New s Update, Feburary 2020:

...if there was such a thing as “Honoris Causa” German citizenship it would be awarded to my wife Neelam. More punctual than any German I know, goal orientated and persistent as an planarian worm. It was precisely these qualities that made easy work out of setting up our new venture ’LIQUIDSTATE FREEDIVING’
against the molasses of administrative requirements and the phlegma of bureaucratic gatekeepers.
I, on the other hand had all the fun. Designing logos, t-shirts, business cards and marketing material and merrily know-it-all-ing about how to design a website to my lovely.

It even required me to use my noodle (the one screwed to the top of my neck) to dream up and realize some eye catching new images. Something I traditionally enjoy a lot but need the “end use motivation” for.
We had a decent first season as new business owners and we know some of the bugs now. The biggest pit fall is the overpriced flights from Nadi international to Savusavu.
“Share the wealth Fiji Airways, please”.
Our rewards have been mostly counted in empowering new freedivers and guiding more advanced on their journey and less so in dollars and cents.

In my last update I made a couple of predictions. One was that being a freediving instructor will bring me full circle around to my first love, underwater photography. Well yes, it did, but not as I expected in the capacity of scholar.
It started off harmless enough. Our students, most of which are young females, highly appreciate beautiful pictures of themselves. Freediving, if done with competence, produces elegant and graceful, poses naturally. Not only does it make our students happy to get quality pictures of themselves, but the prolific sharing of them on social media (the demise of my professional photography I might add), is also great, free advertising. Some clients take it up a notch and now come to me specifically to have their mermaidy likeness taken in most artistic fashion.
In the past I was at pain to stay away from emphasizing the more bulging aspects of the female anatomy in my people photography, so as not to approach the fine line between sleaze, cheese and art too closely. It seems I will have to feel my way closer to that line now if I want to be successful in the world fit beautiful mermaids in skin tight smooth-skin neoprene ... . I do remember being criticized by some prude for a hint of nipple through a chaste, on- piece swim suit in a cover shot of Dive New Zealand once (true story).
But a) that was a long time ago in New Zealand and b) when the model is also the client who wants a certain look and chooses to publish my work herself , who am I not to oblige.

On the scale of game changing events, selling our history-rich B.o.B. (the aluminum fishing trawler) in August, ranks as a close number two after all our recent freediving evolution. We took two smaller punts with outboards as trade-ins. This suits us extremely well, so we can now take freedivers to the training sites, reefs, go out for a quick photo shoot and oh yes, wizz offshore for the blue water shark action.
We came by this treat like the virgin to the child in late 2018 (early cyclone season). Soon as we dropped the fishing rig in the water all the bait got chomped off and sharky shapes began to circle the boat. At first we were a bit chicken to dive in, but after some cautious sniffing out we found out that it is quite safe to play with them. We went as often as the weather allowed to swim with the silky sharks that summer expecting them to move away to greener pastures at any time. But to our great joy and surprise they are still to here in 2020 in good numbers and as keen to swim with us as vice-a-versa.
This is a photographers wet dream. We don’t even need to feed them. They stay around for hours and come dome-bumping close over again. You can dream up any shot you like with or without a freediving model and work on it with a decent chance of some mind blowing images of footage.

One of the beauties of freediving is that you are not looking for pretty reefs or animals. So the pressure of having to amuse your clients in that way is off. And it seems, the less you look the more you find. On days when all we want to do is close our eyes and travel deep down and inside, there are shoals of barracuda circling the line that is fading into the blue below, or sharks and turtles visit us seemingly out of nowhere for sheer curiosity. Almost a nuisance and a nice challenge to accept whatever and stay relaxed.

Yep, staying relaxed is the new getting rich or famous.

