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Friday, 17 February 2012

Diving with Cathy

One of the best gifts and opportunities I have had was to spend the day with Cathy Church. If you don't know who she is, Google her right now and then come back here. She's one of the best photographers above and below water of this generation and we had the good fortune to spend the day with her, to trade opinions, discuss techniques and learn some new tricks.
Cathy took a look at some of my previous work and was suitably impressed with it if I do say so myself (so it's not just me that has a high opinion of my work!)
The gateway to enlightenment......
Cathy herself is quite a character and has been there, seen it and done it. She's like your favourite Auntie who's had a couple of gins! She's just so friendly, enthusiastic and a real lively character. 

With just the four of us on Cathy's private boat (myself, Jill, Cathy and T to drive the boat) there was no rush to the day and we had plenty of opportunity for discussion, especially as Cathy had yet to see or use a Sony ILS camera system, so the pupil got to become the teacher for a little while. 

We hit Orange Canyon which is one of Cathy's favourite places for photography due to the colours and clarity. She also took plenty of time to coach Jill on how to be the perfect model in the water.
Cathy gives Jill some last minute advice before the shoot
Also over the next several days, Cathy gave me access to her extensive collection of ULCS kit to experiment and play with which shows great trust on her part! 
"Left a bit, right a bit, down a bit, shoot!"
So I got to play with some nice kit over the course of the week and try things on my own I wouldn't have been able to achieve back home without a great deal of time and expense. I did spend far too much money in her shop afterwards though, but hey, perfection always comes at a price.
Cathy also has the same approach to photography as myself which is there are no rules to photography. Play, adjust, experiment. Photography doesn't need to be difficult it just takes a little patience to play around to achieve something that you are happy with.
It's the little things in life
And we also spent a good second dive bimbling around doing macro shots (which is always dear to my heart) despite the lack of small critters on the Islands. You can set up some interesting shots if you try hard enough.
Cathy "borrows" some of my shots from the day... ;-)
The day was awesome and I learned a few things as well as the secret to everything in life. Unfortunately I can't tell you what it is but if you really want to know then I strongly suggest you go and spend time with Cathy and maybe, just maybe she will tell you what the secret to everything in life is........
The end to a perfect day

Friday, 10 February 2012

City of rays

Well for the last day and the last dive of the holiday we decided to do it in style and we would be remiss if we didn't do Stingray City.
Rays everywhere
We were in quiet season and we chartered a private boat so apart from one other boat, we were the only four people in the whole area diving, which was awesome!
Kisses from the rays
Now I know a lot of people think Stingray City is a tourist trap and rays should be fed and humans shouldn't interact with marine life, etc., etc. Yes, I firmly believe in non-contact with marine life and not interfering with their normal habits, but consider that the rays have been hand fed for over twenty years and there is now a symbiotic relationship which is unlikely to be be broken any time soon, would they survive without humans stopped visiting and feeding? probably not.
One of the many happy, friendly rays to visit us
Semantics and politics aside, it was a bloody good time had by all and the rays were all like big, medium and small puppy dogs flapping around you from all sides and gently bumping and nuzzling you for attention and tidbits.
Rays! Fishes! Girls!
The site isn't deep at just under five metres, so a hundred minutes on a standard two hundred bar fill is easily achieved and probably enough time to be all ray-ed out and gushing come time to go up.
Three amigos
Word of warning though, the sand here is incredibly fine and gets into every nook and cranny so make sure you flush your dive kit and camera rigs thoroughly. I'm still finding sand in places where sand shouldn't be.........
This little fella followed us around the whole dive

Whatever you may think about the wrongs and rights of Stingray City, put that to one side as you would be doing yourself a huge dis-service if you missed the opportunity to swim with these wondrous creatures, just go and enjoy the experience.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Grand diving on the big island

Little Cayman was very nice place to dive, we had a great place to stay and valet diving as well (which I personally can't get used to just because I'm used to doing everything myself) but it was very, very quiet and amazingly expensive if you decide to buy groceries from the only shop on the island. After a lot of dives and even more cocktails we moved over to Grand Cayman.
Coming in for a landing....
The big island has a bit more of a vibrant feel to it but still very, very laid back. We stayed on the East End of the island which is remote and quiet but you could still drive to civilization if you wanted a bit of fun. We had a great appartment overlooking the beach and just 5 metres from the sea and less than a minute from the jetty as well.
"Anchors away me hearties!"
Apart from the first day, the winds were relatively gusty running ENE which meant we were diving mainly on the South side of the island which was fine as the diving there was as good as on the North and East sides.
"That's it, work those flippers, love the camera!"
Normal script for the day would be wall dive followed by shallow dive on or near the hardpan, with occassional swim throughs and caves. Turltes were in plentiful supply along with jacks, groupers, grunts, rays and the occassional carribbean or reef shark making an appearance.
Stunning scenery
Even without the marine life, the walls and reefs are covered in an explosion of colours to keep the most ardent of photographers happily gurgling away in their regulators.
Sponges, corals and colour
My only slight disappointment is the lack of little critters such as nudibranchs. There is small stuff to see but not not on the scale as you would find in the Red Sea, Indonesia or Philippenes but then I expected this. Still it was a fun challenge to find what small stuff there was and shoot it in strong surge.
Found one!
The boat crews were primarily Brits, Americans and the odd Canadian and were very laid back about the whole thing. If you didn't want guiding, you can do your own thing which is exactly what we did and as long as we didn't kick the arse out out of the deco, they were more than happy to let us stay down for as long as we wanted. My kind of diving!
Once more unto the deep....
Grand Cayman itself isn't massively huge and you can drive round it in a couple of hours easily but thats not the point, it's the whole vibe and lifestyle that really makes you feel like you want to just not bother going back home. That and some excellent food and cocktails!
Flamingo tongue cowrie hanging around the reef
The quality of the diving is excellent and we were well looked after and catered for by Ocean Frontiers, especially the desk staff for who nothing was too much trouble to arrange. One of the best dives we had was the second to last on Jack McKinneys. 
Come to daddy....
Right from the start we had a black tip shadowing us soon joined by a couple of caribbean reefs. All through the dive they were getting comfortable with our presence and getting closer and more inquisitive. Had I ten more minutes of gas they would have been right up for a good nose but alas it was not to be.
No, not that way, this way!
Ah, well, there's always next time. The lads did say that shark encounters were a bit of a rarity and we were extremly lucky on the dive, so I can't complain really. Another day for another dive as my granny always said.
Red Reef crab on a sponge
Stay tuned for our last dive of the holiday at Stingray City. It's going to be a corker!