July 4, 2006
Happy fourth everyone! Well we are taking a break from our road trip and I am happy and sad. I am happy to be home to see my family, as well as catch up on some work, but I am sad that we are not out there chasing sharks. It was so much fun waking up every day knowing that I was going shark diving. And I was not alone, I was diving with a lot of my old friends, and meeting new ones along the way, I loved it! Now that I have slowed down long enough to really think about it, I can say this; I REALLY love being the editor of Shark Diver Magazine, I am LIVIN' this incredible dream.
You know, for years I had been talking about doing something like this; taking off on an adventure, with no worries, just livin' it up. Now granted, the no worries thing didn't work out, because I was leaving my family for a long time, and I miss the hell out of them. And it was not totally care free, because we were working, making a movie. But we were making a movie about a subject we love, and we were doing it our way. I will always look back on this adventure as being one of the wildest and coolest things I have ever done.
I have written in some of my past E-Chum news letters that when people come back from some intense adventure, that they come back different people. Sometimes they are better people because of the adventure, but sometimes they are worse. I know I have changed because of this adventure. I am hoping for the better, but only time will tell. I know my views and ideas on shark diving have changed because of this adventure. Or maybe what has changed is what I thought shark diving was. I know I am going to be spending more of my free time diving off of small boats with my close friends, hopefully chasing after big sharks. I know I will be trying to do more to help sharks, and I know our magazine will be more reflective of this. I guess that is the beauty of being the creative force for the mag, is I can make a change like that happen overnight. Maybe what I am seeking out is a cleaner experience, or maybe PURE is the word. Yea, I do want my life and adventures to be PURE, and to mean something. It may mean nothing to the world, but it will to me.
All I know is when I am old and gray, and bouncing my grand kids on my knee, I want to look back at my life as a writer, filmmaker, and the editor and creator of Shark Diver Magazine and say "What a party!" I may not have been the most organized guy, or the smartest business man, but I did make a lot of friends, I had some very cool adventures, and I helped save a few sharks. Plus I did publish a kick ass magazine, and I made some really cool films, that people loved.
Sorry for the ramble, it is just good to be home...for a while.
The sharks are calling me!
Cheers from SDM HQ.
Saturday June 24, 2006
Again I am late updating my journal. St Maarten is an incredible place. Talk about a pirates paradise. There are no drinking laws here! So basically, people can drink and drive. Which is kind of scary, but hey it is a wild place. Plus the beers are typically $1 each, and everyday some bar is offering 2 for 1 specials. It is insane, to stay sober long enough to last the night we keep away from the specials. It just makes the morning boat rides so much harder for us if we leave port with a heavy head. And so far we have seen nothing but 3-4 foot seas. The waters here are amazing though, nothing but gin clear turquoise blue oceans. It really is breath taking.
I really wanted to include this style of shark diving in our first film, mainly because it is the most common. I have officially dubbed this type of shark diving as 'umbrella drink shark diving' because it is the most relaxed and easiest to do. It's a typical resort dive, but it's an edgy dive. Any weekend warrior can do it, plus you do not have to get up early, and the sharks are already there when you get to the site, reef sharks are common. The water is always warm with good vis. This is shark diving at it's best. Many tropical islands offer this style of diving, Bahamas being the unofficial capitol. But I chosen St Maarten, in the Caribbean as the location of our 'Umbrella drink shark diving' shoot for a couple of reasons. One reason is that many people were unaware that an organized shark feed was offered way out here in the Caribbean. Another was that a rarely seen blacknose shark often visits the feed ( I have never seen one before). But the most important was that it is also one of the wildest organized shark dives in the world.
Our dive master and shark feeder Jefferson has a very close relationship with the local population of Caribbean reef sharks, and it shows. The shark feed he leads is one of the wildest shark encounters I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. When engaging the sharks, Jeffeson has a routine that he uses to help ensure safety for himself and the sharks. The sharks always feed the same way. They swim around the left side of his body and coming up the right, but they only get the reward is if they swim through his legs! Like I said it's wild. But, it is the only way he feeds them. I was totally humbled by it.
