April 28, 2012 - Hoki Maru: "A Prize of War"

Photo of the Week
A truck in the cargo hold of the Hoki Maru, Truk Lagoon, Micronesia.
www.evolutionunderwater.com ©Mike Gerken
A Few Words First
     I am taking a break from my list of Top Ten Dives of all time and posting a story I wrote on the Hoki Maru in Truk Lagoon. It's part of my wreck series that I have been publishing with the online dive forum, scubaboard.com. You can find this identical story on their site, but I thought I would post it here as well.

     If you don't like to read, scroll down to the bottom and see the video excerpt from my documentary, The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon and don't forget you can pick up a copy of this DVD for your collection. Just click on this link to order.

     I will be finishing up my Top Ten list in the coming weeks in time for the start of my dive season here in North Carolina with Olympus Dive Center. I just got word that visibility today offshore was 40+ feet with temps a mild 70F degrees.  I hope to see you all in NC for some diving soon!

Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken
Hoki Maru
“A Prize of War”
by Mike Gerken
(Video Enclosed)

Painting of the M/V Hauraki by J.E. Hobbs.
Courtesy of the Wellington Maritime Museum.

    Warplanes with guns blazing hurtle through the skies over Truk Lagoon; many fall earthwards with telltale flames and smoke emanating from the spiraling wreckage. One by one, Japanese pilots, outgunned and outmanned, desperate to defend their stronghold from marauding enemy planes, are shot out of the sky by Hellcat fighter planes. Avenger torpedo bombers glide low over the surface of the lagoon and aim their sites upon a hapless ship sitting at anchor. Torpedoes are released and slam in to the 7,000-ton vessel, splitting the steel open as if it were made of foil. A rush of seawater pours through the ruptured hull, flooding the compartments within. Helldiver dive-bombers adding to the melee; plummet from altitude and un-leash the 1000-pound bombs strapped to their bellies. The projectiles pierce the deck and ignite a stockpile of fuel and ammunition within the holds. Like the awakening of a sleeping volcano, the entire forward section of the vessel erupts violently, sealing the fate of a once proud vessel. Debris is launched high in to the air while dense black smoke envelops the ship. Many of the crew perish in a ball of fire. When the smoke clears, the ship is gone. Another hapless victim of ‘Operation Hailstone’, the United States carrier based air raid launched on February 17, 1944 at the height of the war in the Pacific.

US Planes over Truk Lagoon February 17, 1944.
Courtesy of the NARA.

     Such was the fate of the Japanese merchant ship, the Hoki Maru; the result of the wrath of a nation scorned and relentlessly seeking retribution for the treachery suffered at Pearl Harbor. United States air forces would sink more than four-dozen Japanese ships and destroy 250 planes during the two-day air strike. The victory at Truk Lagoon was incremental in stemming the rampant and unbridled advancement of the Japanese Empire across the Pacific and East Asia during World War II.

        The event unknowingly created one of the world’s greatest wreck diving locations in modern times. Sport divers the world over travel from afar to visit this small Pacific island nation to see first hand the result of this devastating attack. The ‘Hoki Maru’ being only one wreck site of dozens to explore.

The Hoki Maru ablaze at anchor.
Courtesy of the NARA.

       The Hoki Maru was not christened as such. Built in Scotland for the Union Steamship Corporation of New Zealand in 1921, the 450-foot ship rolled off the slipway by the name of the M/V Hauraki. Her state of the art diesel engines would propel the ship on service runs between North America and New Zealand until 1942. The British requisitioned her for wartime usage at that time.

   Sailing from Sydney, Australia, the Hauraki would be intercepted by Japanese merchant raiders, Aikoku and Hokuko Maru and taken back to Japan via Singapore as a prize of war. Many of the Australian and New Zealand crew were sent off to prison camps where five died as a result of the horrid treatment received there. The Hauraki engineers, however, were forced to stay on board in order to facilitate the running of the diesel engines that Japanese engineers knew not how to operate. Determined to not let their ship become an asset for Japan, the bold crew of the Hauraki set out to sabotage her at every turn.

