Building a system for underwater photography

By Underwater Photography

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

[Partially updated April 12, 2020 – however, I recommend people also read my guide to Putting Together an Underwater Photography System Around a Compact Camera for more up-to-date information]

So you want to put together a high-quality system for underwater photography, but are deterred by the prices. You are not alone.   Equipment cost used to be one of the biggest deterrents in underwater photography. While the cost of a complete, versatile system capable of handling most underwater subjects is still extremely high, the high quality offered by compact camersa means that it is possible to build up a long-term system in small, more affordable steps. Spreading out this cost brings a high-quality system within the reach of most people.

The purpose of this article is to provide a roadmap for putting together an underwater system in a step-by-step manner. Given the mind-boggling array of products, lack of any standards and various compatibility issues, this step can be a minefield for most people. I personally spent several months reading various forums in order to truly grasp my choices and make an educated choice. Hopefully, this article will accelerate your learning curve somewhat, by telling you what to look for.

While this method lacks the instant gratification of buying everything at once, there is one important benefit – by adding one component at a time, the photographer has a chance to master each component. This is conceptually an easier way to master underwater photography, rather than trying to deal with many variables all at once.

Step 1 – Select the correct compact camera & housing

Polycarbonate housings are available for most housings made by Canon & Olympus. Fuji, Sony, Nikon, Panasonic and others also have housings available for quite a few of their cameras – these are either manufacturer housings selling at around $200 (give or take) or third-party housings made by companies like Ikelite and Fantasea. So you certainly have no dearth of choices. Therefore, first thing to do is to narrow down your list of choices.

The biggest mistake people make at this point is they buy a housing for the camera that they have, or they select a camera and then buy a housing for it. For someone with the stated goal of putting together a system, this is the wrong way to go about things. The camera and housing must be considered together when deciding what to buy.

Start by forgetting camera brands. Focus, instead, on 4 criteria when it comes to the camera: responsiveness (ie, combination of focus lag and shutter lag) ,of RAW, ability to shoot good close-ups and a reasonably good wide angle.    Don’t get caught up in image quality pixel peeping or dynamic range – for underwater work, it does not matter too much.

Now, look at the housing. Here, ignore brand or resistance to flooding. All housings work on the same principle (use of an O-ring to make a seal) and so require the same level of care & are more or less equally prone to flooding. Instead, what you care about is whether or not the housing can accept add-on (or wet) wideangle or macro lenses.  This is because most compact cameras are neither wide enough nor offer high-enough magnifications by themselves – the use of add-on lenses greatly increases the ability of the cameras in these 2 areas.  You won’t be buying these lenses yet, but it you will need this later.

Once you apply all these factors, you are going to have a much smaller list. You can then sort from this list based on ergonomics, other usage (top-sides shooting), price, color, or whatever.
Congrats. Now get this gear wet. Check out my 10 tips to improve your underwater photography, and learn to use your camera.

Step 2 – Add a strobe

Ok, if you have read my article with the 10 tips, you will notice that I listed some cheap strobes. The bad news is that as far as you are concerned, cheap strobes are out. You may buy one as a stop-gap measure but that is a detour along this fine path that we are taking. As far as system-building goes, you are going to buy a good quality strobe.

If you see your end-game being a housed DSLR or Mirrorless system (read DSLR or Compacts before jumping to an answer – also try renting a housed DSLR or playing with one in the water first before reaching a conclusion), then you will need to buy strobes which have a wide angle of view, to utilize the super wide angle lenses you can use with these cameras.      Also, if you plan to use a DSLR, you may require a strobe which is triggered via an electrical sync cable, as opposed to an optical sync cable.    So keep future planning in mind.

But other than this, what you want is the strobe with the most power, a nice broad angle of coverage and light that is uniform across the entire area of coverage, without any hotspots in the middle or significant drop off on the sides.

Realistically, there are 3 brands you will be looking at now – Inon, Sea&Sea&Ikelite.
Ikelite is one of the most popular underwater brands. The two main things going for them are: (1) they offer true TTL when used with an Ike DSLR housing and (2) Ikes have great customer service. In all other areas, they cost more than comparably-specced strobes from Inon&Sea&Sea, atleast here in Asia ( US prices for Inon&Sea+Sea are quite higher and Ike prices tend to be lower).  TTL may appear to be a good draw, but IMO, it should not be a deciding factor.   Manual strobes are actually surprisingly easy to use and IMO,  provide more consistent exposure.   TTL or lack thereof should be a tie-breaker, not a primary selection criteria.

The other two contenders are Inon&Sea&Sea.  At the time of writing, the main models are D2000/D2000S and Z240 (Inon), and YS-110 & YS-250 (Sea&Sea).  The last S+S strobes costs a fair bit more but is the most powerful of the lot. The D2000/D2000S are slave-fired only, which rules them out if you are looking at a DSLR rig with electrical flash syncing as your end goal. Other than that, all these models offer a full array of settings and controls (manual, slave, optical TTL, pre-flash compatibility, etc).

At this point, you also want to get an optical cable, which allows your camera’s built-in flash to trigger the external strobe and allows optical TTL.

Lastly, invest in a decent pair of arms for your strobe. Ultra-Light Control Systems (ULCS) and Technical Lighting Control (TLC) make good arms using standard 1″ balls at each end. They are pricey, but will last you a while. Save money – buy used.    You can also get less expensive arms off Ali Express or Ebay, and they work just as well.

Now that you have a strobe, experiment with using the strobe, angles and power. Shoot in both TTL and manual mode, and you’ll soon realize that manual isn’t too tough either.

Step 3 – Add wet lenses

There are quite a few manufacturers that makes wet lenses and adapters to fit a wide variety of compact camera housings.  Depending on what you like to shoot, you may want to add a macro lens and a wideangle adapter. These will improve the usability of your system and allow you to shoot more expansive wide-angles and also achieve greater magnification.

These wet lenses aren’t cheap – but they improve the usability of your compact camera to perhaps 90% of that of a housed ILC.   when you upgrade to a DSLR, you can recover most of your costs by selling them. You can also look for used wet lenses on the Internet.

Now go learn to use these lenses and see the improvement in your photographs afforded by them.

Step 4 – Add a second strobe

Note: You can flip steps 4 and 5, depending on how you want to spend the money.

Once you have some wet lenses – especially the wide angle adapter – you may want to experiment with more creative lighting. A second strobe allows you greater leeway in placement and shadow management. Well worth having.

I am a big fan of using 2 identical strobes. Different strobes, even within the same manufacturer’s line, often have varying color temperatures and probably varying recharge times. That complicates your picture-taking process. Keep It Simple.

Now you can really enjoy creative freedom – sidelighting, backlighting (rim-lighting) and ability to manage shadows. The learning process here is very long and a lot of fun…. enjoy!

Step 5 – Get a housed DSLR (and there was great rejoicing)

Now that you have put everything together, and you are hooked to underwater photography, and you find that it is your system – and not your abilities – that are holding you back, you are ready for a Monstrous Box from Hell. And your strobes and arms, which you have already purchased, will fit right into this system.

