The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
IT'S A FAMILY AFFAIR|
Having noted the mindset of a few of the contributors in last month's issue of Diver (You'll Only Encourage Them, December 2001) regarding the benefits of shark-feeding and the growth of the diving industry, this Future Diver's Log entry might just be appropriate:
Diver's Log, 23 March, 2020
Joined the group of 80 other divers aboard the Try-Dive, leaving Grand Cayman at Pier 24 of Divers Harbour. A wonderful family outing, especially now that the new PADI Toddler programme is finally underway. After changing the baby's nappy we suited him up to join us, Gran, Auntie Em and the twins (who were diving for the first time) in our Buddy Team.
A bit of a wait to get onto the diving ramp, but it was worth it when we were finally winched down into the water to take our place on the underwater conveyor belt. Gran was a bit nervous, as she is taking the 12th and final day of the PADI Advanced Underwater Knitting Diver module.
The conveyor belt was perfectly timed to bring us to the 12.45 shark-feeding extravaganza, starring Britney Spearfisher. We were then able to enter the most recently sunken wreck attraction, HMS Funfair, which had been attractively placed atop the last remaining Cayman coral reef.
The wreck is purported to have the highest pay-out for underwater slot machines in the Caribbean, but I didn't have any luck. We were returned to the surface and had a chance to listen to a wonderful dive-industry-sponsored lecture. It was about conserving the entertainment environment of our precious ocean from the greedy lunatic diving fringe who are now campaigning to return it to its original primitive state.
Howard Kornstein, Elkstone, Gloucs
Why feeding could endanger sharks
Having just returned from an extended trip to Australia and the South Pacific, where I encountered numerous shark and/or fish-feeding dives, I was pleased to read John Bantin's article.
Clearly the arguments for and against this practice are numerous and complex but there is one line of argument that, for me, is so strong that I now refuse to participate in feeding dives.
While in Australia there was much publicity surrounding the fatal attack on a young boy by dingoes, Australia's wild dogs, on Fraser Island off the coast of Queensland. For years the authorities have been struggling to stop visitors feeding these animals. There have been a number of minor attacks and it was clear that before long something more serious would happen.
Following the incident the Queensland Government, in the wake of a public outcry, ordered a cull of the animals on Fraser Island.
The link to shark-feeding seems to be overwhelming. If we continue to see the growth of shark-feeding, even including bull and tiger sharks at sites in Fiji, how long can it be before we see a fatal accident? When that happens, can we seriously expect the blame not to be placed squarely on the "vicious" sharks?
I strongly believe it to be inevitable that there will then be calls for the "removal" of the offending sharks from the area.
If we continue to feed sharks, and divers continue to look for bigger thrills (who is content nowadays to see "only" grey reef sharks?), when the inevitable happens it will be the sharks that suffer. Let's stop it now before it's too late. You don't find the Africans feeding lions, do you?
Peter Faulkner, Edinburgh
Flash your instructor card with pride
Divers are such a trusting bunch of people, as are those who wish to undertake their first underwater experience or course.
Whether you are recently certified or have done hundreds of dives, you know that when you visit a dive centre or club someone there might wish to check your qualifications, and sometimes even your experience. So qualification books/cards and logbooks are important pieces of equipment that should be packed alongside your other gear.
How often are you asked for these documents? Most of the time, you will probably answer. How often do you check the qualifications and insurance of the diver who is acting as your dive guide, or even the instructor who is about to take you on a course? In my experience, the answer to this is never.
I have worked as an instructor at a number of centres for more than three years, and certified more than 500 divers at all levels from beginner to professional status. Not once has anyone queried my status.
So imagine what it's like for nervous beginners to be introduced to an instructor, complete their course and, when their dive card is issued or their training record signed, they see that the signature is that of someone else, possibly someone they have never seen.
I experienced this practice when I was a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver and BSAC Sports Diver. I was asked by the instructor at a school to teach both confined and open-water skills to a number of students undertaking both PADI and BSAC courses. I felt quite honoured that an instructor thought I had the necessary skills.
It was only during my instructor courses that I learned how wrong this practice was.
My own PADI Open Water card bears the name of an instructor who didn't train me. This occurs all over the world, even in the UK, where I am continually told that everything is done correctly.
Whether you are undertaking a course or doing a pleasure dive, check the qualifications of the diver taking you out there. Professional divers have a duty to the divers in their charge to ensure that all standards from their training agency are met, and they should feel proud to show you their qualifications. If they can't, there are always other centres down the road.
And if you feel that your course was not undertaken by a suitably qualified instructor, you are entitled to contact the training agency and report the matter.
