LAST YEAR I CELEBRATED 25 years since my first dive under water. Diving was something I had always wanted to do and since that first dive, and driven by my passion for underwater photography, I went on to make it part of my career.
Over the years I have often been asked what my favourite dives have been. With so many from which to choose, even the best have started to become a bit of a blur! I frequently find myself coming up with different answers by categorising them into best types – such as tropical, technical, expeditions, wrecks etc.
Most of my best dives were carried out back in the 1990s. It was a time before the responsibilities of family life, a time of relative freedom for adventure and exploration. It was also a pioneering time for technical diving, in which I became deeply involved (sorry!).
In those early days when techniques were being refined and mixed-gas tables created, very few divers were involved.
I felt privileged to be a part of some of the teams diving “virgin” wrecks previously too deep for scuba-divers to safely explore. These dives were unique and unforgettable.

Java Sea/ Indonesia

This salvage job included what was probably one of the most interesting series of dives I have ever done. They took place in 1997, but the expedition artefacts and pictures weren’t released until four years later.
An Indonesian fisherman found the Intan Wreck in the mid 1990s while hauling in his nets, and word of the treasure trove soon got out. The Indonesian Navy arrested a number of fishermen when they started to plunder the wreck.
The site location was later released to an Indonesian and German salvage company commissioned by Indonesia’s government to undertake the salvage and complete a detailed survey of the site.
The site turned out to be a magnificent find. It was the oldest South-east Asian wreck ever found with complete cargo.
Carbon-dating and coin analysis confirmed that it dated from the 10th century AD. Little of the hull remained, but timber identification and structural details indicated that the ship was an Indonesian lashed-lug craft, probably bound from the Srivijayan capital, Palembang, to central or eastern Java.
I arrived a week into the salvage operation, unable to start earlier because it overlapped with the first Britannic expedition, in which I was involved.
In Jakarta harbour I was taken aboard a small, rather rough-looking fishing-boat. The fisherman spoke no English and had no navigational aids, and after several hours I started to wonder whether he knew where he was going, whether I was on the right boat or even whether I had been kidnapped!
At daybreak 12 hours later and 100 miles offshore, we finally arrived at the dive-site. With no reference points, I was amazed at how this guy found his way.
I can only guess that it was by the stars.
To my relief I was greeted by my Austrian tech-diving buddy Axel aboard another small fishing-boat and the Australian marine archeologist in charge of dive operations. Axel introduced me to the crew who, when not working as fishermen, were all said to be pirates!
The region was notorious for pirates, and this motley lot were apparently the perfect defence against other pirates. As they were being well paid in both cash and food they were apparently trustworthy!
They seemed to be a happy, friendly lot. Our main challenge was the language barrier and some “creative” dive-kit.

AT DAYBREAK, THE FIRST WAVE of divers got prepared. The locals all wore boiler-suits, woollen balaclavas and no tanks! I watched, amazed, as these comical characters donned their gear and placed regs from a hookah rig in their mouths.
This consisted of a 40m garden hose with a simple reg connected to the end by a jubilee clamp, then attached to a low-pressure compressor, the sort your local garage might use to fill tyres. This was not quite the dive operation I was expecting.
“Do you expect me to use that” I asked Axel.
“This is what they use out here,” he replied. It’s all we’ve got. We’re privileged! They’ve provided us with a brand-new compressor and new hoses! We’ve been using it all week, and have had no problems.”
I asked if they were using gauges, and Axel laughed. “At the beginning of the trip they had never seen a gauge, and most had been bent. Now they all use them!”
I kitted up and put on my wetsuit, feeling out of place among the boiler-suits and balaclavas. I donned a 10-litre tank
as a bail-out, grabbed the garden hose, ensured that the jubilee clamp holding the reg was secure and jumped in.
I followed the other five hoses down. The wreck sat at 25m on a sandy seabed. Around me lay pottery and lots of large rounded stones, which I later found out were knife-sharpeners.
I swam over to one of the divers and watched as he used the dredger. As silt was gently removed, priceless plates appeared from out of the cloud. They were removed and carefully stacked in a crate.
The Indonesian divers didn’t wear fins. When it was time to leave, they hopped across the bottom like astronauts moon-walking, and then pulled themselves up their lifeline to their first deco stop at 6m.
It was my turn to work, so I took the dredge and lightly waved my hand to direct the silt up the dredge-pipe.