If you already have a DSLR or MLC, the choice is easy – find a housing for it (although make sure there is a fish eye lens and a 50-100mm 1:1 macro lenses available for your system).  If you are shooting with a 1-series Canon or Nikon D2/D3, you may want to consider a cheaper, second body. Remember the guideline with underwater housings – it is not a question of “if” you are going to flood, it is a question of “when” – and given that, it is better to flood (read: FUBAR) a relatively inexpensive body as opposed to a top-end body, especially if you don’t have insurance coverage where you live.

If you don’t have a DSLR, first start by selecting a housing. Yes, it is actually better to put the cart before the horse in this case. Housings vary tremendously in price and ergonomics, and not every manufacturer covers every brand. If you don’t have an SLR, then it is best to find the right housing, and then purchase a body that fits into it.

So what goes into finding the right housing? Three things: (1) ergonomics of the housing, which is the single biggest thing you are looking for (2) availability of ports and compatibility with various lenses and (3) price.

Let’s start with ergonomics – this means how heavy your housing is in the water, how much drag it produces, how easily it lets you access the various controls and anything and everything related to usage. Dont ignore any annoying quirks, no matter how trivial. Perhaps it is a chore to install the body or perhaps aligning the zoom gears is a hassle. Right now, you are thinking, it saves me $XXX, I can live with it. A few months down the road, you will be cursing it, I guarantee you. Given how much you have spent already, a littie more is inconsequential. Get it right the first time. Sell your compact, your housing and your wet-lenses, if you want to raise the money.

Availability of ports and compatibility with various lenses is another factor to consider. I use an Aquatica system[at the time of writing the original article] and what got me attracted to them is the fact that they use only 2 ports – a big dome for wideangle, and a flat port for close-ups. All lenses can be used with these 2 ports using spacing rings. That means less gear for me to carry when I travel. Most big brands offer solutions for all the common underwater lenses: ultra-wideangle zooms, fisheyes, standard zooms and macro lenses. However, some newer brands don’t have that compatibility (or it may be coming soon but isn’t here yet). So check first.

All this means that you should get expert advice from a reliable dealer, and if possible, try to touch and feel the equiment before making a decision.

A closely linked step to picking a housing is deciding on lenses. You will need at minimum 2 lenses: macro, a good choice for a first lens because it is relatively easy to get good results with it and ultra-wideangle – something giving a field of view of a 20mm lens (in 35mm terms) at the very minimum – 16mm is even better and a fisheye or near-fisheye (with 175-180 degrees coverage) is best.   My recommended lenses are a Tokina 10-17 fisheye for APS-C bodies, or fisheye primes for full frame or Micro 4/3 bodies.

You may also want to add a standard zoom – either your kit lens or a third-party 17-XX zoom – for general purpose shooting.

For macro, your choices are the 50mm/60mm (very versatile and useful for fish portraits as well) or 100mm macro (better for shooting exclusively macro, but not so useful for other shooting).

Also note that while I have presented the purchase criteria in a linear fashion, it really isn’t a linear process. All the factors work together. Once you have picked your lenses, evaluate your housing choice & port options in light of these options. If your heart is dead-set on a particular lens which is not supported by your selected housing, then you may want to re-think your choice of housings. If, on the other hand, that housing really gets you going, consider an alternative lens. Do some research here.

Once you have all this information, you are ready to purchase your housing. Congrats. Your journey is complete*. Go forth and shoot.

*Of course I am lying like a cheap rug when I say that your journey is complete. Now you are entering the world of customized housings, focus lights, add-on diopters, etc. Say goodby to savings. But it is a great ride, nonetheless!

ILC or Compact – which is best for underwater use?

By Underwater Photography

Best underwater camera for scuba diving

[Updated:  April 12, 2020]

A general assumption seems to be that DSLRs or MLCs (hereafter referred to jointly as ILCs – Interchangeable Lens Cameras) are a natural upgrade to compact cameras for underwater photography. This is reinforced by the fact that every underwater pro you see is lugging $10,000-plus rigs, leading to the natural belief that you cannot really do much with something that costs a tenth of these rigs. Occasionally, you do see some posts in forums defending the compact camera, but a lot of these posts tend to be driven by user bias – a common tendency among all of us to justify our own decisions – rather than an objective analysis of the pros and cons of each system.

The purpose of this article is to give you a balanced view and provide you with the benefits and disadvantages of each system. I can safely say that I am free of bias, because I own & shoot with both a housed ILC system as well as a compact camera setup (and my present compact camera system was purchased after I got the ILC system).

Before we get into this discussion, let us separate 2 terms which are often used interchangeably: quality and usability. Quality, as far as I am concerned, refers to the technical merits of the image – sharpness, contrast, low-noise and ability to produce large prints. Usability [not the best choice of words, I admit… but let’s stick with it for now], on the other hand, refers to how well a system is suited to specific shooting situations – such as low vis, wideangle, macro or any particular composition or effect that you, the photographer, want to achieve.

First, let’s start with ILCs. There is a reason why pros are lugging around those megabuck rigs – they provide results that are superior to those of compact cameras, and do so consistently.
As far as quality goes, the images from a ILCs tend to have greater dynamic range and be more suitable for up-sizing for large prints (even when you compare to RAW files from a compact camera). Lower noise means that you can use higher ISOs, useful under certain conditions. And of course, the bigger sensors of ILCs allow greater control over depth of field. However, the quality difference, while present, is fairly small; not everyone will find it a compelling reason for paying the enormous difference in price, especially if they don’t make large prints or sell to stock agencies.

Dumaguete_Apr2019-81

A turtle, shot with my Olympus ILC in a Nauticam housing with 2 Sea&Sea YS-D2J strobes.   This is a shot i would not have gotten with a compact camera, due to the high contrast between the backlit sun, the darker water and the turtle as it moved up.

Usability, however, is a different thing altogether. The main benefit of housed ILCs is that, whatever choice of subject you choose, they will provide a better solution than compacts. If you want to shoot macro, you have more set-up choices and you are more easily able to achieve high magnifications with an ILC. If you want to shoot wide-angle, you can get stunning, ultra-wide fields of view with some of the current ultra-wideangle lenses out there. If you want to shoot fish portraits, you get auto focus speeed and responsiveness that cannot be matched by any compact camera out there.

At this point, I can see some people about to send me an angry email, listing portfolios of excellent images taken with a compact camera. Please note – I am not saying that compact cameras do not produce good images. In fact, I happily cede that under some circumstances, compact cameras can produce images that are on par with ILC images. However, ILCs will produce higher-quality images in a wider variety of circumstances than compacts. That is a fact, pure and simple.
However, that does not mean that everyone who can afford a housed ILC should get one. Far from it. Remember – your camera system is merely a tool, and as with all tools, you don’t want the one with the best set of specifications, but the one which is best suited to your needs and requirements.

While it is true that ILCs offer better performance across a broader spectrum of shooting opportunities, there is a cost to be paid – primarily, in the amount of effort required to realize this improved performance and the loss of flexibility when it comes to handling other shooting opportunities that may crop up.

