by those in the know
Not all dive-site guides are written by people who know the area well.
But this one is, and it shows, claims John Bantin
A publisher once asked me to write a dive guide to Thailand.
I suggested that I was not the right person to take on that particular project as I had not even been there. He suggested that a month's trip and a few existing dive guides on the area would be all I needed.
I declined the offer and came away with a contact lost for ever and a good understanding of why so many dive guides are inaccurate.
New Holland's The Dive Sites of the Maldives is written by Sam Harwood and Rob Bryning. If you are British and have taken a liveaboard trip in the Maldives, there is a good chance you went on their boat, the mv Keema. They are well-known "faces" on the British diving scene, often exhibiting at dive shows, and their acknowledgments section looks like a list of old friends.
Rob and Sam have been well established out in the Maldives for 10 years and during that time have accrued a lot of information that I am confident is accurate! I can promise readers that they know what they are talking about and much of the guide appears to have been written from first-hand experience.
This volume follows the well-established formula seen in all the other dive guides in this New Holland series, with 170 pages of densely packed information in the form of text, maps and photographs.
It covers the atolls open to visiting divers plus some that are expected to be opened: North and South Malé, Felidhoo and Mulaku, Addu, Dhaalu and Faafu, Ari, Baa, Raa and Lhaviyani. There are sections on where to stay if there are any resorts in that atoll.
The authors have been thoughtful in the way they have distributed stars to each dive site (one to five each for both scuba and snorkelling) rather than just handing out five stars to everything.
Among other symbols used is an indication as to whether the dive site is best visited during May-November or December-April, or whether it is good in either monsoon season. Each dive site is given an approximate dhoni-ride time from several nearby resort islands.
The maps distinguish between uninhabited, resort and locally inhabited islands, and indicate regular helicopter landing points useful if you prefer to avoid long boat rides.
There are brief sections devoted to the sharks of the Maldives and to manta rays.
Well done Sam and Rob, and well done New Holland and series consultant Nick Hanna for choosing the right authors. This book will be excellent for anybody wishing to dive in the Maldives, whether island-based or on a liveaboard. I know my copy will be well-used!
The Dive Sites of the Maldives by Sam Harwood and Rob Bryning, New Holland (0171 724 7773), softback £16
A Caribbean collection
Brendan O'Brien compares three variations on a theme
Lawson Wood's latest book, Top Dive Sites of the Caribbean, is instantly appealing. With more than 160 pages and 250 photos, it effectively captures the essence of the Caribbean diving experience.
In covering more than 100 dive sites, Lawson has achieved a good balance between factual content and stunning photography. Even without the information on diving and marine life, this book would stand on its own as a superb pictorial description of the Caribbean.
The islands of the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Florida coastline are crammed into the final 25 pages. Although certainly worthy of publication, perhaps this could have been the basis for a follow-up book. In any case, these locations are not really in the Caribbean.
That aside, this is an excellent book and it has now been added to my coffee-table collection. It will make an ideal Christmas present and an irresistible subtle hint for a partner.
Best Dives of the Caribbean is intended as a diving guide to more than 30 Caribbean locations. However, I would say that less than half of its contents have anything to do with diving, and you can get better dive-site descriptions from the Internet or by contacting the list of dive operators provided by any of the islands' tourist offices.
Most of the information, such as tourist board addresses and how to get there, is tailored to the US market. There are 24 mediocre colour photographs in the centre section, but apart from that everything is in black and white.
The back and inside front cover contain 15 quotes from journalists singing the book's praises. That says it all for me if you need to flog your product that much, the contents are not going to sell on their own.
The Complete Diving Guide the Caribbean (Volume I) is exactly what it professes to be. Intended to be the first in a series, it looks at the southern islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Each chapter starts with a short island introduction followed by a very specific description of the dive sites, operators and hotels.
The write-ups of the dive sites are full of interesting personal experiences. The rest of the chapter provides just the sort of information you need, such as which operators have English-speaking dive guides and which recognise the depth limitations of the BSAC rather than PADI.
