Diving is an activity limited to a few fortunate people in Saudi Arabia. Once again it occurs behind closed gated compound walls. It is the Red Sea for goodness sake! Nope. Not allowed! Somewhere else I described my encounter with the police and the order of the blue thumb.
Women are distinctly a minority. They must be covered at all times – unless you are behind closed doors outside of the view of the religious police. Lessons. Our surgical assistants all received lessons compliments of the orthopedic chief surgeon. There is much beauty and wonder beneath the sea. My friend/dive buddy related to me recently that much of the reef has been destroyed. Once again ignorance – lack of common respect for the fragility of nature was in play. His beloved reef was gone.
Once upon a time… We had a magical time. It was near this time of year. How long? Dunno.
Dave came to Saudi. He learned to dive. Jules joined us. They experienced the Red Sea. It has been largely forbidden to tourists. I got them in under my work visa as family. They did a night dive. It was special. The fan coral is gone now. It was destroyed by inconsiderate divers. It is always special to see a turtle in open water.
Yes, it happened once. You can’t go back. Wistful? You bet. I’d have loved to get Colleen into the water, dived, and held her hand as we saw the wonders.
Saudi is a beautiful country? Hot desert sand, no rain, every day over 100 degrees, strict religious rules… yes, uniquely totalitarian. Good?! Hmmm… let’s say I am happy to be home again. Did I mention everything stops for “prayer time” five times a day?
Dave learned to dive in Saudi. His sister joined us and we adventured together. They did their first night dive together with me. Scared of the dark? Nah, they were just holding hands because…. Yes, Jules had to wear an abaya! It’s a man’s world in Saudi.
No matter what, my kids can say they visited Saudi and experienced the culture for a brief time. I feel fortunate to have given them this opportunity. What memories!
The major benefit during my stay in Saudi – diving! Since there are no tourists, I was afforded nearly exclusive rights to dive with the local folks under the Red Sea. It was magical. The Saudis are not environmentally conscious. This magnificent white coral was eventually destroyed by local divers. It was a treat to photo the moray being cleaned by a wrasse. And, the little box fish neatly escaped my camera each time I saw it. As for brain surgery, it was a curiosity to come across this fish with part of its skull missing – twice! Yes, it was a grand adventure. For a while I published “fish” so often that Carol finally (gently) protested, enough!
I have been afforded adventures one dreams about but never experience. Good? Bad? Leaving on a jet plane to Saudi from DC, you get the sunset over Long Island and sunrise over Egypt. The hot desert is a jarring sight.
Almost immediately I can dive beneath the Red Sea and its wonderous color and fish. Indeed, that was spectacular and special.
And, there were plenty of stray cats, largely ignored and mostly starving. The desert is cruel and harsh. A sandstorm? Several happened. I rushed out to see it. Disappointment. It was not the sweeping storm of Laurence of Arabia. Nope, it was more like dusky fog. From my vantage and perspective, it was curiosity and not too intimidating. My bad.
I’m a ‘datahead’ a nerd of sorts. It was but a moment ago, Noa was a baby; Colleen and I were in Scotland; my cats doubled in numbers. I have been keeping track of my slides and later digital images from nearly the beginning. First it was index cards and later on a computer. I now use an independent redundant array of external hard drives. It ain’t perfect. About once a year now, I update my yearly database summary. Do you care? … wanna hear?
Digital for me began in 2003. I number 701, 000 digital images in storage now. (Typing “701k” does not look nearly as impressive.) 2021 saw a high of 102k images shot– for the ‘freakin’ year! This spans (over the years) about 15 or more devices (cameras) including iPhone. As I asked, “Who cares?” Well, I do keep track. So, now you know. I shudder to think of how it might be without some “order” to the madness.
Life’s journey has taken me high and low – figuratively as well as literally – from love (lost to found) and to the depths of the Red Sea. Along the way I even took up basket making (#27) – See! Data! Gee!