20190430_161332

What actually went into taking the turtle photo above:   I followed the turtle up, while keeping an eye on my depth and also making sure i had the composition right, the strobes positioned correctly and the exposure dialled in correctly in rapidly-changing light as the turtle moved shallower.

For starters, a housed ILC rig *demands* your attention. It controls how you pack for a trip. It controls your entire dive (when you are underwater with a housed ILC, you are doing photography and nothing else). The extra bulk and drag of the rig will challenge your situational awareness and diving skills – especially buoyancy – even in calm conditions, let alone currents. And that’s not all. The system requires you to give it attention in the morning before you get on the dive boat, and cuddle with it when you return, checking and lubing O-rings, testing connections and washing/rinsing the controls. In fact, it is very much like adding a boyfriend or girlfriend, without the sex to make up for the trouble (so on second thoughts, perhaps it is like adding a spouse?).

An ILC also limits your choice underwater – you have to select one lens, and are stuck with it for the entire dive. The best results from shooting an ILC come from the extreme wide angle and dedicated macro lenses, so you can only shoot one of these two subjects on a given dive. This commitment can be quite painful sometimes: for example, I had the doubtful privilege of diving with a macro lens while a whale shark cruised by a few meters below me. My friend got some great shots with his compact, while I steadfastly denied that the whale shark had existed.

Now, not everyone considers this loss of flexibility to be a tradeoff. My whale shark incident notwithstanding, I find that I get the best shots when I decide what I want to shoot and spend the entire dive working my choice of subject(s), rather than running around trying to shoot whatever I see. If that means I miss a few shots, so be it… the ones I do get tend to be better.

This mindset and approach, however, requires investing time and effort on the images. You *have* to devote some time to setup and to get the perfect shot… you cant just swoop in, take a couple of shots and swoop off to your next subject (not if you want good photos, anyway). You also need to master the technicalities of exposure & lighting – especially the lighting.  All of this means spending a lot of time on each subject. For example, I recently spend 75 minutes shooting the ghost pipefish below, and I am still not particularly thrilled with this shot.

ghost-pipefish

For a lot of people, the housed ILC is too demanding a tool – be it in terms of travel restrictions, pre/post dive maintenance or in-water demands on both diving skills and photographic commitment. While I have listed a lot of the benefits of a housed ILC system, I must reiterate that you are going to realize those benefits only if you are going to become an underwater photographer (with all the commitments it entails), not a diver who takes photos.
So ask yourself:
– Are you willing to dedicate the entire dive to the pursuit of good images, to the exclusion of everything else?
– Are you willing to spend an entire dive in one patch, getting the lighting, exposure and composition just right?
– Are you willing to spend significant time before and after each dive on your gear?
– Are you able to manage the extra drag of a housed system?
– Are your buoyancy skills perfect enough to allow precise composition through the viewfinder?  And before you answer “yes” here, let me point out that despite having 6000+ dives, I still struggle sometimes with maintaining my placement just so, especially if there is even a mildest of currents
– Are you willing to spend time in learning the technical elements of photography and your system?
– Will you dive often enough to master your equipment? Will you keep diving often enough to retain this mastery?
– Do you have $5000 plus to spend?

If you anwer “no” to one or more of these questions, you may get better results with a compact system. And you will not be alone, nor should you feel that you are condemned to photographic hell.

Most hobbyist shooters would prefer to capture everything a dive throws at them, and not just be restricted to either macro or wideangle – in fact, unless they are shooting for stock or for publication, most people would gladly trade off some small loss of quality for the greater freedom in choice of subjects. This is a big plus in favor of compact cameras. Certainly, I would have had some very nice whale shark photos on file if I were shooting with a compact housing on that particular day.

Another factor to keep in mind is that intermediate photographers or divers may actually get better results from a compact camera. It is easier to get working TTL flash with compact cameras, using a fiber-optic cable, than with housed ILCs. A small compact housing is easier to maneuver in the water, which makes innovative composition easier and less demanding of pin-point buoyancy control. The greater depth-of-field of the lenses mean that they are more forgiving of minor focussing errors.  And in challenging conditions, it is often simply safer to be diving with a small camera than a big monstrous Box From Hell.

The trick with every tool is to understand its capabilities and limitations, and use it accordingly. Here is a photo taken by me in 2001 with an Olympus C3000 digital camera, one of the first compact cameras for which housings were available:

coral grouper

This photo above was taken at medium compression/resolution, with the camera lens zoomed in, auto white balance and on-board flash.   Not bad for a 3 megapixel camera from 2000, eh?

The shot below was taken with a Canon S70 and a $200 strobe (the Sunpak G-Flash, which was actually switched off for this shot):

diver-descending

In this case, i stayed within the limits of the image – i knew that i would not get any usable details on the diver due to the distance -so i chose to shoot it as a silhouette.   Both these images have been published in magazines.

And keep in mind – these sample images are with cameras that are 10-15 years old.    Modern day compact cameras have gotten really good and can provide technically superb shots, as long as you use them within their limitations.

The takeaway from this whole article is that (a) it is possible to get high-quality shots from compact cameras, provided you use them appropriately and (b) depending upon your intended usage, photo skills and dive skills, an ILC may not be the right tool for you.

If you are willing to invest the time and effort, both before/after the dive and during the dive, in getting fewer but better quality images, then a housed ILC is right for you.

If you do not want to go through all that effort, but want something easier to use and handle, then consider a compact. Today’s compacts will certainly yield very high-quality images, suitable for printing and displaying on a wall.

If you think you are ready for a housed ILC but the price tag is too much, consider building your system step-by-step. It may take some time, but you will develop your skills and get some very good images along the way.

Our 10th anniversary season begins!

