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.