Category Archives: Subic Bay 2017

Babies and camera Gear

Learning from mistakes is essential, but if possible, learning from other peoples mistakes is considerably more convenient and less painful. here is an overview of one of the hiccups I had during my dive trip to Subic Bay in 2018. My 2017 trip featured a bit of drama in the form of an unexpected pregnancy, and now in 2018, that unexpected pregnancy was now a very expected living, breathing, crying little human being. I have never traveled with a baby before (excepting when I was one) and I had always traveled with a fairly simple UW Camera set-up. That all changed in November 2018.

I arrived in the Philippines having just purchased and received my new underwater camera set-up, a digital SLR and housing. This was a somewhat rash purchase of a camera and housing I had been wanting for several years, ordered and received just a week prior to my departure. It is significantly larger and more complicated then my previous Canon S95 and Ikelite housing. I had been hoping to upgrade for a while, and then I saw this gently used package available on Reef Photo’s website. Reef is an excellent resource for both camera equipment and knowledge, and a business I have come to trust. Making a large complicated purchase in a rushed situation is usually a very bad idea, but I had been researching digital SLR’s and housings for a while, and this was pretty much exactly what I had hoped to buy, and the used price made it about half of the cost of the same system purchased new. One oversight I made was that the housing did not have a leak alarm system, but the folks at Reef Photo took the initiative and installed one before shipping. The salesperson told me they did this after the fact, charging me at their cost on the system, but reasoning correctly I would need it and in my hurry to get the package ordered and shipped it was overlooked. I was grateful for their doing this. The alarm is a vacuum system in which the air is pulled out of the housing through a one way valve. When a certain internal pressure is reached, a light on the case turns green, and you are ready to dive. As long as the light is green, the pressure is constant, and the case, and your camera, are safe and dry. If the light begins to change color and flash, the pressure is changing, indicating a leak, and time to surface while the case is still dry. There is a simple cap that screws into place on top of the vaccum valve once it is sealed to protect the port.

Babies also come with an extensive amount of accessories that usually require an extra bag or two to transport. Checking into the Arizona Resort towards the end of my trip,we had all my camera gear, all of Lyka’s baby gear, as well as clothes and accessories for the rest of our group, including Irene, Ivy Joy, Joann, Grechel Ann, and myself. After a few days at Arizona, we got ready to move down the street and try out a new place, the Palm Tree, as well as diving with a new shop, Mangos.

I pack my camera gear and dive accessories, Irene packs up the baby gear and clothes. We move about a mile up the National Highway to the Palm Tree, and reverse the whole proccess. At some point while I work on setting up my camera and equipment I realize the cap that is the final part of the vacuum lock is missing. This is not the first time this has happened. We spent an hour looking for it on a previous occasion staying at Arizona. Irene finally found it it, resting somehow on top of one of the containers for Lyka Rose’s milk. This time, bags are emptied, pockets are checked and re-checked. I act like an ass, opening and re-opening bags, menatlly kicking myself for letting this happen a second time. When the proverbial dust settles, we have searched everywhere twice with no success. Irene takes a trike down the street to check at Arizona, but the room is occupied and nothing has been found or turned in.

I reach out by e-mail to find a replacement, and to see if it is possible to dive without it. There is no cap available in the area, and diving without is possible, but not recommended. The next day I dive with my old Canon S95/ Ikelite housing combination and shoot video. On the second dive, the housing flooded and the camera. bad news, but one of the benefits of buying a camera like the S95. They are easy to replace, and I already have a used S95 at home as a backup.
Earlier in the week Ken at Mangos Dive shop had been telling me about a local guy with a machine shop who did amazing work fabricating parts for the dive boat. This seemed like it would be worth a try. With the help of Google maps we found the shop (The street view image was identical, including the jeep parked in front). He had me bring him the housing, and by the next morning he had machined a stainless steel replacement cap. He made one small adjustment when I picked it up and I thought it was a bit too snug on the threads when I was trying to tighten it. It felt perfect afterwards. With the trip nearing an end, I only made a couple of dives after it was created, but it served it’s purpose, and the stainless cap added to my UW Photo experience with a few important lessons. The first, that babies and camera gear are a dangerous mix, and require a higher level of organization. The second lesson, reinforcing the words of my summer biology instructor from so long ago, always trust your native guide. The local machine shop was as good as advertised, and their custom cap now has a place of honor in my collection of dive accessories. the last lesson is that new equipment is going to be, of course, a learning process.Not only in set up and settings, but in maintenance and routine. Part of my new routine with this set-up is to replace the cap for the vacuum system as soon as I am done with the valve. I also bought a back-up for my spares kit, just in case.