Andrew Molloy, Arona, Tenerife
I am responding to M I Watson's letter British Tanks Only (Off-Gassing, December 2001), about British test stations refusing to test German cylinders. As long ago as 1985, when I was diving officer of the Osnabrück Dolphins BSAC 444, an Army special branch, we had to get our cylinders tested within the military system at a command workshop where they were tested to UK spec.
However, every pool night we took them to our German affiliate club Unterwasser Club Osnabrčck to be filled. This went on for the two years I was in station, and there were no problems at all. Whether this was "legal" or not within German or British standards I don't know, but without UCO's help we would have had no air.
I have also been to Brittany three times since 1998 and had no problems filling our cylinders at the dive shop in Perros. On one holiday a cylinder pillar-valve leaked, and the shop-owner stripped it down and repaired it on the spot, for free.
Certain countries' testing standards can be somewhat lower than ours, but surely the industry or Health & Safety Executive must admit that some have standards equal if not superior to British ones. Has anyone who has a British-tested cylinder in Europe been refused a fill on the grounds of incompatible testing standards?
Let's all agree with M I Watson, "stop being narrow-minded". HSE, "wake up and smell the coffee". Let's unite in our standards. Through your magazine, I hope the HSE will offer an explanation for this potentially annoying situation.
Pete Gosnell, Ely, Cambs
Diving after sex
I am sure many diving couples will identify with me when I say that it was with some shock and dismay that I discovered I was pregnant, following some extra-curricular activity during a bargain-basement diving weekend in Italy.
The Kowalski had been packed instead of the Pill, so I found myself ridiculously sea-sick in the calm waters of the Philippines a few weeks later. Fellow-divers asked if I might be pregnant, but I denied the possibility, partly for fear of missing out on the amazing wreck-diving.
Back home, the ominous blue line seemed to spell the end of enjoyable diving holidays for some time to come. However, having a child made me no more mature, and didn't diminish my lust for diving. Our long list of holiday requirements now included a short-haul flight, not too much time difference, good diving, somewhere we'd not been before and baby-sitting facilities at the hotel.
With a degree of trepidation we arrived at the Movenpick Hotel in El Quseir, south of Hurghada. Our only luggage was the three-month-old. The rest seemed to have been mislaid en route!
However, the hotel started brilliantly and got better. Despite being the dead of night in the middle of the Egyptian desert, we suddenly found a kettle, bottle-warmer and baby monitor in our room. The manager was so dismayed that we had no luggage that he offered to go home and get milk powder for us!
The attention lavished on this baby was of epic proportions and he thrived, sleeping much better than ever he did at home!
He thrived and we did too when we saw Subex Divers, the dive operation attached to the hotel. It was like liveaboard-diving without the boat - the precision and efficiency with which the centre is run is definitely Swiss.
The diving itself was excellent. The house reef is pristine, thanks to huge emphasis on conservation, with diver numbers carefully controlled. I never thought I could get excited about coral but it was awesome!
Every dive not only included a very thorough briefing, but a lengthy debrief afterwards to go through fish identification. I learnt so much! The only thing that was conspicuous by its absence was a good - or any - wreck. But the whole experience from beginning to end of the dive was so easy.
So carry on with the sex, and if it all goes pear-shaped (as I now have!), be assured that you can have an amazing diving holiday even with a small baby in tow!
Catherine Wakeley, Chippenham
Those politics again
Having just returned from a very enjoyable holiday in North Cyprus, which included diving with Amphora Divers, I read Alex Panayides' prize-winning letter with interest (You Can't Keep Politics Out of Diving, December 2001).
From my limited understanding it does seem to be the case that the Turkish minority rights were being eroded and that they asked for British intervention to rectify this but this was not forthcoming. I would hope that should you receive correspondence from someone better acquainted with the Turkish case, they will be afforded equal space.
I question the policy of entering into this sort of debate. For example, because of Burma's human rights record, I would not visit that country - but I would not expect a diving magazine to allow me space to argue my case.
John Hance, Salisbury
Snug in my wetsuit
I had read the article and follow-up letters in your excellent magazine about instructors being in nice warm drysuits and trainees being extremely cold while training in open water before I phoned around a few companies to do a PADI Open Water Diver course.
I mentioned the original article (Goose Pimples, Deep Breath, July 2001) to Aquadreams of Maldon and was told that it was prepared for the cold and not to worry. I thought this was just sales talk but booked with the school because of its competitive price.
On the first day of my qualifying dive, the ambient temperature was about 4íC and we arrived at the lake to see mist rising off the surface. That article came flooding back to me, and I prepared to get very cold.
