The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
In your November issue Dr Sibley-Calder recommends many remedies for hay fever (Medical Q&A). I am married to someone who, 10 years ago, was on the maximum dose of Triludan and wasn't touching the problem, but who now experiences no symptoms.
Try the following method: find the beekeeper nearest to where you suffer from hay fever (at work, at home, at the coast) and ask them for honey produced at the time of year when you suffer. Eat at least a teaspoonful every week the following season and you may find your problems greatly reduced, if not eliminated.
Whatever kind of pollen it is to which you are allergic, if you introduce it into your body in a pleasant way, when you breathe it in your immune system knows it isn't a toxin and doesn't react to it. Supermarket honey is unlikely to work because it is mainly imported from Mexico, Australia or China.
There are no guarantees that it will work for you, but if it does it will save much suffering (and probably a few dives), and if it doesn't you have lost nothing and not harmed your body in any way.
You might also ask the beekeeper about wax for your zip. It might save you the cost of the honey!
Sheilah Openshaw, Newbury SAC & beekeeper
I am writing to correct the irresponsible and potentially dangerous views expressed by Graham Lundegaard in December's Off-Gassing (Shining Examples). Unless you are medically qualified to diagnose decompression illness, the only reasonable course of action with a diver showing signs of illness after a dive is to administer oxygen and contact the Coastguard, who will patch you through to a medical expert.
Contrary to Mr Lundegaard's view that this will "bother" the Coastguard with lots of trivial incidents, the Coastguard advises that it would like to be informed, and prefers to assess the level of seriousness of any incident itself.
The reason is, as Mr Lundegaard himself points out, that the symptoms of a neurological bend can resemble a number of ailments, yet any delay in treatment can have serious, permanent consequences for the diver involved.
If nine cases out of 10 are false alarms, the "bother" involved is far preferable to inflicting serious injury on the one in 10 with a bend.
Perhaps the unstated issue here is that it is the other divers on the trip, not the Coastguard, who do not want to be "bothered".
If Mr Lundegaard reads the medical research carried out by organisations such as the Diving Diseases Research Centre (DDRC) and Divers Alert Network (DAN), he will appreciate that the under-reporting and late reporting of DCI is a matter of widespread and serious concern within hyperbaric medicine. In contrast, I cannot find any research paper stating that divers misuse hyperbaric treatments for trivial ailments.
It is grotesque to suggest that divers in BSAC clubs should endure negligent and unsafe diving practices without complaint because they owe a debt of gratitude to the club. All divers deserve reasonable standards of care and safety, whether they dive as paying customers or club members.
Failing to meet those reasonable standards will lead to more divers being injured and those divers will have cause to claim compensation.
The answer is not to bemoan a more litigious culture, but simply to ensure that safe diving practices are observed.
Dr Lynne Taylor, Kenilworth, Warwickshire
As organiser for trade union the Professional Divers Association, and a regular contributor to Diver's sister magazine Underwater Contractor International, I have visited 10 schools for commercial divers abroad over the past three years and found almost all to train to a high standard.
Most of the training is approved by the Health & Safety Executive and allows divers with the highest air qualification to dive in the North Sea. My comments may help any reader considering a career as a commercial diver.
When the HSE decided to approve a large number of overseas qualifications, I was almost alone in objecting, as it had not inspected the schools and we were not always given reciprocal rights to dive, as is the case in Australia. I still believe that divers wishing to dive abroad should be checked out in that country, to see if they are familiar with the equipment used, etc.
In most countries the commercial diving school is effectively run by government or the armed forces. In the Netherlands, for example, the Royal Engineers do the training, and in Denmark, Portugal and Sweden it is the navy.
In South Africa, schools are privately run but the industry takes a far keener interest in diving than in Britain. I have sent a number of British divers to train there, as the training is much more intensive than here. Divers can be failed and, even allowing for air fares, courses cost about a third of the price in Britain.
The schools I recommend are owned by very experienced commercial divers and they have a far wider range of diving helmets than in Britain.
Slowly potential divers will learn that it's a good idea to shop around the world. The State Diving School of Norway, for example, will run a course in English at a highly competitive price if it has enough English-speaking students.
I am willing to help any potential commercial diver who contacts me via Diver.
Michael Cocks, London
As a BSAC instructor, I train beginners in the giant-stride entry technique. I was taught to put one hand over my regulator and mask, the other over anything that dangles or protrudes, such as my high-pressure hose or torch, then look ahead, a big step and you're in.
The first time trainees do this they shuffle forward, look down, look at you and finally pluck up courage to launch themselves in. After creating a mini tidal wave, they surface in a confusion of bubbles, looking pleased with themselves.
However, on a recent holiday to Malta I saw a slightly different technique.
