Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Camera Thief of the Sea

I'm a terribly inconsistent blogger but sometimes there just aren’t any stories to tell, I do however always hope to make up for that on my photographic exploits. This month I expect to be especially active so for your reading pleasure I hope my most recent adventure will be of amusement.

Over this past weekend I decided I needed a day away from the world of Au-pairing, school holidays have begun and until the 15th of July I am essentially useless. I regret to say I have been in the ocean a pathetic number of times these 8 months in Oz, all and all maybe about 3. Saddened by this realization as I looked at the yet unused Dicapac underwater case for my Nikon I saw a golden opportunity. I scanned and decided to go on an overnight to Coogee Beach that day. Coogee is just south of Bondi and was particularly appealing for the price and use of snorkels free of charge. I packed my bag which consisted of 75% camera gear and set off overly eager to get out of the house and start exploring. 

I got to the hostel by train and bus about two hours later around 2:00 dismayed to find reception closed. Nothing would be open till 5 and by that point it would be too cold to swim. My heart was set on getting some underwater photos so l I considered my options and decided that I could still try by partially submerging the camera and using live view as my "goggles". I wandered Coogee beach looking for the perfect spot. As absolutely lovely all the beaches of Sydney are they pretty much all look the same, a curved beach surrounded by various sized cliffs. In their own ways they differ in atmosphere and that's where the semi-uniqueness lies, Manly for instance being more geared towards surfers and tourists and Coogee more geared towards the swimmers, especially it seemed brave swimmers going well past even my comfort zone. I found a small bath tucked away under the rocks, it was low tide and the path looked pretty easy to get across. I took off my boots and carefully tread over the slippery moss all too conscience of the camera I grasped in my arms. After making it to the bath I sat down on a semi submerged rock, the shock of the cold made me almost happy I had no bathing suit to go in (planned on borrowing a wetsuit). I put my camera over the edge peering at the screen looking for anything interesting, I tried snapping a couple shots to get the hang of the new case.

A Dicapac is not an easy device to start using, the camera fought me at every shot unwilling to focus and wiggling around obscuring the view. This is really beginners misfortune though and the fact that I couldn't see directly what I was doing was zero help as well. The waves passed over me icy needles poking my decreasingly warm dry flesh. Something wrapped around my toes it suck there for a moment before I kicked it off, seaweed I thought attempting to maneuver the camera over. It focused and unfocused unable to get a clear point. I was getting a bit annoyed I took it out of the water and tried fiddling with the settings, the seaweed wrapped around my pinkie and 4th toe I shook it but this time it took a few jerks. I was getting frustrated, I put the camera back in the water as my toes were caressed once more. Oh, the case strap I thought, I pulled it out of the water but my toes were still becoming increasingly covered. Weirded out I scooted over wanting to get away from whatever sticky plant was lurking below. As I returned the camera to the sea tentacles from the deep rose above the water break like the Kraken and planted themselves directly on my case screen. What I previously assumed was rock started moving forwards as the octopus  became discernible, its camouflage was seamless. As quickly as I jumped up the case was out of my hands and eyes like a demon stared into my soul, as it moved forward it wrapped itself further onto the plastic trying to pull my camera with it back into the shallow recesses of the bath. Luckily I had the strap still firmly in hand I tugged softly trying to get it unstuck as an Australian man and his kids watched from behind in amusement. I looked back pointing in disbelief stating rather obviously, “The octopus is trying to steal my camera!” I turned pulling harder, those suckers are strong much stronger than I ever thought. It took two hands to wrestle the case from its grasp and as the camera it popped back at me (thank god not into the rock) the octopus slid back in an effortlessly flawless retreat under the rock out of sight.
Not the thief

I realized I probably just missed an incredible moment of photography as I looked through my useless photos, no octopus was visible, pretty upsetting. The Aussie gentleman who had watched the battle offered me his goggles to search for it. I gratefully accepted and to no avail searched the frigid water for as long as I felt I could politely. One thing that needs saying about Australians is they are genuinely are a lovely group of people, they are easy to talk to and actually make it a habit to try and help a stranger just for the sake of being friendly, that's the norm. I thanked him a few more times for the goggles before stepping out onto the cold shaded rocks and departed for the hostel ready to check in and relax.

Coogee Beach hostel is right across the street from the water a working backpackers kinda place, reasonable rates and tons of tradies with beers in hand at all hours of the weekend. Much bigger than it looks from the outside its more apartment style than any hostel i've been to before and echos like such. They offer free snorkel gear and body boards which is pretty sweet but also charge $3 extra for sheets and have a bond of $30. Cant say much on the social side I wasn’t really in a partying mood more of a relax de-stress and take photos type of vibe. I ate my vindaloo and drank my beers in the girls dorm which thankfully had a table and television playing the suprisingly hilarious Australian musical quiz show Spicks and Specks (I recommend), I was entranced in the non-socialble zone.