As Steve the instructor gave out our 7mm wetsuits, I was still not convinced. Then he gave us gloves which, according to different people I have spoken to, is unusual. The first time I went into the lake the initial rush of cold water took my breath away, but within 10 seconds the suit had warmed up and I had a very enjoyable dive for about 30 minutes. I can honestly say that I didn't feel the cold at all and thoroughly enjoyed everything.
Novices should ask questions about the levels of protection. Tell instructors that you want to enjoy your diving and don't be put off by their budget constraints. If they can't afford for you to be safe and warm, they should be in some other business.
I am now hooked and looking forward to doing my Advanced Open Water. Who with? With the company that didn't lie to me, was extremely competitive and had my best interests at heart, instead of its pockets.
After graduating from college just over three years ago, I decided to get into diving. I heard from a friend that try-dives were being run in the local university pool, so I turned up and loved it.
I completed my PADI Open Water and did some diving in Ireland. Then, like John Tout (Down In Mexico, Deep Breath, October 2001), I was lured to the Caribbean with the idea of becoming a diving instructor.
I had pretty much the same experiences as John while there - not being paid, made to work very long hours, made to continue diving with bad ear infections, and ascending from a dive with a blocked sinus to find blood in my mask.
Eventually enough was enough and I left. I would have been fired anyway for refusing to go in the water. But my argument isn't with such dive centres' methods of employing their staff, because while there I worked with some of the best divers I have ever had the pleasure of diving with, but with worldwide diving agencies.
As a "dive slave", I remember acting as a divemaster, bringing up the rear on a deep-blue dive with a group of six divers following another instructor. One Swiss diver had a problem with mask clearance - he couldn't do it! He sniffed some water up his nose, panicked and bolted for the surface from 34m - while holding his breath.
I managed to catch him at 28m, dumped the air in his BC and calmed him down. His action nearly killed him, and put me at risk too. Believe it or not, he was a qualified Rescue Diver!
A diving organisation is only as good as the divers it is training, and while this Swiss diver was not the best ambassador for diving, I have had similar incidents with divers from all walks of diving, agency and club alike.
If these organisations paid as much attention to training their divers as they do to bickering between themselves, there would be far fewer deaths in the UK.
Peter O'Reilly, Rathvilly, Ireland
As a subscriber to your mag and a member of the Inverclyde branch of Scottish Sub-Aqua Club, I was pleased to see you publishing the letter from Alex Gallego (So Where Was The SSAC?, December) and the comment recognising that there are other agencies out there apart from BSAC and PADI.
My complaint is that in the comment you refer to a "regional" organisation. Since when did Scotland become a region?
The last time I checked, us poor wee kilted folk lived in a country called Scotland and not a region of England. Comments like these spoil an otherwise excellent mag.
Graeme Wooler, Gourock, Inverclyde
Comment: Sorry, no disrespect intended!
Getting out and about
I have been following the argument about the optimum number of people buddying up on a dive. I am a relative novice, trained to Advanced Open Water level with a couple of speciality qualifications. I dive with a shop-based PADI club, and also around the country with people I have never met before. In doing so I feel I am gaining valuable experience of widely varying conditions as well as buddies of different levels of experience and confidence
I enjoy diving with familiar buddies. I know they are looking out for me, as I am looking out for them, and hope we know each other well enough to relax and enjoy ourselves.
Diving with someone unfamiliar is no less enjoyable, but you have to be more self-reliant and confident because you cannot know how that person will react should an incident occur, and that is no bad thing.
I have dived with people with whom I would never want to dive again, because of their attitude to a potentially dangerous sport (you can enjoy yourself without horsing around!). However, I have dived with others I wouldn't have met if I had stuck with the same people in a club situation.
If you want to continue diving with the same old buddies in the same old areas, good luck to you. Don't look down on people who have few friends who dive and seem to be tagging along all the time with established buddy pairs.
Everyone has to start somewhere and perhaps they will join a club and become better divers by gaining wider experience. It's a free world, enjoy it while it lasts.
John Duncan, Bristol
I had to tell you a story I heard while dive-guiding at a Mediterranean dive school this summer. At an after-dive dinner one of the divers was asked about her husband. She explained that he had died: "It was his own fault," she said, without a hint of loss. "He had to mess about with a turtle."
It seemed that her husband was a free-diver. Deciding to hitch a lift, he grabbed a turtle by the shell behind the neck, and off he went. The turtle, not liking this intrusion, lifted its neck, trapping the diver's fingers, and descended. The husband was never seen again.
Take heed. I see myself as a visitor to the undersea world and will not take chances with anything, however apparently harmless. I wouldn't want to drown in such a stupid way.
Doug Hollands, Tadley, Hants