I watched a divemaster put one hand over his mask and regulator as expected but then, with the other hand, protectively clutch his nether regions before completing the entry.
I was only 15 and perhaps naive when I learnt to dive. Did I misunderstand the instruction "protect anything that dangles", and perhaps a knowing wink to the male trainees?
Although there a few of my trainees who I hope will never breed, I don't want to cause them permanent damage. Please advise.
R Hope, Sittingbourne, Kent
If all goes according to plan, with the salvage of HMS Sussex (News, December 2002) the Ministry of Defence should soon be a few billion pounds richer.
Although I, like many, feel that the affair leaves a bad taste, I suspect that the MoD has little choice but to co-operate with the salvor. The company which has discovered the wreck does not fall under UK jurisdiction, and neither does the wreck, as it is not in UK waters, so not much can be done to stop it.
However, with the MoD involved, we can only hope that it will ensure that the site receives the respect that it deserves. The archaeological survey will, of course, be second to none - after all, funding is not a problem.
Paul Galley, Bristol
I purchased an Aladin Air nitrox integrated computer a few years ago. On a dive trip to the Red Sea it went into error mode. Luckily I had a back-up computer and contents gauge, but back in the UK I took the computer to a dealer, who sent it back to Scubapro Uwatec.
I was informed that the error message was due to the battery needing replacement (it was at 40%). Fair enough, it had done a few dives, but when I went to collect it I was told that it was going to cost £150, as the computer had been replaced with the newer version.
Not happy, I called Scubapro and was told that it was not possible to replace the battery in this computer without damaging the case, hence the replacement computer at a lowered cost of £150.
Having paid almost £800 for the computer, I expected it to last beyond its first battery change. The replacement should have cost no more than a battery change, or Scubapro Uwatec should have recalled the units when it discovered the design fault, and replaced them free of charge.
Am I being unreasonable or are there others out there who feel the same?
Scubapro's UK Sales Manager Mick Robertson replies: Aladin Air X computers have an expected battery life of more than 10 years (50 dives a year). ERR Mode on any Aladin is a safety mode designed to recognise faults that could potentially corrupt its decompression and safety functions. Contact with high-frequency transmissions such as mobile phones or microwaves, impact or battery fault could also send this unit into ERR mode.
All Aladins have a 12-month consumer warranty. If an Air X develops a fault beyond this period or needs a battery change, we offer the option of upgrading to the new model Air Z for the cost of a battery change/repair (£81.50 for post-Oct"98 models or £102.50 pre-Oct "98).
We offer a service exchange on all Aladin computers if a battery change is required or a fault develops. All Scubapro Uwatec authorised dealers are aware of these prices and service exchange options.
I read with horror in December's test of the Sea & Sea MX-511 camera that £400 is a cheap way into underwater photography (You Have To Start Somewhere, Diver Tests).
Four years ago I bought a Bonica Snapper on the Internet. The basic camera, without flash but with close-up kit, cost $150. Granted I have always used it in clear waters, but I was able to afford trips to these waters because I hadn't spent a fortune on camera equipment.
To get the best from the kit I use lots of imagination and a basic PhotoShop-type package on my PC. In dark or shaded conditions the standard camera and flash are OK up to 2m. For long shots with some atmosphere I tape up the flash before putting the camera in the housing to avoid backscatter. I use 1000 ASA black and white film, though the camera thinks it's taking a 400 ASA colour shot with flash. Sounds dubious, but the results aren't too bad.
The close-up kit is "bomb-proof" once you learn the correct distance to place the framer from the subject, in this case 1cm. Plenty of decent photographs taken using this kit decorate my bathroom.
I wouldn't want to stuff an expensive camera in a leg pouch and ferret around inside a wreck, as I can do with my little Snapper. I'll never win any prizes but I have a good record of some memorable dives and have had a lot of fun playing photographer. This is not meant to be an ad for the Snapper as I'm sure the other point-and-shoot budget cameras can do the same job.
Nothing galls me more than incompetent divers loaded with £1000's worth of kit bouncing their way around dive sites. I do, however, get a sense of pleasure from divers bemoaning the lack of this, that or the other in their expensively assembled, poorly taken slide portfolios.
I like to take photographs while diving, not go diving to take photographs.
Marc Thompson, Hendon, London
Reading International Divers Of Mystery (October 2002), I found no word on diving in my country, Poland, where we have a 310-mile seacoast and a few thousand lakes. I am only a beginner but I've already managed to dive some interesting places.
My first dives took place near Jaworzno, at a former dolomite quarry. The rock used to be excavated by big electric excavators. As prices for dolomite dropped, the mine stopped paying for its electricity. One day the supply was cut off and the excavation was flooded, with the big machines still on the bottom.
This "lake" is some 19m deep and the dive site is known to everyone as the Koparki (Excavators). Visibility is several metres and the site has good diving facilities and is open all year round.
