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Kona Black Water Night Dive


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#1 Canuck

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 12:09 PM

I spent two weeks in Kona, Hawaii recently. One of the main reasons for choosing Kona was to experience the Black Water Night Dive(aka Pelagic Magic). I had heard about the dive from a friend and it sounded like a unique experience. Jack's Diving Locker offers the dive on Thursday nights. I booked the dive for two consecutive Thursdays. I knew that because the dive was new to me, I would want to do it more than once. Past history has told me that the first dive would be a learning experience, and the second dive would let me apply what I had learned.

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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.

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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. :blink: But I had learned a few things, so I was pumped to do the dive again two nights later.

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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. :P

So what did I see?

Heteropods.

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Salps.

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Crustaceans.

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Jellies.

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And others.

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John Davies
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#2 james

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 12:39 PM

John, these are fantastic!!!! You are a lucky guy.

I saw Michael Aw give a presentation about doing dives like this in the S China Sea and he had some neat tips.

Cheers
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#3 loftus

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 02:19 PM

Thanks for that John; amazing.
Those videos are so cool, especially the second one.
Jacks are a great operation.
I never knew about this dive when I was in Kona; another reason to go back.
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#4 Gilligan

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 03:57 PM

A very interesting dive and a great collection of shots.

#5 stewsmith

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 11:14 PM

what a cool experience and some great shots.

I had the same thing happen to me with the bc inflator at cocos on the night dive with the whitetips. I didnt have a clue what was happening and thought it was an upward current until I got back on the boat and could hear the hissing.

All the best.

Stew

Edited by stewsmith, 02 May 2009 - 11:15 PM.

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#6 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 11:33 PM

Very cool John.

I have always wanted to do one of these dives. I met Jeff at DEMA and he roped me into identifying some of the critters they had seen. There is no shortage of really strange stuff out there!

Your and others is a Siphonophore, by the way. And I suspect that the amphipod? is riding a pyrosoma. The jellies are all ctenophores.

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#7 Hani Amir

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 01:37 AM

That was a great read. I'd love to do one of those dives.
I wonder if I can convince shaff...

#8 stewsmith

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 04:37 AM

That was a great read. I'd love to do one of those dives.
I wonder if I can convince shaff...

I am sure he would be up for it but only when he has his housing back. !

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#9 Canuck

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 06:13 AM

I have always wanted to do one of these dives. I met Jeff at DEMA and he roped me into identifying some of the critters they had seen.


We'll talk at Port Hardy over a steaming mug of Butter Ripple Schnapps and Hot Chocolate. :D If I can get a few guys together for a trip to Kona we could book the dive every night. This is definitely a dive where the success rate will improve with successive nights, and there will be a wider variety of critter encounters.

Maybe you can combine it with the Kona Classic next year? :o I hear they have been recruiting you.

Your and others is a Siphonophore, by the way. And I suspect that the amphipod? is riding a pyrosoma. The jellies are all ctenophores.


Thanks so much for the ID's Alex. I must confess that I do not speak latin :P :blink: and I am not very good at identifying my subjects.

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#10 seagrant

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 11:03 AM

This is definitely a dive where the success rate will improve with successive nights, and there will be a wider variety of critter encounters.
John


John,

I love your shots!

Re: wide variety of "critter encounters" to be had on Kona black water night dives; my friend who used to own Dive Makai, Lisa Choquette (who many on this board may have had the extreme pleasure of diving with); Lisa said that during a Kona "black water" dive one night she felt a presence, shined her light - and saw a huge, huge, huge eye!!! It was the deep water thresher shark (probably Alopias superciliosus during its vertical migration at night [even though Wikipedia says its not been seen....]); Lisa told me it was the deep water thresher species, "big eye", and I believe her daughter, and marine biologist, Kendra was on the dive also, and confirmed. But, even if it was the pelagic thresher (A. pelagicus), it would have been cool. Don't know how good a record of it you would get with a macro lens though... :blink:

Also, if you haven't seen it, I've been digging Joshua Lambus Flickr pics while "black-water" diving off Kona (I think he works for Big Island Divers - shows what one can accomplish with lots of practice!)
Joshua Lambus on Flickr

Thanks so much John, Just lovely! What an adventure! I personally love diving off Kona.

Best, Carol

Edited by seagrant, 03 May 2009 - 11:06 AM.

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#11 Hani Amir

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 08:42 PM

^ Those shots are amazing! For some reason i feel like not taking a camera with me the first time if I ever do this; just so I can enjoy the experience more.

I am sure he would be up for it but only when he has his housing back. !

Stew


The housings here, but the man isn't hehe. I think he went and flew off to Thailand for a week.

#12 diggy

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 01:30 AM

Absolutely stunning images. One more on my wish list of "to do" dives. You did REALLY well in just two dives.

Thanks for sharing these.