From the pictures and the dates, it would appear that I last dove only a few days before I departed Saudi. Decompression protocol says you don’t dive 24 hrs before you (fly) leave. It looks like I got on a boat dive with the Filipinos. Nice! I learned this trick in my last few dives. All the nondescript shells on the reef harbored hermit crabs. Turn over the shell and voila! A hermit crab! Isn’t that a neat trick? Well, I guess the hermit crabs weren’t so amused. … giant clams, Christmas tree worms, clown fish, and pajama nudibranch numbered among my photographic subjects. One two three nudibranch, unusual to see them grouped, they are loners on the reef. Bright colors mean, danger, eat me and you will be sick. The details are what standout in these last images. My dive days are pretty much over, now.
At this point I have a goal: to teach Colleen to dive. It probably won’t happen. There are too many things going on in our lives. Once upon a time I taught Dave to dive. Jules, Dave, and I had a magical New Year’s in Saudi, where we dove and the kids did their first night dive. First time: it was a thrilling introduction and a memory we uniquely collectively share forever. For a time, I dove every weekend. I still have my dive gear and the camera housing. Likely, I will not use it again. Sad. But, I saw and recorded some amazing things – a hermit crab laying eggs? That’s not something you see – about as rare as hen’s teeth. Nowadays, in retirement, I’m shooting flowers, pets, and people. I still subscribe to a Dive magazine online – free! The photographs are stunning. It reminds me that I will probably not dive every weekend and that my photo underwater skill is static in the face of so many new developments. Wistful? No: one door opens as another closes. Change is inevitable and things never remain the same. I love my life; it rhymes with loving my wife… and cats.
Jen came up with the term ‘Bee sting’ look. Well, she taught the term to me. Purse your lips. Ok! Look. Try it! Bruce does not play along. Constipated? The generations are changing. The gen above us is gone as we will soon be. This summer’s hope is to imbue our kids with the desire to return.
Night dive! This was the moment when I realized that diving in the dark dark ocean with sharks somewhere about was not so scary as the result of obtaining a worthy night image. This was the moment that opened my mind to the concept. “Fish on a platter” I was hooked and enjoyed and sought night dives whenever I could.
Hey! I got experience. I have experience. I had the fortunate experience of diving in the Red Sea. I have hundreds of dives recorded. Lucky!! And I have photos that are one of a kind. I have a hermit crab in the act of laying eggs. How cool is that? One of a kind!! I was there at the right moment. Yes, sometimes I impress myself.
How do you tell one clown fish from one another? They all look the same to me. Male or female?? Ha ha, good luck with that. But here are fish eggs. They are a rare sight to capture underwater. I am indeed fortunate that I was there when it happened. I missed the moment the eggs hatched. That would have been special. I suppose there are always some regrets we have until the next time.
I discovered there are no words that come to mind. This photo is a night dive shot of a stone fish. You don’t mess with them; they are dangerous. I never did – mess with one. The warning was enough. I don’t know why not? I was never known to take warnings without some degree of skepticism. I should’ve/would’ve tried at some point…. This was the genesis of my love for night diving. Call it: “Stonefish on a platter.” This was it! It was the image that hooked me. It was not the first night dive. But when I put this image up in Lightroom, oh my! Can you say, “I was blown away?” You might laugh. I am. I just came across this image in a random sorting. This was the genesis of my enthusiasm for night dives. Shhh, cue the “Jaws” movie music. In a night dive it really is dark in the deep blue sea. And, the shark is out there waiting to eat you…. dum dum, dum dum….
It’s a nudibranch. This was the last subject I photographed in the Red Sea. Last dive in September 2016. This is one I have not seen before. How nice to see something new? The dive was like any other – uneventful. I knew it was the last dive. It came and went without fanfare. I have not dived since. I think I will dive again someday. Meanwhile, I have a lot of expensive equipment waiting for that day.
I realize that most people will not necessarily appreciate this image. Let me explain it. It is of a diver wearing his tank on his hip – Armand. It’s a style of diving to allow the diver not to bump things if he were wearing his tank on his back. We are approaching the landing dock, hence the waves. There is action with serenity. I appreciate the moment in which the dive is ending and the next to come. Peace.
I learned this trick in the last months I dove in the Red Sea. Hermit crabs. They live in shells. I would see shells as we dove. I turned them over and waited. If there was a crab, it emerged to turn it’s house back – right side up. My dive buddies would laugh at me. No crab on the reef was safe from me. Mostly I would get or not get a satisfactory shot. Everyone else lost interest and stopped taking pictures of the crabs. I persisted. Look!