There are also dive centres at other lake shores. They often have poor visibility, but in spring and autumn there can be a lot of life to see.
I spend my holidays on the Hel Peninsula on the eastern part of our Baltic coast, where an 18-mile sandbar divides Gdansk Bay from the open sea.
The area is becoming a divers' summer Mecca, with at least half-a-dozen dive centres, some open all year. The seabed is scattered with wrecks, some within easy reach of beginners like me at around 20m and some rather difficult even for experienced divers.
I have dived only three of them. One is a WW2 relic, the Polish Navy Vessel Wicher, a destroyer scuttled at the beginning of the war. I have also dived the Grozny and Dolphin, both ex-navy vessels intentionally sunk and very well preserved.
I hope to go on some warmwater trips this year, however, as the bottom temperature in our lakes and sea is rarely higher than 8-10°C!
Marek Rowicki, Warsaw, Poland
I read with disgust the News In Brief article Cecilie To Be Snipped (December 2002). My family home is in the Salcombe area, and since learning to dive two years ago, I have dived the Herzogin Cecilie some 40 times.
To suggest that its bow section should be reduced by some 2m because it is seen as a hazard to water-users seems tantamount to vandalism. Its position is accurately charted and well known to local water-users.
For those who never venture below the surface it may be perceived as a hazard, but water-sports enthusiasts should realise that it is their responsibility to check their charts for underwater hazards when visiting harbours and coastal areas unfamiliar to them.
The site is perfect for entry-level dive training, or a second dive. It is an interesting wreck with a fascinating history, usually supported by sheltered conditions and good visibility, with a sandy bottom suitable for training activities. It also supports a surprising amount of marine life, including wrasse, pollack, gurnard and conger.
In response to the article, I have contacted the owners of the wreck, as referenced in Dive South Devon by Kendall McDonald. They assure me that they have no intention of letting anyone dismantle or destroy what's left of this once-majestic "duchess".
I believe that as divers we should do all we can to protect these valuable pieces of the past, and not allow others to destroy them simply as a matter of convenience.
Ben V Toms, Bristol
French engineers have built an eco-friendly car that runs on compressed air. It comes with its own compressor (though a home-fill takes four hours) and has a 125-mile range and top speed of 65mph. There are plans for three-minute service station fills at a cost of about £1.
This does raise some questions, however. Do you have to spit on the inside of the windscreen to stop it steaming up? If you fill the car with nitrox, will it run for longer (or will it just be safer)?
Do you have to wait an hour or so between trips, and what's it like in bad visibility?
Will it come in cabriolet (wetsuit) version as well as hardtop (drysuit)? Will DIR divers remove the boot? Will there be a choice of one- or two-cylinder versions (imagine being able to brag to your American friends about your 30 litre engine!)
I'll stop there - it's getting too silly. But if they reckon a fill can be obtained for £1, are we being ripped off by the dive shops?
Bob Armour, Crawley, West Sussex
I read Tim Greaves' letter Beware Car Thieves in Malta (December 2002). Malta does have a problem at some dive sites but I must tell your readers that the Maltese police are very good.
Three years ago my brother and I were diving with Subway Scuba on the wreck of the Um-El-Faroud. It was a nasty day but the last diveable day of our holiday, so we decided to go for it.
Unusually there wasn't a soul in sight on the slipway at the Blue Grotto. We parked our minibus and kitted up.
The water was surprisingly calm at depth and we had the best dive ever. The size of the Um-El-Faroud amazed us and we spent some time inside the mid-decks and engine-room before standing on the bridge looking out over the holds.
We left the water full of joy and headed up the slipway to find our lone minibus open.
Thieves had taken our jeans, shoes, shirts and a rucksack with our towels in - but all the scuba kit in its crates was still there. Surely this must be a joke! But my camera had been in my pocket and my brother's watch in his, with a little cash in the rucksack. The dive instructor and divemaster were likewise afflicted.
We drove to the local police station. The desk sergeant didn't want us dripping all over the place so brought the paperwork to us at the entrance. We filed our reports, fighting off a rather large policewoman who kept running towards us with her arms open.
The sergeant explained that she fancied men in rubber suits and we all had a laugh about it.
We were treated well and made to see the funny side of things. They wished us well and said they'd be in touch if anything came up.
Six weeks passed, and then a large parcel arrived from Malta. A note inside said: "Here are your things that we recovered from the thieves. We are sorry but we could not get the watch. I hope your insurance will cover it."
The camera was rusty and the watch and money missing but the police had come up trumps, soggy towels and all. So please, take Mr Greaves' letter with a pinch of salt. Crime is a global problem and Malta suffers the same as anywhere else. It's a lovely island with very friendly people and the diving is first-rate.
Richard J Bridge