Another very cool experience was that I was able to slap on a chain mail suit and feed their sharks. Dive Safaris (our host operator) let me do this. It was wild, and an experience I will never forget. For our first two days of diving, we only had one or two big sharks come into feed, but when it was my turn to feed, three big sharks showed up; totally crazy! I did my best to try and feed the sharks like Jefferson did, but I have never done this before, so I was a bit nervous. I was not nervous that I would get bit or anything silly like that, especially after what we had just went through in Venice. But I was nervous that I would not do it right. I was worried that I would mess up all the conditioning that Jefferson was working on. It all came out good on film though.
Sunday June 18, 2006
Well we are traveling again, and this time towards the airport to catch a puddle jumper to St Maarten, Caribbean to finish our road trip shoot. We left Venice, Louisiana, and after only three days there, I can honestly say it; I have found a new home! It is a Shark Divers paradise, and the prodigy of the SHARK GOD, Tibbius is Captain Al Walker. He offers nothing but small private shark charters for film crews and photographers. We asked for sharks and damn did he ever deliver. We told him we wanted big sharks, hopefully makos. He said fine, I'll try. It is kind of late in the season for them, but I will take you to some of the best spots. He took us to a spot and started chumming, and not 20 minutes later, a big silky shark showed up, and a few minutes after that, five very large duskies showed up. Then a couple of small spinners were added to the mix. By the end of the day, we had maybe 20-30 sharks around us. We shot maybe 3-4 hours of footage with these sharks. It was awesome, Captain Al suggested we try another spot for the makos, we had shot a days worth of footage and decided that it would not hurt to try for more shark species. He took us to a platform oil rig, anchored up and we started chumming, but before we had a chance to chum anything up, the oil rig workers dropped the bad news on us that we were not allowed to dive under the rig. Bummer, and it was way too late to go anywhere else, so we threw out the rest of our hang baits and went home. I kicked myself, because I broke my own rule, you don't leave sharks to find sharks.
Day 2 started out with our team seeking out scalloped hammerheads. We went to another seamount and let out the chum. We began chumming and sat for maybe 30 minutes this time and our buddies the duskies showed up again. This time they brought friends! And when I say friends I mean a lot of them. We were in the water with easily over forty circling sharks. The smallest sharks in this group were around 6-8 feet, and all the others were 9-10 feet. Did I mention that there were over 40 of them? The dive was totally electric, and scary. We had to control how much bait was in the water because the sharks were hot. The dive itself got way out of control and as much as I want to tell you all how our day ended, you're going to have to wait for our show. It is so damn good and I don't want to spoil it for you all. All I can say is that it is completely insane, and another shark shows up, creating more chaos. Oh and about Venice, Louisiana, I will be spending all my free time hanging out with Captain Walker diving those waters.
Thursday June 15, 2006
On the road again!
It has been a few days since I have been able to sit and write. I did have the time, but I have not had the energy, I am just so tired. It is a good tired, but I am still tired. I tried to sit and write, but when I did, as I wrote, it would all sort of turn to gibberish and make no sense. So I scrapped most of it. NC was a lot of fun. I made new friends and got to hang out with old ones as well. That trip is hands down one of my favorites, and we go on great trips! But NC was our first organized Shark Diver Magazine sponsored adventure back in 2003, so I have a soft spot for the place.
The diving was sick! Everyday we got to go out we had sharks. A storm blew through and chased us out of the water twice. So we ended up diving 4 out of 6 days. Our second group got the blunt end of this storm and only got to dive one out of three days, so that sucked. I was bummed out over that. It hurts being so close to the sharks and not being able to get out there. But we took advantage of the time, we washed laundry, hung out and talked shark, went to visit the Atlantic Beach Aquarium to see their sharks. We also got a behind the scenes tour of the place and of course we tried to talk them into letting us dive their tank, but we got shut down. "Maybe next time," they said. We always hear that, and it's getting old. We want to dive with sharks damn it, let us in the pooll! Ok my crying fit is over.
So we are on route to Venice, Louisiana for the thrid leg of this adventure. Here we will meet our dive guide who will taking us out to find big makos, or oceanics, or tigers, or possibly great hammerheads. Honestly, as long as we find sharks I am a happy guy. I really do not care what kind, as long as it is a big shark. We have yet to see anything big and scary yet. We have already filmed silkies, sand tigers, and blacktip sharks, but we are hoping this is the place to up the tempo of our film.