OVER THE NEXT 35 MINUTES I found many pieces of pottery, including jugs and large plates with beautiful, delicate hand-painted drawings.
Under the fine silt was a more compact layer of mud and shingle and heavier artefacts appeared, including silver bars and copper ingots.
As I started to remove the silt, I saw something glinting in the shingle. At first it looked like a small copper ring.
On closer inspection, I could see that I had found a 1000-year-old gold ring inset with a ruby! It was extremely exciting – an amazing first dive.
As I continued excavating I felt some resistance on my air – and then ran out.
I quickly switched to my bail-out and looked to see if there were any kinks in the hose, but there was nothing. Luckily all the other divers had surfaced.
The air soon started to flow again, so I switched back and continued my work. On surfacing, I found that the petrol had run out on the compressor, and the man running it was having lunch!
The ensuing five weeks provided some of the most interesting diving I have done. We recovered many priceless gold and silver artefacts and hundreds of china plates, including some of the rarest archaeological finds of the 1990s.
Dozens of silver bars were found, and some stunning prayer-bells with the Buddhist monkey Hannaman beautifully hand-carved on the top.
The most common finds were simple bowls stamped on the bottom. These were the main cargo, and we recovered thousands of them. At the end of the project, I was fortunate to be given one as a memento of the expedition.
The deep silty layer on the seabed also revealed other interesting secrets. Stuck in the mud like a time-capsule were human bones, sheep teeth and small pieces of wood and glass trading beads.
These were used for carbon dating and determining the origin of the hull structure, and where the ship was built.
The conditions were primitive on the dive-boat. We slept like sardines and ate
a meagre diet of fish and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, varied only by an occasional squid or sea-snake.
I lost 15kg in weight, but had the best adventure any diver could ask for.

Huntsville, Alabama / USA

My work has taken me all over the world, and although I have always enjoyed scenic dives and taken thousands of marine-life photographs, I have always been more drawn to photo-reportage, and especially recording people working under water.
I have photographed sport divers, technical divers, commercial divers, archaeologists, marine biologists, submariners, marines and police divers, but the most extraordinary divers have to be astronauts.
Visiting the USA in the mid-1990s, I met a diver who worked for NASA as a safety diver at its Neutral Buoyancy Simulator (NBS) in Huntsville, Alabama.
I thought this would make a great picture-story, so I contacted NASA and after six months of faxes, (no emails then) I was granted permission to dive in the facility.
Huntsville was the smaller of NASA’s two facilities for weightless training, the main one being in Houston. Astronauts were then training for the STS 83 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
In the special tank in Huntsville was a scaled replica of the Space Shuttle cargo bay, the Hubble Telescope docked to it.
It was a strange experience entering this building, surrounded by astronauts and NASA technicians. Like all divers entering the tank I had to undergo a diving exam and a fighter pilot’s medical.
That afternoon I met Joe Tanner and Steve Smith, two of NASA’s most experienced astronauts. They had planned an eight-hour dive for the next morning, and the mission manager gave me permission to watch a mock repair.
I arrived early, and watched the astronauts gear up in special undersuits before a team of technicians dressed them in their spacesuits. These were real suits, taken out of the space programme as they had been “used” on a mission.
I peered into the 15m-deep tank, bigger than an Olympics-sized swimming pool. The divemaster gave me a set of equipment with “30” written on the tank. After a buddy check, he told me to jump in.
The astronauts went through pressure-suit checks before being slowly lowered into the tank. I hovered about 5m from them and watched the safety-divers help them to disconnect from the lowering platform and swim them to the side of the cargo bay.

THE VISIBILITY WAS CRYSTAL-CLEAR – it was an incredible sight. I could see the whole of the cargo bay and telescope. It was as if I was flying in space, not unlike the set in Gravity but without the drama, or Sandra Bullock.
I was using a fisheye lens, and needed to move as close as possible to the astronauts to get good shots. Then there was a sudden announcement on an underwater tannoy: “Diver No 30, please move away from the astronauts. You are blocking our view. Please move!
The tank was full of surveillance cameras watching every movement from every angle. I moved swiftly to a place where there were no cameras.
As the astronauts started their task, I scoured the walls of cameras to see where the blind-spots were, so that I could position myself without getting in the way. I didnt want to get told off again, or risk being kicked out!
The main task on this dive, to remove a panel on the telescope, took more than an hour. Each bolt and fixture was carefully stored and logged, so that no part could be lost or float away when in zero gravity.
I moved around the cargo bay, finally perching on the top of the telescope. I peered down just a metre away from Steve Smith as he went to work.
It was a strange feeling sitting on top of the Hubble Telescope, and no doubt the nearest I will ever get to experiencing space. I could hear the astronauts talking to each other and the mission manager, using lots of unidentifiable acronyms.
I shot the images on both black-and-white and colour film, taking care to do so in such a way that they looked as if they were shot in space. In the final images there were no divers, no bubbles or any signs of the side of the tank.
I spent the next five days diving in the tank, carefully watching this amazing operation. I feel honoured to be one of the first civilian divers to have had access to this underwater facility.