The M/V Hauraki prior to becoming the Hoki Maru.
Courtesy of the NARA.

     The men were thorough at disabling their vessel by tossing tools and spare parts overboard and allowing the engines to fall in to disrepair. So effective was their job, that by time the Hauraki arrived in Japan, the ship was in such ruin it would take 18 months of refitting to return her to service. All this was accomplished without the knowledge of their Japanese captors.

        In December of 1943, the Hauraki was renamed the Hoki Maru and ready for service, albeit a short service at that.  She would arrive in Truk Lagoon sometime in February of 1944 where she met her final demise at the hands of US planes.

A stockpile of aerial bombs in the hold
of the Hoki Maru. The likely culprint
for the massive explosion.
           Truk Lagoon is known today as the state of Chuuk. The ‘Hoki’ is one of the premier dive sites there with liveaboard and land based dive operators both making regular trips to dive her. She came to rest on the lagoon floor in approximately 150 feet of water. More than 200 feet of the forward section of the ship is splayed open like a peeled banana due to the violent explosion. However, the stern section is still remarkably intact and sitting upright. It is the artifacts found within the aft cargo holds that are the main attraction of this dive.

The liveaboard dive vessel,
the Truk Odyssey.
           I first saw the Hoki Maru in 2003 while working on the liveaboard, Truk Aggressor II and later with another liveaboard, the Truk Odyssey. By the time I left in July 2008, I was fortunate to log more than 2,000 dives in Chuuk with more than 150 on the Hoki Maru alone. The ‘Hoki’ sits in an area of the lagoon that receives a fresh supply of blue water from outside the barrier reef offering exceptional visibility that can exceed 100 feet. Water temperatures in the low eighties and mild currents are the norm.
           Upon diving the ‘Hoki’, I follow the vertical mast down that juts up to 70’ from the wreck below. Once to the bottom, I find myself at a depth of 115 feet and forward of hold number five, the furthest cargo hold aft. I make my way aft and hover over the cargo hold, I look down in to the darkness between the hatch cover beams that stretch across the opening. These beams once supported the wooden floors that have long since rotted away. Perched atop the beams on the middle level is the remains of a bulldozer whose massive weight pressing down for 65 years has caused the steel beams to bend and twist like a pretzel. Each time I descend down in to this hold, I make a point not to swim beneath it. Even though the dozer has been sitting there peacefully for decades, you never know if that moment you happen to be underneath it, will be the moment ten tons of machinery decides to crash down upon you. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Trucks of Truk Lagoon.
            I arrive at the mid level of the cargo hold and my depth gauge reads 135’ of seawater. I shine my dive light towards the stern and parked neatly underneath the overhang stand three vintage pick-up trucks facing the aft bulkhead. There are two others off to my right. Although showing signs of age, the bodies of the 1940’s era vehicles are in surprising good condition. I swim around the front in the tight space between the trucks and the bulkhead and snap a few photos. Not stirring the thick layer of silt that has accumulated on the floor makes the effort all the more difficult.

            As I turn and begin to swim up the starboard side of the cargo hold, I now see a tractor complete with steering wheel and seat. Oddly, the treads on the tires are mounted backwards. This may be because the tractor was to do more pulling than pushing, or simply, it was an error.
A tractor inside the hold of the 'Hoki'.

            After inspecting the tractor, I begin to head forward while passing under the well lit center section of the cargo hold. As I swim to the opposite side the sunlight begins to fade to blackness again. I shine my light in to the dark reaches of the room and see the backs of another three large dump trucks.  Like the other cargo in this hold, these trucks are mostly intact with the exception of all the glass windows that are busted out. The bumpers are practically touching the forward bulkhead of the compartment so I swim in the tight spaces over their hoods towards the port side of the ship. I examine the interior spaces of the trucks as I swim past each one. The steering wheels, gauges, pedals and stick shift are all intact, but the springs are all that remains of the seat cushions. 