Ivy Joy The Rock Star

I wise biologist once told me, “Always trust your native guide”. He told me this, however, at a time when I was powerless to act on his example of wearing a wetsuit because A) I was 13 and didn’t own a wetsuit. B) I was not told the day before I might be going into water cold enough to need a wetsuit, and C) The subject hadn’t even come up until he started putting his on at the beach. My native guide, at present, is instructor and dive guide James Simms of the Arizona Dive shop, Subic Bay. We are sitting and relaxing at Cheap Charlie’s Bar enjoying the company of fellow divers and basking in the afterglow of many good days underwater. The weather has been an ideal combination of sunny days and calm, perfect for being on, or under, the water. My daughter has been asking me for several days now about coming out on the boat for the day while we dive, and I have arranged for her to join us tomorrow.

James makes a very astute observation when I tell him this is planned. He suggests Ivy Joy wait until the day after when we will be diving from is the shop’s bigger boat, Trident 1, instead of the narrow, traditional style Philippine Banka boat, Trident 2. The Banka style has wide  outriggers set on either side of a slim, canoe-like hull. It is a stable boat to dive from, but the long narrow  design makes it a little short on space and harder to move around in. Jame’s recommendation makes good sense, but Ivy Joy has already been told about the trip, and she has reminded me at every opportunity today, “Dad, we going out with you tomorrow, me an Nicel!”.

The next morning the girls are up early, dressed in jeans and collared shirts that may be better suited for the mall than the Banka, but excited for the day. We travel by trike to the Arizona Resort and head to the beach to board Trident 2. The first thing we notice as we push off from the shallows is the breeze. As the Banka attempts to maneuver past the line of floats marking the swimming area, and we are being pushed by a lively breeze that was non-existent  my first week here.

We start the short trip to our first dive site, the wreck of a Douglas Skyraider aircraft in 118’ of water. The ride is bouncy with the breeze stronger away from the beach. As we arrive at the site and slow down, the Banka is rolling on wind-blown waves. We begin preparing to dive, Nicel Ann does not look very comfortable. My dive buddy Tony may be feeling worse as well. We gear up with the narrow hull pitching and rolling, three divers and a divemaster. We roll in, and Tony immediately gets a blast of wind driven salt water in his mouth. Already not feeling 100% from the pitching boat, he decides this is a dive best not done and swims back to the ladder. The three of us remaining swimming to the marker and begin our decent. At 30’ down I realize that I am working much harder than I should to descend. A quick check in my vest pockets reveals the cause in that someone has taken the weights out of my BC , and I’m light about 4 pounds from my normal weight. I fin down, hoping the depth will help me shed enough buoyancy to comfortably dive. At the wreck and I am barely neutral, and float up slightly on each inhalation. I swim the Skyraider from tail to nose then decide on an early ascent before the reducing air pressure in my aluminum cylinder causes a problematic increase in my buoyancy. I take a few pictures at the nose of the wreck and signal the divemaster my intention and head back to the surface. On top the wind is brisk and the bay covered with white caps. I climb onboard and we talk about the next dive, and if there should be one. I am reflecting on the wisdom of James’s words as I watch Nicel Ann sit quietly in the pitching boat. We recover the last two divers and discuss what is next. Mike, our trusted divemaster and guide for the day, decides on the shallow wreck of a Japanese patrol boat not too far away in a protected cove. We head in that direction, with Nicel Ann still not looking so good, but Ivy Joy smiling despite the occasionally spray coming into the boat over the rail. Once inside the bay, conditions improve considerably, calm water, and no wind. Nicel Ann is looking better, my Tony has washed the salt water down with plenty of fresh, and I have add the missing 4 pounds of weight to my BCD from the spares kept on the boat.  The Japanese patrol boat is a beautiful shallow wreck that is abundant with life. In the calm waters we glide bow to stern and back, enjoying the variety and volume of animals that inhabit the wreck. While we dive the girls and boat crew relax on the Banka. After a long leisurely dive we climb back aboard and prepare for the ride home. As we round the point leaving the protection of the cove, the wind and the chop of the hits us head on. Sheets of of water slice down the side of the Banka and throw heavy spray onboard. I position myself as best I can to block the water from Ivy Joy and Nicel Ann from the water. After spending an hour plus on the bottom, I am pretty chilled to begin with, but I am doing my best to catch the spray and shield the girls. Behind me Mike and Tony have given the girls fins to hold up to protect their faces from the water. Ivy Joy is wet, but smiling brightly. I am remembering the old days working on a fishing boat off Cape Cod during the winter season, when the waves would break on the rail and throw cold water across the deck. In this case, the water is tropical, and the spray is feels warm compared to the wind. We move across the bay with the divers doing their best to act as shields against the wind blown waves. Mike and Tony as well are holding up fins in an effort to shield the girls as best they can. Finally we pull close to shore, and in the lee of the land. We slip past the floating bar and the Banka is nose up on the beach. Ivy Joy is still smiling. She has gone through the whole day barely phased, bright and cheerful, through waves of ocean spray, vomiting divers, and a pitching banka. I can only think that my daughter is a rock star. Once we hit the beach, instead of walking up to the bow ladder and stepping onto the beach, she vaults over the side into waist deep water, soaking her jeans. So much for all that work keeping her dry. Somewhere above me I know my parents are watching this and getting a good laugh. They could never keep me out of the water long if I was close to it. Nicel Ann is smiling as well as we move onto the beach. Lunch, some sunshine, and a nap is in my future, and life is good.


