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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#537: "Mucking" It Up at Club O

My dive adventure in the Philippines began four weeks ago when I boarded a China Airlines flight bound for Manila via Taiwan. I met up with my Belgian-Swiss dive buddy Erik Goossens in Taipei. and we boarded the plane for the last leg of the trip. I had never met Erik, but our mutual friend Evie Go from Facebook had suggested we share a room while diving in Anilao. I've been on Facebook since the year it started at my alma mater and have connected with many interesting divers around the world through it. Seemed like a good idea... and it proved to be just that.

Erik had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the Manila airport and take us to Club Ocellaris, the resort we'd be diving at in Anilao. Redjie was waiting to greet us at the airport with a sign and we had more than two hours to get acquainted as we headed to our destination in light Sunday traffic.

I had talked about diving the Philippines for about five years now. With 7,107 islands I was faced with a difficult choice as to what locations to dive on my first trip. Thanks to Evie and other friends on Facebook and ScubaBoard, I had narrowed it down to Anilao and Puerto Galera for my first visit. Anilao is known for its "muck diving." with soft substrates like fine sand and mud. Because of that the visibility is usually much lower than over rocky bottoms or coral reefs. However, the "muck" is home to a multitude of exotic critters that make excellent subjects for underwater photographers.

We arrived at Club O and all you could see from the road was a series of steps leading down to the waterfront buildings. Several youngsters emerged and carried our bags down the stairs (whew). Thanks to Joy, the club's manager, we were quickly shown to our room... the Oriental Sweetlips suite. We're not talking the kind of sweetlips most people dream about... well, except for marine biologists and underwater imagers. We're talking about a colorful tropical fish. The resort was pretty isolated and self contained. There were no bikini clad single ladies here to distract me so my 12 days there would be completely filled with diving, eating and sleeping... just the way I wanted it.

"Club O" is known by serious divers and underwater imagers around the world. It caters to those who want to see and photograph the incredible biodiversity of the the richest waters in the world, the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia. No, not that Golden Triangle where opium production is big. We're talking the underwater world here. Scientific institutions like the California Academy of Science often send their marine biologists here to collect rare and often undescribed and unnamed species to add to our knowledge of the marine world. Once underwater I felt like a predator faced with a large school of tantalizing munchies... which one do I eat... er, photograph first!

Erik and I didn't waste any time. Not long after we arrived we were heading out for our first dive. Like most operations in the Philippines, diving was done out of dual outrigger boats known as bangkas or bancas. They proved to be great platforms to dive from. The boat crew, headed by captain Hong, was top notch and handled our sensitive camera gear very carefully.

In new waters it is very important to have knowledgeable dive guides to locate interesting critters to observe and film. Club O had some of the very best in Ben, Peri and Alexis. Our group dove with Ben the entire time we were there and he proved to be not only very knowledgeable about the marine life but also a highly enthusiastic diver even after more than 30 years in the water. It was obvious he enjoyed what he did and we enjoyed being with him. A few days later when Evie joined us from Manila, we became known as "the party boat" because we were always full of laughter and hijinks. No alcohol involved (at least during the dive day) since DUI (diving under the influence) is strictly forbidden.

Our day would start about 6:00 AM with coffee down on the terrace with the other divers. It was a relaxed time during which we all shared exotic dive travel experience and images taken on them. Soon Joy and the staff would have a great breakfast ready and we'd continue chatting over our meal. Then it was off to gather our camera gear and don our wetsuits for the day's dives. Diving started by 9:00 and we stayed out for two dives then returned for lunch. After a little rest and time to recharge camera batteries we were off again for a late afternoon and night dive.

Although we "only" did four dives a day, these were not your pitiful 20 minute "dives" that some divemaster candidates employ to build their dive logs. We were allowed to dive until we'd drained our tanks of air. A number of dives lasted more than two hours on a single tank and the average was over 90 minutes. Several times I was very low on air and heading towards the surface when Ben would spot something new and unique and coax me down to film it while sucking the very last molecules from my bottle!

In all we did 42 dives in Anilao over 11 days. Since they were so long, I accumulated nearly 200 GB of video (well over 30 hours) that I'm still struggling to edit 10 days after returning. It looks like I'll be writing about my adventure in the Philippines for quite some time... at least until the water in our kelp forests warms up to tolerable levels. After all, I'm now used to minimum water temperatures of 84-86 F instead of the 54 F I hit on my last dive here at Casino Point before departing. I guess I've evolved into a true "warm water wussy."

In editing the footage from these muck dives, I did discover that my skills were not entirely up to the task. The muddy bottoms in Anilao presented a monotone grayish-green color and the resuspended sediments didn't help much. My camcorder's automatic white balance just didn't cut it on most dives and the footage suffered tremendously unless I was filming up close and personal. Fortunately I follow the Babe Ruth school of underwater imaging... you step up to the plate often enough and you're going to strike out a lot but also hit a good number of home runs. Most of the still imagers I dove with were of the Ansel Adams school... take a day (or at least 10 minutes) to set up the perfect shot and bingo!

I shot enough footage that the percentage of good video will be enough to put together some decent presentations. However, I think I will have to research methods to capture better footage while muck diving. Then I can justify returning to the Philippines and re-shoot all the amazing critters there. I like the idea of an endless bikini season... er, I mean summer.

© 2013 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Stairs to our room at Club O, one of the bangkas, the party boat members (Erik, me, Ben, Evie, Hugh and Debra Beard)
and the "muck" (yuck).

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2013 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia