Sailboats of South Florida
Haulover Sunrise Full of Colors

by Lee Smith

I have enjoyed photography for most of my life. I started taking photos with a simple Kodak Instamatic when I was about 10 years old and had many cameras over the years. One of the most important things I had learned was to take care of my gear by carefully handling, cleaning and not placing them in possible compromising situations.

In December, I got up at 5:00am to take sunrise photos at South Point, on Miami Beach. The weather was just right. A cold front was coming later in the day so there would be interesting cloud formations. I got to the beach an hour before sunrise and found a terrific parking spot close to the beach. It was still dark so I setup my Induro tripod with my Canon 5D mark II with battery pack and Canon EF 16-35mm F/2.8 USM II lens. I added my wireless Vello Intervalometer to control the camera shots. I turned on the ShutterBoss, checked my settings and headed off to the beach.

As I walked up past tall sea oats, I looked up and began to smile as I viewed the beautiful clouds with a reddish glow. I was going to get an awesome sky! I knew this area well and headed to the highest point to capture the inlet, ocean and a palm tree for a foreground. I took some terrific shots from this location, enjoying that glowing sky and the overall mood of the morning.

A Glowing Sunrise off South Beach - 1656
A Glowing Sunrise off South Beach – 1656

I decided to walk down to the beach to see how the shoreline looked and I was not disappointed. I continued to take some photos along the way. The sky was just glowing more as I reached the beach.

Coming into Port - 1678
Coming into Port – 1678

I was checking out the amazing reflection of the shoreline and was lining up my next series of shots. As you can see in the previous photo the ocean was very calm as the Cruise ship was entering the cut.

I shorten the tripod legs so the camera was about three feet off the ground to gain a better angle. I placed the tripod above the seaweed line where it was dry. I was checking the camera settings, when I noticed the reflection was really incredible. I was taking 30 second exposures and using my remote control.

South Beach Sunrise - 1683
South Beach Sunrise – 1683

I had just started a long exposure when I noticed a small wave coming at me – it seemed very small so I kept the shot going. The wave seemed to grow as it came closer to me, almost as if the ocean rose as it came on shore. The wave crept up on me as the sea continued to rise past the seaweed to the dry area where I was standing. I stepped back as a reaction to this surging wave. As I backed up I thought the wave was not going to be more than 6 inches, but it kept coming – it grew to about 2 ½ feet before I could grab the camera – the surge knocked the tripod and camera into the swirling water. The camera was in the process of capturing a photo when it plunged into the wave. The pull of the outgoing wave was strong enough to drag the camera & tripod away from the shoreline towards the sea. I could hear a woman on the shore that was watching me, yelled out, “Oh no!”. I, on the other hand was speechless watching my gear being quickly destroyed….

Watch the shoreline

I was able to scramble into the surf to grab a tripod leg to retrieve the camera and immediately turn it off, but it was too late, the damage was done. Saltwater is worst thing for any electronic device. As I pulled the camera from the water, I could see water coming out of the small openings. The Canon camera was in the water for about 20-25 seconds. I held the camera by the one tripod leg to let the rest of the water drain. My heart was sinking and I could feel like I just lost a dear friend.

Canon 5D Mark II lost to the Sea - SAM1557
Canon 5D Mark II lost to the Sea – SAM1557

(Look for the signs when you are near the surf. Notice how calm the water looks on the left. Now look how the water is being drawn out on the right. If the water is being drawn out to sea like this, a large wave is coming, the same thing happens when a tsunami hits, even a little one.)

I walked quickly back to my car feeling depressed and washed off the camera with the bottles of fresh water I had. I then tried to dry off the camera when I started to notice the fine grains of Miami Beach sand had gotten into anything that moved. I could hear a crunch when I spun any of the dials or anything that moved. The 16-35 lens made the same crunching sound as I turned the adjustments.

I was trying to open my battery pack when I noticed the sand had embedded itself in the latch. At this point, I was feeling even worse, hoping that at least I could save something from this disaster. I walked over to the fresh water showers and began the painful task of trying to wash away the sand and any more of the salt water. I rinsed the camera & lens many times and did what I could, then slowly walked back to the car. I managed to open the battery grip to remove the batteries to dry them and hoped they still worked. One of them died – the other is still working.

