Full Name: Stefan Panis
Live in: Belgium
Working for: Freelance photographer (Diver, DUIKEN magazine, Wetnotes, Hippocampe,..)
The 12 Questions
When and where did you start diving?
I started diving through my father at the age of six and my first dive was in Isla d’Ischia in Italy. I was so fortunate, we spent a family holiday on a Belgian yacht based there. Ischia has had a rich history during Roman times. At that time the water levels were much lower, and where we were anchored, underneath an old castle, there had been a pottery. Even the old road was visible, and during our dive we discovered some old pots that the Romans had used to catch squid. The seed for a lifetime passion was planted…
Why did you start diving?
Through my father’s passion for diving. I have always been attracted by the water.
What made you choose to become a dive professional?
I chose to include freelance photography as part of my professional business to be able to do more around diving, to ‘spread’ my work through articles and books.
Which is your favourite dive site and why?
Difficult one to choose! The Dover Straits is an area I really love! There are many, many (virgin) wrecks still to be found, some with a rich history like the Spanish Nostra Senora La Assumption, which sank in 1757, or another Spanish treasure ship, the San Genaro. She was richly laden and carrying 64 guns that came from Havana, Cuba. During a fierce storm in 1592, two ships sank, the Red Lion and the Golden Lion, probably the richest ships that ever sank on the downs. These are some of the prizes waiting to be found. It’s relatively shallow, and the scenery is simply stunning with the white cliffs. I made good friends there diving through the years. After diving, indentifying and documenting so many sites, I had to do something with this information, and so came up with the idea of writing a book. As I had worked with Whittles before, I contacted them with my idea, and they were thrilled, and now we’re finishing the first one: Graveyard of the Dover Straits, with the intention of there being a few volumes as we have so much info. The book will probably come out at the end of this or the beginning of next year.
What has been the most memorable dive of your life and why?
While staying in the Dover area, we had quite a few, but the discovery of the 1856 sailing ship Josephine Willis was a very memorable dive!
Tony Goodfellow, researcher of the team, had been looking for this one for 18 years! On this particular day he looked at things from a completely different angle, and while all the ‘new’ electronics showed nothing, a small thing came up on the old bottom sounder. With the tide coming in, we had no other option, so decided to dive. David Knight went in, and when after only minutes a beautiful Willow pattern plate came up, we knew it – the Josephine Willis had finally been found!
If you would come back as a marine life form in your next life, what would that be?
A shark. I always have had a great fascination for sharks! Fast, smart, elegant, but not to be messed with!
Who is your dream dive buddy?
From the Dover team, I love to dive with my buddy Eddie Huzzey. We have shared many dives and adventures, so we understand each other well on a wrecksite, and he is always willing to pose for shots, and does it well!
One dive I still remember was with the Dover Expedition, where I invited some big names from the industry like Eduardo Pavia, Richie Kohler and Leigh Bishop, to name a few. On the wreck of the old German liner, the SS Pomerania, I was diving with Eddie when he frantically started shining his torch at me. He pointed at something but visibility was bad, so I didn’t see it right away. A closer look revealed a golden 20-dollar American Eagle!!!
What dive locations are on your dream “bucket list” and why?
The wreck of the warship Mars. The Mars was a wooden three-masted ship, and the flagship of King Erik XIV’s fleet. She sank in 1564 during the Battle of Öland with a large amount of treasure on board, and equipped with 173 guns! She was an even larger ship than the famous Vasa! The wreck lies at a depth of 75 metres in the Baltic Sea and is amazingly preserved. It must be wonderful to see and photograph this wreck.
What is on your bedside table right now?
Close Calls by Stratis Kas, Edoardo Pavia and Michael Menduro. Nobody likes to talk about their mistake or near fatalities but the authors thought that if they could convince big names from the industry to feel what they experienced, maybe people can learn from this! Along with 67 others I also contributed with an incident I had during a Belgian mine dive.
What is your favourite piece of diving equipment and why?
My rebreather. It allows me to dive deeper and longer in a safe way, and in case when I’m mine diving, there are no bubbles causing rust and dust to fall from the ceiling reducing visibility.
If you were to launch a campaign to raise awareness on a specific issue that affects divers, the oceans or marine life, what issue would you target and why?
Plastics! Everywhere I have dived already, it’s sad to say, but I have always spotted plastics, drinking cans, etc. It’s a huge problem and we need to do even more than what is already being done.
Where will you be in 10 years and what will you be doing?
I hope that I will be doing exactly the same as now: spending time diving shipwrecks in the UK and in the North Sea in the summer season and diving and documenting the many old mines in Belgium during winter time….
Very recently I was granted permission to do some research for a limited time in a tourist mine that was closed due to Covid. We were the first and only team that was permitted to dive there. We found a big system on multi levels where we took pictures, made videos and made a complete topography that will be used (for the dry part) as a safety plan. The other info will be on display in the museum that will soon be rebuilt.