A dump truck near the blast hole in the hull.
Courtesy of the NARA.
      As I pass over the hood of the last dump truck, I can now see the probable reason why all the glass windows on these trucks are blown out. There is hole in the hull caused by an external explosion on the port side that is just big enough to swim through. Evidence of the detonation is all around me. Most of the body of a truck that was parked adjacent to the hole is gone; the solid steel chassis is severely bent and the rubber tires are scorched and melted.

The interior of a truck.
    At this point, I glance at my dive computer and realize my stay at this depth is over. I pass another piece of machinery as I slowly ascend out of the cargo hold. A steamroller hangs perilously off the second floor and propped up only by one of the remaining rusted crossbeams. My head emerges from the dark, confined and silted quarters below to the open sunlit spaces on deck. I turn my light off and begin to breathe a little easier. Although I have just seen the highlights of the Hoki Maru, this dive is far from over.

Pink anemone fish and host.
           I begin swimming forward toward the bow and discover lush soft corals, sea fans and large magnificent sea anemone’s four feet across littering the deck. A school of long nose emperor fish hunts aggressively thrusting their snouts in to the cracks and crevices of the corals in the hope of finding prey. Several big eye trevally and a few napoleon wrasse tags along in the hope of joining in on the spoils of the hunt.  I even spot gray reef sharks circling overhead. This wreck, transformed to coral reef, has a plentitude of marine life. The warm blue water makes the scenery all the more surreal.

                   As I swim forward, the wreck becomes shallower until I come across a large section of the deck that is peeled back upon itself like an opened sardine can. Once I get to the edge of the wreck, I look out and all I can see are hull plates and twisted metal lying in the sand all around me. Any semblance of a ship is gone. The thick plating are bent as though they were made of putty. I gaze out at the destruction and contemplate the magnitude of the blast before me. I wonder in awe at the sight, but dread the fate of those that were anywhere near when the bombs ripped through the deck, igniting the deadly chain reaction of explosions below.

Beer bottles in the cargo hold of the 'Hoki'.
       When I come to my senses, I see a small opening in the debris and cannot resist the urge to explore within. I enter the hole and switch on my dive light. Lying before me, there are hundreds if not thousands of beer bottles with the name of Dainippon Brewery Co. imprinted in the glass. I am in what appears to be cargo hold number 3. The ceiling to the hold is completely blocked off by the decking that was peeled back from the explosion. The further I travel down the more bottles I see. Many of them are sitting perfectly aligned and nestled next to each other in the deep silt. The wooden cases the beer was shipped in have long since rotted away, along with the tin caps, leaving the empty bottles behind.

          I’m stupefied as to why the Japanese would allocate such valuable cargo space during wartime to non-essential supplies such as alcohol. Could it be that alcohol was used as a means of improving moral and hence placating the soldiers? Is it easier to persuade men to commit atrocities while under the influence of drugs?

        With once last glance down at my pressure gauge. there is no doubting that it is time to ascend. As I make my way slowly upward, I study the scene below me. As always after such a dive, I ponder the sheer waste of human lives and materials in the form of the rusted remains beneath me. Only the beautiful and prolific marine sanctuary that this once noble ship has become uplifts my forlorn mood. Today, the wrecks of Truk Lagoon serve a purpose beyond that of war.

A video excerpt from the documentary,


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April 17, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 4

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(Scroll down for the Photo Tip of the Week.)

A Few Words First
     After I had placed my great white shark encounter, with Olympus Dive Center in July of 2001, in my list of top ten dives, I realized that I had already written about this experience in the Dive Blog Report Dated June 20, 2011. I thought about simply deleting it from the list and writing about something else, but it was without a doubt one of my top ten dive experiences. Here is the story, but with some new information.