Eggs! Not once, but more than once. Actually, it happened more. But, in this instance you can see that the crab is in the act of laying its eggs. I think.
At least that’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it. You should be impressed. This was not easy. Really? The timing !!! I was there, I will readily admit purely fortuitously. But there!!
Okay, back to diving… I’m editing some images for a presentation next March. Ha! I was never known for advance planning. But…. So, I’m looking through roughly 60,000 dive images. Many, most, are not any good. You take a lot and most are out of focus or poorly exposed. Got it? I’m looking over a night dive. The exposure is awful. But? Well, I ratcheted up the exposure and lo and behold… not one, but, at least four shrimp! I’m lucky to see one. But four! They like to hide behind urchins. Protective? I can count four. This is a complete surprise to me. I must have edited when I finished the dive. I guess? I don’t remember. Meanwhile, serendipity, I found something new. I know you might not be impressed. The Planet Earth series is full of amazing shots. We see amazing shots day in and day out. I’m just an advanced amateur. I am humbled to get these shots and to have had the opportunity to do so. Hey! Four shrimp, one shot! They are notoriously shy. You should know. You’d eat them if they were on your plate. They know this too!
See through! Yeah! Try to spot this one. And they are small. And they are skittish. So, it’s very fortunate to see one. Now, try to get a picture. Damn! It seems that the flash does not trigger a retreat. Every once in a while, I get to see one. Focus! It’s the hardest thing to do. How do you focus on a transparent animal? Yeah, it was hard. I’d shoot and shoot and shoot. Some, a few (images) would turn out decent. Most were throw away images. Remember I’m shooting through water and moving in 3D – up, down, sideways – in the current. Yeah, it’s hard enough if I’m standing on dry land. Oh, remember to get all of your settings right. The flash had to be set manually – guessing at the right light settings. Oh yeah! Easy as pie?!!
The last few months I dove in the Red Sea there was not a single (that I could find) hermit crab safe from me. Turn over the shell, wait, the legs and head would poke out to right the upside-down shell. They’d do it over and over. I just had to hang around long enough to wait to get the perfect shot. My dive buddies were swimming away. I would linger to the last second. The shot includes the eyes and the antennae in focus. You only get a moment. Once, I got a “mama” hermit crab with eggs. That was special. I think even my buddies were impressed. The crabs are only mere fractions of an inch big. Yes! Small! I’m used to shooting under (time) pressure. Traditionally, my companions are always moving on to something else as I linger behind. Yup, the Poky Little Puppy.
The holy grail of night diving around where we dove in the Red Sea? The Spanish dancer. You can see them. Lots of night divers have seen them. Right! But, it’s a rare sight. They look like the skirt of a Spanish dancer – duh! Beautiful! They are very large nudibranch. Not too sexy, huh? But the holy grail nonetheless. The feather star is also a coral that will shrink if the light hits it. You see them only on night dives. And you flash photo them. A flashlight will cause them to shrink. And the last animal with the tentacles was definitely a one-time shot for me. I was with Farid in the southern site we sometimes dove. Ugly and monstrous it spooked me and fascinated me at the same time. Whoa!
It’s interesting that looking at an image, I can recall the circumstances and location I took the shot. At other times I have completely forgotten the image until it showed up again in Lightroom. Memory is funny. It’s amazing what triggers memory recall. I especially like the images where, “I took that?” pops into my head.
Follow your buddy, shoot what they shoot. My friend Marie has the ability to find great “shit.” And she breathes slow! Way slow! She can get an hour and a half from a single tank. Newbies get about thirty minutes. I got an hour. After I learned to breathe more slowly and rhythmically from her (by watching her) I could get way more dive time. And more pictures! Meanwhile, she was taking pics of the male fish (see the teeth) with eggs in their mouth. And I did too! Yay! I once saw a fern in Jamaica whose leaves shrink when touched – sort of like scrunching up when a rain drop would hit. Coral does too – some types – as in you can write things in the coral. But once one coral shrinks the whole lot seems to follow. So, it’s a trick to write letters in the shrinking coral. Good luck.