I took off the lens to check it – I could see water droplets on the inside lens elements. I knew right then and there my lens was lost, if I could not get this serviced quickly. I also could see through the camera view finder that there was water inside that as well. I was able to remove the CF card and dried it off. I left it on the seat next to me hoping that the photos I took were not lost.

I sat for a while thinking about the disaster I just had. I started the car and drove home. My drive was in silence as I was reliving the vision of my camera being knocked over into the water and wondering what I could have done to stop the accident. It was one of my longest drives home I ever had…

When I got home I called Canon Service on a Saturday and discussed with them what happened. They told me that the camera body & the lens including accessories were most likely a total loss (I now estimated the damage to be about $4000). They told me that the saltwater destroys the circuits and it will corrode the copper contacts. It just gets into everything.

The Canon rep told me they have a loyalty program and that would allow me to trade my destroyed Canon 5D Mark II in on a refurbished Canon 5Dd Mark III for a reduced price, but I just did not have the money. I told them I would get back to them as soon as I decide what I could do.

I placed the camera, card and the lens in a container with a bag of rice and was hoping it would dry out. After a day I saw no difference – water seemed to remain inside the lens and camera viewfinder.

I decided to call the Southern Photo camera repair store on Monday. They asked how long it was since the incident. At that time – it had been two days since the accident. They told me to bring it in to see if there was anything they could do. I drove immediately over to the Camera store. I have been there a few times for camera cleanings, so they recognized me. The tech, Willie, was given my camera and he took off the cover at his bench. He walked back over with the opened camera to show me that the saltwater had already done its damage – the oxidation & corrosion had already started.
(Click on the images for a larger view)

Canon Camera Damage - 2273Canon Camera Damage - 2272Canon Camera Damage - 2282

Willie told me if this ever happened again, I should place the camera in a bucket and fill it with fresh distilled water till it just covers the camera. Then bring the camera in for them to dry it off and repair. He said this method will prevent the oxidation and corrosion by keeping the air away from the saltwater. He said I would have had a good chance to salvage the camera. I wish I knew that information two days earlier… though I am not sure if this will help the lens …

My brother in law recommended I contact my homeowner’s insurance company. So after the camera shop, I called my agent and he told me that my policy does not cover the accident. I was a bit angry at this time with him, because I had discussed this at length when we were filling out the paperwork for our homeowner’s Insurance. He told me that he could not do anything for me. So I still called the insurance company claims department and filed a claim anyway.

I got a call two days later that the company denied the claim because it did not cover wave damage…. Palmplant at this time… The Florida Insurance Policies are written in a very peculiar way, water damage to anything can be a problem, unless it is a broken pipe in the house. Everything else is treated like hurricane damage… which the deductible is a percentage of the home value – that is another story…

I asked the claims representative if the camera was stolen or lost, would it have been covered – the answer was yes…

OK –I am out a very expensive camera and lens, these are the important things I learned from my situation:

  • Be aware of your surroundings, even the experienced can suffer a mishap.
  • Do not ever back away from a wave without taking your camera high into the air. Wear clothing that you know will get wet, wear water shoes, flip flops or even go barefoot – Protect the gear – you can always take another photo.
  • If I ever loose my camera in the ocean again – I will place it in the bucket of water and bring it in to the camera shop.
  • Make sure you call your insurance agent and find out what is covered on your camera gear and ask about the different types of damage to your gear and if it is covered – be specific and insist on being crystal clear. Any form of damage, accidental droppings, theft and loss.
  • Get insurance on your gear! There are good companies out there that offer specific insurance for still cameras, camcorders and accessories – Ask for a floater, rider or whatever it’s called and be sure to have the receipts and the serial numbers – take photos of all your gear and be sure it is for worldwide insurance to cover anything – anywhere…

This was a really expensive day for me, however, I am over it – I am moving on with life – I will save up for another camera and will continue to pursue my photography, but I am glad to have so many friends that have been supportive . I just want to pass this experience on to other photographers and my hope is that my loss can help anyone in anyway.

Be safe and good luck out there with your camera gear.

Miami Beach Sunrise - 1674
Miami Beach Sunrise – 1674

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