I live close to one of the planet’s best diving regions, Bicheno. On Tasmania’s east coast, the colours and diversity of the marine life are spectacular and Bicheno is the jewel in the crown. Despite this, I struggled to find someone to dive with. Most divers work during the week and dive on weekends. I like to spend my weekends with my family, who are at school during the week, so I found myself diving on my own.
Diving alone was not a choice I made lightly. Only recently did the big dive training organisations start to accept solo diving. When I started, they still frowned on it. Knowing an incident would incur the wrath of the naysayers, I actually sat down and came up with a list of what could go wrong on a dive and worked out how I would cope without another diver’s help. I came up with strategies for everything up to losing consciousness or catastrophic entanglement. For some solutions, I reconfigured my equipment and for others I ended up carrying extra. I practised the skills I needed until I was comfortable.
With twin tanks and time on my hands, I found myself doing long, solo dives. Run times in excess of two hours became the norm in average depths of just ten metres. I enjoy these dives. They have a Zen-like quality; I find peace in the solitude. I share the underwater world with my bubbles, my camera and me.
For me, underwater photography is the ultimate creative challenge. I find inspiration in the imagery of photographers like Chris Newbert, Alex Mustard, David Doubilet and Stephen Frink. Knowing the technical challenges they overcome to create their art, leaves me in awe.
One thing I’ve learned is that if I ever dive without my camera, I will see opportunities for great photos.
I find my best underwater photos come from longer dives. I need enough time to get into my zone, to find a scene, then capture the image. I’m not good at fifteen minutes of mayhem; I miss the Zen.
In an article I wrote for Sportdiving Magazine in 2006, I said:
“Before doing the course, if someone had asked me why I wanted to exceed no-decompression limits, I would have trotted out the standard answers about wanting to see what is in deep water and hoping to improve my overall diving skills. Now that I’ve done the course, I spent some time thinking about why I do the things I do and gained unexpected insight into my own psyche. The reason I did a decompression diving course was to challenge myself mentally and physically in an environment of controlled risk. Sure, I am curious about what is down there and I do think my diving skills improved, but overall, it was about the personal challenge.
“For me, just scraping through the course was never an option. The thing about personal challenges is that the level of satisfaction gained is proportional to the effort put in. Studying the theory and visualising the skills were as important to me as the actual diving. Coming to terms with the equipment and procedures required real effort, but the sense of achievement I gained from completing each skill made it all worthwhile.”
And that still stands. I gain great satisfaction completing decompression dives where everything goes to plan. Just swimming around on these dives feels good. Knowing the effort that went into preparation makes it more rewarding.