On that note: Peace, Love, Freedive


News Update, June 2015:

There must be better places to photograph sockeye salmon spawning than the Adams River in BC, but as is often the case when one invests a lot of money (in stock photography terms, investment is a misnomer because it implies future returns) into a project one tries to assure the outcome as much as possible. Admittedly going to Canada was an indulgence, because every Tom Dick and Harry has been there to shoot sockeye salmon spawning, but I was curious and it’s been on my bucket list for a long time. The event is so well documented and researched that they can predict the days and volume of fish with great accuracy. I was not disappointed. The event is also highly commercialized with retiree volunteers waving salmon cut-outs to direct visitor traffic into numerous parking lots. The biggest challenge shooting split images was, having all these Chinese tourists standing in the landscape spoiling the illusion of wilderness. A further difficulty was not to vomit into my snorkel from the rotting fish stench wafting through the forest. Then of course there were the usual indignities associated with back zipped dry suits and weak bladders. I only have myself to blame, economizing and not bringing my most prized photo assistant Neelam… But all in all it was a success.
Back in Fiji for only a couple of days just to jump onto the next plane to gallivant around the old country (Germany, Italy and France) a bit and show Neelam the “glamour” of the Underwater film festival in Marseilles. That turned out a nostalgic fantasy. The festival should scrap the “international” from it’s name. It’s a purely French – Italian affair now with no class or international flair.
On the way back to the South Pacific we stopped for a week’s diving in Palau, courtesy of Oceans- Natures Best photo competition. Sam’s Tours weren’t stingy with the accommodation either. The Royal Palau no less for us two grotty yachties. Palau diving is all it is said to be with surprisingly friendly turtles. I even managed to get Neelam out of the feathers at 4am to see the hump-head parrotfish spawning event that happens once a month at dawn. Fascinating but virtually impossible to convert into a quality still image. A video job if ever I saw one. Jellyfish lake is a bit overrated or :”expectations kill joy”. The marine life of Palau is not different enough from Fiji’s to warrant going there as a paying punter, so we were extremely grateful we got to see it like this.
Apart from playing chicken with a couple Chinese long liners just South of Vanuatu’s Anatom island the passage from Fiji to New Caledonia was uneventful. No breakages. Just the way we like it.
You’ll be excused thinking you are still in the South Pacific after sailing only 5 days SW from Fiji. But ask any white person here and they will tell you that this - is France - and don’t call it a colony. They are touchy about that. It is of course exactly that. The reason why the French cling to this place like sucker fish to our boat became obvious as we sailed into Noumea: Smoke-stacks of a Nickel factory.
Unlike the Kanaky aboriginals, who the French stole the land from, I can see some positive aspects about the status quo. There are aisles of Bordeaux, French cheese and salami in the supermarket and plenty of marine reserves, policed by the gendarmerie maritime and the lagoon protection patrol.
Apart from being resource rich, New Caledonia is also a popular retirement spot for well-off French. A French Florida, with similar recreational boat ownership per capita . The retirees sure like to see their tax Euro at work keeping their playground pretty. Being rich and paying your civil servants well, works for nature in many ways. For example there is no need for officials to line their pockets handing out fishing licences to the Chinese fishing fleet (as is the case in all the poor neighbouring countries). Poaching is at a minimum because of an intimidating French naval presence (unlike Fiji’s navy vessels, the French boats are actually seaworthy). All of this results in a healthy marine environment spare the occasional chemical spill and constant mineral saturated run-off from the surface mining .
The stag horn coral in New Caledonia often has a peculiar blue hue. In my theory this is due to the high (nickel) mineral concentration in the coastal waters. Apart from being a cruise ship trap, New Caledonia is not a popular tourist destination: no cliché palm lined beaches, very expensive, no speak English, disgruntled natives, and a heavily deforested and eroded moonscape appearance combined do not lend themselves to decorate the shelf’s of travel agents.
The country does have a post apocalyptic beauty and those straight New Caledonian pines lining the shores like so many soldiers standing to attention appeal to my obsessive sense of neatness. There are beaches. In fact the finest and emptiest I have seen in the South Pacific if you can live without coconut palms.
There are two signature species of interest to the underwater water photographer in New Caledonia. Both much overused as t-shirt motif in the local souvenir shops, for the cruise ship tourists. One is the Nautilus, not easily seen in the wild alive due to its deep water habitat. The other is the banded sea krait. With some major artistic licence the souvenir industry has made the snakes cuddly by giving them forward pointing eyes, enlarging their head to accommodate a smiley mouth and calling them striped shirt (tricot raye’). As a result of this propaganda, great numbers of tourists carted dailyt o Islot Amedee who would otherwise not dream of getting near a snake, feel free to hold a striped sea krait and have their picture taken with them. It is a tribute to the docile nature of those animals that with the sheer number of tourists and snakes there have been no accidents. Whether victims of propaganda or not, snake numbers have dwindled in recent years. So I was keen to improve on my stock of sea snake 1⁄2 & 1⁄2 s with the newly acquired Sigma 15mm lens in front of a 1.4 teleconverter. Without wanting to bore you with the technical details, I understand why everyone uses that set-up. The extreme perspective is addictive and I find very little reason to use anything else nowadays since it covers everything from nudibranches to sperm whales. If I had known this 25 years ago, I might be sailing around on a super-yacht now.
I would prowl the shallows just off the beach at said Ilot Amedee at dawn and dusk when the snakes are most active coming and going from the bush to the reef and the beach is free of flab and parasols. The only acceptable topside background for me is the phallic art nouveau light house in the centre of the island. On previous expeditions, I made myself a foam float with a cut-out for the camera housing that would keep the heavy 9”dome half in and half out of the water to combat wrist fatigue and crooked horizon syndrome. The 14mm rectilinear Nikkon was my choice of lens for split image back then. I don’t fancy the bent horizon you get with fisheye lenses in 1⁄2&1/2s and they are too wide for a skinny subject like sea snakes. The 14mm has plenty of depth of field and very close focusing capability. It has a nasty blue flare problem when shooting anywhere other than straight away from the light. I actually like that, but editors and competition judged don’t agree.
When an unsuspecting snake would slither out of the bush across the beach I would be waiting in its path in waist deep water in the knowledge that they always surface for a breath round about there on their way to the reef hunting grounds.
