Underwater Hand Signals

I was getting ready to dive with a scuba instructor with whom I had never dived before. Among other necessary precautions, she wanted to review underwater hand signals.

She waved her hand and pointed at her ear.

Me: “Equalization problem.”

She then waved her hand and pointed at her unadorned left ring finger.

I paused for a moment, thinking.

Me: “Marriage problem?”

She replied, “yes, I’m not married!”

We shared a laugh at that.

For the record, I don’t believe she was being flirtatious. I believe she is just lamenting being single, and probably cracks this joke all the time to break the ice with new students.

Because I didn’t have a camera out at the time, special thanks to hands model Phoebe Huang for this article’s featured image. You can contact Phoebe via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube:




Seeing Red at 40 Meters (130 Feet)

One of my favorite dives was the last dive of my Deep Diving course. There wasn’t a wall at the dive site, so we swam out from the beach and headed straight out until we reached a depth of 40 meters.

Then I saw the color red.

As you can see above, this is what the color red looks like at 40 meters with a flashlight.

However, I did not have a flashlight with me.

Therefore, as you can see in the unlit image above, there is no way I saw the color red at a depth of 40 meters. That wavelength of light is absorbed by the water. Notwithstanding the impossibility of my observation, I nonetheless saw the color red at 40 meters.

I didn’t bring a camera on that dive, because I knew the available cameras would shut off at that depth. I also thought to show my instructor, but she was narced up and drifting away from me. I had no way to get her attention without sprinting over to her, which would’ve consumed alot of gas at that depth.

When we surfaced later, the first thing I told my instructor was that I had been so narced up I saw the color red at 40 meters. We both really enjoyed that dive actually. I then took the written test and completed my Deep Diving specialty.

Underwater Art

30_dives_in_2018 on Instagram posted this archaeological survey that he did with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Archaeology group. This is the “port bow of an unknown barge about 2 miles off Milwaukee.”

However, I thought it was underwater art.

And, why not? If you are going to take the time to get a perfect photograph, and if you have the skill, why not sketch what you see instead? For that matter, how about embracing the challenge of coloring it in?

I would imagine that scuba diving artists would become proficient enough underwater to sell their works. Plus, you would develop skills that you could use to win money on those “got talent” shows.

Underwater Magic Trick

From left to right, these colors are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Don’t believe me? Shine a light on it!

Isn’t that incredible?

This was taken at almost 40 meters to show how much color we lose at that depth. Even with great visibility, we see so little without flashlights.

For readers who are unaware, colors (wavelengths of light) are absorbed by the water (I’m oversimplifying). Without flashlights, we lose the color red very quickly. The deeper we go, the more color we lose. Eventually everything seems greenish and bluish, and eventually everything seems only bluish.

This is why so many photos online and on social media are so greenish and bluish. The colors have to be added back in with lighting, camera filters, or computer software.

My First 3-Dive Day

If this photo looks like I’m inside the cockpit of an airplane, it’s because I’m inside the cockpit of an airplane!

The first dive was a 5-person group. We spent 51 minutes at Baring, off Olango Island, Cebu, Philippines. Maximum depth was 25 meters. We recovered 6 pieces of debris, weighing a total of 1.3 kg.

The highlight should have been the garden eels. Unfortunately, in my excitement to photograph them, I scared them back down into the sand. As you can see from the photos that I am sharing, I did not get them. As soon as we surfaced, I apologized to my group.

The second dive was Dakit-Dakit, which is near Kontiki, off Mactan Island, Cebu, Philippines. My 3-diver group spent 50 minutes underwater, with a maximum depth of 25 meters. We recovered 18 pieces of debris weighing a total of 1.7 kg.

I had actually never heard of this dive site before. I had passed through it a few times, but no one mentioned that it was a dive site. It also does not appear on any maps, and is barely mentioned on the Internet.

I should probably know better than to exhale while taking a photo, but I was excited!

The third dive, saving the best for last, was Tambuli, off Mactan Island, Cebu, Philippines. My 3-diver group spent 55 minutes there. Our maximum depth was 20 meters, since that is the depth of the airplane wreck and that was our destination. We recovered 7 pieces of debris weighing a total of .1 kg.

If the airplane wreck is not enough, there is also this small wreck-like wreck at Tambuli.

Once again, I find it ironic that an underwater airplane wreck is a tourist attraction off an island with an international airport. The truth is that it was sunk deliberately, but, if you don’t know that, the information is disconcerting.

Where Did That Sound Come From?

They say that you can’t tell from which direction an underwater sound came. That’s not entirely true.

Why is it supposedly true? Because sound travels much faster and much farther underwater. 

Above water, sound reaches the ears at slightly different times. The brain uses this difference to determine direction. Underwater, however, sound reaches both ears at the same time. The brain, purportedly, cannot determine direction.