Cheers,

diggy

Edited by diggy, 04 May 2009 - 01:31 AM.

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#13 juanjoalonso

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 08:47 AM

a very interesting shots, the firts one is really fantastic
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#14 yahsemtough

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 01:58 PM

Cool stuff John,

I'm sure we could probably wrangle the Port Hardy crew into a group trip to Kona if planed far enough in advance to allow that airmiles guy to be able to book.

Looking forward to Port Hardy. These remind me of the jellies. I'll see if I can find any later this month.

Cheers

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#15 newmanl

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 05:39 PM

Hi John,

Thanks for the write-up and great description of the dive and technique. We went to Kona last spring, but at the time I had no idea they ran such dives. Then, after getting back someone mentioned the "Pelagic Magic" dive on another forum so I asked... Now I'd really like to do one... at least one! My wife and I are thinking of going back to Kona this September if all goes well, but she is most assuredly still checking the closet and under the bed at night, so I'll be doing the inky dive on my own, so to speak. We did similar dives in Grand Cayman when I worked there ('84-'85), but I was not yet into u/w photography at the time :lol:

Thanks again for posting and the images are absolutely fascinating - great job!

Lee

#16 JLambus

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 08:07 PM

Your and others is a Siphonophore, by the way. And I suspect that the amphipod? is riding a pyrosoma. The jellies are all ctenophores.

Alex



Amphipod is riding an egg mass... of what i cant be sure. Correct on the Siphomophore and ctenophores.

#17 kokopedal

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Posted 30 May 2009 - 12:52 PM

Beautiful shots. You can count me in on a trip to Kona. Could you giv some more detail on the camera settings you were using during the shots. I made several night dives in Hawaii but could never get shots like these.

#18 Canuck

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Posted 30 May 2009 - 09:29 PM

Could you giv some more detail on the camera settings you were using during the shots.


All shots were with the Canon 60 mm EF-S macro lens. The lens goes to 1:1, and so can shoot small subjects , as well as mid-size subjects. The tiny jelly in my third from last photo was the smallest critter I encountered. It was smaller than 1 cm. The larger jellies were up to 15 cm in length, or more. Since the critters are free floating, you can get as close as you want, so it is not necessary to have much working distance. I believe for this dive the 60 mm is an advantage over the 100 mm.

All of the photos posted were shot at ISO 200, f16, 1/250 sec, except #6 which was shot at ISO 400, f11, 1/250 sec. Most of the photos had to have their exposure brought up significantly during processing:

#1: +2
#2: +1.5
#3: +0.4
#4: +2.0
#5: +2.5
#6: +2.0
#7: +1.5
#8: +2.0
#9: +2.0
#10: +1.5

It is a difficult lighting situation. If you turn up your strobes too high, then you actually light up the water and end up without a black background. Basically, the critters are almost as transparent to light as the water around them. Here is a series of shots when I was playing with the lighting. The first shot was at ISO 400, f11, 1/250 sec with the strobes cranked up to either full, or -1/2, or -1 (I can't remember exactly):

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Notice that the water is not black, and yet the critter is not bright. When I reviewed this photo right after shooting it, I was unhappy with how "bright" the background water was. So, I left the strobes where they were, switched back to ISO 200 and f16, then shot this critter:

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Notice that the water is now almost black, but the critter is poorly lit. I was still confused as to why the critters were so poorly lit, so I tried a photo of my hand:

Posted Image

This one was so bright when I reviewed it that it hurt my eyes. I was now convinced that the strobes were putting out plenty of light, in fact too much for a normal (reflective) subject like my hand, and I finally realized that the critters were so very transparent to my strobe light.

So, I still don't have the answer as to the "best" settings. I want to go back and try again.

I would recommend placing the strobes as close as possible to the critter. If you are willing to accept a non-black background, which you can fix in post-processing, then crank up the exposure in camera. If the critter does have any reflective bits, they will be blown out. But there is not much you can do. It is a tradeoff at best.

This really isn't a question of having enough light to light up the critters. You can light them up with a good blast from the strobes and a wider aperture and/or higher ISO. But then the water will be lit too. Basically, these critters are camouflaged such that they look like water.

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#19 kokopedal

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Posted 31 May 2009 - 12:35 PM

I appreciate your time and effort to give me (us) such a well informed answer. I just moved back to San Diego after living in Hawaii for several years and had several oppertunities to make similar dives but was never as successful as you were. Thanks let me know next time you go back.

#20 Deep6

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 12:26 PM

We'll talk at Port Hardy over a steaming mug of Butter Ripple Schnapps and Hot Chocolate. :) If I can get a few guys together for a trip to Kona we could book the dive every night. This is definitely a dive where the success rate will improve with successive nights, and there will be a wider variety of critter encounters.

Maybe you can combine it with the Kona Classic next year? :) I hear they have been recruiting you.



John


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