Leigh’s happy to explore new depths

PROFESSIONAL diver and shipwreck photographer Leigh Bishop has plunged to depths of 120m, has more than 400 wreck dives to his name and has worked with James Cameron – Hollywood director of blockbuster Titanic. Leigh, 38, of Eastern Way, Letchworth GC, st

PROFESSIONAL diver and shipwreck photographer Leigh Bishop has plunged to depths of 120m, has more than 400 wreck dives to his name and has worked with James Cameron - Hollywood director of blockbuster Titanic.

Leigh, 38, of Eastern Way, Letchworth GC, started diving in the late 1980s.

He said: "I'd always wanted to scuba dive right from a small child.

"Throughout the 1980s I was an active caver and potholer and everything about the adventure of diving through caves to explore what lies beyond was exciting for me.

"I joined a scuba club and discovered several members explored shipwrecks on their weekend breaks.

"I was hooked after my first wreck dive off the Dorset coast."

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He continued: "Several like-minded individuals bonded together to make a team of divers - collectively known as the Starfish Enterprise - where we could work together to explore deeper shipwrecks around the world.

"In the early 1990s, scuba diving took its biggest change since the onset of the sport.

"The use of mixed gas such as helium and oxygen - gas mixes previously reserved for military concepts - could now be used to explore deeper shipwrecks and, almost overnight, the accessible shipwrecks open to explore almost doubled."

Leigh explained: "Mainstream diving caters for depths of up to 30m, maximum, but with technical diving there are no depth limits.

"You are governed to how much decompression you are willing to carry out to prevent getting the bends.

"My last dive was to a 120m depth for a 50-minute stay, which gave me seven and a half hours of decompression."

When asked what his most exciting adventure was so far, Leigh said: "Perhaps it has been the last 15 years of virgin shipwreck exploration in the English Channel.

"I have dived around 400 wrecks that no one else had seen before me.

"Often we have a position from a fisherman who may have lost his nets in a seabed snag. "Dropping down the anchor line you don't know what you may find.

"Over the years we have discovered and identified hundreds of previously unknown ships, including old sailing ships with full cargos destined for Australia, as well as warships and U-boats, often in pristine condition."

Leigh, who is also a firefighter based at Baldock, has recently returned from his third expedition to the Britannic - the bigger, although less known, sister ship of Titanic - lost in deep water off Athens, Greece.

He said: "Britannic is the largest sunken ocean liner in the world and lies completely intact on her side in 120m depth.

"She's a visually stunning ship to see underwater and words cannot describe her sheer size.

"This expedition was to penetrate deep inside the ship and film the wreck using some serious high definition cameras for a special documentary for the History channel.

"The camera I was using was so big they had to crane it into the water for me."

He added: "I've worked on several TV documentaries, although probably the most well known person I've met is Hollywood director Jim Cameron.

"After Cameron made the blockbuster Titanic he became very interested in filming other ships such as Bismarck and Britannic and, as a result, invited me on an expedition to Titanic.

"The entire expedition was aboard the Russian ship Keldysh, the same ship as you see in his movie, and we were on site for over two weeks operating the deep submersibles."

Leigh has been photographing shipwrecks with 35mm film cameras since 1998 and currently writes for 11 different magazines around the world.

His work has appeared in many national papers, including The Guardian and The Irish Times, and he has been interviewed for BBC Radio 4.

Next year, Leigh is due to speak at diving conferences all over Europe as well as in the USA and Australia.

Looking back, he said: "Although the journey has not been easy, and I have to say I have lost friends, I've been very lucky over the years to have got away with what I have achieved.

"I've had my fair share of malfunctions of technology that keep me alive underwater.

"But my training keeps me on top when things go wrong.

"I've had colleagues who have not returned to the surface after a dive and returning to search for their bodies is something that qualifies as terrifying moments."

When asked about future plans, Leigh said: "I'm long overdue to hang up my fins but, before I do, I hope 2007 will be a vintage year.

"Finally we have an organised expedition to explore the Carpathia, the liner that picked up the Titanic survivors that fateful night back in 1912.

"The wreck is on the edge of the continental shelf out in the Atlantic at a depth of 160m and has never been photographed since she was lost to the ocean.

"The depth and remoteness of the wreck offshore means no rescue helicopter can reach us if trouble rears its ugly head.

"The Carpathia expedition will be a cutting edge technical diving expedition."

For more information about Leigh and his adventures, visit: www.deepimage.co.uk

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