Also, visibility underwater is far less than visibility above water. Many of the sounds we hear underwater are out of visual range even if we happen to be looking in the correct direction.

In my experience, short sounds are mysterious. A dive instructor or dive guide bangs on his/her tank with a metal stick and I look like the Tazmanian Devil, spinning around until I visually detect the source.

The other day, however, I heard a boat. I looked up to my left, and saw it immediately.

So, while the brain cannot detect the source of short sounds, it seems it can figure out direction for prolonged sounds.

Or, maybe I have a superpower. Either way.

Mind = Blown

Under perfect conditions, we can see the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million lightyears away, with the naked eye. Underwater, great visibility is measured in meters and feet. Think about that for a few minutes. Try to wrap your brain around it.

Photos courtesy of waitbutwhy.com. Normally, Andromeda looks like a fuzzy star. These images were enhanced to show what it would like if all its stars were visible. Our moon is used for a size comparison.

How did I find this? The question was: how do we have better maps of our universe than of our oceans? We have 100-meter maps of the surface of Venus, but 5-km maps of our oceans.

The answer is that we can see through space and atmospheres. We can barely see through water, even with our most advanced scientific instruments. We can see galaxies billions of lightyears away with our most advanced telescopes, yet we get excited when we can see 30 meters (100 feet) with a dive mask.

Seriously, my brain was hurting for a while after this revelation….

Plus, look again at how Andromeda would look in the night sky if all its stars were visible. It takes its light 2.5 million years to reach us, and it looks absolutely massive. 

Underwater Weddings

Some time ago, I happened to catch an underwater wedding or marriage proposal on YouTube. I have forgotten by now which it was, but at the time I thought it was an amazing idea.

So I later searched for it, because I wanted to blog about the seemingly unique idea.

It turns out, it is not unique at all. I don’t know if these people all came up with the idea independently or if they are all copying whoever was the first to do it, but I found quite a few videos without even extensively searching for them.

I don’t know that underwater marriage proposals surprise me. I’ve seen a married couple dive together. Plus, I know a dating couple that has been together for 5 years, and an underwater proposal seems completely plausible for them. After all, they are both scuba instructors and diving is their joint life.

The problem with an underwater wedding, though, is it seems that your guest list would be limited. Sure, you can invite your diving family. But, you’re telling an awful lot of people that you don’t care if they can’t attend. 

If my wife was a diver (she’s not even a swimmer), I would think to have a traditional wedding and a diving honeymoon. That way more people could attend the ceremony, and we could do our own thing when we would normally be doing our own thing anyway.

Diving Nitrox!

Recapping where I left off with my previous blog post, I went through an academic session on Enriched Air Nitrox, selected my scuba tank, tested the oxygen percentage, calculated my maximum depth, and labeled my canister. We then got ready and hopped on a boat heading to Baring, Olango Island.

A new twist: we added a compass to my left wrist. My instructor wanted to test my underwater navigation skills. As an Army veteran, I was already familiar with land navigation. Underwater navigation is different, but the basics are the same.

The hardest part was the current. The plan was for me to swim away from an object, and then navigate back to it. Very simple. However, I couldn’t get very far swimming against the current. As soon as I turned around, I could already see the object!

Anyway, I look forward to taking the course. It shouldn’t be difficult. I should probably work on finning before then.

We then swam to the wall, descended a few meters, and then drifted sideways along the wall. Although I have dived Baring before, the current was different this time. Last time we drifted away from Talima, and this time we drifted toward Talima. So, the view seemed different.

Also, I picked up a little bit of trash. I will blog that separately, because I still have to count and weigh it for Project Aware.

After returning to our dive center, we logged an 18-meter maximum depth and a duration of 46 minutes. My instructor asked me if I felt different diving with nitrox. At the time I said, “no.” It didn’t seem noticeable. After dive #5, which we did immediately following, I would change my answer!

Early Photography

Here are some photos I took before doing any research on underwater photography. 

The GoPro that I use forces me to take photos blind. I cannot be certain what I am pointing the camera at, if the subject is in focus, or how the photo came out.  I can only find these things out after I return to the dive center. 

As a result, for these photos, I just pointed the camera in every possible direction and went click click click. I took hundreds of photos, and then I deleted most of them.

Historically, I do not like to edit my photos other than cropping. Underwater photos require editing, though. Adjusting the white balance alone can make a huge difference.

In regards to these photos, I cropped them and adjusted their white balances. I may have adjusted their brightness and contrast, but I don’t remember specifically.

Because of the way colors are absorbed in the water, I now know to keep the camera as close to my subjects as possible. Also, until I can take the course, I would like to experiment with a waterproof flashlight, if I can get one. And, I now know that there is little point in taking wide shots, because the photos just end up being green. White balance correction helps a little bit, but not enough.

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