The most common flaw with the resulting images was that you could see the ring of water where the snakes head would rest on the dome as it was trying to slither over it. Nothing that Photoshop can’t fix, but I am a purist. As it turned out even with the magic 15+1.4 I failed to improve on my older material. I convinced myself that the lens choice was wrong for split image. Too narrow, but really, I just got slower and blinder. So I resigned myself to shooting the wide angle close-ups underwater this rig does so well. Just because its easy, doesn’t mean it’s a bad shot.
While I was trying to ambush sea snakes wading around in waist deep water, the otherwise shy picasso triggerfish community felt the need to defend their nests I must have unwittingly stomped around in, by mauling me with their incisors. They were on me like a pack of rabid dogs. Now I know how a bovine in Amazonia must feel when crossing the piranha infested river (although I heard even those are hard to find nowadays). I couldn’t even defend myself with the camera housing, which is always a good technique with sharks, because it was attached to a foam float and I couldn’t push it underwater. Everyone knows not to get close to nesting titan triggerfish, but picassos ? I was back-paddling from one trigger attack just to stumble into the next one. And eventually had to resort to wearing a full length suit and booties for armour to survive the gauntlet.
The only thing we do not love about the cyclone season is the cyclones. At best a nuisance, because we spend time that we should spend on photography projects, running to a sheltered anchorage. And then waiting, waiting often for a week for the bomb and hoping it will veer off just enough to be someone else’s nightmare. With all this built-up it leaves you almost disappointed if you don’t get clobbered. But I rather put up with that disappointment than seeing the violent end to our un-insured lifestyle. Modern forecasting is a mixed blessing. We see the cyclones a week in advance as a computer model and start running around like headless chicken. In the end they are so unpredictable in their path and behaviour that the decisive action can only be taken twelve hrs. in advance. I have been through two cyclones. One at sea. This was at the bottom end of the deadliness scale which is why I am here to tell the tale (not that tale though). The other on a mooring in our home port Savusavu.
We had one panic run already this season, hanging in the Carenage anchorage at the head of the Bay du Prony for a week. The system passed without ruffling our feathers.
The next cyclone looked a bit more serious and this time I was alone, courtesy of New Caledonian immigration having thrown my wife, who has a Fijian passport out of the country after refusing her a visa extension to see us through to the end of the cyclone season. So much for Pacific solidarity.
What the triggerfish where at Amedee are the other yachties in a cyclone anchorage. If you so much as point your bow at one in the perceived search of a good spot to drop your pick, they would step on deck puffing their chest, gesticulating in an attempt to defend their territory and precious gel coat..
To owners of floating Tupperware our unpainted metal hull and massive ragged chafe-rails must look like a formidable opponent in an at-anchor-collision. We used to have 5 meter tuna poles sticking out on both sides as well. I used to love going into and anchorage with those down and causing a riot. Unfortunately I lost them along with the mast in the abovementioned cyclone at sea and unlike the mast they served no useful purpose so I didn’t bother replacing them. Even without them our old fishing boat is a bit scary and who wouldn’t enjoy a spot of bullying especially towards this well loved sleek racing machine (I should be sailing on myself, had I not squandered my money on underwater camera gear). No amount of gesticulating and jumping up and down by the skipper , who I later found out was Italian, could persuade me to anchor further away. It’s like this: the one who anchors last is the one at fault if the boats collide. Especially if anchored to windward. Boats tend to swerve wildly, ‘sailing’ at anchor in extreme winds. Once a cyclone is upon you there is absolutely nothing you can do any more. You can certainly not re-anchor if you are by yourself. If you haven’t done the preparation it’s too late. Taking down sails and dragging spare anchors and chain around comes precariously close to real work but fear is a great energizer. I went on with this arduous business while having a screaming match with the small Latin man. He went as far as taking pictures of our relative positions to provide evidence for the authorities in case of a liability on my side. A hollow threat. It turned out he hadn’t even cleared customs and would have seriously incriminated himself by admitting he was even there.
Which is probably why the poor fellow was desperate enough to eventually swallow his pride and came over to ask me nicely and politely if he could give me a hand re-positioning myself.
I am a Mensch. So to keep the peace we moved out of the paint killing zone. I had already mentally banked and spent a substantial salvage fee to tow him out of the mangroves should his anchor drag – bummer.
Meanwhile cyclone Pam took its merry time to flatten Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu and pre cyclone boredom spread over the anchorage once more. The traditional seafarers remedy for boredom and anxiety is alcohol so to show his appreciation at my compliance the now gregarious Italian invited me and a few other yachties over for pasta and vino to his boat. What he must have spent on his paint job he saved on the quality of the wine. But not wanting to be the snobby party pooper that I normally am, I guzzled with the bunch through the early onset of sulphide headache, pitching my funniest cyclone stories. At some time during the evening a guitar was dug out and Italian pop songs from the 60s and 70s were sung reassuring me that at least that I was not the oldest fart of the gathering and not even the worst singer. By midnight I was hanging in the railings and somehow made it over to my boat in the still calm anchorage.
I slept so sound that I missed the main event and when I woke midday, the winds were already abating and the only damage from cyclone Pam was a few thousand brain cells and some Italian pride. The sleek black racing machine had dragged into the mud flats.
I had plans to dredge up Nautilus and had bought a trap and 300 meter line for the purpose, but the weather never permitted setting the trap in deep water with any hope of retrieving it. Probably just as well. It is strictly illegal to catch Nautilus in New Caledonia. I assume they means for eating . But explain to a gun wielding fisheries patrol in your best school French, that you are going to release them at a safe diving depth to photograph them ... . At best I would have become persona non grata in yet another country. The weather also threw a spanner in my black-water diving wheels. One look at the pilot charts would have illuminated me to the fact that the centre of the South West Pacific high moves South in the summer i.e. cyclone season. While this results in plenty of halcyon days with thunderstorms and heavy skies in Fiji, it produces trade wind conditions averaging 20knts in New Caledonia. Not much you can photograph underwater in more than 10knts of wind really. New Caledonia is a kite surfing Mecca for a reason -dahh.
So we diversified into topside photography for a couple of windy weeks producing ghost crab time lapse video on a beach in the Southern lagoon. For ten days we would sleep on the boat during the day and camp on the beach at night between the sea snakes and nesting turtles getting to know the habits of those funny looking crabs.

