Diving the S.S. Thistlegorm

Holding on to the Thistlegorm against the current.

In May 1941, the British Merchant Navy freighter S.S. Thistlegorm left port at Glasgow and headed towards Alexandria, carrying a cargo of motorcycles, trucks, transport trailers, two light tanks, two steam engines, spare parts for airplanes and land vehicles, tires, rubber boots and more.  Sailing back up through the Red Sea, with her anchor cast in the Strait of Gubal and waiting her turn to pass through the Suez Canal, the Thistlegorm was attacked by night by four German bombers who happened to sight the ship by chance.  With her holds near the engine room struck by two bombs, the ship split in two and sank rapidly, but only nine men from her crew lost their lives, as the nearby HMS Carlisle came to the rescue.

The extraordinary wreck, sitting on a flat seabed at a little over 30 meters, was discovered by Jacques Cousteau in March of 1955, lost in 1957 and subsequently re-discovered by amateur divers.  It is remarkably intact and complete with much of its cargo.

Wreck of the Thistlegorm

On the 16th, we travelled south to Sharm el Sheikh so we could visit the Thistlegorm and explore her over two memorable dives: one circumnavigating its perimeter, starting around the stern and heading towards the bow, and one dive into and through her holds and cabins.

The currents during our dive were the strongest I’d ever experienced, and I understand they can also be stronger.  I was grateful for the drift dive training we’d received during the PADI Advanced course (even if, as fate would have it, our training “drift dive” went unexpectedly against the current.)

Holding on against the current on the Thistlegorm

All of my photos from the wreck are now posted on Flickr.  Here is a link to the whole set.

I have sad news: these are the last of my underwater photos from the trip.  The Sealife DC500 camera failed during my second Thistlegorm dive (which is why I don’t have photos of some of the other incredible cargo, including Bren Carrier Mk II tanks sitting intact on the ocean floor).

The camera powered on underwater, but wouldn’t respond to any input, including the power button.  By the time we got back to the boat, where I could power it down by removing the camera from the underwater housing and then removing its battery, the camera itself was very hot.  And subsequently, every photo I took with the camera came out extremely overexposed (as in, almost entirely white).  So something is definitely wrong with the camera, which is particularly disappointing because I was following all the precautions, including rinsing the underwater housing in freshwater after every dive, keeping it out of the direct sun, and inserting dessicant inside the housing to reduce humidity.

The good news, though, is that the camera’s video functionality continued to work after this incident, so it’s time for me to learn how to cut together a video from the clips I took during the rest of our dives!

Fish

Arrived back into Dublin yesterday with my lungs intact, a beaming smile and quite a few more dives under my (weight) belt.

Between our time in Dahab, two sojourns to Ras Mohammed for more diving, and a side-trip overland to Petra in Jordan, I’m swimming in memories and photos.

Colourful fish on the reef

I did promise underwater photos, yes?  None of these are prize-winning, but I’ve just uploaded my first set of underwater photos from Dahab to Flickr.  As I get through some of the later ones over the next few days, I’ll link to them from here!

Ah, the life of the gainfully unemployed.

Nikon’s Raw (NEF) Vista Codec Updated

Nikon Logo

Nikon has released an updated version of their Raw (NEF) Codec for Vista that resolves an issue that caused it to suddenly stop working last week. Apparently the problem had something to do with an expired certificate.

The new codec is still labeled version 1.01. However, if you uninstall the old 1.00 or 1.01 codec, and install this new one, you’ll be back in business.

I mentioned back in January that I have stopped shooting JPG images, in favour of only shooting RAW (NEF) images. I am still using the following photography pipeline:

  • View, sort, and triage NEF images: from Vista’s File Explorer and Windows Photo Gallery.
  • Load into Nikon Capture NX: for post-processing. This program has earned my respect with its ability to store my edit history in the RAW file, and also one ingenious feature (yes, I think ingenious is exactly the word for it) called Color Control Points. However, I have nothing positive to say about Capture NX’s user interface: it desperately needs keyboard shortcuts, and lacks basic navigational functionality like mouse-wheel zoom. I found a great resource for Nikon Capture NX tips and tricks here at Nikonians.org.
  • Batch export to JPG: using Nikon Capture NX’s batch processing
  • Upload: to Flickr.

There are two challenges with this pipeline:

  • First, the Vista codec still isn’t particularly quick, even on a relatively beefy laptop (Vista Overall Experience Index: 3.0; Processor: 4.6, Memory: 4.7, Graphics: 3.6). You can flip through photos quickly enough, but if you want to delete a photo, Vista spins its wheels while the codec renders the high-res image. To work around this, I use the keyboard shortcuts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) to quickly “rate” all my photos, and then delete all the bad ones in one go.
  • Second, although you can associate metadata (“tags”) with NEFs in Photo Gallery, using the above-mentioned codec, the tags don’t show up anywhere I can find them in Capture NX. Therefore I am not tagging my images on Vista (defeating a lot of its organizational potential) and instead am just tagging the JPGs on Flickr, which, by that point, have become disassociated from the original NEF images. Some day, if I want to sync them, it may be an intractable task (or at least an image processing challenge).

So my Vista-Flickr NEF pipeline experience is good but not great. I am still going to keep shooting RAW (NEF) only, as I am learning how to make subtle and powerful changes to my photos using Capture NX, which I find very valuable. After all, if it’s worth shooting, it’s worth trying to shoot it right!

[February 2009 Update]

I posted some updated thoughts on NEF Codecs for Vista and Windows 7 for 32- and 64-bit installations. Thank you for all the thoughts and discussion here and I hope this continues to be helpful.