Guy Buckles on The Dive Sites of Indonesia; Bob Halstead on Papua New Guinea; Jack Jackson on The Philippines and also Malaysia and Singapore; Anton Koornhof on South Africa; Paul Lees on Thailand; Lawson Wood on The Cayman Islands; and Alan Mountain on Mauritius - these titles represent the opening salvo from New Holland (Publishers) Ltd in the battle to capture the market in divers' guides.
Sadly, most guides to diving areas tend to give only a flavour of a place rather than being comprehensive, but it is the latter style that distinguishes the New Holland series from less effective rivals.
The brainchild of Nick Hanna, the books follow a rather successful formula, including maps and numbered sites with their location, diver access, underwater sea conditions, minimum and maximum diving depths and a brief summary of the features that make a particular site unique.
Added to that are symbols indicating whether a site is: best visited by scuba; can be reached by boat; can be reached by liveaboard boat; makes a good shore dive; is suitable for snorkellers; and is suitable for divers of all levels of ability.
The maps themselves show the positions of the dive sites, jetties, wrecks, hills, lighthouses, paths, reefs, and roads, together with places if interest.
Two separate star-rating systems, one for snorkellers, the other for scuba divers, are designed to classify sites from first class (five stars) to poor. With The Dive Sites of the Caymans, to take one example, I found it difficult to find anything rated as poorly as three-star for diving, while for snorkelling it seemed always to be the same story, or no star at all. I guess this must reflect the standard of diving in the Caymans rather than any lack of discernment on the part of the author.
Guy Buckles, on the other hand, in his equally comprehensive guide to the Indonesian islands, manages to find sites with star ratings from one to five.
In each volume the main body of the text is prefaced with an introduction to the area and a brief history, followed by a chapter on how to get there. This includes the sort of information any tourist would need to know. Subsequent chapters deal with general aspects of diving and snorkelling, with information about the important organisations that might be relevant to divers.
How to get there, where to stay, where to eat, film-processing, diving facilities, emergency numbers and local highlights are covered. All the volumes in the series follow the same rather regimented format, which is so suitable for directories of this type. However, they are punctuated by easily read mini-features and, for instance, the Cayman Islands guide has items dealing with such aspects as cleaning stations, commensalism, and the unique site at Stingray City. The Indonesian guide has a mini-feature on the Indo-Pacific biosphere; the guide to Thailand includes one on the Koh Lanta National Park.
Finally, in each case there is a guide to the reef fish most commonly seen by divers, a brief guide to underwater photography and a comprehensive section on health and safety. Each book has around 170 pages stuffed with facts and thankfully fewer than a couple of pages of waffle.
These are publications packed with colour. I liked the format, the way the information was so clearly presented and those seductive underwater photographs. In each case I felt I was handling a workmanlike tool, and although I have not yet had the opportunity to check the details of each volume (though I intend to!) they certainly looked and felt accurate.
The individuality of each author is subordinate to Nick Hanna's over-riding concept and New Holland's design style. This format is followed so closely throughout that one could be forgiven for thinking these books were written by a single author. Even the choice and standard of photographs throughout is uncannily consistent.
The only exception is Koornhof's The Dive Sites of South Africa, and that is only because he deals with sites that tend to be more temperate than tropical.
The New Holland Guides series is set to be extended in the future to cover most parts of the world we divers like to visit - given half the chance!
A wreckwalker's guide? Now that's a different slant on the British diver's favourite subject. But Kendall McDonald's Shipwrecks of The South Hams: The Wreckwalker's Guide to the Coast Path from Erme to Dart is not as misdirected for divers as one might at first think.
It will not appeal to the diver whose primary instinct on being confronted by a languishing hulk at 25m is to prepare his crowbar and lumphammer for a work-out. But for the diver who, conscious of his privileged position as a witness of history, approaches wreck dives with considered reverence, it is a useful work. For the uninformed, the South Hams, the name given to the arresting 40-mile stretch of coast between the rivers Erme and Dart in Devon, has been a disaster area for shipping since the Bronze Age. Kendall McDonald covers the wreckings of more than 70 ill-fated vessels in this volume.
The popular historian's task is both to inform and entertain. McDonald has achieved both these ends with some success. His vivid and comprehensive accounts of these events and their consequences offer insights into the social conditions of the periods.
Never one to underplay the dramatic potential of any maritime disaster, he does not stint on his narrative. The stories move quickly and, as sailors struggle to save themselves, we read of self-sacrifice, heroism, cowardice and cruelty. Some of the tales really rip!
And what of the "wreckwalking"? It seems to stem from local villagers' curiosity in shipwrecks' potential for salvageable booty. In the 17th century it was, apparently, not unusual for 10,000 pairs of feet to carve a path along these cliffs to strip holds of cargo and bodies of valuables. Perhaps this work will start a movement of modern-day wreckwalkers! I can see few reasons why not: this stunning stretch of coast is a Heritage Coast Path. So read the book, take an OS map and use your imagination. And don't fall off the cliff!
IN THE age of the GPS, we already take for granted a mastery of time and space at sea, keying in a waypoint and leaving it to technology to bring us within metres of the wreck we want to dive.