There are plenty of photographs, although the quality is not brilliant. More wide-angle shots would have helped to set the scene more effectively. The most popular dive sites are described using computer-generated site plans, some of which I found confusing and a bit of a strain on the eye.
Throughout the book's 390 information-packed pages are numerous interesting side panels. One describes the ships that sank in St Pierre Harbour on Martinique when Mount Pelée erupted in 1902. The resulting dive sites sound so fascinating that I at once booked a trip to the island. Surely this is the acid test of a dive guide?
Top Dive Sites of the Caribbean by Lawson Wood, New Holland, hardback, £30
Best Dives of the Caribbean by Joyce and Jon Huber, Windsor Books International (01865 361122) softback, £11
The Complete Diving Guide the Caribbean (Volume 1) by Colleen Ryan and Brian Savage, New Holland, softback, £25
At last a bit of British diving history
Kendall McDonald is taken on a nostalgic trip down memory lane by a fascinating record of the first 25 years of branch diving
Few books about diving take me back to the very beginning of my diving days, nor make me feel guilty about not having written a similar book many years ago.
The book that triggered these reminiscences and will do the same for you is called The Birth of East Anglian Branch No 11, written by a stalwart of that branch, Douglas George Lutkin, better
known as Dougie.
It contains one of the finest collections of pictures of British diving's earliest days that I have ever seen. More than 250 images, prised from the photo albums of East Anglian divers, give a vivid impression of the way diving trips in the early days of any branch were very much family affairs.
In addition to the photos, Dougie Lutkin has interviewed as many of the branch's old-timers as he could find. The result is a history of the first 25 years of amateur diving in this country, for which he is to be thanked by all divers, no matter what their club or branch. This is a portrait of branch diving as it really was.
Dougie's book is a classic example of the sort of thing the British Sub-Aqua Club should have produced years ago a history of the BSAC, and at the same time a history of sport diving in Britain.
It is not as if the club has not considered such an undertaking it has. In fact Oscar Gugen, its founder, asked me to write it for the Club's 10th anniversary in 1963. However, as I was a member of the national committee at the time, I heard so many varied accounts of those early days that I couldn't see any way of writing it without seriously upsetting someone. So I let it slide.
Over the years, there have been many similar suggestions about producing a BSAC history. At one stage the project was started and a lot of documentation collected. However, this all seems to have been lost there are tales of some of it being lost in a fire at an old BSAC HQ.
Another effort to produce a BSAC history is currently under way let's hope that this time it will finally appear. In the meantime, Dougie has included some early BSAC documents in his branch book, which should help.
Our new club historian should, however, take a larger leaf out of Dougie's book and tap into every branch's photo albums and veteran's memory banks. The history of the BSAC is, after all, the story of its branches.
Dougie's flexi-cover book has 220 pages, 265 pictures, and covers the East Anglian diving years from 1954 to 1975.
The Birth of East Anglian Branch No 11 by Douglas Lutkin (43 Goulburn Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR7 9UX), softback, £10 plus £1 p&p
It calls itself the "ultimate" guide to whales and dolphins.
Horace Dobbs finds out if this book lives up to its claims
As you might expect from a Collins guide, the chapter devoted to the description and identification of whales is excellent, with most species illustrated by superb photographs, above and below the water.
However, only two of the eight chapters are devoted to this subject. So in some ways the title belies the content, for this book is much, much more than a field guide.
It covers a whole gamut of topics, from Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, to dolphin therapy, and it is packed with excellent colour photographs, maps and illustrations.
There are 75 pages devoted to whale- and dolphin-watching, which indicates just how popular and widespread it is. The book takes a responsible attitude, highlighting the strict regulations that many countries have brought in to limit how closely you can approach whales.
Throughout the book, controversial issues are well balanced. Scientific objectivity is tinted with the emotional attachment and concern the authors have for their subject.
This visually appealing book is a delight to thumb through, yet it is also packed with information for the serious reader.
