great week. We had a few days of inshore diving on the wreck of the 'Mighty' Indra as well as some great offshore adventures on the USS Schurz, the Aeolus and of course the reddest, hottest wreck dive on the East Coast, the W.E. Hutton; aka Papoosewhich had some rockem' sockem' action with throngs of Caribbean Reef Sharks. My dive boat the Midnight Express was blessed with some quality divers this week as well, which are too many to name but, I will highlight two of the dive groups.
A cooperative Sand Tiger posing for the camera. (New)

Fearless leader and alias 'Bubble Boy',  Rance Moore (on the left).
     Starting off, on Thursday we had a group of veterinarians on board headed up by Rance Moore who is an avid diver and territory manager of Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedic, which is a drug company for animals. Every time you take Fido or Fifi to the vet odds are Rance's company is behind the healing process. These vets weren't here to talk business though, they were here in Morehead City, NC to dive and dive they did. 

     After hitting the shallow inshore wrecks of the Titan Tug and the Indra on the first day with much success, it was time to head offshore on Friday to the warm blue Gulf Stream water of the Atlantic Ocean. Without fail the first dive on the hit list was the German U-Boat, the U-352. What trip to North Carolina would be complete without touching the hull of this infamous WWII wreck? With visibility edging over 80 feet the dive sold itself. 
Another satisfied diver.
All one needed to do was head down and glimpse the sub from the anchor line and it was deemed a dynamite dive. It was a winner for one and all.   

     Once the U-352 was scratched from everyones bucket list it was a short hop over to the wreck of the USCG Cutter Spar. Visibility was not as stellar as the sub but decent all the same at around 50+ feet. The intact structure, shallower depths and prolific marine life added fuel to the fire for good diving. After this second day, a handful of Rance's people had to head home but about a half dozen of the group still remained for a dive on the USS Schurz and the Aeolus on Saturday with warm water and 'viz' as good as 80-100' benefitting them. Showing all the passengers great diving was a no brainer with conditions such as these. Drive the boat 2 hours in calm seas, tie the boat up to the wreck, tell everyone where the wreck is and push them over the side. That's all there is to it.  It's easier than boiling water. All the vets seemed to enjoy themselves to the core and I sure hope to see them all again soon.
That's a heckuva watermelon.

Chowing the melon at surface interval.,
Rance grinning from ear to ear.

More divers returning to the Midnight.
Must have been a good dive but don't forget your fins.

The Discover Diving gang from Buffalo, NY posing
with the deck gun of the U-352.
     Once Rance and his people headed out of town a dive group of fourteen divers from Discover Diving arrived from Buffalo, NY headed up by Darryl and Dallas Edmiston. These folks were my continued lucky charm for I do not believe the seas were higher than two feet and the visibility less than forty for the three days they were here. The wrecks covered were the U-352, the Spar, the Aeolus and the W.E. Hutton; aka Papoose. There was not a bad dive to be had with the group favorite being the wreck of the Aeolus since they dived it a total of three times while here. The combo of banner 'viz', shark activity and diverse terrain of the wreck must have been the main draw. However, my personal highlight dive of the week with the Discover crowd was once again the W.E. Hutton; aka Papoose. 
     If you refer to my previous blog The Year of the Shark you will learn that the Papoose has had some action already this year in the form of Caribbean Reef Sharks, Sand Tigers and even a Hammerhead or two for added color. 
Dallas and his dive buds.

Since I had last been to the Papoose I continued to hear dive reports of continued shark sightings there and was anxious to go re-check out the scenery. On Monday, all of my divers requested a dive there and I was more than happy to oblige them. Once we arrived at the site I briefed everyone of the shark activity that has been happening there and indicated there would be no shame for anyone to sit this dive out if they had any reservations about diving with so many sharks. Not a single diver hesitated. They were tripping over themselves to jump in the water and head on down to see for themselves what all the hubbub was about. 

      As the divers returned each one of them said they saw sand tiger sharks with some indicating they spotted a few reef sharks and even a hammerhead. Overall it sounded like an excellent dive without any unusual shark activity that has been reported. Once all were back on board it was now my turn. Armed with my video camera, I jumped in a drifted down to the wreck. The sky this day was overcast reducing the visibility somewhat to around a dark and hazy 40 feet below the depth of 80 feet deep.  Above 80 feet the water was considerably bluer and beautiful but still a dark blue. Utilizing an old trick I learned years ago in the Pacific I squeezed an empty plastic bottle underwater in order to draw in the usually shy Caribbean Reef Sharks. 'Crunch, crunch, crunch' went the sound and in shot a dozen or more Reef Sharks within seconds from all angles. 