By News

Posted by VanditKalia |

Woof – I cannot believe it: we are going to complete 10 years, as of this December.
I’ve mentioned this story before – our first year,we had 2-3 consecutive days of 10-11 divers and I was panicking – I stayed late in the office, obsessively double- and triple-checking everything to make sure that all was in order and there’d be no screw-ups.
And now, as we start our 10th season, the baby DIVEIndia store in Neil is about to go through the same metamorphosis – after a year or so of running under the radar, we are finally opening the Neil dive center “officially”. Finally!
One thing we’ve refused to do is go down the full corporate way, and bring in investors, etc. That would help us grow faster, for sure, but then we would become Just Another Commercial Dive Center, and god knows, the world (or heck, even the Andamans) doesnt need that. So the Neil dive center is going to follow the footsteps of our Havelock dive center, albeit with the benefit of 10 years of experience added to what was, back then, just a general/vague idea on how things *should* be run. Given how well things have gone in Havelock, I reckon those arent bad footsteps after all.
But there are still a few things I reckon we could do better. As we’ve grown rapidly in the last few years, we face some internal change ourselves. Our fully-flexible operational approach of the past is going to require a little re-working and we will have to put in some policies and guidelines, so as to keep things ticking along smoothly. The trick, of course, remains in finding the right balance of flexibility (so if a diver walks in and says, “hey, I loved today’s dive – I want to go back there tomorrow”, we can accommodate him) vs structure (shoot me if we become another bureaucratic dive center where “this is the plan for the next week, you will follow it and you will like it”).
A few changes we have planned:
1/ Improving our briefings. Our Burmese dive guides are fantastic spotters and have really good awareness of everything going on around them, but due to language and socio-cultural differences, their briefings can be a little spotty. Now, the fact remains that a group with 2 buddy teams probably doesn’t require the same level of detailed/rigorous briefings as a group with 10-12 dives, but still, it is always a good idea for divers to have as much information as possible. It would be too easy to just hire expat DMs, but I think responsible business practices mean giving back to the local community by providing them an upward path in the industry; not only that, the local dive guides are simply really, really good. I’ve been diving for 22 years now, am an Instructor Trainer/Course Director and most of our Burmese dive pros are better dive guides than me (and those who aren’t, will probably be in a year or two). So instead of taking the easy way, we are going to be continuously working with the dive guides on improving their communication skills, and providing them with the tools to make their lives easier – the most important one being maps of the dive sites.
2/ Adjust processes: The biggest challenge for us has always been the planning vs flexibility trade-off. I know dive centers that plan the whole week in advance. Classroom times for courses are strictly defined, course planning is done well in advance, etc, etc. This makes life easier in terms of operations, things run smoothly and everything seems professional. I have never really bought into this – I think our goal, as a dive center, is not to make life easier for ourselves, but to make life as convenient a possible for our customers. So if you want to come and watch the Open Water video at a different time, then, within reason, we want to accommodate that. If you dive for a bit and then want to visit a different dive site from what is planned… hey, you’re paying us, you get to decide where you want to go.
The obvious downside of this, of course, is that sometimes things do get turned around a bit too much. Some people interpret flexibility and lack of rigid structure as being unprofessional. And fair enough – sometimes, divers dont really have a strong preference on what they want to do, but are happy to follow along the plan, whatever it is.
So one of the things we are working on right now is how to find that right balance.
3/ Feedback forms: So far, we’ve been running on gut feel on what we are doing correctly and what we aren’t. Because a lot of our divers come hang out in the cafe later, we get feedback directly from them. But as we expand, we want to make sure we are capturing information in a systematic manner.
4/ Dive center re-design: Vikas and Melissa have been scheming like Pinky and the Brain on this, and we are all waiting to see what comes out of this. Those ugly floor tiles are most likely going to stay for another year, though, unfortunately.
5/ Neil to open on moderate scale: we are going to launch the Neil dive center with 6 rooms and enough diving gear to support projected business. And once everything is up and running, we’ll start actively marketing Neil packages as stand-alone dive+stay options, not merely as an add-on to Havelock (although that option will always remain).
6/ Expand the instructor training side of Diveindia – we are India’s first Instructor Training facility, offering on-site instructor training courses since 2009. And now we are India’s only multi-agency Instructor Training facility, offering both NAUI and SSI Instructor Training courses, with 2 full-time instructor trainers/course directors on staff. One thing we want to do is make the Andamans a regional hub for instructor training, but with a different – and as far as we can tell, completely unique – approach to how instructor courses are taught. More info on this to come at the appropriate time.
And then there are our usual off-season initiatives:
– Pooling the best practices from the various instructors, so that each instructor is able to improve his/her training.
– Staff training – certifying our boat staff as divers, emergency responders and also rescue divers.
– Annual gear maintenance – I dont know what it is, but our depth gauges always take a beating and have a life expectancy of about 20% of normal. Last year, we also received a bunch of non-standard O-rings that, while functional, weren’t optimal. We replaced them ad-hoc through the season but are doing a more systematic change now
– New gear for Neil and Havelock. The best part of the season – unpacking all those boxes and boxes of goodies. Christmas in the Andamans does come in August
One thing that is still on the cards but has been pushed back to next year is retail. I am not particularly keen on selling scuba equipment in the Andamans simply because the cost factor makes it economically unviable. It would be far cheaper for people to just import the gear themselves from the US or UK. And if we dont believe in the product that we are selling, what’s the point? But there are some bits of gear that we can sell which offer good value for our customers and provide us with enough return to make it worth our time/trouble: masks, straps, wetsuits, drybags. We do plan to start selling them, but it is on hold for one more year, till we are able to find a reliable import agent in Kolkata or Chennai who can handle this for us.
Our goal is quite simple – to be a better, safer dive center each year. If there is anything you’d like to see us add – please let us know via email.
PS: A couple of people have asked me if we plan to have dogs in Neil. It is quite ironic, given the celebrity status Frodo and Sam have acquired on the Interwebz, that I had initially hesitated to get them because I wasn’t sure whether keeping dogs in a resort was a good idea or not. While the Beasts have turned out to be quite a draw, we have no plans of ever keeping dogs merely for marketing. So no, no dogs in Neil, unfortunately, unless I move there – in which case, there will be 3 dogs in Neil (and none in Havelock).