During Ramadan everything (schedule) is turned upside down. Night dives! The guys would show up to break fast. Eat. Then dive. Yay! They did two or three! Night dives! Unfortunately, I was not privy to the schedule. No one ever tells you, nor do they bother to invite you. Ah well, I caught on to the rumor and showed up. The group all brought food to the communal break fast meal. They graciously fed me. (Free food!) We hung out way past sunset into night time. What the…? We were waiting for the late arrival of a friend. He was a thin guy whose wet (elastic) suit hung limply over his scrawny figure. He chain-smoked until he put his tank on and the regulator into his mouth. Yeah, nothing happens (explosion). It’s compressed air, not oxygen. I got to be his dive buddy. Oh great!? At the very end of the dive, after the decompression stop, when we were swimming in toward the pier, at the very last second; he pulled up short and started taking pictures like mad. It was a hermit crab on the bottom in ten foot of water. Yeah, sometimes your dive buddy has his moments.
Confusing picture? The hermit crab has green eyes. There are antennae. He has covered himself with shells in order to confuse you and to camouflage himself better. See?
I realize it’s not a good image. But it’s a good memory. Farid and I were swimming parallel to the reef. That would be north south. We are supposed to be able to navigate underwater. After all north south is south north going backward. Ha! It’s one way or the other. Keep the reef to your right or left shoulder. Done! Ah! No! If you swim into a cove you can swim in a circle and be right back where you started. Get it? We didn’t. I had a great laugh when Farid surfaced to see where the hell we were. Oh! I missed it too. I was just following the “leader.” Rays? Out in the “blue” were three rays just moving along the reef. Beautiful. We couldn’t get close. They swam effortlessly away from us. The “blue?” In the deep, with no reference for navigation, up, down and sideways, it’s all the same. You can be lost or disoriented so easily. We joked. Sudan is to our west and in the “blue.” Don’t go to Sudan.
This was the quintessential image that “hooked” (ha ha) me on night dives. Night dive? Sharks are out there in the dark?!! No. They don’t like the light. They think it’s a big eye; they don’t come near night divers. Hmmm? Who had a conversation with a shark and found that info out? I consider that bright flashing light a dinner bell, “Come one, come all, dinner is served!”
My first night dive during my “advanced” course was totally forgettable. I wasn’t allowed to take my camera. Drat! And double drat! We didn’t see much. It’s surprising how boring things are when you don’t carry a camera. But this image was taken during a boat dive and a night dive. We actually had a guy on the boat who was afraid of the dark and didn’t go into the water. Funny. But near the end of our dive, there it was – a stonefish on a platter. My! Everything was right (including the stars!) – I got this shot. Perfect! Well, for me it was so special to see this as I edited. Wow! You might be jaded and fail to see the difficulties that all culminated in this image. Me? I was just so impressed with everything that came together in that fraction of a second. What an image! Night dive? I was there ever after. We did not do many. It was not a thing that folks wanted to much wait around to do. Generally, we did a couple day dives and then moved along with our day activities. It was even rare to do a third day dive. I’d have gone (diving) morning till night. I appreciated the special moments and that they could end any time. Alas!
I’ve posted this before. Amr, a senior photographer and dive buddy shot/made a poster of it. It hung as an admonishment at the dive center. The Saudis are pigs. Ha, they don’t eat pork. Pig is a relative term I suppose. Someone (maybe not Saudi) destroyed this coral. They knocked it over. It looked like “shit” after it was destroyed. It was out about 15 minutes from the pier at 65 feet. It was beautiful and gorgeous once upon a time. Then someone came along and messed it up forever and for everyone else to come. Bastards!
I got some “art” shots. Unintentional! Really! The kissing fish? It’s a true picture. I was swimming over a rise in the coral. Voila! They were kissing. It lasted for a single frame. No! No Photoshop! No one believes me. It’s too easy to manipulate an image. But! Yup! Kissing! Omar blew bubbles. He liked Jules. So, he latched on to us and did a few dives with us. He was showing off his skill at the decompression stop. Bubbles! Free diver. There are guys who dive without tanks. Free divers – duh?! They hang weights from a float and dive to depths. Hey, it’s something to do when you have mastered basic diving skills. This diver was waiting for his compatriots. I got my balletic shot. Beautiful.