The next few days I worked at Undersea divers in Danvers with Shaun McGuire. The shop that donated my equipment to me. I found it pretty fun to stamp prices on products, line them up along the walls and go through inventory. I even got to help customers try on boots, hoods, and gloves. It was really fun to watch all the colorful customers come into the shop. Thanks to Whitney and Shawn at Undersea divers.
Back in New England I went diving with Sea Rover Andy Martinez, who literally wrote the book on marine life of the North Atlantic! Andy is a great photographer and a a diving legend in New England. We went to a familiar site: Folly Cove on Cape Ann. As we waded into the water at high tide the sun was beating down, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to hit a thermocline more. Andy pointed out a northern red anemone that he has frequently visited over the years. The vis was only about five to eight feet and we didn’t see much life but it was an honor to dive with Andy!
Soon enough the competition rolled around and I handed in my best photos from the week. Because of the rules of the competition I had to compete in the advanced category with professional photographers. I ended up winning an honorable mention in wide angle traditional for one of my metridium and sea nettle shots. It was truly an honor. I would like to thank Sea Rover Chuck Davis for hosting me and telling me some of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard, the entire crew at Backscatter for helping me with everything and giving me some great critiques. Lastly I would like to thank Sea Rover Berkley White for hosting me again for the Monterey Shootout and for helping me push myself as a photographer and diver, and for being my mentor.
The last spot I did was the metridium fields. Metridiums are huge white anemones that look really ethereal and peaceful. To get to them I would follow an old pipe line that was linked to the canning factories that are now the Backscatter shop. Becca told me that the metridiums are a little hard to find once you reach the end of the pipe so I didn’t have my hopes up and was just there to explore. Heading along the pipe I saw ton of nudibranchs and bat stars, but above me there were increasingly thick clouds of sea nettle jellies. When I reached the end of the pipe I decided to just photograph the sea nettles because they’re so cool, and I probably wasn’t even going to be able to find the metridiums. So I started photographing the sea nettles floating along with them, then all of a sudden I looked down and saw the metridiums! I swam down to them and started photographing. I got some pretty good shots. I ascended a few feet to swim over and photograph more. It was then a sea nettle sting me across my lips. It wasn’t bad bad sting or anything just was shocking and hurt a little. Then I had a realization I had to surface through the cloud of millions of sea nettles. I was down about 50 FSW and started my accent. The safety stop was really fun as I tried to avoid their tentacles. I looked down and saw about forty or fifty of them flying in all directions as they were kicked by my fins. It was a great dive.
Now I just had to recreate the photos I had got for the competition so I again went along the pipe found the metridiums and started shooting. I got even better shots than before, and there were even more sea nettles, they were all different sizes. Some as small as my hand and some longer than me, all swimming in different directions. At one point I stopped photographing and just looked at the scene before me in awe. The millions of sea nettles moved so rhythmically that it was really calming to just sit there in total peace. That is until I got stung again and begun my ascent. It is by far one of my favorite dives to date.
Another spot that I dove at was middle reef. I only did one dive at middle reef for a few reasons. I had trouble finding really good subjects I wanted to shoot and because I kept getting lost in the kelp. I would follow my compass then look up and realize I was needed to swim around a kelp wall then I would go way off course, find my way again then hit another kelp wall and get turned around. I really liked diving through all the amazing kelp but it was just hard to keep getting turned around and have to look for my place. I decided to stick to breakwater wall, it had more subjects and was easier to navigate through the kelp.
I started out by going along the wall looking at all the scarlet psoluses, bat stars, and anemones. The wall is pretty easy to navigate just, follow the rock sand line down and back. The kelp along the wall was really impressive. It reached the surface then spread out along it. I thought it would be really hard to navigate through all the kelp and that I would get tangled up a lot but it was easy to swim through and around. I would photograph the different crabs and fish swimming by me. At one point I was photographing an anemone and realized that there was a pretty big cabazon right next to me. The cabazon is a really well camouflaged fish that has almost a green army camo look to it. I got some shots of it and let it be. Probably my favorite subjects were the anemones that look like something out of Alice in Wonderland. They were massive compared to the anemones here in New England. On one dive I dropped down and noticed a purple striped jelly right in front of me. It was amazingly beautiful with bright colors against the dark green of the sea. I snapped a few shots of it and kept on going.
One day I did a thirty minute surface swim out to see the sea lion colony at the end of the wall. When I got there there were tons of sea lions all lying around. I swam up to the started making a lot of noises and blowing bubbles in the water and splashing around, ducked under the water come up a few feet away and did the same thing again. At this point about 20 young sea lions jumped into the water and started frantically swimming around me in circles. It was really breathtaking to watch them and how easily they glide through the water. The vis was really bad, only about five feet, so I tried to get some shots but mainly just took in the performance before me. At one point a huge bull male jumped in and swam right by me. It was about double the size of the young ones and had a large bump on its head which meant it’s a dominant male. It probably weighed in at around 500-600 lbs and was pretty intimidating. But at the same time he never bothered me so I felt safe. After about 80 minutes I began the long surface swim back and walked back to the shop to tell the story.