     The sound of the water bottle is uncannily like that of a shark biting through a fish carcass underwater. These 'guys' thought someone had bagged dinner and wanted some of the leftovers. With the video camera rolling and my water bottle crunching it was a piece of cake recording some fun video once again of these harmless 'Hyenas' of the ocean. In my experience, I have conducted more than 150 'shark feeds' in Truk Lagoon with the primary dinner guests being Reef Sharks such as these and not once did I ever see a shark threaten or come close to threatening myself or any other diver and this with blood and chum in the water. We have never used chum diving the wrecks in North Carolina. There has never been a need.  

     All the while filming, I did not once feel like I was in danger. On the contrary, I was enthralled at watching these predators in action. I swam up and down the wreck and no matter where I went Reef Sharks circled around me, inspecting me, and trying to figure out what was going on. With so many sharks darting about I had difficulty composing shots. I would focus the camera on one group only to see a larger or closer group to my right or my left. After about 20 minutes I figured I had had enough. It was time to head up and get the divers over to the next wreck dive. Each and every time my head breaks the surface after an adrenaline pumping dive like this I feel as though these experiences summarize what diving is all about for me. In other words, without a little adventure, life is not worth living. I will let this video do the rest of my talking for me.

Click HERE to view the video:
"W.E. Hutton, aka Papoose
August 1, 2011"

     Once we got back to the dock on Tuesday afternoon, it was time to shake hands with the 'Discover' crowd and wish them a safe but long drive back to Buffalo, NY. It was a pleasure having you and we hope to see you back this way again soon.
A Discover Diver getting the
'Midnight' fin treatment.

A Father and son team.

      I must say despite some set backs with wind and waves this 2011 season, we are having some fantastic dive conditions over all. I just finished another dive today with flat calm seas and warm blue water. There are still many openings in August and September so call us up and come diving. I can't guarantee every dive will have oodles of sharks and 100 foot viz but I can guarantee that myself, my crew and everyone at Olympus are committed to trying our best to showing you the safest and best diving possible. I hope to see you all walking down the dock with tanks in hand and a smile on your face real soon.

Happy Diving!

Mike Gerken

Photo Tip of the Week
     One of the biggest inquiries I get from photo enthusiasts is regarding strobes.  "What kind of strobes do you use?", "How close do I need to be?", "Where do you place them?", etc.  No matter what type of strobe you use to expose your subjects make sure you are within the limitations of your strobe units. If you are for example 10 feet away from your subject but your strobe light will only reach 5 feet then you are too far away and the strobe will have no effect other than lighting up particulates in the water column. I see this often where a diver will be shooting a fish about the size of a football from ten feet away with strobes that are only good up to around 2 feet. Learn what the range of your strobe lights by reading the manual and by taking test shots and reviewing the image in your LCD to see if your subject is exposed or not. 

      Most consumer strobes have a range of only a few feet while professional strobes have considerable more power and range of up to 15 feet depending of course on what your F-stop is set at. Low F-stops will offer a wide aperture thus allowing the maximum amount of light to enter the camera. High F-stops will have smaller apertures cutting down the amount of light entering the camera. Experiment and test your strobes to figure out how close you need to be for your strobe units to have any effect on your subject at any given exposure setting.

     As far as where to place the strobes.  This all depends on what you are shooting and how far away you are shooting it from.  There is no one position that will suit all of your photography.  Macro or close focus wide angle you will have to pull your strobes in closer to the camera body.  With wide angle you may have to stretch the arms out as far as they will go.  What I tell most people is simply  "place the strobes where you need the light".  Assess your subject, pull your head back and see where the strobe beam is pointed. If it is not pointed where your subject is then make an adjustment.  I prefer to also point my strobes slightly outward so I am using the fringe of the strobe beam rather then the strong focused center part of the beam. This may yield softer and more even exposures and alleviate the ever bothersome backscatter or specks of dust covering your shot. I do not recommend placing your strobes up high above the camera as I see so often.  You will not expose the bottom half of your subject or frame.  All of your light will be at the top of your image area.  Unless this is what you desire then place the strobes at 3 and 9 o'clock for a more even exposure.

In closing, practice strobe usage by finding a subject that is stationary and experiment with strobe intensity and position while reviewing your images on the LCD. Do not be content on one position and one setting without trying different techniques.  The photo of the week at the top of the page was shot with one strobe which was the bottom strobe creating a dark top and casting shadows and gradients on the Spade Fish.  I merely shut my second strobe off after trying it with two. By trying different techniques I discovered that this worked the best.
Underwater Photographer, Federico.

"Hello Rance"
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Hand over hand down the anchor line...
just how we like it at Olympus.

Mike, I bet you thought you weren't going to make the blog.
See you soon!

See below for the shameless self promotion
section of this blog!

Please visit my web site to see video excerpts from my documentary films and a complete underwater photographic portfolio of my work and purchase fine art prints and DVD's of my films.

If you wish to dive Graveyard of the Atlantic contact Olympus Dive Center for more information.

Olympus Dive Center, Morhead City, NC.
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Mike Gerken


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