Diving and shipwrecks, 2011-present
This page contains a selection of photos and videos of me diving since 2011. By then I'd been diving for almost thirty-five years, and had carried out thousands of dives on shipwrecks and other sites in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Red Sea, as well as off the UK, in Canada and elsewhere (for some of my early diving experiences, go here). However, I have much more underwater imagery since 2011 than for all the previous years, largely because the last few years have seen my brother Alan develop his professional focus as an underwater photographer and videographer (his TV series, The Fish Finders, is in its fourth season on The World Fishing Network). Since 2014 I've also dived extensively off Cornwall in England with Mark Milburn of Atlantic Scuba, another skilled photographer. There are even some images below taken by my teenage daughter, an experienced snorkeller who has spent many hours freediving with me on the wrecks of Fathom Five National Marine Park in Canada as well as off England and Wales, and in the summer of 2016 became a qualified open-water diver herself.
The last decade or so also marks a diversification of my fieldwork as a maritime archaeologist. Before then, my main focus had been on the ancient wrecks of the Mediterranean, including numerous survey and excavation projects off Italy, Tunisia, Turkey and elsewhere, from the time of my first expedition as a student to Sicily in 1981. I continue to hold that fascination, but my attention has shifted geographically to north-west Europe and the possibility of finding ancient wrecks off the UK as well. I've also developed a strong interest in more recent historic wrecks in these waters, particularly cannon wrecks of the 16th-19th centuries off Cornwall. Many of these wrecks are as archaeologically rich as those from antiquity, yet are poorly known and documented. I've also returned in Canada to the wreck sites of the 19th century that I first visited when I qualified as a diver in 1978 at the age of 15. Al of these sites, in the Mediterranean, in UK waters and in Canada, feed my fictional imagination, and my own underwater exploration will continue to be a vital backdrop to my novels into the future.
JUNE-NOVEMBER 2016: SCHIEDAM WRECK, GUNWALLOE, CORNWALL
Mark Milburn and I are licensed by Historic England to dive on the Schiedam, a naval transport ship wrecked in 1684 off the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall. The wreck was discovered by local divers in 1971 and designated under the 1973 Protection of Wrecks Act. For many years the wreck has been buried under the shifting sands of Jangye-Ryn, the cove to the north of Gunwalloe Church Cove, but during an exploratory snorkel this year I saw it for the first time - three guns sticking out of the sand, one of them the longest I'd ever seen on a wreck. I took the film you can see top right during that first snorkel dive. Since then we've returned when the weather has allowed, and have discovered a fascinating range of artefacts including musket balls, concreted musket barrels, a cannon ball and a grenade. The wreck has attracted a great deal of interest because it's at exactly the same location where the shipwreck scene was filmed for the recent TV series Poldark, and also because the ship has a remarkable backstory including having been captured by Barbary pirates and being used to evacuate armaments from the English colony at Tangier.
By December we decided that we'd found enough to issue a press release on the rediscovery. Many news agencies and sites took up the story, including the BBC, ITV, the Sun, the Mirror and the Daily Mail (including articles in the print editions of the Sun and the Mirror, with a total circulation of almost three million). It has also appeared widely in the dive press. At one point the BBC article was the third most read item on their news site nationally, and the eighth internationally. You can see the BBC article here, and photos of me at the site taken by Mark Milburn below.
MARCH 2016: TOBERMORY, CANADA
Alan and I had another excellent few days of shore diving at Tobermory, between bouts of strong northerly winds and snow. The water was very cold - 1 degree C (see the computer readout below!) - but extremely clear, ideal for testing Alan's new 4K camera rig that you can see in my pictures of him. The first of his films in 4K is here.
OCTOBER 2015: LOCK 21 AND HMS PRINCE REGENT, CANADA
Following our September trip to Tobermory we went east to the Cornwall Canal on the St Lawrence River and then back to Kingston at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. At Cornwall we dived on Lock 21 and at Kingston on the wreck of HMS Prince Regent, a frigate from the War of 1812.
SEPTEMBER 2015: TOBERMORY, CANADA
These photos of me were taken over a three-day trip to Fathom Five National Marine Park in Lake Huron, off Tobermory, Ontario, Canada - the place where I did my first open-water dives in 1978 and the site of much of my diving since 2005, as shown in the galleries below. The diving here is among the best in the world, a result of the remarkable preservation of wooden wrecks in the cold, fresh waters of the lake, and the exceptional underwater visibility evident in these photos. Many of the wrecks here are of schooners and early steamships of the 19th century involved in the transport of timber from the Canadian forests, much of it destined for Britain and the United States. The video of the Wetmore opposite is a simple record film I took with my Fuji camera to give an impression of the wreck. To find out more about the wrecks in these pictures go to my blogs on the Charles P. Minch, the James C. King and the Wetmore (photos: Alan Gibbins).
