LEIGH BISHOP, Britain's foremost deep-wreck photographer, has been diving for 19 years, including the ground-breaking HMS King Edward VII expedition in 1997. He has specialised in exploring notable liner wrecks including the Britannic, Lusitania, Transylvania, Justicia and Egypt and discovered the cargo vessel Flying Enterprise. Leigh is also a full-time fire-fighter
WRECK-DIVING IS A PRETTY HARSH ENVIRONMENT, but my gear has to last many seasons - and it has to work. I may have only one stab at a wreck due to permits, or be on a filming project where the crew needs to wrap up a shoot, so I can't afford to lose a dive through malfunction or broken parts in transit. Everything I use has either stood the test of time or is so well-made it will obviously last for years. I prefer British-made stuff, because if there is a problem I'm more likely to get it fixed before the weekend's dive!
CRATE All my kit lives in a basic fish-box that I found on a quayside. Nowadays you can buy them. I prefer these to bags, because when people sit on or fall on them, your kit isn't damaged. If it's going to take some time to get back to shore after a dive, I often fill my crate with water and immerse my camera to prevent the sun drying it and leaving unwanted salt crystals. And using the crate, my car doesn't get wet.
REBREATHER My main item of equipment is an APD Evolution rebreather with Vision electronics. I haven't dived open-circuit for years, because rebreathers come into their own at depth. Most UK deep wreck diving is at 60-100m, so if I am on a week's holiday I just take the little Evo. It covers 95% of my dives, but for 120m-plus dives, or those beyond 100m, where I require long bottom times, I use an APD Inspiration. With the Evolution, if I am diving abroad in shallow water I don't have to transport a larger rebreather than I need, or incur unwanted excess luggage fees. The wing comes with it as standard, and does a perfect job.
PUMP For mixing any gas I use in the rebreather, especially on remote expeditions, I use a little DTB.5c portable booster pump from Stansted Fluid Power. The unit is designed for use with oxygen, and is extremely economical on the air that drives it. This is a huge benefit in terms of pump reliability, and allows use of smaller air banks.
UNDERSUIT I've actually used my three-piece Fourth Element Xerotherm Arctic in the Arctic, and it was perfect. It's not bulky, and it doubles up as thermal protection out of the water. The top bit is quite trendy, and you don't get funny stares in the pub, as you do when wearing a woolly bear!
SUITS In tropical locations I use a 3mm O'Three shortie wetsuit. My drysuit is also an O'Three, an RI 2/100 in compressed neoprene. Its resin-impregnated outer lining makes it extremely strong and snag-resistant - excellent for wreck-diving. I've used O'Three for exactly a decade, since the first big Britannic project. I'm really happy diving in its suits. There are no buoyancy issues, and as they are less bulky than others I can focus on the dive, and move freely with my camera.
CAMERAS I still use film cameras, but I shoot more with my digital full-frame Cannon 5D these days, both systems tucked inside Aquatica housings. When I started shooting stills years ago, Aquatica was the only company that could provide a housing guaranteed at 100m! I have never had an ounce of water in it, and it's taken a right bashing on boats and under water. If there's one piece of gear I'm confident is proven in the field, it's an Aquatica housing. So when it came to digital there was no question. For time-exposure photographs I mount the housing on a tripod. Many people have asked if it's a special one, but it's just a Velbon D600 that looked pretty cool in the shop!
COMPUTER For decompression I use a full trimix VR3. Nothing else on the market is in the same league.
LIGHTS My OMS 10W umbilical HIDs have never given me a problem. I bought two, in case one fails, and have never used the spare!
REGULATORS My bail-out tanks are 10-litre aluminium and first choice of regulator on them are my Scubapro G500s. I've had them for 10 years. They don't have a fit when I jump in the water, and I know they will work if ever I need them at 100m. When they need a tweak they go on holiday to Forward Diving in Poole, where they know more about regulator servicing than I do about shipwrecks.
FINS My OMS Slipstreams are rock solid.
BAGS & REELS To recover anything from the seabed, my trusty John Wise mother of all lift-bags is deployed. When I'm ready to come up, my AP Valves deco bag shoots to the surface, on line from a Kent Tooling reel.
MASKS For filming projects when I need communications I use a Dräger full-face mask on a replacement hose. Otherwise I use an OMS - I like big-eye-vision masks.
MP3 PLAYER My favourite bit of gear has to be my underwater Mp3 player. It needed a little modification, but seven hours of decompression can fly by when you're listening to Led Zeppelin's complete back catalogue!