Did leave for some photo ops..
Waking up the next morning I was intent on getting out and in the water, I crept out of the screeching metal bunk beds lowering myself down as quietly as possible with no ladder and raced off to reception where a rather hungover gentleman answered all my questions in the least friendly way possible. He warmed up after my good mood wasn't shattered by his mumbling one word answers and questions like "who are you?". I take it the coffee hadn't yet kicked in yet and as a former am shift hostel employee understood his FTW demeanor.

I considered going to the baths again however it was such a small area I opted instead to explore what lay above and beyond the cliff. I wandered up surrounded by joggers who reminded me of what bad shape I must be in after almost a year of neglecting a good run. I reached a place called Gordon's Bay a few minutes later, the water was pristine blue/green and it was best of all empty save one fisherman and one runner who jumped in and out for a quick cool down. I took my backpack off and set up camp on a rock preparing myself for whatever I was about to find.

I'm not ashamed to admit snorkeling can be scary when you’re out of practice, especially in a country like Australia. Stories of jellies sending people to the hospital are concerning enough considering my lack of insurance but its also been quite a while since I've been alone in the water. I felt the eeriness of limited visibility in an environment so clearly not my own. I adore the ocean in fact if I could make my living working in it I would surely die a happy woman, just as long as I don't die in one of the terrifying ways of the ocean obviously. I intend on getting my diving certification someday because clearly after leaving Hawaii I forgot what a unbelievable world lay below the surface that's the only way I can explain my neglected to take advantage. I swam around but wasn't finding much the way of sea creatures besides a few small fish and some snails but the gliding through the gentle current and maneuvering around rocks was slowly building back my water confidence an I more assertively searching for life. I got one picture of a fish but that was all the bay offered in the relatively short time I was there, the inside of my bag seemed to be wet very slightly which immediately concerned me. I got out and checked the case, it seemed like it was likely water that got in from me taking the camera out yesterday. The chill set in and I retreated to my backpack to get a sweater, it may not be a brutal winter in Sydney but its still chilly. My wetsuit arrives next week.

I left the bay feeling proud as only fulfilling a dream can be and returned the gear looking to get on the first bus back to the city. I had to be in Manly at 4 to meet with two French travelers looking for people to chip in on gas for a journey to Byron Bay and Brisbane next week, as far as I know that's a go plans still discussed however.  I've been meaning to take a road trip and finally found an opportunity.

Manly as I’ve said before is a big surf spot but this time around I went past the main beach to an outcrop of rocks there I took photos and encountered my second octopus of the trip. Another talkative Aussie dad was showing it off to his kids and other swimmers in the area. This octopus however remained elusive and my attempts to photograph it were almost futile, I did snap one of its tentacles but its hiding spots were plentiful and it did not have any interest in taking my camera home.

After a very long day of trains, buses, ferries, swimming and octopuses I returned back to Brooklyn refreshed and exhausted counting down the days till I can do it all over again.

If all goes according to plan ill be traveling up the East Coast all next week, if it doesn't go to plan ill still be going somewhere, where remains to be seen…..

I’ll do a brief review of the Dicapac I'm using for my underwater photos, its the WP-S5 model for DSLRs. This honestly for the price might just be about the best you can get, in all my research the Dicapac was the most durable looking and highest reviewed non-hard shell case, however its far from perfect. I experienced no fogging thankfully but did get slight condensation in the case, I used it 3 separate times in the day. I may need to attribute that water more to myself getting the camera out and dripping in the bag but honestly its impossible to avoid. The case is far from easy to get your camera in and out of; I used my 17-55mm lens but it was tight around the body of the camera as well, that worries me on the long term use. Its a risk to use this case more in the human error sense so be careful sealing it cant hurt to check and double check.  I'm personally happy with it despite the scare I received seeing a bit of water on the inside but I am fairly certain that was my own doing. So if your just going on vacation and doing some light snorkeling or going in the pool it should serve you just fine however I would worry taking it submerged for longer amounts of time or down more than 15ft. Ill be using this for the time being may even order a backup when I'm ready to leave the Sydney area but ill also be looking for ways to afford the Ikelite D5100 housing, I feel for a more a better sense of security I'd spend more but there is not much on middle ground on these products, Dicapac averages around $80 and Ikelite starts around $1400.