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'Having a horrible time dearie?'

How NOT to take decent pictures

by Pat Morrissey

Reproduced from in focus 65 (June 1999)

They say a leopard never changes its spots, and it seems I never learn the easy way. You'd think my own experiences on dive-trips abroad would have taught me that it's never a good idea to take a camera into the water with a group who have no similar interest in photography; but no, it hasn't - or to be more accurate, it hadn't, as of last June. I can only claim it was an excess of bonhomie which led me to listen to, (never mind accept) the following offer: . comin' on the trip to Scapa, Pat? We've got a week on a live-a-board sailin' out of Kirkwall, there's loads of us goin', it's the last trip of the year and it's CHEAP...'

God bless Essex! A trip to Scapa Flow, in November, travelling there and back by minibus and living on a cramped dive-boat for a week's deep-water wreckdiving! But, gentle reader, it was cheap, wasn't it? I knew I had to have a go, having never been to Scapa and fancying the photographic challenge of it all.

So, come November, when others were planning trips to the Galapagos or Truk, there was Paddy en route for the Far North, camera case on knee for a 17 hour drive and surrounded by The Salt Of The Earth. Amazingly, there were no fights or deaths on board the bus, and we all arrived in different stages of crippledom - personally, it felt like I'd been given an arse-transplant without anaesthetic - and embarked onto the dive boat, our snug little home for the coming week. (I use the word 'snug' much as an estate agent uses the words 'in need of some modernisation'; you get the picture). Once ensconced in my half of the ship's locker, and careful not to trip over the dead cats that had failed to be swung, I headed for the deck and the open air. At least THAT was reassuringly fresh and I soon felt the need of food, drink and sleep, in that order.

The cabin doors were all of the louvre variety, so privacy was a relative term - relative to King Kong's boudoir, to judge by the strange noises that punctuated the cold hours of the night. If I'd complained previously about the Gents at Stoney Cove on a Sunday morning being the nearest thing to a casbah this side of Calcutta, I knew better now.

We were moored alongside a public jetty, and a drunk came aboard at about 3.00 am, which made for some entertaining badinage, and there was a pump somewhere in the bilges which groaned away all night long like a tortured soul. At least, I hope it was a pump; that's what they told me the next morning, anyway.

The days were beautiful, and wonderfully orchestrated to present the islands in all their glory; as we assembled on the dive deck on the first morning, I noted that a fine spray of water was being blown sideways from the wavetops, always a welcoming sight. As the days followed inexorably on, I saw half-inch thick ice on the deck, then snow shrouding the tops of our BCDs, and was treated to the most piercing winds I had ever encountered - and I spent a couple of hapless years in Benwell, West Newcastle, where if you had both your ears they questioned your sexuality. Cold? Not at all; mind-numbingly freezing? Well, perhaps, on a good day. (Bear in mind that word 'cheap'...)

'But tell us of the pictures', I hear you cry, 'or better yet, show us some!' And I would, if I could, but I can't. Shame (not modesty) forbids it. Suffice it to say that, like most of you, the underwater camera is my special care on a divetrip, a thing with its own personality and name. Imagine my surprise, then, to be told by the Captain on the first day that we were all expected to exit the boat in a constant line of thrashing scubadivers, all hand-gear with us or to be thrown to us as the boat continued on its way! After expressing some concern, it was agreed that the ship's Mate would lower my baby down to me via a hank of rope and a carabiner clip; this was the best (and indeed only) option available, and so, of course, I accepted it. And apart from the occasional coronary as the boat heeled and bucked through the cold black seas and I did my impression of a trained seal trying to grab and unclip my camera, it was a viable system, if not one to be recommended for the faint-hearted.

The snaps were few and far between, mostly close-ups of crabs who looked more amused at my temerity in trying to take their pictures than anything else. The dives were deep, and very dark. I enjoyed them (as wrecks will always be enjoyable), but from the photographic perspective, forget it.

And this year? Well, if I can get the local dive-shop owner to book a week in August, and can fly up there, and can live ashore in a decent hotel - then I might try it all again!

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