It is my 3rd day back diving in Subic Bay and I find myself floating though the El Capitan wreck, watching the sunlight streaming into the internal spaces we fin though. Marine life grows and moves everywhere on and in this man-made structure, transforming it from a lost machine of the surface world to a vibrant part of the underwater community.  “I am in Church” my internal dialog speaks clearly to me. “Blasphemy”, a more traditional turn of my mind replies.

My mother was an extremely religious person raised in the catholic faith, with two aunts who were Nuns, she briefly pursued a life in the convent before deciding she wanted marriage and a family. As a kid, church was our Sunday routine, and in the summer the warm breezes and bright sunshine through the open stain-glass windows challenged our behavior and chaffed at our patients throughout the mass. The salt air and sunshine called to us to be where we knew we truly belonged, splashing in the shallows of the tidal creek, or exploring the depth and opportunities the high tide brought us along the shoreline. We streamed out of church, positioned after communion as close as possible to the side exit doors, and then raced home to strip off our good clothes in exchange for sun faded, mud stained swimming shorts.

My mother always made sure we went to church on Sunday, even when it meant walking us past the adult theaters and burlesque houses of New Orleans famed Bourbon street when we traveled there. On that occasion we arrived at an impressive Cathedral, but at the wrong time for mass. I always remember the tall busty women with the unbuttoned blouse and ample cleavage who stepped out of a bar and walked past us in the opposite direction on our way home. My father mustered his best concerned parent voice and said, “that poor women is going to get a chest cold.” Good one, Dad. It was also one of the times Mom made the point of telling us you could pray anywhere, that you didn’t have to be in church, and on those rare (very) occasions we could not make it to mass, or find a church while traveling,  it was our prayers  and reflection, and  not the venue,  that was important.

In my adult years I have rarely made church, but always remembered Mom’s guidance regarding pray outside of regular Sunday service. My mother also had a wonderful way of reconciling whatever scientific discoveries may have come along that conflicted with previously held religious beliefs. Thanks to a science teacher somewhere long ago in her catholic education, my mother had a simple remedy for the things that didn’t quite fit. “Science” she had been told, and took to heart, “reveals the Omnipotence of God”. Basically, if something new is discovered, even if it seems to conflict, it was/is just part of a bigger picture we are still unable to fully see.  Like a tremendous jigsaw puzzle, the more we know, the more is revealed, and we have faith in the guy who put the picture on the box that we will eventually be able to grasp the true magnificence hidden in all those confusing pieces. For myself this has come to mean, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, Buddhist, Atheist, whatever you believe, we will never know which of us are right and which of us are wrong, if any are,  within our lifetime. None of us can see the whole picture, and no benevolent superior being would ever condemn a good and decent person who happened to be raised in the wrong belief system, practiced the wrong rituals, or prayed in the wrong building.  As Mom would tell you, you can pray anywhere.

Most religion have at their core the same basic ideas, be good to each other, help the next guy out, keep a good thought in your head for your neighbor, and if possible, try to leave the world a little bit better place than you found it. (To me, this also includes the hope people will realize the value of the oceans and leave them for the next generation to look at with awe and wonder, and not just a convenient place to dump trash).

I am thinking all these thoughts as I am floating around my church of the day, the wreck of the El Capitan. Now home to an abundance of marine life, and redecorated in nature’s own splendor. As breath-taking as any cathedral on land,  I offer prayers of amazement for all I see around me. The El Capitan was a product of industry brought into the service of mankind by the skilled hands and ingenuity of shipbuilders, crippled by a Japanese torpedo, and dispatched to the bottom of Subic Bay by the fury of nature in the form of a typhoon. This is my church for this day, with sunlight streaming through the portholes and cargo holds, more spectacular than any stain-glass in any house of worship onshore. I am humbled and inspired, and I reflect on the hard work and diligence that went into fabricating the original hull, as well as the pride and affection of the crews that sailed her during her service above the water.

We divers and fish now share these spaces, ramble and explore nature’s work in progress. This church spawns profound thoughts as I float along inside. There are not many places in life I am happier than here underwater, in a church created by the ocean out of what was once just another cog of industry. I remember my mothers words, I am thankful of my opportunity to enter such a glorious place, and to be so inspired by the beauty that is around me.