It is always a crap shoot when you're out there chumming for sharks, you just never know. You hope that your chum slick is thick and that you have sharks around the area to pick up the scent. Then you need a player. Dive day #1 in the Gulf of Mexico, we had a big sandbar shark steal our hang bait but it did not stick around to play. For a photo opportunity you need a shark that is willing to hang around, but when you are dealing with wild sharks and the ocean, it is hard to tell. We have three days to find them. I hope we get sharks everyday, we need them for our story, but we shall see. I won't have any internet access for three days once we are there. Venice, LA was one of the places that got leveled with last years hurricane, so conditions are a bit rough.
Saturday June 10, 2006-Day 8
I am still tired, and I miss my family... Today, was one of the best (and worst) days in the water in my diving career. Let me explain the settings. We left the dock at 6:45 AM and headed out to sea in what has to have been one of the worst crossings I have ever seen. The ocean swells were only 3-4 feet but they were so close together that it caused the boat to slam down and throw us about. We were all exhausted physically after the 1 1/2 boat ride to the dive site.
When we anchored up for our first dive, all of us sort of dragged our feet. We just felt crappy. Andy puked from the rocking and rolling boat (we got that on film!). I was tired and I felt like total crap. I really wished I had stayed in bed, I think all of us did. I jumped in to the water and descended on the wreck. It was cold, but the vis was good on the wreck, maybe 40 feet. Which was way better than our previous days' 5-8 feet. Once I hit depth, I saw a shark and went right to work. I pushed the record button on my camera and chased after it. I followed the shark, and filmed it till it swam away. I turned back and saw another shark approaching me, I aimed the camera at the shark and shot footage of it, then another shark approached me, then another, and another. I shot close up footage of sand tigers for 18 minute straight! With the better visibility I know I was able to record some real good "In your face" footage of plenty of sand tigers. I came up the anchor line totally stoked. Then, while on the hang line, doing my safety stop at 15 feet, a blacktip shark cruised by. I prepped my camera, just in case it swam by again. It did! I swam after it but my bc snagged one of the safety lines hanging under the boat. The shark left and I moved back to my spot to finish my time on the line. I grabbed the line and turned to see what one of the other divers was pointing frantically at. A school of 15-20 blacktip sharks were cruising by! I pushed record on my camera and swam towards the sharks. The sharks swam by, checking us out and I was able to get some ok footage. I came out of the water totally on fire, everyone who saw the schooling sharks did. This experience reminded me of why I do this. It is moments like this that make it all worth while, and why we are filming this in the first place. You just can't pay to feel this good, it has to be earned with adventure and experience
Our second dive was just as good as the first. Andy broke a seal on his dry suit and filled it up with the cold water. He just had a bad day at sea. But it was also one of his best days in the water, photo wise, as well.
Friday June 9, 2006-Day 7
We were almost weathered out. In fact we were, but Bobby, co-owner of the Olympus Dive Center suggested that we wait it out till 10 AM before we cancel the day. And I am glad we waited. The seas calmed down from 4-5 foot heavy swells, to a slow steady roll.
Dive # 1
My camera lights arrived at Olympus so I was happy. I was able to set up my camera with them for my first dive. I hit the water and found that I was way over weighted. I only had five pounds in my BC, but I was also diving with a size 100 tank, so it caused me to drag on the sand when I was shooting low to the ground. We had reports of 40 foot vis from the other dive boats, so we were all stoked, but once we hit the wreck, the vis dropped down to maybe 5-8 feet. I was not happy about that, especially because that is where all the sharks were. I found my first sand tiger shark and followed it for a while, then our shark passed by a larger sand tiger and we took off behind that one. We followed that shark for a while and it swam over another shark that was much bigger, so we took off after it. It was awesome. It seemed like there were sharks everywhere. I am hoping we will get the same luck on dive # 2. I hope so, we really need to get all the underwater footage in the bag early so we are not desperate towards the end of the week for some good shark footage. Andy had some ear clearing issues, which has never happened to him in over 2,000 dives. So he was not able to go down and dive with me and Raf. He is pretty pissed off about it. But he took some meds, so he should be good for the next dive. One of the batteries on my light system crapped out so I was not able to shoot with two lights. So I am not sure if the footage I got was any good. I really do not think so, since the vis was terrible. We will see.