Skills vs comfort

By Training

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

One of the most interesting things about the scuba training agencies is that they actually have 2 fairly contradictory drivers. On one hand, their goal is to set standards that let instructors produce trained, safe divers. On the other hand, since virtually all agencies these days are for-profit, they also want to make money [and that isnt a bad thing for the industry], which means making the training as accessible and modular as possible.
And as I have said for the most part, it works. Think about what actually goes on: every time someone wants to become a diver, a for-profit company somewhere has to sign off on it and gets paid for doing so; it also gets paid by both the dive center & the instructor for the privilege of getting paid to do so. Occam’s Razor says that for this state of affairs to continue, the agencies must provide some value. And that they do. For all the chest-beating that goes on in various forums, statistics show that diving is becoming safer.
At the same time, what is happening is that standards are actually getting reduced and pared to the bare minimum needed in order to dive safely and with some modicum of competency. This also makes sense in the context that it is coming from – the goal of the agencies is to make diving as accessible as possible, and if a particular skill has no real practical value or safety benefit, why keep it in there? And remember what I said about diving becoming safer… these cuts truly do pare out the fat, not the meat.
Beginner instructors typically follow the guidelines prescribed to them by their agency of choice, which lets them teach a competent course, provided they follow the standards both in letter and spirit (which, to their credit, most new instructors do). However, as instructors gain experience, they start to develop their own training philosophies and approach, and their courses take on a unique flavor. Every experienced instructor, consciously or not, ends up with a target “end goal” for his students, and a preferred teaching progression which lets him get the student there [more on this in a later post].
And this is where sometimes, instructors face an external limitation: market dynamics. I might decide that the best way to teach someone to dive would be to take 3 full classroom days, 3 full days of shallow water training and 5 days / 10 dives. This would cost about Rs 35,000-40,000. How many customers do you think I’d get this way? Not enough to stay in business!
And this isnt a bad thing either – most people really DONT need 8-10 days of training in order to acquire enough skills to meet the industry’s training benchmark: be able to dive safely. As I said earlier, diving is getting a lot safer, even though a bunch of skills from 20 years ago are no longer taught. Some will argue that this is b/c the gear is safer and I say, so what? Safer is safer, doesn’t matter why.
So what instructors end up doing is prioritising and focusing more on the critical skills that they feel get the student to their preferred end goals. For example, when I teach Open Water, my main end goals for the students are:
– They should be comfortable without a mask
– They should be able to hold their depth (it is ok for them to flap their hands occasionally if they need to, for balance, as long as they know how to keep working on improving their buoyancy and how to handle any buoyancy issues quickly and decisively)
– They should be conservative with air/depth/NDLs, and about staying with a buddy
I humbly submit to you that if you stay with your buddy, watch your air/NDLs and are able to maintain your buoyancy, you are going to be diving safely (to head off the obvious: this is not to say that these are the only things you learn; merely that these are most important). I actually think virtually all of my students could go diving with a buddy the very next dive, without a DM, and execute the dive safely. They may not be able to make it back exactly to the starting point, but from the diving point of view, they have the skills to dive safely.
Now, the question is – do divers feel that degree of confidence? I have long felt that there are about 3 “evolutions” in a diver’s abilities:
– Jump 1 happens at around 9-12 dives (not coincidentally, when you finish the Advanced course, if doing the OW + AOW combo) – this is where your average diver starts gaining some confidence in his or her own abilities
– Jump 2 happens at around the 20-25 dive mark, which is when buoyancy starts to become automatic and the diver is able to handle a greater level of task-loading without any problems (again not coincidentally, that is why 25 dives is the requirement to go to some of our deeper sites)
-Jump 3 happens somewhere in the 60-100 dive mark, when the slow and efficient movements become a second nature (this I have seen with Divemaster Candidates, when they start to look like dive pros).
Of course, improvement is a continual thing and there is a big improvement from, say, 100 to 1000 dives: but those are evolutionary in nature. The three marks above are points at which I personally have seen a relatively big and observable jump in abilities and comfort levels. And I am, of course, making a gross generalization. If you do 20 dives in a row vs doing 4 a year for 5 years, there will be a big difference in when the jump happens. Innate ability also matters – if you are, say, a competitive swimmer, your body adapts to the water very easily as it has a much greater K-Factor. But for the most part, I think these marks are fairly accurate.
I ran a poll on our Facebook page asking people at what point they felt confident about diving with a buddy, and without professional supervision. 25% of the divers felt it was at To be honest, the expected number of dives to gain the confidence were higher than I expected. I was expecting more answers to be clustered around the Jump 1 point, but instead, almost 50% of the respondents picked a number around the Jump 2 point.
This tells me something – that while we, as an industry, may do a good job of teaching the actual skills to divers, we do not develop a commensurate level of confidence in those abilities.
To a large extent, that is understandable: confidence should properly come only after the skills have been tested – ie, once people have done a bunch of dives after certification, possibly in a couple of locations, and realised that that what they were taught in such a relatively short amount of time was indeed sufficient to dive safely. Anything else would just be false, untested assumptions.
And again, the goal of the self-policing scuba training industry is not to set the entry-level bar at a very high level, producing perfect divers: I still remember the old club days when it used to take almost a month before a diver got into the water – talk about overkill for the vast majority of people who want to go out, dive a few times and see some nice fish. No, the goal of the scuba industry is to draw more people into the world of diving by giving them the skills to dive safely and competently, and making the sport as accessible as possible to people (and speaking as someone who has certified a bunch of kids and a 71-year old, that is a Good Thing) – anything beyond that is, and should be, the responsibility of the diver. And of course, the agencies do provide all the additional tools needed for continuing to build their skills?
But at the same time, a part of me wonders – what if this lack of confidence leads to additional stress if something goes wrong? In other words, instead of (in my best Obi Wan voice), trusting their instincts and their training, divers hit the panic button if something goes wrong simply because they lack the confidence in their skills?
I dont know the answer to that. I do know genuine confidence comes from in-water time. We’ve taken some steps to boost that, by maximising the amount of time divers get in the water (long open water dives, trying to fit in a 5th dive or even a 6th dive sometimes if time allows, adding another day of diving past the course to the Learn to Dive package, discounting the Advanced course to the point that we make less money on it than on 5 dives, and that is before factoring instructor time and certification costs).
But really, if people are saying 20-25 dives, then despite these measures, there is still a gap: one that cannot realistically be filled within the price/time constraints of an Open Water course. This is where additional training comes in – more courses (Advanced or Specialties, for example) always help accelerate learning. However, even just getting out there and diving is a good way to keep testing and improving your skills.
So the main message to all new divers should be: congrats, you have learned to dive and acquired the skills. But you still need to test these skills out, continue to refine them and convince yourself of your mastery of these skills. That part of the journey is yours, and yours alone to make: as a certified diver, you are now in charge of honestly assessing and improving your skills.
And on a side note, I will say this – trust what you’ve learned in the Open Water. A few days may not seem like a lot, but when you drill down to it, diving is not that complicated either. You’d be surprised at what you are capable of doing after a well-taught Open Water course.

Because of the ridiculous amount of spams blogs attract, comments have been disabled, but please post your thoughts on our Facebook group, if you would like to discuss. Also edited to avoid confusion.

Coral bleaching

By General

Posted by Rahul Demello |

Coral reefs are the richest ecosystems on the planet. Giant formations built by some of the world’s tiniest creatures, these hidden worlds form tropical marvels that one has to see to believe. The biodiversity supported by coral reefs is greater than anywhere on earth, including the tropical rainforests. They form the largest structures built by any living thing, including man and no other realm can boast of as many species found in such concentrations.

Corals, the animals that build these reefs, typically live in colonies with many individual “polyps” that secrete exoskeletons made of calcium carbonate, the foremost building material for coral reefs. Being exclusively tropical, corals naturally thrive in conditions of warm water and strong sunlight. Recently, however, the limits of their endurance are being pushed further and further. As a result, coral bleaching is occurring on local, regional and global scales with alarmingly increased frequency and severity on reefs across the globe.

Bleaching of a coral is actually the reaction of coral to unfavorable conditions. The coral begins to expel the symbiotic algae (living within the coral’s tissue) which are responsible for producing up to 90 percent of its food. These algae are also what give the corals their amazing varieties of colour. By their elimination, the corals are effectively going on hunger strike.

While coral bleaching can be caused by high levels of UV radiation, changes in salinity as well as bacterial and viral infection, the most universal cause of coral bleaching is increased Sea Surface Temperature (SST). Thermal stress is considered to be responsible for most large scale bleaching events around the world. Coral has a very narrow range of temperature in which it can survive, and changes of just a few degrees can cause bleaching.

Several large-scale bleaching events have been documented at reefs around the world over the last two decades. This is important because significant declines in coral populations will ultimately lead to reef decay. This affects not only the corals themselves, but all associated flora and fauna which depend on the reef for food and shelter.

Ritchie’s Archipelago in the Andaman Sea (a part of what we know of as the Andaman Islands) experienced a period of extreme thermal stress in 1998, 2004 and again in early 2010 with Sea Surface Temperatures exceeding 32oC, which is a coral’s upper temperature threshold. As a result, mass bleaching followed and vast areas of the reefs turned white, died and were subsequently overgrown by algae. Storms later destroyed dead reefs that were once resilient to the action of the waves – South Button was one of the most badly-affected reefs.

