Virtually diving: just add water!
Stephen Lee samples the British Sub-Aqua Club's venture into the world of multi-media
Ignoring Neptune's majestic rise from the waves to a fanfare of aspirational Olympic music, I dive straight in to see how user-friendly Go Diving! really is. Is that a rock, a dice, a bubble or an icon?
Yes, an icon: Getting Started. "Is diving for you?". I know it is, but what do they say?
Hitting what looks like a first-aid box I move on rapidly to calculate my BMI (weight v body mass). No problems here - my rigorous training schedule (to get me into that wetsuit made to measure for someone else) tells me it is still OK to go to the Diver Dinner. All I need now is a couple of tickets.
Hitting Divers' World, I emerge in the Red Sea to see and hear about Ras Mohammed, Anemone City, Napoleon wrasse, turtles, barracuda and diving the Thistlegorm. A video clip, one of 90, shows mouth-watering dives. I open my own on-screen logbook to record personal Red Sea experiences. Check out those sunshine hours: no less than 8/9 even in the depths of winter.
Now I'm diving Ireland. It's uncrowded, with a surprising variety of aquatic life... Now I diving the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean...
Hitting the Where to Learn icon leaves no doubt that this is a BSAC product, with its policy of creating self-reliant divers, while "other disciplines" (who can they be talking about?) "keep you as a passenger". The BSAC has indeed put its credentials firmly on the table, but this is more than a marketing tool. It should appeal to the non-diver, the qualifying Novice/ Ocean/ Sports Diver, diving professionals, non-diving travel or tour operators and to anyone who wants to enthuse non-diving mates.
Go Diving! is made up of text, pictures and video footage created specifically for it. The clips and pix are useful and to the point. As a recently qualified Sports Diver I found it stimulating, a useful refresher course as well as fun to play with.
Room is also made for some aesthetic advice. Under snorkelling I find that "Lycra skins are practical and stylish but do tend to show up any shortcomings in your physical appearance". This CD-ROM is seriously interactive. How do they know what I look like in a Lycra skin; the cheek! After the Dinner, presumably only a drysuit will do.
In the Equipment section, cylinders, regulators, suits, BCs, time and depth are well explained, with the help of video and graphics clips. You can even calculate your air consumption.
Under Skills and Techniques I enjoyed the clips on entries and exits, drills and rescues. I now know how to avoid tripping over my fins while "minimising any shortcomings in my physical appearance"; it's all about where you apply the talcum powder. You'll find out about that when you hit the appropriate icon.
Science and Safety includes safe diving, deco planning, air consumption, physics, depth and diving medicine; areas that can be a stumbling block for the mathematically challenged. The presentation makes short work of Boyle and Dalton.
Enjoy Diving inspires divers on a mission (wrecks, photography, video, marine biology, nitrox) and encourages you to dream up and execute your own adventures.
After finning extensively around Go Diving!, I checked out a couple of comparable CD-Roms, NAUI's Adventures In Scuba and Mastering Advanced Scuba (both 1995), and found that the quality of material/ presentation and technology has moved on a lot in two years.
The course-orientated NAUI discs are more like homework; Go Diving! has a wider appeal.
I let a couple on non-diving teenagers (15 and 17) and my own seven and five-year-olds have a go, and they were all riveted at different levels. The teenagers' parents hate me now, because their kids are insisting on going diving.
Meanwhile my own have lost interest in their first ski holiday: "We want to go to the Red Sea to meet Napoleon and his wrasse". I can't even get them to talk properly any more - they just give me alternating OK and out-of-air signals. Go Diving! should carry a financial health warning. Apart from that I can't recommend it too highly.
Go Diving! is available only for PCs. It requires Windows 95 or 3.1 or 3.11 or higher, Pentium processor, 16Mb RAM, 4-speed CD-ROM drive, 256 Colour VGA display, Sound Blaster- compatible soundcard and speakers.
Go Diving!, BSAC International, CD-Rom £29.95 (£24.95 to members)
"Perhaps the most mysterious, and bizarre, of all sharks, the goblin shark..."
SO IGNORANT was I about the subject that I used to think an elasmobranch was an obscure type of sticking plaster. I was, however, keen to review the Collins Sharks & Rays, The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Predators - to the point of competing with that well-known shark expert, Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch, for the task.
A 288-page volume, lavishly illustrated with explanatory drawings and endless fabulous colour photographs, makes this an essential reference for anyone interested in the subject.
Elasmobranchs, the Latin name for the group of animals comprising cartilaginous fishes, sharks and rays, are among the most spectacular and exciting animals that we divers might encounter underwater, yet little is really known about them - not even about the number of existing species.