Our next planned destination after New Caledonia was Vanuatu. We were hoping to land in Tanna to climb up an active volcano, Mt. Yasur. Under normal circumstances it is illegal to stop and land anywhere prior to clearing customs at a designated customs port. Port Vila being the nearest one. Vila is 130 miles downwind from Tanna and it’s hard to beat your way back to Tanna from there, whereas it is a cushy broad reach from New Caledonia. It came to my mind that with the people in Tanna having all their taro patches swamped by cyclone Pam, I had a chance to wangle a special permit out of Vanuatu customs to deliver disaster relieve there. A win- win. The New Caledonian public went wild donating disaster relief aid, emptied out garages and attics to donate items like a stuffed hobby horse and a commercial espresso machine. The ass-grass clad toddlers of Tanna would love to rock away their grumbling stomachs sipping professionally brewed espresso, I am sure that is, if they had electricity in their blown away grass huts. But truth be told there was a lot of useful stuff too, like piles of nappies that will pollute the Islands for the next five centuries, baby formula , (breastfeeding being the common way to feed babies in backward Vanuatu … . )Initially the stuff was all piled up in the marina workshop in Noumea for anyone to help themselves and the Nivans. The new philanthropic me, clipboard in hand and reading spectacles perched on the tip of my nose went about compiling an inventory of the more useful food staples. I have the attention span of a six year old when it comes to administrative chores, so after a few minutes I decided to just pull alongside the dock the next day and load stuff till the waterline disappear and make an inventory on the fly. At least for one night I slept the sleep of the righteous (now I know why all those Peace-Corp, Aus-Aid kids look so apple cheeked), because when I went alongside the next day there was only dust sweeping. The Red Cross emptied the workshop in an effort to centralise all relieve aid and add that factor to disaster relieve that the recipients always appreciate most: Bureaucracy and PR. I did make some efforts to convince the Red Cross officials to at least part with some immediately needed supplies to deliver to Southern Vanuatu, but got politely stonewalled. Goodbye Tanna hello Port Vila.