Response to bleaching varies, but considering that corals grow only an inch or two a year, complete recovery will take decades. Despite extensive research into coral bleaching, there are very few usable data with which to predict the capacity of reefs to respond to changing environmental conditions.

This is why a Reef Monitoring Program on the reefs in the Andamans is essential to the future of the region. Concern needs to be shown about the future of our coral reefs, in the face of predicted global warming and climate change. Current predictions suggest that bleaching events will become more frequent and severe with phenomena like El Nino exacerbating the effects of global climate change. Preservation of the remaining coral is critical to maintaining the species richness and diversity in the waters of the Andaman Sea, one of the few places in this country where we can experience firsthand what most people only see on television.

The ultimate fate of corals in the region will depend on the capacity of corals to acclimatise or adapt to elevated temperatures. Recovery has proved to have been successful in North-West Australia and the southern United States and Caribbean. There are some documented species of coral in the Western US that can live in waters that are as warm as 38oC.

No one has more exposure to tiny changes than people who dive the reefs every day. Divers see the change that most people don’t and for us, it’s especially personal, as these are reefs that we’ve discovered and which we consider “ours”.

We have initiated a pilot project on a few reefs around Havelock Island to gauge the current state, recovery potential and speed of regeneration of the reefs in the area. Our work is designed to detect change in species richness and condition of the coral reef system. Of particular interest are changes in percent cover of live coral on the reef and at what rate recovery is progressing. With the data we gather, it will be a step toward determining the fate of our reefs more accurately. This allows us to learn from and influence the course of events rather than just being a spectator to the decline. We hope that we can collect some interesting scientific information which will improve our understanding of the dynamics of the coral reef and give us cause to be optimistic.

Note:  Due to spam, we’ve disabled comments to the blog. However, you can post comments on our Facebook Group.

Online Learning – the way ahead

By Training

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

One of the downsides of being an instructor for a very long time is the tendency to get set in your ways and become resistant to change. To an extent, that is understandable: I’ve been teaching for 12 years now, and have, through continuous refinement, developed a method that works for me. While this refinement is an always-ongoing process, radical change can often be more disruptive than not. I do try to keep an open mind, but generally speaking, implementing a big change in my teaching process/philosophy only happens if there is an equally big impetus for this change: either I come across a new situation with a student (very rare, these days), or something changes in diving sciences (also not that common), etc.
One area where I have decided to embrace change is Online Learning – where you complete your dive theory online, via the website of dive agencies like PADI and SSI.
Online Learning has been around for a few years now, and I have to admit, I have been a little less-than-enthusiastic in how we’ve embraced this new technology. My rationale has been that the more contact time I have with a student – be it in the water or in the “classroom” (if our beachside tables can be called that!) – the more time I have to get to know them (how they think, are they nervous, what sort of instruction method will be best for them, etc). And the more customised I can make my course for my students, the more effective and efficient their training.
With that in mind, I have always felt that online learning removes an element of this instructor-student contact. In addition, there may also be a greater cost to the students (in terms of registration fees). So while we certainly have pointed people out to the Online Learning sections of the PADI and SSI websites when they inquire, we haven’t been actively pushing it.
However, recently we’ve had a stream of students who’ve completed their dive theory online and it has been a bit of a revelation for us.
When the student comes to the dive center having already completed Online Learning, we – as instructors – do not have to spend as much time with them covering the basics (and let’s face it – the basics of scuba, at least at the Open Water are indeed very simple and do not require extended training to master). What has happened is that suddenly, freed from the time demands of teaching the basics, we have a lot more time to build upon the basics. This allows us to use the instructor-student contact time to expand upon the minimum knowledge requirements and get into more detail on refining buoyancy concepts, teaching about marine life, decompression theory, etc.
So as it turns out, online learning has not resulted in reduced student contact – the student contact time remains the same, but we are able to use it to add more concepts to the student’s learning.
Consider us converts!
Online learning can be done here:
PADI: http://www.padi.com/elearning-scuba-registration/
SSI: http://www.divessi.com/online_training
NAUI: http://www.naui.org/elearningdemo.aspx

Teaching kinesthetic awareness to students

By General

Posted by Dive India |

I know, it has been ages since we had a blog up here. I know some of you will snicker disbelievingly when I say I have every intention of being more regular.
But until then, here is a change of pace. This article was inspired by a couple of recent Instructor Training Courses I have done, and some of the struggles faced by the new instructors in terms of adapting their teaching when faced with situations that the regular instructor training curriculum doesn’t cover.
This article is geared mainly towards instructors and focused on how to teach water awareness, or kinesthetic awareness in the water, to students:
http://www.diveindia.com/articles/k-factor.html
Hopefully, the structured approach to solving student difficulties and the tips contained therein, will be useful.
Due to spam, I have disabled comments to blogs, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Diveindia Facebook group.

Goodbye, Ev!

By News

Posted by Dive India |

It is a cliche and a truism that all good things come to an end – but that doesn’t make Ev’s departure from the DiveIndia nest any easier.

ev2

Ev aka “McNamanta” first came to our resort when she was just a wee bonnie lass and we had just opened our resort. That season and the next few, she became a repeat customer and did a bunch of dives with us. Then one day, she was leading dives and before we knew what had happened, she adroitly went from customer to employee and had all of us wrapped around her finger. Not that we were complaining, mind you.

ev3

Those of you who have dived with her know her as a very patient and empathetic instructor, always cheerful and smiling, and always excited to see her students develop into qualified divers. Those of us who have worked with her know her a genuinely nice, warm and caring person – the sort of person we were – and are – privileged to have as a friend.

ev4

After almost half a decade of good times, drunk times, hungover times, “Wtf was THAT?” times, occasionally grumpy times and epic times (ending the year with a staff sunset dive at Johnny’s Gorge, for one) she’s now off, starting a new chapter in her life back in Ireland.
We are very happy for her and wish her all the best, but we will also miss her here (plus, neither Vikas nor Sayeed can carry off a dress with as much panache as her!).
Hope to see you back here sooner rather than later, Evie – else we will have to consider kidnapping you and bringing you back here. Consider yourself warned!

ev1

Finally, some sun!

By News

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

It’s been a wet December and early Feb. Hell, it’s been wet and windy since September, come to think of it. The usual lull in rainfall and wind between Sep-Nov did not happen.
That was good for Frodo and Sam, who enjoyed the cooler weather. Personally, I enjoyed this weather as well. Those of you who live in North European climes, or even northern US, may find this hard to believe, but there really can be such a thing as “too much sun.”
Still, we exist to keep you, dear diver, happy and this weather was not conducive to the best diving. Rough seas meant that many days, we were limited to nearer sites. When the seas calmed down, the rains persisted – and this meant bedraggled and cold divers coming back from the dive. Afternoon booze sales were through the roof, though.
Well, it has been dry for a while now and the sun is out, and looks like it is here to stay. And so is the manta that has been hanging around Broken Ledge the past few days.
And the metaphorical sun has started to shine as well: our spares and new gear for the season has finally arrived – only 2.5 months late due to a collection of screw-ups that even I have a hard time believing. And I was informed that our new boat, custom made for us in Dubai, has arrived in Chennai and the process of clearing customs has started.
Tuesday, we go looking for a new site whose existence we have suspected for some time. Let’s see if the sun continues to shine

Cut the line, David!