2014-15: DIVING WITH BARREL JELLYFISH, CORNWALL
One of the great pleasures of diving over the last few summers off Cornwall has been the presence of Rhizostoma pulmo, the barrel or 'dustbin lid' jellyfish. These majestic creatures are pretty well harmless to humans (you probably wouldn't want to hug one, but they'd only give a mild sting), and are extraordinary to see close-up. They're huge - the ones in these images are about three-quarters of a metre across and a metre and a half long. I was very lucky one day in June 2015 to be diving at Gunwalloe Church Cove when the visibility was exceptional and I was able to get under a jellyfish and photograph the sunlight coming through it. The video I took that day was published by The Cornishman ('Stunning underwater footage of a jellyfish in Mount's Bay', 7 August 2015), and you can see a selection of my stills below. The second video opposite was taken close to the same place in September by Mark Milburn of Atlantic Scuba during a dive he and I did with Francois Menard. You can see me swimming behind the jellyfish in the first minute or so of the video. Mark's video won the Scubaverse monthly video competition and some of his footage has been acquired for a documentary planned for Channel 4, one of the main UK terrestrial channels.
SEPTEMBER 2015: CANNON SITE, CORNWALL, ENGLAND
In 2015 I began a project with Mark Milburn of Atlantic Scuba to investigate shipwrecks off the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, under the aegis of Historic England (the body responsible for the protection of historic wrecks in English waters). I first dived off Cornwall in the early 1980s, but my interest in the wrecks of the Lizard really took hold after I began to spend time there with my daughter when she was young and we snorkelled together off Gunwalloe and Kynance Coves. I became particularly interested in the number of cannon sites reported in shallow waters during the early years of diving that had not been properly recorded, and in the possibility of new discoveries resulting from the shifts in sand coverage along this coast after westerly storms. One of our most exciting finds so far is the gun you can see me examining in these photos taken by Mark in September 2015, probably from a 17th century wreck. I'd first discovered the gun in 2013, and in the following images you can see how its appearance has changed with the amount of marine growth and sand cover through time, in this very exposed site - often impossible to dive - only about five metres deep at low tide. The colour in these images is different according to the amount of light and turbulence in the water, ranging from the exceptional visibility in June 2015, when the sea was almost dead calm and the sky cloudless, to the murky conditions in September 2014 following prolonged unsettled weather.
SEPTEMBER 2013: THE DEVIL'S BELLOWS, KYNANCE COVE, CORNWALL
I began visiting Kynance Cove with my daughter when she was very young (as a five-year old she aptly christened it 'Utopia'), and I taught her to free-dive there - the watery backdrop to this website is a photo I took of her silhouetted on the surface in 2007. I'd often watched the famous 'Devil's Bellows' blowhole and wondered what it would be like to dive through it, but the weather was never right - even a slight surge and the blowhole could be lethal, so a dive could only be attempted when the sea had been calm for days beforehand. Conditions were perfect though during a stay in September 2013 and I took the plunge with a GoPro camera strapped to my head, resulting in the video you can see here. Often since then I've been to the cove when the sea has been violent, sometimes mountainous - the cove is exposed to the full force of the prevailing westerlies - and it's hard to believe that anyone could dive there, and yet on that day the conditions and visibility were as beautiful as I've seen off Cornwall.
OCTOBER 2011: NIGHT DIVE
I've always loved diving at night, and have done so at many places around the world including the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Atlantic. The Great Lakes in Canada might seem a less enticing place for a night dive because of the cold and the apparent lack of marine life, but the stark appearance of the lakebed - and the excellent visibility - can make for a very atmospheric dive, particularly on one of the fantastically well-preserved wrecks that make the lakes such a mecca for divers. In this video by my brother Alan you can see me at Tobermory on the Alice G, a familiar wreck in daytime that takes on a whole new appearance at night. The white flecks you can see rising off the timbers are the larvae of nymphs heading for the surface to hatch.
APRIL 2011: ICE DIVE
I first dived under ice in Canada in 1979 aged 16 - see my blog with photos here. We didn't have an underwater camera back then, but for more recent ice dives I've been accompanied by my brother Alan with his video and still cameras. Our most memorable ice dive was in early April 2011 at Tobermory just after the ice had broken up, creating a dazzling mosaic effect of light as we swam under the floes. You can see his superb video from that day here, as well as some of his stills below (the first one from another ice dive a few seasons earlier)..