Joe Dohn and I went on the Optiquatics photo dive trip to the Channel Islands. There were so many good things about this trip, it's hard to know where to start. We dived with Truth Aquatics on the Conception. I really liked our dive boat, the Conception. She's plenty seaworthy and rides comfortably on all the sea conditions we encountered.
Accommodations are quite comfortable, but not luxurious. There is plenty of space to eat, party, dive, and sun. Sleeping quarters are single and double bunks below the main salon. This may be a bit spartan for some. However, curtains and good ventilation make it comfortable and relatively private. I never had any problem grabbing a nap if I needed one.
The boat crew is competent, friendly, and courteous. They always help you with tanks, cameras and other gear. Mary and CJ kept us well fed. They have a barbecue on board and we grilled nearly every day. Anyone watching their diet will be quite happy with the regular fare. They will also go out of their way to accommodate special dietary needs.
The Channel Islands offer some of the best Southern California diving. The water is not terribly cold. Temperatures ranged from 59 to 65. Depths on this trip were very moderate, with nothing deeper than 60 feet. Visibility was variable. We had the best vis on the first day, and conditions steadily declined after that. The Truth Aquatics boats do share information and we joined the Vision for the second day as they were having better luck with their locations. Real Dive Animals (tm) could do 4 or 5 dives per day. However, most people did 2 to 4. The pace was relaxed and there was always plenty of time of surface intervals. Computers are a good thing and you should plan on 24 hours of desaturation time before flying.
The large number of divers on the boat took its toll on the visibility. You really wanted to be in the water early, but that meant sharing the compact gear up space with 20 of your closest dive buddies. We never did find the right tradeoff. This might be less of a problem on a boat full of more practiced divers.
The Channel Islands host different varieties of invertebrates than San Diego waters. Sessile sea cucumbers are common there, but rare in SD. Cup corals were very common and colorful. There were also species of long tentacled anemones that made great macro subjects if you could keep the framer off them. Kelp was not as abundant due to El Nino.
Fish were very plentiful. Sheepsheads were common. One dive was very special for its abundance of black sea bass. We also spotted a Sunfish while motoring between dive sites. The best sea life adventure of the trip happened as we were returning to Santa Barbara. The captain maneuvered us through a very large pod of dolphins. There were hundreds all about the boat. Some swam in our bow wave, others surfed the wake. It would have been wonderful to join them in the water, but it was not possible. Everyone seemed to be in some different world as we bid them adieu and set course again for Santa Barbara Harbor.
I made this trip to take pictures and had more than enough opportunities. Sea and Sea Motormarine II's and a pair of housed SLR's were provided by Sea and Sea. Kevin from S&S was also there to answer questions and do a couple of brief talks about underwater photography.
All cameras were equipped with good strobes. Film and developing were included in the dive package. This was very handy as you could usually see you film after your next dive. It really helped me to be able to look at the film while the circumstances of the shot were still fresh in my mind.
The Sea and Sea cameras are very serviceable and take good pictures. I shot mostly macro due to poor visibility, but also took a few wide angle pictures. Sea and Sea cameras do allow you to switch lenses under water. This may be a major advantage, but I didn't find myself using it. They also have a few significant shortcomings. The most apparent being a total lack of exposure adjustment. With cameras like the Nikonos, you can bracket the exposure to get it just right. I'm sure you can also do this with the housed SLR. It didn't seem to matter too much as most pictures were reasonably exposed, but some subjects are going to force you to get one stop over or under.
The S&S camera itself is thicker and harder to grip than a Nikonos. This wasn't a major problem, but annoying. There is no 1:1 macro lens. I particularly like nudibranchs. Most of them, except for Sea Hares, and Navinax, are too small to show up well on a 1:2 macro. I did take the opportunity to shoot a Canon Rebel in a Sea and Sea housing. The camera had a fixed focal length macro lens and a slightly more powerful strobe than we'd been using with the MMII cameras. This camera has auto-focus and needs no framer.
The lack of framer on the Canon was a blessing and a curse. The framer can help when you're at an awkward angle. Unless you're willing to detach your head, you have to get yourself down behind the camera to see through the viewfinder. This is one place where a 45 degree prism would work wonders.
I would really be interested in trying the Canon with a 30-70mm zoom lens. I think this combination would make a really great all-around camera.
Joe and I both agreed that this is an excellent trip. It's not expensive, doesn't chew up a lot of vacation time, and was very relaxing. The crew did all the planning and work, while I just fell off the side and climbed in the stern.
Optiquatics did an excellent job of managing the photographic logistics and activities. There were ample supplies of film, cameras, and advice. The photo contest was fun and it was obvious that lots of other people were obtaining good results with the Sea and Sea equipment.
Dave's trip tips:
Copyright 1998, David L. Ambrose, All rights Reserved
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