By Rants

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

Recently, I cut the mooring line we had installed at Johnny’s Gorge.  We are going back to dropping anchor on that site.
Ironic, really, if you know the background:  3-4 years ago, a diver roasted us on the Interwebz for not following sound environmental practices because we once dropped anchor on Minerva.  Never mind that the anchor line – which *we* had installed on that site, and all the other sites, for that matter) – had been cut by fishermen, never mind that the fact that we’ve been pestering and badgering the various local officials to take action against shark finning and bottom trawling, never mind the fact that we’ve trained various members of the Zoology and Forest departments in diving and marine conservation and that we are even now conducting studies on the recovery after the El Nino effect of May 2010.
Fair’s fair to a point – the new crewman on the boat should not have dropped anchor but should have dived down and hooked it (and had we been told of this immediately instead of reading about it a lot later, we could have done remedial training a lot earlier).
Still, the roasting did rankle a bit, especially when someone who dived with us recently brought it up out of the blue.
Since then, some things have changed.  Fishermen have gotten used to the idea of bottles floating in the water (and there are enough waste plastic bottles on the island now that they no longer feel the need to liberate our floats.  How’s that for a silver lining?).   So our lines are getting cut less often.   And with a few more dive centers around who have the coordinates to our sites, maintaining the lines is getting easier.
However, we’ve always debated whether or not to put up an anchor line at sites like Johnny’s Gorge.  I’ve seen some anchor lines (ours as well as that of other dive boats) rubbing against barrel sponges and it was gut-wrenching.  We have always had a bit of a proprietary/maternal instinct about Johnny’s Gorge, given that Johnny, our senior dive guide, discovered it a few years ago and it is pretty much THE top dive site of the Andamans.  So naturally, we want to preserve it the best we can.   But we also wanted to make sure that the fishermen didn’t discover the site and start fishing there.  Johnny’s Gorge is one of the few sites which still has regular shark sightings and if the shark fishermen get wind of it, we run the risk of losing the  sharks that still remain around Havelock.
After much discussion with other dive centers, we decided to put up a mooring line – although I still had my misgivings.
So it was with a mix of alarm and anger that I came up from a second dive on Minerva Ledge a few weeks ago to see a fishing boat not just fishing on Johnny’s Gorge, but actually tied to our anchor line!  We went up to them and gave them grief for fishing on our dive sites (mostly bluffs, which thankfully they bought) and in the end, decided to cut the anchor line while they were still tied to it.
And we have a new edict at Diveindia – we are not only going to not set up a mooring line at JG, but we are actively going to cut any other lines that are put up there.
This will probably not win us friends with other dive centers, as Johnny’s Gorge requires experienced boat crew to actually hook into the site and a mooring line makes it a lot easier for DMs and boat crew alike.   This also means that I will probably have a few more gut-wrenching incidents of seeing anchors and mooring lines where they don’t belong (although we are taking steps to reduce that risk by choosing GPS coordinates which put us a little bit off the reef).   And it likely means a few more incidents of us being roasted on the internet forums by well-meaning divers with a very simple view on how conservation should happen.
So be it.    These are all risks and costs that I consider justified.
I remember what happened to Junction after we put up a line there – the fishermen from Neil wiped out the reef in about 2 months.  It has been 2+ years and there are still very few fish left on that site.   And I have also seen about an 80% reduction in shark population in the Andamans in the past 10 years.
And I have made a promise to myself to NEVER let that happen to Johnny’s Gorge – not under my watch.
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Update on Neil

By News

Posted by Dive India |

It took a recent visit to the website and a look at the Neil section to realize how amazingly behind schedule we are.
The page still read “we expect to launch in October 2009.” I sure hope none of my former clients are reading this – in a past life, I used to make a living as a consultant managing large projects (eg mobile start-ups) and was not completely incompetent at it either. So how did we go so badly wrong?
The answer to that last question is a sordid tale of unexpected capital expenses caused by new local regulations, various delays (including my favorite – a 2 month delay caused by shortage of sand. Really. I couldn’t make this stuff up, even I want to do so) and the usual cash flow management issues that independent SMEs like us – without a big, fat-cat list of investors – face as part of their growth.
But I think we are close to exhausting pretty much every excuse and potential cause of delay (and oh lord, I think i just jinxed myself into 2012 with this statement).
What is left is to complete the wiring (as soon as the contractor sends me a plan), the plumbing (all our commodes, loving hand-picked by yours truly based on long-term seating comfort for those days when you really can’t put down the book or magazine, had arrived broken and so we had to order new ones) and the dive equipment (which should arrive in a couple of weeks time).
Hmmm. Now that I think of it, 2012 may yet be a possibility. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and provided it doesn’t turn out to be the incoming train, we should be… (excuse me if you’ve heard this before) OPENING SOON. Believe me, we are just as eager to get it started as anyone else.
They say something about the best laid plans of men and mice. All I can do is quote the unmatchable Pinky, from Pinky and The Brain: Narf!
Due to high spam, comments are disabled on this blog, but feel free to chime in with your thoughts on ourFacebook page.

New Site Discovered

By News

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

I just realized it has been a really long time since I blogged anything…. well, that’s the off-season for you.
But this is the sort of blog post that is a lot of fun to write about, as we discovered yet another great site a few days ago. The site is as-yet un-named, but runs from 17-25m. It has the same type of craggy gorge-like features as Johnny’s Gorge (the top dive site of the Andamans, discovered by Johnny, our senior DM a few years ago) and is also packed with fish.
Today was our first dive there, and we found 2 turtles, large schools of reef fish, a massive giant grouper, jacks, etc. etc. The works. No sharks and surprisingly, no barracudas either, but given the location, we expect it to be fairly productive when it comes to teeth-per-fin ratio of the resident fish.
This site should compare to Johnny’s Gorge, Jackson’s Bar and Dixon’s Pinnacle in terms of topography and fishlife.
Discovered by Vikas and Dixon.

The arrival of leopard sharks in the Andamans

By Dive Sites, General

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

Back when I first came and dived the Andamans in 2000-2001, there were a lot more sharks here. For example, Minerva Ledge used to be full of sharks – the question wasn’t whether you see any, but how many and how many species.
Compared to back then, the number of sharks have decreased significantly. In fact, finding Johnny’s Gorge and Jackson’s Bar was a big morale booster for our team, as it showed that there still were some sharks left.

However, some positive shark news – this season, we have started seeing a lot more leopard sharks. I dont think I saw *any* leopard sharks in my first 4-5 years in the Andamans… and for the next few years, I think it was only a few sightings every season.
But this season, they are regulars – we’ve been spotting them at Parr Ridge a lot, and also on Pilot Reef and South Pilot Reef. These are all sites that are accessible to divers of all certification levels and experience, as an added bonus!