After staying in Newfound I flew directly to Monterey, California, for the Monterey Shootout hosted by Backscatter. This shoutout is very similar to the one in Roatan except it’s only 36 hours. I was greeted at the airport by Becca Boring who is the operations manager at Backscatter, and an amazing photographer. Becca brought me around saying hi to all the people who work at Backscatter and some of my old friends from Roatan, it was great to see them again. Also there was Mike Lodise who runs Backscatter east, and the person who helped me first learn how to set up the underwater housing system. Later that night Becca brought me over to Chuck Davis’ house where I would be staying. Chuck is a Sea Rover and an extraordinary underwater photographer. He is a B&W film photographer who has his own dark room that he prints his photos in. Chuck is also one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and it was an honor to stay with him.
The next morning I got right into the water with some of the crew from Backscatter. As we dropped down into the green murky water of the breakwater wall the massive kelp forest appeared out of the green. I started shooting. I got some shots, not good ones though. On my surface interval I sat down with Jim Decker the CEO of Backscatter and he looked over my images and gave me a few pointers about lighting and strobe placement. Jim is one of the judges for the competition and a really good photographer so I listened really well to what he had to say. The competition wasn’t going to start for a few days so I had some time to practice and get the hang of shooting in Monterey. Each day I set out from the shop and walked down to the water to dive the breakwater. The breakwater is mainly divided into three areas; the wall, middle reef, and the metridium field. Each is different and I wanted to dive each before the competition so I could see where I wanted to focus.
On my last day in Newfoundland we headed up to the interestingly named town of Dildo, to dive on whale skeletons. The skeletons are remnants of old whaling factories. It was the only shore dive that I did in Newfoundland and it is one of the most unique dives. We walked into the water over the ankle breaker rocks and algae, did a short surface swim then dropped down. Right away in 20 FSW we found the first skeleton and more after. There was also a red fish swimming around the skeleton. This dive site is very silty and the slightest movement hitting the bottom will stir up dust, so perfect buoyancy was key. This dive was also the coldest I’ve ever done at 32 degrees. But in my DUI drysuit I was nice and warm. Unfortunately the water was so cold that my regulator started to free flow and we ended the dive. Even though it was a short dive it was a great dive and I was kind of happy that I went through a free flow and knew what to do and didn’t panic.
Later that day we drove up the coast to go see the puffins. Puffins are on of those animals like the ocean pout, lumpfish, and lion’s mane, that I have always wanted to see. I had such good luck with seeing all the others that I had a good feeling about visiting the puffins. When we arrived and walked over the the small peninsula that they sat on they were not only there and flying around but they were walking around next to people. I couldn’t believe it. I started firing off shots everywhere. It was really fantastic to see the cute little puffins that look a little like small sad clowns. Once I got a few good shots I sat back and observed them looking at their patterns and habits. After a few more minutes I started shooting again and got even better shots. I really couldn’t have asked for a better last day in Newfoundland.
The 10 days I was in Newfoundland was some of the best times of my life, I got to see so many amazing different marine animals, and got to dive wrecks that are part of history. I want to thank Rick Stanley for hosting me at Ocean Quest Adventures I had an incredible time!
After we had dove all the wrecks a few times we did a few reef dives. Before jumping into the water Rick told me to keep my eyes out for the Mick Jagger fish, aka the ocean pout. It’s so named because of its massive lips that looks like it had a bad plastic surgery job. I’ve always wanted to see one of these weird fish, so I kept a lookout. On our first dive I found a large male under a rock. It was pretty cool to see. On another dive I again kept looking for them. On this dive I saw 13 of them! I saw ones all different ages, sizes and colors. I even saw a territorial display between two males over a female. It was amazing to see so many of them. Most of them were a little frightened of me but I would move very slowly and stick around near them and they would get use to me. After gaining their trust I could swim up to them and put the camera a few inches from their massive lips. It a was fantastic dive.
On another reef dive we went into a sea cavern. The dark cavern was filled with orange sponges that lines the walls. At the end the rock formations were even more amazing than the top side of the island. The colors all reflecting of the surface and rocks was hypnotic. It was a great dive!
While in Newfoundland I also got a chance to go out and catch cod. Rick brought us out into the harbor we put lines down as humpback whales beached around us, and after a couple minutes we were pulling up cod. In total we got 14. Back at the dock Rick filleted them for us to eat the rest of the week. Needless to say the meals were amazing.
I also got the chance to go around Bell Island in a kayak. It was really fun to see the shore line and the geomorphology of the island. We saw a few bald eagles flying by and some of the old entrances to the iron mines. We also went snorkeling around looking at some of the kelp and other fauna around the shore. Later in the evening we went to the Bell Island mines, where we got a tour of the old mine shafts that were shut down and flooded. They were closed over Christmas break and the workers weren’t told the mine was closing so their tools and work spaces are just as they left it. The mines were cold and dark with redish orange lights throughout. It was really cool to see all of the history from the mines to the shipwrecks.