 (Please read about more details of this dive in the link above.)

No. 4
Great White Shark Encounter of North Carolina

     Shark diving today is a very popular dive activity around the world. I have talked about this numerous times in previous blogs. Anyone with enough coin and proper dive skills can sign up for near guaranteed shark encounter with almost any of the major species of sharks, including the ever feared and grossly misunderstood Carharodon carcharias or the great white shark. Dive operators in Cape Town, South Africa, Guadalupe, Mexico, South Australia and the Farallon Islands right here in the USA, specialize in unique encounters with great whites. Surf the net enough and you will see hundreds of images of divers huddled in steel cages pointing very expensive camera rigs through the bars at these curious, but ferocious looking predators. Search more and you will most certainly come across stories and images of others who swim freely outside of the cages with them!

     Most often, but not always the case, these encounters are generated by chumming the waters with blood to attract the sharks to the dive site. Otherwise, great whites or sharks in general can be hard to come by.  I personally do not have an issue with this practice since it creates an industry around the protection of sharks rather than their destruction. Seeing a great white shark under these staged circumstances is an awesome experience that I will not take away from anyone who has done it, but when a 15 foot great white shark unexpectedly crosses your path in a part of the ocean where they are rarely seen is, in my opinion, far more exciting.
Front page of the Carteret County News-Times, August 1, 2001.
     On July 21, 2001, when I slid off the swim deck of the Midnight Express in to the ocean 22 miles from the North Carolina coast, I was just looking to do a bit of free diving and spearfishing during our surface interval from the days diving. A 15 foot Great White Shark  casually swimming in front of me was the last thing I anticipated seeing.  At first, I thought it to be a very large sand tiger shark, but that theory was negated after about a half a second when I saw the conical snout, the large black eyes and the equal size of the upper and lower tail fin. There is no mistaking a great white shark when you see one. In those days, I had no interest in underwater photography (crazy I know) and exited the water right away in the name of self-preservation. (This dive is not just in my top ten, but also in my log book as my shortest dive.)

     Great white sharks are not unheard of off the Carolina Coast, but they are in fact very rare and not usually seen this far south. Some of the local fishermen can tell you about a story or two of when someone landed a great white shark in the past, but these stories are rare in the telling.

One of the passengers on board had shark diving
paraphernalia for sale on the web within 24 hours of the
 shark sighting off Cape Lookout, NC.
Enlarge image for closer view.
     The divers on board who were enjoying swapping stories from their first dive asked me why I was back so soon from spear fishing. I told them I saw a great white and of course they didn't believe me until they saw it with there own two eyes a large identifying dorsal fin slicing through the water. As soon as that occurred one could almost here the ominous theme song from the movie, Jaws in the background. Da dum...da dum etc.

    The excitement on board was high, but not as much for the two guys finishing up there safety stop on the hang lines under the boat. (Please read the rest of this tale in the June 20, 2011 Blog.)
     What I did not mention in previous blogs about this encounter was, swimming along side this 15 foot behemoth great white, was a 4 foot new born trying to keep up with it's Mom. (And no, it was not a remora if that is what you are thinking.) Scientists tell me that sharks do not practice any maternal behavior after birth, but this shark was merely swimming along side its mother and that was all. No other behavior was noticed or claimed in that regard. 

    To add more interest to this story, nearly one year prior, another dive boat had spotted a large female great white and a small new born swimming along side it only 5 miles from this very location! Could it be that great whites come to this area with warmer water east of Lookout Shoals, NC to birth before heading back out to cooler northern waters? I would like to think so, but I do not have any scientific data to back this up. It is just an opinion. Do I hear grant money jingling out there for a budding shark researcher? I think so.

     Today, knowing what I know about great whites and the unlikelihood of them attacking me, I would with out question stay in the water to photograph and film such an encounter, if it should occur again. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I turned tail and scurried up that latter a second time. Opportunities to film such rare events do not come often and risks sometimes must be taken in order to get, 'the shot'.