An old “friend” returns?

By General

Posted by Dive India |

Back in 2002, I was teaching a class at Minerva Ledge with 3 Open Water students.
Back then, there used to be a lot more sharks on this reef and the question wasnt whether we’d see any sharks, but how many and which species. As with most beginners, my students had some concerns about being in the water with sharks, and I gave them my usual spiel: sharks arent dangerous, we are not normal prey, we are too big for most sharks, etc. etc.
We get in the water, and sure enough, we see a white tip cruise by. And then a black tip some time later. By now, my students are converted – they are very excited about the sharks and no longer scared. Towards the end of the dive, yet another white tip goes by – and a few seconds later, one of my students points to the right into the blue and signals “shark.”
I look, expecting to see a white tip and sure enough, there is one swimming towards us. I nod and return to scanning the front, as I am hoping to get a manta today.
Then a small voice pipes in my head, saying “wait a minute – wrong proportions…” I look again, and the shark is coming toward us. Directly towards us. Fins down. Which is an aggressive territorial display.
“Wait a minute,” I remember thinking, “where does a white tip get off being aggressive to three divers”?
Then the initial voice in my head pipes up again “hey… WRONG proportions. Hellooo!”
Right – when looked more closely, this shark just seemed to be a lot bulkier. And not only that, it was a lot bigger. And at that moment, it turned and showed us its size – it was a 4m+ bullshark! Yes, I know bullsharks don’t get bigger than 3m or so – but this was 4m+ and I will stake my diving reputation on it (heck, most people who’ve seen it put it at 5m+, but that is a bit exaggerated). And my divers and I had just been told off in no uncertain terms by Big Guy that we were in his territory. Rather than upset him, we turned around and head back in towards the reef, and that was all we saw of him on this dive.
Over the next few years, Bob the Bullshark would make a reappearance a couple of times each season. Each time, it was at the same site and the same deal: comes straight in, fins down, in a territorial display, turning away a good 10m or so away. We always appreciated the polite warning and would make sure we didn’t hang around for a second pass (and certainly not the third pass, which might involve a “smile”).
And each sighting was absolutely, gloriously epic – there are few things in this world as graceful as an enormous, powerful shark with rippling muscles and gliding by faster than anyone can swim with the merest flick of its tail. It was humbling and it was moving – we were witnessing one of nature’s 2 perfect creations in its element (the other being the crocodile) – and I mean “perfect creation” literally: the shark has not changed or evolved over 350 million years. It is perfect and cannot be improved upon.
The last 3+ seasons, Bob has been AWOL. We put it down to him falling a victim to the local shark fishermen (thanks to the demand for turning this amazingly beautiful animal into soup).
However, a couple of days ago, two of our divers and one of our DMs saw a big shark at a site that is about 250m away from Bob’s old stomping grounds. Initially, we were not sure whether it was a grey reef shark (which has been sighted here occasionally) or a bullshark (which has never been sighted here). Speaking to the divers and comparing notes on size, shape, etc., I am pretty confident it was a big bullshark.
Could Bob be back? I for one certainly hope so – if there ever was a Christmas present that would thrill me beyond belief, this would be it. And at the risk of anthropomorphizing too much, I do wonder if somewhere in that predator mind of his, Bob remembers us?
Welcome back, Bob – we missed you!

Update on the North Andamans safaris

By News

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

We’ve done a few of the safaris to the North now – and a pattern is emerging:  excellent coral, superlative diving, big fish and a true sense of exploration.   While we are still a ways away from being experts when it comes to knowing what we’ll find (give us the off-season to achieve that expertise!), we’ve can talk about some of the highlights so far.
We’ve been seeing a lot of sharks – grey reefies, leopard sharks, white and black tips as well as an occasional silvertip or two.  We’ve also seen mantas and devils rays, and Sayeed lived up to his Tamil Heart-throb moniker by causing a HUGE leatherback turtle to fall in love with him.
We send Vikas over recently with a video camera and as soon as he is able to process the clips, we will put them online here and on Youtube.
Happy diving!
Vinnie

DIVEIndia is now affiliated with NAUI

By Training

While all agencies do a very competent job of training divers, some agencies stand out for taking a slightly different approach. NAUI, which has been a non-profit agency for most of its existence and which even today follows those standards, is one such agency.
With the highest standards for virtually all levels of recreational diver training, NAUI has always been associated with excellence in diver training.
And so it is with great pride that we announce that as of February 2009, DIVEIndia is now offering NAUI certification courses, all the way from basic Open Water (the NAUI Scuba Diver course) up to Instructor.
We are very excited about the added flexibility this gives us in meeting the needs of our customers. Whether you are a beginner who want the best entry level training, a certified divers who want to improve his/her diving skills or an experienced divers who want to master the theoretical and practical aspects of diving, we now have a program that will meet your needs.
Please contact us for more information on our NAUI courses!
Vinnie

5 years of scuba diving in the Andamans – a look back and ahead

By General

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

Well, we are now officially starting our 5th season in the Andamans.   The first five years have been absolutely amazing – we’ve met some great people who have now become close friends, we have explored the uncharted reefs of this region and we have become India’s largest dive center without losing the personal touch that has been central to our operating philosophy.
It has not all been easy, either.  I have been diving for quite a while, but running a dive center is a completely different thing altogether.  We have made mistakes along the way, but I take great pride in saying that we have learned from those mistakes and gone to great lengths to avoid repeating those mistakes.    Every year, we are a better dive center than we were the year before, in terms of services offered to customers, safety procedures implemented and internal processes.   If I had to pick one thing I am most proud of achieving, that would be it.
I’d like to thank all our customers and friends who have chosen to dive with us.  This year, we have a bunch of exciting new initiatives on tap – new destinations, speed boats, new resort, and more –  and I will be posting regular updates on this over time.  We thank you for making us the #1 dive center in India, and promise you that we will continue to innovate and offer ever-improving facilities to our customers.
Vinnie

Diving in the North Andamans

By News

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

8 years ago, when I first came to the Andamans, there were 4-5 dive sites in Havelock. When we started operations in the first year, we found a few new sites (South Button, the wreck of the Inchkett and more). Now, after 5 years of operation, a lot of the sites that were being dived in the first year are no longer visited, simply because we have found a lot of newer, better sites: Johnny’s Gorge, Dixon Pinnacle, Jackson’s Bar and more.
Finding these sites was the first big step forwards for diving in the Andamans, because these are truly world-quality sites, and since then, we have continually pushed this frontier forwards, adding a few new sites every year.
Now, we are pleased to announce fully-catered diving safaris to the North Andamans. Through the new locations, we will get access to a host of new sites that were previously the domain of liveaboards only. Personally, I am VERY excited about this development: to me, it signals the second big step forward for diving in the Andamans.
These diving safaris will start from January 2009. Please check the following page for more details:
DIVEIndia – Dive Safaris to the North Andamans.