We had pretty much the same dive as # 1. The vis was bad and their was alot of sharks. I chased a very big shark and lost the wreck again. I really want to write more but I am so damn tired.
Thursday June 8, 2006-Day 6, 9:30 AM
Yesterday was a travel day. Nothing but RV repairs and movies filled our day as we head out towards NC. We also reviewed some of the footage from our Gulf rig dive. We got some cool wrangling footage, I had a real good bump shot. At dusk the sharks got a bit bolder and a young silky swam straight into my camera dome port. I also got a few good shots of schooling silkies, so I was stoked with the results of our first three day adventure.We also shot alot of footage of the sharks getting harrassed by the fish and Andy and Paul's pics came out real good. So the mag's article and images are covered.
We had a tentative schedule to meet with reps at the Atlanta Aquarium. It has been a busy week for them as they introduced two more whale sharks into their tank. This time two females. There is so much controversy with these sharks. Conservationists ask, should they cage these animals? Is it to help the survival of the species or purely just for profit? To me the bottom line is it should be both. There is no way anyone could support animals like these in captivity with just donations and/or Government grants. You have to make a profit to support a project like this. It is a win-win as far as I am concerned. The conservationists have 24 hour access to these beautiful animals, and the owners make a good profit. Plus the public get to see an animal that they will NEVER see in their natural environment. So these sharks are representatives for their species, and may help to win the hearts of the public, which in turn may spark a campaign to help protect the species from extinction. We are still trying to coordinate our meeting to film the behind the scenes on this trip but even if we don't, we are going to stop and visit the aquarium anyway and see our friends the sharks. We have to see it. The sharks are in an aquarium tank that is bigger than a football field! Plus they also have a couple of great hammerhead sharks in it! Just seeing the whale sharks will get us pumped up for our whale shark trip to Holbox Island next month.
We just left the Atlanta Aquarium, and I have to say it, WOW! I do not know what I was thinking it would be, but it was amazing. I was completely blown away with the exhibit. We were able to kep our appointment with Megan Gibbons, their PR specialist and she allowed us a behind the scenes tour of their whale shark tank. It was insane. They have four whale sharks in this huge tank and it was so wild to be their and see these beautiful animals swimming around. It brought back memories of my dive in Holbox Island, Mexico last year. I can't wait to dive it again this July. The great hammerhead sharks in the tank were awesome as well. They are amazing sharks and I haven't seen one since my 2003 Bahamas dive. While I was up at the tank looking down at the whale sharks, one of the hammer's dorsal fin broke the surface and cut the surface. I never tire of seeing that. It was so cool to see the public's response as they viewed the sharks. This facility in my mind is going to do so much god for the long term conservation of sharks. I can't wait to see what kind of positive results five years is going to yield. The operation they are running is inspiring and after seeing the set up I am happy to say that my support of the whale sharks in captivity was dead on.
Tuesday June 6, 2006-Day 4
We woke up to find out that our captain wanted to leave early today from our dive spot. Nice news considering it wasn't his money being wasted. We had also brought an extra 65 pounds of chum for a full day in the water! We chummed all night, and Raf had started chumming hard around 5 AM. So it pissed me off to hear we were leaving earlier than expected. So after a few minutes of a one sided conversation with our captain, we geared up for one more long dive.
Our team hit the water and swam over to the rig. Even though we had been chumming for hours, the silkies still preferred to hang out under the rig. They felt safer I guess. My camera "Shiela" was working good. The LCD monitor took a dump on me, but I was still able to focus my shots through the view finder. It wasn't long before I saw my first silky shark swimming in the distance. The moment I saw the shark, I calmed down and forgot about our prissy captain. I followed the shark around and watched it swim in and out of view. I hung out and hoped it would swim within filming range, but all I kept getting were distant silhouettes. Another shark joined him and I spent my time swimming around the two small sharks but they kept a good distance from me and made it hard to get any good shots. I got tired of the cat and mouse game and I was getting worried that I would not get any useable footage from this dive. And since this was my last dive of the day, I needed to make it count. So I decided to check out the other side of the rig and see if there was anything going on...there was!
