The black water dive takes place about 3 miles offshore, in the dark, in 6000 feet of water. Once it is very dark the engines are stopped and a parachute is attached to the bow of the boat and tossed overboard. The parachute helps ensure that the boat drifts with the current, rather than being influenced by wind. The crew hangs ropes off the perimeter of the boat with weight attached to the end of the rope. The divers each have another rope (I called it a leash) about 8 feet long with a clip attached to each end of the leash. One end of the leash is clipped around the rope under the boat, while the other end of the leash is clipped to the diver's BC. This system keeps the divers attached to the boat so they don't go missing while drifting, but still allows the diver freedom to move up and down under the boat. The crew then asks which diver wants to be the bait and jump in first. ;D Once in the water, the divers drift with the boat in the current.
So what is the purpose of the dive? Although you may encounter large pelagics such as sharks, the real target is all of the cool little critters that come up from the deep at night to feed close to the surface.
You can check out a couple of YouTube vidoes of the dive at:
Wednesday night I received a phone message from Jack's. The dive was cancelled. Five other divers had bailed at the last minute. I was now the only diver booked. So no go. Argh! I went into the shop the next day and asked if they could do something so I could still get the dive in twice. They scheduled another charter for Tuesday night. Normally they like at least three divers to take the boat out. Tuesday arrived and one additional diver had signed on. Only two divers, but the charter was a go!
I arrived at the shop at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The other diver and I would be accompanied by the captain, Matthew D'Avella, and one dive guide Steve. Matthew gave us a detailed briefing at the shop to cover the procedures for the dive. Matthew then proceeded to show us several dozen photos that he has taken on the dive. Matthew has a great collection. Seeing Matthew's photos had me pumped for the dive. You can check out some of Matthew's photos at D'Avella Photography.
We got offshore, got ready, and got in. Both of the customers were on tethers, Matthew and Steve were not tethered. Steve was shooting photos and Matthew was shooting video. Both Matthew and Steve are addicted to the black water dive and their enthusiasm was contagious. It was one of the best dives of my life, and one of the worst, lol. Let me explain.
I was really frustrated by the tether. I would be at the end of the tether, then try to follow something or get close to something. I couldn't reach. I felt like a dog on a leash. I was complaining loudly ... to myself. Matthew said afterwards that it sounded like someone had a radio on underwater. I told him that was me saying "I feel like a f***ing dog on a leash down here. Arrrrrrgh."
It got better once I realized I was better off staying part way up the tether, not at the bottom. I could then move around more. So, I learned something for the second night.
At the start of the dive I was down about 45 feet. A few minutes later I'm at 18 feet. Oops. So I let air out of my BC and drop back down. Later I notice too much air in my BC. Vent. Again later. Vent. Not clicking. Thinking I am adding too much air. Back on the boat after we hear a slow hissing sound. It turns out my inflator is staying open a tiny bit. So the whole time I was down my BC was slooooowly inflating. Arrrrgh.
I got zip for photos the first night. Crap crap crap. I have the fancy $400 Fix Light HG20DX as a focus light. Normally it's awesome. Bright, very wide even light. Not good on this dive. I needed a bright narrow beam. My camera would not focus. I tried and tried and tried. No luck. It was very frustrating. I had trouble finding things in the viewfinder. Then the camera would not focus. Right at the end of the dive, with a few minutes to go, I started using the LED light in my Inon strobe. It worked much better. My camera would focus. But the light is a narrow beam and so must be aimed perfectly at the critter. Tough to do.
There were lots of cool things in the water. I just did not get photos of them. But I had learned a few things, so I was pumped to do the dive again two nights later.
I went to Jack's and bought a very bright focused beam flashlight. I chose the Princeton Tec Shockwave LED light. I drilled a hole in the bottom of the handle. I went to the local hardware store and picked up some stainless steel hardware. I mounted the light on my camera housing using my existing loc-line. The light is quite heavy outside the water and would break apart the loc-line. So I waited until I was in the water to connect the loc-line.
Once underwater the light worked great. I could easily focus, as long as I could keep the critter in the beam. I still had some problems with the reach of the tether, but I was fine. The new problem was with the strobes. Or so I thought. It seemed like they weren't working. Everything was way underexposed. I was shooting in TTL. I took a photo of my hand. Perfectly exposed. I took more shots of critters. Way underexposed. I switched to manual control. I cranked the strobes up to full. The black water background was no longer black because the strobes were so bright. I was actually lighting up the water! I cut back the strobes a bit so the water was close to black. The critters still came out underexposed. I tried another photo of my hand. Way overexposed! What the heck was going on? Then it finally hit me. The critters are all transparent. Strobe light simply passes right through their bodies. They are very difficult to light! This is why the Fix Light was useless. The light from the Fix Light was also passing right through the critters. The human eye is very sensitive, so I could see the critters. But to my camera's autofocus system it was like they did not even exist. A very bright light is needed for focus. And a lot of strobe power, or a wider aperture, or a higher ISO, or a combination of all three is required for the photos. I got several photos I am satisfied with.
I am very glad I did the dive twice. I learned something on both dives. I want to go back and do the dive 5 nights in a row. I love a challenge! It was a thrilling dive. I would recommend it to anyone who is not afraid of things that go bump in the night. If you still check in the closet and under the bed before you turn off your lights at night, this dive may not be for you.
So what did I see?