This volume covers around 350 of them and represents probably the most up-to-date information and thinking on these extraordinary animals - on their highly developed senses and intellect, their ecology, their biology, and their known behaviour.
Alas, too little is being discovered too late, as man's exploitative behaviour is already hunting them to extinction.
The book includes a field-guide to sharks and rays, covering more than 70 commonly encountered species illustrated with some of the best fish photography I have ever seen.
There is also a comprehensive section on how to understand sharks and rays and our relationship with them. This covers myths and legends, how sharks are recorded in history, where they are found, shark attacks, conservation, and how to get close to them.
A comprehensive section deals with the physiology and biology of sharks. Finally the best locations for successful encounters are detailed, including places as diverse as the Sea of Cortez, the Galapagos and Cocos, Yap and Palau, Fiji and Australia, right round to the Red Sea and back to the Bahamas.
Wherever I dipped in or out, the book had something fascinating to offer - there was even a resources directory.
In fact, this volume, with contributions from six prominent elasmobranch experts from Australia, Hawaii, Florida and California, represents everything you are likely to need to know about sharks.
Edited by Leighton Taylor, who is credited, among other things, with discovering the megamouth shark, it is a compendium of knowledge that will find a prominent place on my book-shelf.
Sharks & Rays, The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Predators, Harper Collins 0181 741 7070. Hardback £16.99
East Africa's other wildlife
KENYA is all about safaris and big game, but there are some national parks - marine parks and reserves - where the rangers wear fins and BCs, and carry computers rather than rifles.
A new book, The Dive Sites of Kenya and Tanzania including Pemba, Zanzibar and Mafia, should make Watamu and Shimoni as well known as Masai Mara and Serengeti. These are parks where the "big game" include white sharks and zambezis, mantas and eagles, sailfish and marlin.
The book aims to be a one-stop guide to the countries, their history and politics. It tells you how to get there, where to stay and eat; it gives advice on customs and practices, and what to do and see. In all these areas it is accurate and up to date, although it does not give any prices. And then there's the diving.
The author, Anton Koornhof from South Africa, has covered the coast from north to south, describing some 100 dive sites along the way. He uses a basic classification system, assessing sites according to the following: snorkel/dive, boat/shore, night/wreck/ reef, and level of dive. Each site has a rating from one star (poor) to five star (first class).
This is, of course, subjective, but my logbook record of dives on many of these sites generally agrees with him. Rather more patchy, however, is the description of sites. It is obvious that there are those the author knows very well and others where he has relied on descriptions from dive operators rather than first-hand experience. These are sometimes over-written.
That said, the book is written with enthusiasm and is full of useful information. There are chapters on diving conditions, the marine environment, underwater photography, and health and safety from DCI to triggerfish bites. Dive centres listed are mainly PADI, although the keen-eyed will spot the BSAC School in Watamu.
There are more than 150 photographs in the book's 156 pages, ranging from Mount Kilimanjaro at dawn and market traders in Zanzibar town to the more expected turtles and morays and shoals of reef fish.
This is a lovely book to add to a collection and browse through, whether it be for divers' winter dreaming or non-diving partners' tropical holiday planning.
In the end, if you are planning an independent trip it would be very useful, but as virtually all diving is from hardboats run by dive centres, and they choose the sites you visit, a good dive brief will also give you all the information you need.
The Dive Sites of Kenya and Tanzania, New Holland Publishers 0171 258 1293. Softback £15.99
AT £3.99 a copy, you might think this slim volume over-priced, especially as some of the chapter headings are incorrect, but the 32 colour illustrations alone are worth every penny, bringing to life a dramatic event in the maritime history of the Isles of Scilly.
The container ship Cita sank there earlier this year. There is little on the sub-sea wreck because the focus of the book is the story of the cargo and its salvage. Not since the stranding of the Minnehaha in 1910 have the Scillies seen anything quite like it.
Richard Larn and David McBride have captured the excitement of the occasion, interlinking the rich maritime history of the Isles with the local instinct for salvage and a concern for the effects of pollution.
There is a summary of the manifest for 92 of the leaded containers (four pages of the manifest were unavailable when the book went to print) which gives an excellent illustration of the diversity of the cargo. The authors place the laws of wreck and salvage into practical perspective, while highlighting the problem of pollution by seemingly innocuous material such as rolls of polyester film.
This is a fine resume of what happens when a container ship comes to grief on the shores of the United Kingdom.
The Cita, Scillies' Own "Whisky Galore" Wreck, Shipwreck & Marine. Softback £3.99.
Appeared in DIVER - December 1997