It had been a long time since I’ve been diving. Betty’s been keeping her hand in, but I hadn’t been diving since Fiji in 2001. Political problems in many of the places we like to dive, the increasing unpleasantness of air travel, and a busy schedule at home all combine to keep me way too dry.
A lot has changed in the photographic world in the last three years. Almost all of my above-water photography is digital now, and for this trip, I was determined to go filmless there as well. My first thought was to house one of the digital camera that I already have. That proved to be difficult. There were a few housings announced for one of them, but availability was iffy, there was one housing announced for another, and I could have serial number one, and there were no housings available for a third. My next thought was that I’d get the new hot Canon body, a couple of macro lenses, and a housing for it. I had the order form all filled out, was going over it, and asked the salesman, “Where are the focus gears?”
“There aren’t any; it’s autofocus only,” came the reply.
That was a deal-killer for me. I ended up buying a Nikon D-100, and a Subal D-10 housing. The camera is serviceable, takes all of my Nikon lenses, but is nowhere near as good as any of the three 35mm-based digital SLRs I use above the waterline. Except for the finder, the housing is entirely acceptable, and much better designed and constructed than the Aquatica housing that I used with my F4 for almost ten years.
Why the scarcity of housings for top-line digital cameras? The problem is that digital cameras are a high-volume item for their manufacturers so they can justify coming out with a new one ever few months, but housings are never high-volume, so the housing manufacturers can’t afford to design a hosing for every digital camera that comes along, and must concentrate on the cameras that will be used the most underwater, which tend to be the mid to low-end digital SLRs like the D-100. Some of the companies that build housings for the better cameras build them in such infinitesimal quantities that delivery is long and spares are hard to come by.
Betty found the Solmar V and suggested the trip. The travel arrangements were certainly attractive compared to going to the Solomons, and we’d feel safer than in Indonesia. Two other couples agreed to come along, and it’s always more fun to dive with your friends. I was a little taken aback when I found out that there were going to be 22 divers on board; it reminded me of a really unpleasant experience in the Coral Sea on the Spoilsport, with 28 divers circling the same fifty-foot-diameter bommie. Fortunately, the dive sites in the Sea of Cortez are usually fairly large, and the number of divers was only a problem on the dinghies (pangas in Mexico), and a manageable problem at that. The boat was large, well-maintained, and well-appointed, even though the cabins were small. The staff was pleasant and competent. Food was good, and more than plentiful.
And the diving? Kind of like the Galapagos, but with warmer water (we went in October, when the water is at its warmest at 82 to 84 Fahrenheit), and fewer hammerheads (we saw exactly none; in fact, we saw no toothed sharks at all). Vis was 40 to 60 feet, there was a distinct current on about half the dives, and there were lots of sea lions. The highlight of the trip for me was two days of snorkeling with whale sharks. The first day we went looking for them. Vis was about 25 feet, but somehow, Geronimo, the panga driver, knew just where they were. Four times in a row I swam where he pointed and stopped in the water to see a whale shark headed right for me, about 8 feet below the surface of the water. I had to dodge the tail as it passed me. The second day, at La Reina, a whale shark came through a few hundred feet from the boat as were were finishing our second dive of the day. I swam over him for about 20 minutes.
The Sea of Cortez is not the best place to be a photographer. No coral. Not very many little colorful fish. Not good enough vis for spectacular wide angle. However, it was a pleasant trip, and I had fun with my new camera.