Photo Tip of the Week
Wreck Photography Rule No. Two

     Mike's wreck photography Rule No. One is simply, "do not always follow Mike's rules". I can't, in good faith, leave you with that as the only tip of the week, so I'm starting on Rule No. Two; Shooting subject matter that is quickly and easily identifiable.

     When shooting shipwrecks a shot will be more compelling to the viewer if he or she can determine exactly what it is they are looking at quickly if not instantly. Quite often, wrecks are in such bad condition that one must search hard to find some recognizable structure. Wether you are using the wreck as a backdrop for subject matter ie sharks or as the primary subject following this rule will most certainly improve the likability of your image.
What is this above? In reality it is a very interesting artifact, but that doesn't matter if you can't tell what it is. It is an anti-aircraft gun on the wreck of the Fumitzuki destroyer in Truk Lagoon.

     What is this above? Now we are getting somewhere. As a stand alone subject, this sink and mirror makes for a very interesting photo since there is no doubt as too what you are looking at.

The wreck of the Proteous off the Carolina coast is a great place to shoot sand tiger sharks but for one thing....the wreck is a low lying debris field with little structure. However, this steering quadrant on the stern is geometric and vertically dramatic and added to the overall appearance of this shot. It was very intentional to shoot these sand tigers composed this way.

Next time you are on a wreck, scope out the areas of the site that are the most distinguishable and plan your composition around those spots. Sometimes one needs to be very creative depending on how interesting the wreck is. 

Good luck!

Mike Gerken
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April 4, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 5

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A Few Words From Mike.

No. 5
"Pinnacles" - Ponta D' Ouro Mozambique, Africa
     A few short years after I abandoned the grind of my office job in New York City, I was in the need for some adventure. I just finished up working as a mate on a dive vessel in Hatteras, North Carolina in 1999 and was in the market for a new job as well. Scanning the internet one day I came across this dive job posting: 
"Dive resort manager wanted for remote African dive camp in Mozambique." 
     "Perfect", I thought to myself. "Where is Mozambique?" "What is a dive camp?" What better place to run off to than a country I had little idea where it was. I did know it was in Africa, but I didn't know where. After doing some more research, I discovered that Mozambique was located on the south east coast bordering South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania with coast line twice as long as California on the Indian Ocean. I wanted to experience life outside the United States and living and working in Mozambique might be just what I was looking for. 
Ponta D' Orou or Point of Gold, Mozambique, Africa. 2000©
     I spoke to the dive operation manager of the dive company, Blu International, over the phone, who was based out of Johannesburg, South Africa. We both decided the job would be perfect for me. He indicated I would be sleeping in a tent and getting paid 2000 South African Rand per month to manage the dive camp on the very southern tip of Mozambique in the small town of Ponta D'Ouro; a popular dive vacation destination for South Africans. That didn't sound so bad. Even though 2000R was equivalent to a mere 333USD, we worked out the details and it was a deal. This job wasn't about the money, but the adventure.

Poles and reeds were the primary materials used in
most of the structures in Ponta. 
     After an arduous flight and cross country drive for ten hours (a story that needs to be told another time), I arrived in the small town of Ponta D' Ouro. To call it a town could be considered an over statement. Most of the buildings were gutted, falling down and riddled with bullet holes left over from a harrowing civil war that only ended a few years prior. (This too, is a story for another time).

     Most of the newer structures were made with reeds and framed out by tree poles. There were a handful of proper private homes in the area, but they were mostly owned by foreigners from SA and Portugal, the European country that colonized Mozambique prior to 1975 before it reached independence. 

My home for six months...a leaky tent.

    After getting settled in to my humble abode (a leaky tent), I wandered down to the beach to get a glimpse of the Indian Ocean for the first time and to see how the diving was conducted. As I walked down the beach, all I could see for miles was vacant waterfront property over looking the blue sub-tropical waters.  Ponta D, Ouro, when translated from Portuguese to English means, 'point of gold'. It was 'golden' indeed. 