Gulf of Mexico / USA

In 1993, I was working for Billy Deans as a technical divemaster in Florida. Billy, a pioneer of technical diving, led the way in open-circuit mixed-gas diving in the ’90s.
The El Cazador expedition was a turning point in technical diving. It was the first time tech divers had been paid to carry out salvage dives in deep water.
Billy was asked to dive El Cazador by the famous Anthony Dave Horan, who had worked on the Atocha, a Spanish galleon wreck just off the Florida Keys. The Atocha had been known for the large quantity of gold coins recovered from it, valued at what was said to be $100m-plus.
Another wreck was found by a fisherman while hauling in his shrimp-nets – which contained a pile of silver coins! The fisherman learnt of a ship that had sunk in 1784, which matched the date of the coins.
The ship, El Cazador, was believed to be a Spanish galleon carrying a large payload of freshly minted coins from Mexico to the USA. Estimated value was $50m.
I was fortunate to get involved in the first salvage operation as one of the team of underwater photographers.
The dive-boat was a 36m research vessel called the Beacon. We set sail to a secret location from the shores of Bayou La Batre in Alabama, the redneck town in which Forest Gump’s shrimp-boat was fictitiously based. After a few days of preparation and some survey work, the plan was to carry out two 90m dives a day, with 25 minutes’ bottom time.
Billy and I would make the first dive to 93m. We were set up on double 20-litre tanks with three stage bottles, with surface O2 and 50/50 nitrox for our final deco stops. In these early days, mixed-gas computers werent available, so we had Dr Bill Hamilton cut us a set of DCAP consortium tables for the project.
As we kitted up, there was an air of excitement on the boat, but also apprehension. This was virgin territory, and we had no idea what to expect.
The crew and the rest of the dive-team wished us luck. I led the way down the descent line in clear blue water. When we hit 70m, the visibility started to drop.
By 75m, the light had disappeared. We paused in the black water. This layer was silt and mud from the Mississippi river, which opened out 90 miles away into the Gulf of Mexico.
I couldn’t see Billy – all I could feel was the movement of his line above me.
I looked up, and he dropped down until we were face to face.
We continued to drop slowly, and as I landed on the seabed a plume of silt rose, making it even harder to see anything.
Billy landed beside me, gripping the shotline. We gave each other the OK and reached down to feel the seabed. Small objects seemed to be lying around us.
I took a handful and brought them up to our faces – and from out of the gloom, my silty hand revealed a surprise. I had just landed on a huge pile of silver coins.
We both screamed with excitement – I had never been so excited. Heart pounding and breath rapid, I rubbed the encrusted silver to reveal pieces of eight, with the face of Carlos III on each one.
We had hit the main payload and, like two excited little boys, we filled a goody-bag until coins were overflowing. and then crammed every pocket on our drysuits.

WITH 10 MINUTES OF BOTTOM TIME LEFT, we tied off and ran a reel off the shotline to explore the site. The waters became slightly clearer, and we were literally surrounded by coins, some in huge encrusted clumps, others loose.
I imagined that this was just how they had fallen more than 200 years ago. I grabbed a clump, tucked it under my arm and took it back to the shot. The surface team had sent down an extra goody-bag, and it was quickly filled.
We attached the two bags to Billys 50lb lift-bag, which he clipped to the line and filled with air. So heavy was the load that the bag barely left the seabed. We had to guide it up through the murky waters.
Once we hit 70m we could see safety diver Rob above us at 50m. He dropped and added another bag, and the silver-laden bags slowly started to lift. We watched them rise to the top, silhouetted against the sun’s rays, and vanish.
After a 180-minute run-time we hit the surface. There was huge excitement as we went through the silver.
That afternoon we sent down an ROV to explore the site. It came across a greenish, curved object poking out of the silt. I had the great pleasure of recovering it in the early evening. No prizes for guessing what it was!