In the meantime, Neelam was allowed back into New Caledonia for one week to prepare for passage and depart with me to Vanuatu.
Almost every year I enter the wildlife photographer of the year competition organised by the Natural History Museum in London. What the Oscars are for actors is the WPY for wildlife photographers. Entry is online which is great if you live in a flat in NY with 8000kbs to send 100+mb files. Not so great if you live on a boat relying on world war two internet speeds and public wifi in Noumea.
Neelam and I made the most of the situation, packing a picnic to sit among the Kanak homeless in the main square of Noumea for four days to transmit our hi-res entry. Thank Steve Jobbs for amazing battery life and insect penetration resistant construction of his machines. Our efforts to get the job done before the (French ) New Caledonian immigration was going to show us the door again was only frustrated one day when the entire crew of a cruise liner decided to spend their shore leave in same park to catch up on uploading Philippino pop and Bollywood movies on U-tube using the free wifi in the park. Fifty odd people around us staring into tablets, headphones plugged in. Out transmission speed went from WWII to tom-tom. and I was ready to strangle one of those scrawny Indian necks to gain a bit of band-width (never touch a Pilipino, he might carry a knife and Pilipino pop takes less band- width anyway), when I spotted this young cruise ship wallah wriggling his tongue into the webcam of his laptop, obviously having skype sex with his Darling in Delhi. As a fellow sailor my heart went out to him and we packed up and left the field to those with greater needs.
The boat stocked and all competition entries submitted it was time to clear out of New Caledonia - to late by a couple of days by the accounting of the French border police. Our argument that it had been the long Easter Weekend and their offices had been closed didn’t wash. We had overstayed. The border police wasted no opportunity to impress the fact that we are now criminals on us by dragging Neelam off to the police station to fingerprint and photograph her front and side holding up a sign with her name and birth date. The poor girl did a better job of putting on a brave face than I. I nearly cried when they made her sit down on a swivel chair obviously designed to force uncooperative offenders into the right composition and much resembling a 1940’s electric chair. The officer taking her pictures was dicking around so clumsily with this ancient compact, that I felt like ripping it out of his hands and lending him my professional expertise. But these guys had no sense of humour. Meantime Neelam was thinking how lucky she was that orange compliments her skin tone so well and what shoes would go well with overall. I love my that girl.
The passage from New Caledonia to Vanuatu is normally benign if you have the luxury of being able to pick your weather. But we where being kicked out of the country and had to sail into a brisk headwind with the last cyclone of the season chasing out tail. Ripping the mainsail on day one the genoa on day three and burning a six month budget in diesel did not make us happy sailors.

Now we have been in Port Vila for the last two months getting harbouritis due to circumstances beyond our control ,like the engine cooling water pump blowing up and our house sitter in Fiji dying … ) and fighting to get out cruising plans back on track. Gentle pressure and infinite patience …