Sea Rovers 2013

This past weekend I attended the 2013 Boston Sea Rovers Annual Clinic. The Sea Rovers are one of the oldest dive clubs around, having been founded back in the 1950s, and boasting such past and present members as underwater cinematographer Stan Waterman, explorer Robert Ballard and photographer Ernest ‘Ernie’ Brooks II.   The Clinic is an annual divers show in the Boston area, and is split between an exhibition hall, hourly seminars, and a film festival. During the day, each hour, there are three seminars; each seminar room is devoted to a certain theme, but you’re free to attend any one you wish. The exhibition hall is typically split between manufacturers (often of technical diving gear), local retailers, local dive clubs, and other organizations, like the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, The Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary, and others. The Clinic is also a great place to re-connect with old friends.

The seminars are my favorite part of the show. The exhibitors in the hall don’t change much year to year, but the seminars do, and this year, for me anyway, they were especially good. Typically, each seminar is a 30 -45 minute talk, generally with slides and or video, followed by a question and answer period. Usually, one room will be devoted to wreck diving, one to dive locations, local or exotic, and the third to some other topic, such as sharks. The show manages to attract speakers from all over, not just the Boston area.

I don’t know if I just happened to choose well this year, or if the general quality of the speakers has gone up, but all of the seminars I attended this year were at least good, and some excellent. None of the speakers seemed to fall into the trap of droning on and on about the boring logistical issues of their trip, and many of the visuals were outstanding.


I started Saturday off with Pete Narwrocky’s “The Tech Photographer”. Despite the title, it wasn’t just about shooting while tech diving–he also had tips that were usable by recreational divers, such as the use of off-camera strobes.

The next presentation was the one I was most looking forward to, Greg Skomal’s “Tracking Great White Sharks with Robots”. Skomal is the Division of Marine Fisheries’s shark expert, and has appeared on Discovery’s Shark Week. He’s also a great speaker–lively, funny, but quite knowledgeable. He talked about the various ways they’re tracking great whites, including a new robotic torpedo capable of keeping up with the sharks as they swim. Since the device was partly sponsored by Discovery, it was outfitted with video cameras, and he showed a little footage from it, showing it following tightly behind the shark.

After lunch, I saw the “U-550 Expedition”, by Joe Mazriaani and a couple of others, about the search for a sunken U-boat off the east coast. The found it, mostly intact, and the talk went over the side-scan sonar search for it, and the first dives on it.

Next up was a talk about manatees. This talk was a last minute substitution, but it was still good. The photography was good, and the speaker, Michel Gilbert, was interesting. He spoke about how there are more manatees now than when he first started photographing them (good) and how there are now many more people visiting them (not so good).

The last two talks of the day were about conservation. Wayne Sentman gave a talk “Pollution Canary : Albatross as Indicators of the Health of the Marine Environment” describing his studies of albatross chicks on Midway Island. Midway is where albatrosses raise their young and it’s close to where the currents of the Pacific collect garbage, and they’re discovering lots of plastic rubbish in the water–and in the birds, and the fish.

Midway is covered with plastic trash—lighters, bottle caps, shards of plastic, etc, and while the parents are away, the chicks sometimes wander away from their nests, and pick up the plastic. In addition, the fish are eating the plastic too, the parents eat the fish, then regurgitate the plastic ridden fish into the chicks. He had a slide of a bird corpse, full of plastic litter, and another of a disc of rubbish that looked liked it was probably 10 inches wide of all the bits of plastic found inside one bird laid out flat. Scary stuff.

The last speaker of the day was George Buckley, a Harvard professor who gave a great talk about “Climate Change and the Oceans”. The talk didn’t have too much by way of visuals, but Dr. Buckley is a dynamic speaker, talking about what climate change means. (He dislikes the term “global warming” since it’s not just about things getting warmer.)  He talked about what we can expect—more storms like Sandy, more roller coaster weather, and talked about some possible technological solutions. He kept coming back to the point that you can’t eliminate CO2 emissions, but it is possible to reduce them. He stressed that in general, technology has led to a better life, but that we need to be aware of the side effects of the things we do and use.

After dinner came the Film Festival. This is a series of shorts about the underwater world, starting with a presentation about Baja, and ending with a talk by BBC cinematographer Michael Pitts, who showed some clips from his work. The film festival was good, but I was overtired to begin with, and running on fumes by the time it ended. This was not a good weekend for the switch to Daylight Savings Time.


I considered skipping the first session on Sunday in favor of an hour of sleep, until I saw Faith Ortins was scheduled to talk about “Diving to the Ends of the Earth”, her travels to the Arctic and Antarctic (Ms. Ortins runs DUI drysuits). She’s a short, lively woman with a gravelly voice and a great sense of humor. (One of the bits she showed was a clip of herself struggling to get back into a Zodiac, not particularly gracefully). She juxtaposed the two regions, switching back and forth between them. The photography was awesome,

Next up was a talk about an underwater saturation diving habitat that had been in place off the coast of Cape Ann for a year during the 70’s. It was interesting, but a little too scholarly for my taste.

Nancy McGee is both a teacher and an explorer. For her talk, “Underwater Jungle”, she started off with a video of her footage edited together by one of her film students. It was really good. Then she talked a bit about putting together the kind of trips she goes on.

I spent some time at lunch and in the exhibition hall, and then saw my last seminar of the day, Dr. Charles Mazel’s talk “A Hidden World of Intense Color – New Developments in Underwater Fluorescence Imaging and Science”. Quite a mouthful, but basically he was talking about how you can make many kinds of underwater life exhibit fluorescence. You don’t normally notice it during the day, because the white light drowns out the fluorescence, but by using a blue light in the dark to stimulate it, and using a yellow filter over the lens to filter out the blue light, you can see some amazing things. He had a bunch of amazing pictures—glowing fish, corals outlined in glowing green, but unfortunately, by that point I was fried, and couldn’t fully appreciate them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. It was great seeing old friends—Ralph, Paul, Henri, Kerry, Daire, Kim, and Alex. Some of the speakers, like Greg Skomal and Faith Ortins, I’d seen before, and had been looking forward to seeing again, some were new to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again next time.