      It was towards the point, where the town got it's name from, that I discovered where the dive operators set up and launched the dive boats. From a distance, I could see a semi-rigid inflatable rib weaving through the surf and heading in to the beach at full speed. I wondered when the skipper was going to slow down, but it became quickly apparent that he had no intention. With dive passengers holding on to straps and seated on the pontoons, the skipper drove the rib 20 feet right up on to the dry beach at full speed. The twin 150 HP outboard engines roared as the free spinning props popped up out of the water. I had never seen anything like. 

20 foot inflatable rib driving full speed up on to the sandy beach
of Ponta D' Orou. 
     For the next 6 months Ponta D, Ouro was to be my home. I managed the dive operation and coordinated all my customers needs from accommodation to diving. It was a challenging job due to the remote nature of the camps. Everything had to be shipped in from near by South Africa; fuel, food and of course the tourists.

The dive camp in Ponta D 'Orou in 2000.
    I experienced some amazing diving over the next 6 months on the reefs of the Indian Ocean. However, the dive that stands out to be the most memorable was called, "Pinnacles".  About 4 miles off the beach was a couple of sea mounts that shot up from the sea bed that attracted a myriad of marine life. Schools of giant trevally and big eye jacks were common site as were zambezi and hammerhead sharks.

    (Unfortunately, my trip to Mozambique was before I became a keen underwater photographer, so I have no underwater video or photos to share with you.)

     The dive to Pinnacles that was the most memorable for me was done with a group of divers visiting from England. They had travelled a long way and were eager for top notch diving.  Sad to say their trip so far was riddled with problems. The tents that they were using leaked terribly and it seemed to rain nearly every night they were there.

The broken down vehicle left to me to help run the
dive operation. It never did run. 
     In an effort to make their stay more enjoyable, I promised I would take them to Pinnacles every day, since it was renown for being the best dive site, but it happens to be the furthest one from the beach and trips out there are sporadic at best due to the cost of fuel required to get there. At this stage, preventing a dozen angry Brits from assaulting me was more important than a few dollars of petrol.

     The boat we used was about 21 feet in length with a rack running down the center line of the boat to hold tanks and BC's. Launching from the beach in Ponta D' Ouro is a team event requiring everyone to participate. 4 x 4's would tow the boat down to the water line where muscle power would finish the job. Paying divers would line up along the side and help push the boat down the beach and in to the surf. The skipper would say, "one, two, three", and on three everyone would push. Once the boat was in the water all of us would hold on to stabilize it. On a calm day this was easily done, but when 3-4 foot waves rolled in holding on to that boat was a challenge even with 12 divers.

     The captain would enter the boat from the transom and head to the helm that was mounted almost up on the bow. He would lower the engine, start them up and then tell everyone to get in. Sometimes he would have to engage the props while divers were still hanging on with feet dragging in the water in order to prevent the boat from getting thrown back on to the beach again. This was a 'hairy' experience when it happened and not just for the poor person being dragged around.

An enormous GT or giant trevally, much like those seen at Pinnacles
on display by locals and the man who caught it who is in the bottom front.
    When the skipper gave the ok, everyone would pull themselves in to the rib over the pontoons. Some with weaker upper body strength would have to be pulled in by their britches. Once all on board the skipper throttled up and headed out to seas weaving in and out of the breakers. On many occasions these boats were known to flip over when captains would poorly judge when a swell was about to crest. Fortunately, I did not see this while in Mozambique, but I had heard many stories. 

    The trip across the open ocean was most often a bouncy one. These high speed boats were driven hard by there skippers sometimes with little consideration for passenger comfort, but then again this was Africa. Toughing it out with little complaint was a way of life there.