The big school of silkies I had see at the end of the day yesterday were there. I counted something like 20 sharks. Naturally, upon seeing that many sharks, I took off swimming hard towards them, but all that did was scare them off. So I backed off from my agressive approach, and I began trying to find different ways to get close to the skittish sharks. I finally figured out their patrolling pattern around the rig and was able to slowly inch my way in and get a few close ups of the sharks together. The vis was ok and there was some light breaking the surface which helped out with my filming quite a bit. I spent over an half an hour in the water following them around, but I finally had to surface when my tank was nearly empty. I came up from the dive totally stoked with the long session I had with these sharks. I spent those entire 30 minutes swimming alone with this group of sharks. It is hard to express the emotions that you feel after a dive like that. I am hoping it comes across in our documentary, but I am not sure. Andy showed a few of the images he captured during his time in the water. He got some amazing images for the mag, and both of us have a good story to go along with it. I am just hoping I was able to shoot some shark footage worth showing.
Tonite we pack up and head on over to the Atlanta Aquarium, it is time to see the whale sharks! We are hoping to film them for the show. We have a tentative meeting scheduled with them, but it is still not confirmed. Even if we don't get to film the sharks, we want to see the exhibit anyway.
Monday June 5, 2006-Day 3
On the way out this morning...
The boat is starting to attract flies. The ice chests on the dive deck that are full of chum and fish heads are starting to get pretty rank with this Texas heat. But its summer and that is part of shark diving. We picked up another 65 pounds of chum this morning as well. We have decided to over night it on the boat at the reef site today and I am happy about that. We left late this morning and I was not happy at all about that. We are leaving port with plenty of chum and hang baits, as well as half an ice chest full of fisherman bi-catch, so we are set to find some big sharks. The idea of chumming all night and hopefully bringing some sharks in for a full day in the water tomorrow is fine with me. So I am optimistic about the day. I am hoping for some big sharks, but if we find that school of silkies, that would be heaven for me. Shooting a school of silkies on the first leg of our filming expedition would be a dream.
Night time, after spending the day in the water...
Well we arrived at our destination and anchored up to one of the oil platform rigs and within five minutes of anchoring, a small silky shark swam right up to the boat. I was very happy. We began chumming right away and had three small silkies, swimming in the slick. We all geared up and swam with the sharks for a while. It was hard to get close to them, but we had a few good passes. We all got back on the boat and chummed really hard for a few hours,hoping to attract more sharks, but still had just the three resident silkies with us. We wrangled one up to the boat and got some sick footage of a silky thrashing around trying to get the hang baits from our line.
Andy Murch and Paul went down for the last dive of the day to try and get a few more shots before they lost the light. Not more than 20 minute later, Andy popped his head out of the water and told me to get in with my camera "Shiela". He said the sharks were getting amped up and really close. I jumped in and shot till I lost the light, as I was diving without lights on my camera (they have not arrived yet, should get them in NC.). I yelled up to Raf who was chumming and told him to get in with his camera, "Big Bertha." Raf has lights on his camera. We hung out by the boat shooting till we lost most of the light. We all decided to head on over to the oil rig and see if there were any sharks hanging out under it. The group was ahead of me and they were already under the rig by the time I got there, I was about to follow them when something caught my eye. I turned and about 15 yards away was a big school of silky sharks. The sharks were swimming together, I turned towards the group to point out the sharks but they were all facing the other direction. I decided to forget the crew and swim after the sharks by myself. I was not sure if the sharks were going to stick around for long and I did not want to miss the opportunity to film 20 plus sharks. Of course it was getting dark and without lights I knew the footage was going to be useless, but I was just stoked about finding a big school of sharks out here. There I was all by myself, filming a school of sharks, smiling to myself, thinking is what shark diving trips are all about... I just hope tomorrow is just as good!
Sunday June 4, 2006-Day 2
We spent the day on the water chumming a spot called tiger pass. The water conditions were perfect. Smooth glassy seas, warm sunny day. The vis on top was around 30 feet, the bottom had maybe 1-2 feet of vis, which made it really spooky. We spent the morning chumming as well as working out the bugs in our camera gear. We really have not had a chance to test any of our gear out so we spent the time before the sharks showed up doing just that.
