This continues a series of guest columns on how technology is reshaping hobbies and passions – basket weaving, rugby – whatever.
This time it is Louis Columbus, an all-round great guy at Cincom, author of several books and with a huge love for the sea. (click photos to enlarge)
“We’re an adventurous family which likes to combine snorkeling, diving, hiking and sightseeing in our vacations. Snorkeling has been our favorite, and our family has traveled to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (the family photo is from there), nearly a dozen islands in the Caribbean, the Hawaiian Islands, and Tahiti to explore reefs, shipwrecks and the islands themselves.
Through these trips, we’ve experimented with all kinds of underwater photography equipment, in addition to GPS navigational tools to find diving spots, ship wrecks and interesting natural formations where certain fish species congregate. We’ve also used GPS navigational equipment to night dive, and that is quite the experience.
While we are not gadget geeks, the advances in underwater digital photography, waterproof GPS and location finding systems for diving and snorkeling have made our trips even more of a learning experience and adventure. Finding obsidian fields of shiny, glass-like rocks littered like pebbles across a Hawaiian cove’s ocean floor formed from volcanic eruptions is fascinating. Exploring sea caves along the Na Pali coastline of Kauai is a good workout and also a great way to meet up with equally curious dolphins who by their sheer agility and effortless swimming remind my family and I we’re the visitors in their world. As we’ve encountered some very unique fish we’ve relied on the Google of fish databases, Fishbase, to identify them and then label our pictures.
One of our most memorable trips was to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We flew from Sydney to Hamilton Island, Queensland and stayed on Catseye Beach. The entire island is awakened in the morning by singing Macaws.
The one shown to the right decided to visit our veranda at dawn. We were using a Sony SLR 350 with a 200mm zoom lens to get shots of Catseye Bay at dawn and the visiting Macaw the morning before we went to the Reef. We have an underwater enclosure for the Sony SLR 350, and have also tested 35MM, digital cameras from Canon and Olympus, and found Sony works best for digital underwater photography.
Hamilton Island is a great jumping off point to get to the Great Barrier Reef, just across the Coral Sea, accessible by Tri-Hull Catamaran. There is a diving platform just on the edge of the reef, about fifty yards away The water is about five feet to three feet deep over the reef, so the sunlight is excellent for photography.
We spent the day snorkeling and we did a little diving directly beneath the diving platform. The FantaSea crew (the tour operator) has a pet Grouper which lives beneath this diving platform and he follows you on dives, sort of like a friendly dog. We had a great time and consider Hamilton Island and the snorkeling, diving and underwater photography opportunities there exceptional.
The State of Hawaii has done an exceptional job of re-invigorating the many ecosystems that are now thriving in Hanauma Bay, another of our favorite visits. Out at the mouth of the Bay, where it’s common to see a whale or two during migratory season, the currents are challenging yet the marine life is vibrant, varied and among the best found off the Oahu coastline. Hanauma Bay is to us, a classroom for teaching the fundamentals of GPS navigation, snorkeling, and diving to our daughter and seeing what we can learn from GPS locations recommended by dive sites.
GPS devices triangulate their locations as they do on land, but the advanced models can also rely on sonar-based sound waves they emit underwater to search out larger landmarks. We haven’t gone that geeky yet, to get into sonar, but I am fascinated by it and the form factors of these systems. My Dad worked on sonar systems with the U.S. Navy and he talked much about that technology at home when I was growing up. Sonar systems then were the size of a dining room table, now there are systems the size of a snorkel fin. There are many excellent websites with GPS navigational information available for diving and snorkeling. One is the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center.
GPS maps are digitally mastered so the can be loaded into the GPS to interpret this data, and there are more efforts to get these maps into digitally readable form for divers. Our first GPS was the Magellan Triton 1500 which we learned how to use while exploring the California coast during summers including Catalina Island’s coves. Just as the cellular telephone industry has gone through a remarkably fast convergence, the same holds true in marine-based GPS devices. The Garmin Oregon 400c has a touch screen similar to the Apple iPhone, provides tide tables, optimization of routing from one salt water location to another taking into account tides, and also has a USB interface for ease of programming. Garmin has also supported geocaching in this model as well. If you aren’t familiar with the concept go check it out. It is our latest gadget and one we’re looking forward to getting some use out of in Hawaii this year.
There are scores of parrotfish, eel, ornate butterfly fish (shown in the picture at bottom) and sea turtles throughout Hanauma Bay. Using the GPS reference websites we’re finding that there is a much higher probability of seeking the types of fish and marine animals of interest.
My wife and I started diving and snorkeling together years ago. The rapid rate of convergence in digital photography, GPS devices and electronics was predictable even then, but the rapid changes in masks, fins and wet suits would not. I have to admit, I am a geek when it comes to masks. I have a mask that fits my eye prescription due to an ingenious technology 3M developed called Press-On Optics. This is an optically-engineered plastic cover that can be applied to a mask so that you can see just as clearly if you had your glasses on.
The progression of masks also started with the more utilitarian-looking designs to the more advanced models that have electronics integrated into them. We’ve also started looking at the latest generation of masks that have Heads Up Display (HUD) in them. The state-of-the-art design in this area of masks is DataMask HUD, which has a video on YouTube you can see by clicking here. This would be excellent to have when diving in deeper waters around Hawaii for example.
Bottom line: What makes diving and snorkeling so fascinating are the continual advances in GPS and photography on the one hand, and the growing sources of online information about previously undiscovered places to explore on the other.”