But until comparatively recently many shipwrecks occurred simply because mariners out of sight of land could do little more than guess their position. They relied on dead reckoning, with "dead" too often the operative word.
As long as the skies were clear, determining latitude was no problem. Sailors had been able to follow parallels using the sun and stars since ancient times. Longitude was another matter. So ships tended to sail in straight lines, and keeping to narrow corridors made them easy prey for pirates and rivals.
Dava Sobel's little book Longitude is the story of Robert Harrison, inventor of the marine chronometer. It has taken the publishing world by storm, topping Britain's hardback non-fiction lists with sales of 10,000 copies a week, after spending much of 1996 - incredibly, in view of its British subject matter - among the US top ten best-sellers.
When four warships of the British fleet sank off the Scillies in 1707, with the loss of 2000 lives, it was because the admiral, having hanged a sailor for being impudent enough to suggest that they were off course, had proved unable to determine the fleet's position. The disaster led to the setting up of a Longitude Board in Britain and the offer of £20,000 to anyone who could find a way of guiding a ship to within half a degree of its destination.
This led to bizarre bids - such as the use of wounded dogs (it would take too long to explain) - but primarily to a struggle between astronomers and mechanics. The stargazers swore that only the heavens held the key, and worked to produce complicated and ultimately flawed lunar tables. The mechanics, like country-bumpkin watchmaker Harrison, believed that as degrees of longitude equalled degrees of time, the answer could be engineered.
But clocks and the sea had never been compatible, and Harrison had to find a way to overcome "those irregularityes in time, that naturally arise from the different degrees of Heat and Cold, a moist and drye Temperature of the Air, and the Various Agitations of the ship."
Harrison struggled for decades, not only against technical difficulties but against his arch-enemy, the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne. His weird and wonderful solutions, including H-4, "the Mona Lisa of horology", revolutionised navigation and are still to be seen in Greenwich.
Dava Sobel, an award-winning former New York Times science reporter, knows how to keep things simple - which is more than you could say about Harrison, the convoluted workings of whose clocks proved so difficult to imitate. But she also writes with an elegance and precision very much in keeping with the subject matter. It is an easy read, and anyone interested in wreck-finding and navigation will find it absorbing.
Dr Paul Naylor has an academic background in marine biology, but this identification guide to marine animals of south-west England is written for anyone who wishes to learn about the animals they are likely to encounter. It is an identification guide to 114 species, with 130 colour photographs, chosen not for artistic merit but to show what the diver is likely to see.
This they do well. Illustrated books are by far the quickest way to identify most species. The descriptions sometimes duplicate the information provided by the pictures but contain valuable nuggets. Did you know that Britain's longest animal, the bootlace worm, was some 30m long? Other gems include the fact that snakelocks anemones have algae in their tissue and that some hermit crab anemones secrete extra shell to enlarge the gastropod (sorry, "snail") shell in which the hermit lives.
The only trivia in this book is Trivia monacha, the European cowrie. But even where the text might begin a smile, facts override it. You will have seen slipper limpets piled on top of one another, those below female, those on top male, and the middle ones something in-between. The animal has the wonderful name of Crepidula fornicata, and you might think this appropriate, but Dr Naylor tells us that the Latin word fornicata means "curved" and is applied because the stack of molluscs is curved. Fornicata means an arc, a vault or, to be frank, a brothel. It is one Latin name you are not likely to forget.
Latin names are given, but avoided if possible. Like mathematical formulae (there are none in this book), they scare away readers, and are, in any case, changed by scientists now and then, making it difficult to keep up with them.
In the past 20 years the velvet swimming crab has had three name changes in Latin but has always been known as the velvet swimming crab, we are told. Although true, this misses the beauty of Latin names: you can use them in Trieste or Duisburg or Timbuctoo and be understood.
Common names can be confusing. In Australia the term "bronze whaler" seems to be used for just about anything that doesn't carry babies in a pouch. If I was the "boring sponge" I would be keen on Latin names too.
Finding out what an animal does and how it lives is far more interesting than just naming it, and there is always a danger that knowing the name will be a substitute for understanding anything about the animal. The more you study marine animals the more interesting they become, as more complex relationships and behaviours come to light.
This book is neither comprehensive nor academic. But it provides an excellent introduction and identification guide to most of the more common animals likely to be encountered in the south-west of England, at a realistic price.
Alan Mountain's The Diver's Handbook is a glossy tome, richly illustrating all the reasons why its reader should take up the sport.
"Natural Laws of Diving" covers such aspects as the molecular structure of water, the mix of gases in air, pressure effects, Boyle's Law and the laws of buoyancy, in a bright, easily understood way.
The chapter on diving equipment leaves no obvious gaps, that on training covers the main agencies while showing no allegiance to any of them. I liked the double page spread of clear photographs depicting underwater signals. "Reefs and their Fascination" offers the rewards for all the effort of getting trained, buying the equipment and avoiding the hazards outlined elsewhere in the book.
The Diver's Handbook is beautifully presented and makes a great gift for beginners. And it is more suitable for the coffee table than its name might suggest.