    Once at the dive sight, the skipper would triangulate positions on land to determine if he was on the right spot or not. The use of electronics was not the norm here and frowned upon by the veterans who prided themselves on being able to drop divers without there use. When everyone was kitted up and ready to go we all did a backward roll entry in to the warm Mozambique water and headed straight for the bottom 110 feet down.

    This dive was pretty simple. Start deep, drift through the water and look for marine life. After the first few minutes while cruising along the bottom we all spotted what looked like a very large zambezi shark, otherwise known as bull shark. This 8-10 footer swam around us a bit and then swam off. At first I didn't think much about it, but it bugged me as to the species of this shark. It didn't figure. It wasn't until after the dive later on that we all concluded it was a small great white shark that casually swam past us. Very cool.

     After a few minutes we left the bottom and began our very slow ascent to the surface  and spent the rest of our dive drifting with the current.  It didn't take long before someone was waving there hands and pointing out in to the blue water. There they were. A school of about 20 hammerhead sharks about 30-40 feet out from us. They would swim around in small circles together for a few moments and then disappear only to emerge again a few moments later. It was an awesome sight. 

    While this was going on some of the largest giant trevally I have ever seen would cruise up to us for a close inspection. Then off in the distance I could see yet another shark species on the fringe of our vision. As it drew closer in I could see that it was a zambezi. This shark would keep his distance and travel along with us for the duration of the dive.

    The show kept getting better. After only another minute a dozen beautiful devil rays in formation appeared below us. Devil rays are much like their relatives, the manta ray, but much smaller in size and are known to swim together in large groups. There we were drifting along in the wide open Indian Ocean with a dozen hammerhead sharks ahead of us, a zambezi lurking around behind us and these stunning devil rays cruising beneath us. It was breathtaking.

     This dive continued on for another 30 minutes until most of us started to run out of air. No one wanted it to end and popped there heads up only when the last breath had been drawn. One by one the divers scurried over the pontoons and back on to the boat. Just before it was my turn to hop in, I took one last look out in to the blue and saw, for a brief moment, a 6 foot marlin swim by. I just shook my head and knew this dive was going down in my log book as one of my all time greatest. Twelve years and several thousand dives later, my Mozambican drift dive is still in my top ten.

So much could be said about the country of Mozambique and its people, but their story is one that requires respect and in-depth attention to tell. The country was emerging from a harrowing civil war when I arrived in 1999. What I saw was both inspiring and heart breaking. The people of Mozambique have come a long way, but with a long road still ahead.

Photo Tip of the Week
Ambient Light Exposures

     Although strobe lighting is critical for achieving well exposed images underwater, there are circumstances where you should shut them off and experiment with just the ambient light available. When should you shut your strobes? Here are a few tips:

1 - Most strobes are only effective with lighting up the foreground of your image within several feet to maybe 12 feet away depending on the strength of your strobe units. If your subject happens to be out of range of the strength of your strobe, then it is pointless to keep them on. Shut them off and try shooting ambient.  All the strobe will do is illuminate suspended particles in the water and create complications. It is important to understand just how powerful your strobes are by spending time out testing them on a subject at different strengths and distances with varying exposure settings.

The Fumitzuki destroyer from Truk Lagoon, was too
far away for strobes to be effective.
2 - Sometimes there is nothing in the foreground of your image that requires the use of artificial light. The subject may be drab, lacking color and generally not an important element to the overall shot.
A foreground lacking subject matter and color required I
shut the strobes off.  Fujikawa Maru 2006©
3 - Maybe your camera set up doesn't even have strobes on it. Understand the limitations of your gear and seek subject matter where ambient light exposures would work well. ie, colorful reef systems may not work well, but wide angle shipwreck shots would.

No strobes required here. Plenty of
ambient light and little foreground to
light up. Fujikawa Maru 2006©.
Experiment and try different situations and over time you will begin to see what works and what doesn't.

Good luck!

-Mike Gerken
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