Whales & Dolphins the Ultimate Guide to Marine Mammals by Mark Carwardine, Erich Hoyt, R Ewan Fordyce, Peter Gill, HarperCollins (0181 741 7070), hardback £18
Read or save for later?
Nicola Tyrrell checks out a book on the Great Barrier Reef that is unsure whether it's for the coffee table or the divebag.
Is it possible to cover an area 2300km by 270km, containing more than 2500 isolated reefs, 400 coral species and 1500 kinds of fish, in a single dive guide?
Robert Rinaldi's Great Barrier Reef Diving Guide refers to 27 reefs along Queensland's vast coast. Each entry includes a double-page illustration of the dive site, with arrows indicating the recommended dive profile and insets telling you where the reef lies.
The text guides you through each dive, with descriptions of what you can expect to see, any dangers to watch out for, and a few tips for photographers. A guide to the fish of the Barrier Reef is included.
On close inspection, however, this book suffers from a few arguably compromising flaws. In the ntroduction, Rinaldi tells us that the book is meant for divers to refer to before leaving home, and that the dives described should be treated only as examples of what to expect and not as specific guides.
However, he then embarks on a step-by-step tour of his selected reefs. Sitting at home and contemplating a trip to Australia, do we really need to know, for example, at what point on a certain dive you might want to turn on your torch?
Given that Rinaldi does go into such detail, the accompanying pictures, although colourful, would be more effective if they were a bit more varied and linked more closely to the text.
The book is laid out according to the most common itineraries available to diving tourists from a number of starting points. The first chapter, for example, covers a group of seven reefs accessible from Cairns; the next focuses on a selection of reefs close to Heron Island.
The idea is a good one, but more care could have been taken to differentiate between the groups of itineraries, and to highlight the interesting features of each area described. As it is, there are some useful pointers and facts, but you have to trawl through a lot of text to find them.
One site I know well is the wreck of the Yongala. Rinaldi rightly states that it is one of the most beautiful wrecks you can visit, and he does cover most of the highlights in the text.
This dive site is a must for any Australia-bound diver, on a par with the Red Sea's Thistlegorm, but had I been planning a travel itinerary with the help of this guide, it would have been quite easy to brush over the Yongala entry.
All that said, the book is colourful, and does indicate what you can expect. If all Rinaldi intended was to help you firm up your travel plans, he has succeeded.
Great Barrier Reef Diving Guide by Robert Rinaldi, Swan Hill (01743 235651) softback £17
Images of Malaysia
John Bantin eyes up a lavish Malaysian marine life picture book
Mike Wong was a dentist in Hackney then he took up diving. Now he spends much of his time travelling to Malaysia to take underwater photographs. What first took him to that part of the world? Well, he was born in Sarawak!
His first trips to Sipadan resulted in the heavy tome Sipadan Borneo's Underwater Paradise, a tribute both to his photographic skills and his willingness to risk a lot of money getting it published!
The pay-off was a commission to produce a second coffee-table volume featuring a wider geographical area. Malaysia Beneath the Waves is the result.
Malaysia sits at the heart of what is probably the richest and most diversely populated underwater ecosystem of the Indo-Pacific. Mike Wong's efforts to capture the underwater wildlife on film centred around a journey linking the offshore islands and reefs starting at Langkawi Island in the north-west and finishing at Sipadan in the far east.
The lushly illustrated publication resulting from this voyage includes deservedly well-known diving destinations Tioman, Layang Layang, Labuan and Sipadan alongside more obscure sites, such as Luconia Shoals' well-named Hempasan Bantin!
Over 300 images grace this 250-page volume. But it is not just a vehicle for Mike Wong's excellent macro photography. He has also used his wide-angle camera to capture the spirit and emotion of diving in a sea burgeoning with life.
Surface pictures too are a visual treat, and the maps and aerial photography of islands and reefs keep the reader well informed.
Be warned: do not show this book to your friends if you are about to go and they are not!
Malaysia Beneath the Waves by Michael Patrick Wong, Sea & Sea (01803 663012), hardback, £45
Appeared in DIVER - November 1998