We chummed all day and nothing, not a nibble, or a dorsal fin anywhere. We were about all burned out and ready to head home, when wham it happened. A huge sandbar shark stole our hang bait. We were all stoked at our luck. Our first shark happened to be a species that we have never done a story on before in the mag. So we pulled in our float, and retied another bait to it. But the shark was gone. We added new chum bags to the water, and waited another 30 minutes before the sandbar came up from below and took the bait again. Just as before the shark grabbed the bait and dropped back down into the murk.
We decided to try something different, we all dropped into the water, and took the chum down to the sandy floor with us. Of course this is when we found out how murky and crappy the vis was. After less than a minute of looking around, we decided having chum all over us in less than 2 feet of vis was a very bad idea. So we all came back up into the blue water above the murk line and continued some shooting drills, working with our new cameras and housings. Getting them ready for our real shark encounters.
So all in all it was an ok day, it was a crappy day for sharks, but we did work out all our camera problems. We also refined our chumming techniques, and with 14 more days of diving to go, the team is ready...I think.
Tomorrow we are headed out to a reef near Stetson bank, which is part of the Flower Garden National Marine park. A fisherman here reported seeing a big bull trying to steal his catch. He also claimed to have a school of silky sharks that hung out under his boat towards dusk as well. It sounds like a fishemans tale to a bunch of desperate shark junkies. But what do we have to lose. We have the boat chartered for another two days and it has been a while since we have done any kind of article with silky sharks.
Saturday June 3, 2006-Day 1
We are on the road! the time to go has finally arrived, and we have left to film our pilot episode. It is so wild, we have been working so hard on this project for so very long, it is hard to believe that the time to shoot is finally here. Everything is set. We have our HD cameras, our RV is all stickered up, all our gear is loaded (well sort of, the airline lost Andy Murch's luggage some where in Denver, coming down from Canada) and we are ready to go. I am very excited to finally share the details of our June filming schedule with you all;
Our adventure starts here at SDM headquarters in Alamo, Texas. It's four guys packed up in an RV; Eli Martinez, editor of SDM, Andy Murch, U/W shark photographer, Rafa Flores, U/W director of photography, and Rusty Armstrong, top side director of photography. We have lots of gear, all piled up in an over sized RV for a three week shark diving road trip. Once packed up we will set off for Houston, Texas where we will join up with our shark photographer buddy Paul Spielvogel, and dive the outskirts of the Flower Garden Banks for three days chumming up sharks. We are hoping to find the resident bulls, and tigers, or hammers; but most likely we will find silkies and/or blacktip sharks.
At the end of our last day of diving, we load up and head on to Morehead City, North Carolina. Here we catch up with our readers on the first Shark Diver Magazine sponsored trip of the season. This is the first stop on our "Shark Legends and Lies" shark diving tour. We will be hitting the water for six days in search of sand tiger sharks. On the evening of our last day of diving, we jump back into our RV and high tail it to Venice, Louisiana for three days of diving. Out here we will be chumming for makos, oceanic whitetips, tigers and/or great hammerhead sharks. We are not really sure what kind of sharks are going to show up, but whatever species does show, how do we lose?
So after three days of hopefully some intense and scary shark diving, we jump back into our Shark mobile, (probably smelling pretty rank at this point) and head down to Houston again, where we will catch a puddle jumper to St Maarten for three days of the wildest reef shark feed in the Caribbean. "Bahamas island reef shark diving ain't got NOTHING on this shark feed!" We are coming here to film what has got to be one of the wildest shark feeds on the planet. It is also an opportunity to film the rarely seen blacknose sharks. Once we get back to the mainland, we jump into our RV, head home to edit our footage, hang out with our family, (all of us hoping we still have a place to stay after being gone for three weeks?) and rest up for a few days before we head out for our July shoot in Mexico.
READERS PLEASE NOTE
This is our perfectly planned three week filming and diving schedule, what actually happens once we are out there is another thing all together. Hopefully it will all go as planned, but when you are dealing with people, weather and predatory sharks, you just never know. So we will keep a filming journal from the road, as we go through it all, posting pics and stories from the road! So keep checking back