I know people on this and other boards have raved about their experience on Optiquatics trips, so I'm a bit hesitant to post a negative review, but I'd be interested in getting other people's feedback.
I've been shooting for about 7 years - first with a Motormarine IIex and then with a housed nikon f4 (which I still have - I haven't made the switch to digital yet). I feel like I know the basics, but I keep getting inconsistant results which I've found frustrating. I wanted a situation where I could get feedback in an intensive learning environement. So I ended up booking a 3-day Optiquatics trip to the Northern Channel Islands.
First the good news - The Peace Boat was fantastic. The crew and boat could not be beat. They hustled like crazy, fed us continuously and were very helpful with any gear problems people had. They were also very knowledgeable and sensitive about handling expensive camera gear.
The people on the trip were also great. There were actually three of us shooting film, which was a welcome surprise. Everyone else was shooting digital, including one passenger who brought all her computer and scanning gear and scanned slides as soon as they came out of the E-6 processing! I learned more than a few helpful hints from her and some of the other passengers.
And that, actually, was the problem. Because I felt by the end of the trip the only real instruction I received came from my fellow passengers, not Joe the trip leader. While Joe processed E-6 right on the boat so I could get fast feedback, I never received any kind of in-depth analysis of my work except "Get closer". Even when I asked pointed questions about strobe placement, film stocks, etc the answers I got were pretty basic and perfunctery. Not counting the nights everyone spent together at dinner, I think I had maybe 45 minutes of actual conversation with Joe. Some of that was instructional, some of it was just conversation.
Worse - and maybe this is because film is on it's way out and us filmasours are just an afterthought these days - I found that Joe was pretty careless with the slides he processed for us. He would bring them out of the bunkroom he was using as a "lab" draped around his neck whle the emulstion was still wet. Dust would stick to the emulsion like a magnet. We had to cut and mount our own slides yet there was no clean workspace set aside for us to do this. When I complained, Joe said once the film was out of his hands, we were responsible for it. He offered no solution for this problem at all. Finally, me and one of the other passengers figured out we could set up a clean surface with some cotton t-shirts so that's what we used for the rest of the trip to cut our strips on. But nearly everything he processed is scratched. I'm hoping that I'll be able to get the slides rewashed and that will help. But it got so bad I finally had to ask Joe to stop processing my material on the last day. I would rather take the film home and lose the feedback than risk getting more film scratched.
In the end, my feeling about the trip is that if you're looking for three days of intensive diving where you get to socialize with members of your own photographic tribe and to spread out your gear on a limited load boat with a great crew and fantastic food, this would be a pretty good trip for you. But if you're looking for the kind of trip described on their website, any kind of intensive "workshop" situation or one-on-one instruction to bring your work up to the next level, then you'd probably be disappointed as I was.
Any comments and feedback would be appreciated.