The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
After years of try-dives on holiday, my brother and I finally got round to qualifying on holiday this year and we're now Advanced Open Water Divers.
As I do a job that requires no more physical effort than lifting the next cup of coffee, I was somewhat overweight, and looked rather grotesque in a wetsuit. After three months of self-denial (including only two visits to the pub over Xmas/New Year!) and some much-needed exercise I had lost more than 3 stone and still going.
After a bad day travelling to London and back, I settled in to devour the February issue of Diver, eager to read the review of Capernwray and other inland sites (Above And Below). I was hoping to gather evidence to persuade my brother/buddy to get cold and dive in the UK.
What do I find? Reviews of bacon butties! After being forced to slobber over the pages of Gavin's reviews, I write this after stuffing down half a pound of bacon slapped between a few rounds of bread ... one of life's necessities I had been able to deny myself those three long months.
Before despatching next month's edition to me, can I request that someone liberally applies a dark marker to all mention of bacon/sausage/egg butties before posting my copy, in an effort to get me back on track .
Steve Davies, St Helens, Lancs
Comment: Steve, padlock the fridge and get down to the gym immediately. To assuage our guilt, we're sending you a Beaver Nova-Light.
I congratulate Richard Baxter on his letter (Putting The Children First, January). It fills me with heartache to read in your magazine of narrow-minded, self-centred people who believe that diving should exclude the young.
We must introduce youngsters into the sport for it to maintain its popularity. I am 46 and have been qualified as an Open Water Diver for only just over a year. My buddy and companion on many dives has been my 14-year-old son. If it had not been for his enthusiasm and constant nagging to become Open Water-qualified, I would never have done the course myself. I realise far too late now what I have missed.
The teen years, when hormones are beginning to rise, can be a very difficult time for parents. Youngsters have a tightrope to walk and it is very easy to fall off. They need to have something to live for. For my son, it's weekends, when he can go to his local dive shop, meet other divers far more experienced than he is, and take part in adult conversation.
Unlike many people, he has had to save for his equipment and is steadily acquiring what he needs. Diving has given him a sense of purpose and confidence. As a buddy he is second to none.
Bonding between father and son could not be better, because we have something in common and in which we are equal. Diving has taught him responsibility, sensibility, maturity, humility and an increasingly strange sense of humour.
It's only a matter of time before my 11-year-old son starts hankering to become qualified too. Diving should be for everyone, irrespective of gender or age. Let's keep it that way.
Ian Johnson, Middlesbrough
I was struck by the simplicity of Tim Stobart's suggestion of using a weightbelt as an anchor in the event of separation from your dive boat (Weightbelt To Tie You Down, December) and thought I'd pass it on to fellow-members of my club in our newsletter.
Tim did ask if there was an obvious error in his cunning plan. Two possible flaws I can see are these:
1 The Coastguard might focus the centre of a search pattern based on computerised tidal flow and surface conditions.
2 If there is a flood tide, it could carry you close enough to shore for a surface swim to safety.
However, for most situations I think his plan is pretty neat, although it might not be quite so easy for those using a weightbelt harness. I can remove the pouches from my Beaver harness quite easily but would have to trust on the stitching to hold fast during the drift and recovery stages. I'm optimistic that should such an event occur, my pouches would be man enough.
Previously I'd always thought of looking for the nearest fisherman's pot or pot-line, surface swimming to that and holding on fast.
Mike Russell, Brookmans Park, Herts
There are a few problems with Tim Stobart's suggestion, depending on the situation, of course.
1 If you are on the surface, without surface support, you probably used your DSMB on ascent. Fixing the "anchor" to this would mean detaching it, so reducing your surface visibility.
2 If you could successfully clip the "anchor" to the reel, release it and get it to the bottom successfully, there is a chance that it would lock fast on the seabed. The end of a dive often comes after the turn of the tide, so a current will be running and increasing, and the drag and pull on the line will increase sufficiently to pull you under. Releasing more line will work only until it is fully extended!
3 Given a successful deployment and no run, you would still need some means of increasing your surface visibility.
Staying on site has attractions, but consider that a boat and rescue services would allow for drift. I would suggest a surface flag, preferably something better than the small squares available on plastic poles.
I use a 5 x 5ft red flag that folds onto three aluminium tent poles connected by elastic shock cord, and sits happily behind my dive knife on my leg.
Ray Cramer, Deeside Divers, Wallasey
After reading Colin Whyte's letter Looking After No 1 (January), I cannot fathom where he is coming from. No one in their right mind feels that if a diver dies, it is the fault of the buddy!
As a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, I never dive without a buddy. If on holiday I am partnered up with buddies, I try to check their logbooks, and if they seem to be the kind of diver who goes too deep, or stays too long, I try to find another buddy. I would have thought that 99% of properly trained divers would feel the same way.
If that is not possible, I try not to get into situations where they could stray too deep, and if they do, I try to stop them. But I never follow them. I stay above them at a safe depth, and try to finish the dive early so that they are safe.
I would hate to think what some divers would do if they didn't have a buddy to rely on. A pony and doubling-up on most kit cannot replace another person.
What if you suffer from nitrogen narcosis, with no one else there to ensure that you surface safely and don't kill yourself? Or what if some fishing net gets tangled around your tank where you can't quite reach it?
A buddy proves invaluable in a lot of situations, not just out of air. A buddy also makes a dive more fun, as well as providing someone to play cards with during surface intervals!
Dan Smith, Telford, Shropshire
Mother Nature was not kind to diving in 2004. Many of the world's best dive sites were damaged by major catastrophes, first the hurricanes that destroyed huge parts of the Caribbean and then the terrible events in the Indian Ocean.
While the loss of life and the need to rebuild are the primary concern following both disasters, the marine life and the environment that supports it also need funds to help them recover.
For many of these communities, tourism provides a living and the marine environment is one of the main attractions.
Despite the ravages of Nature, it is still humanity that causes the greatest damage, so if you make only two New Year resolutions this year let it be these:
1 Recycle items from your rubbish bin. Recycling a single can saves enough energy to power a TV for 20 minutes, which is quality time to watch the lovely Michaela Strachan (or Monty Halls for the ladies) in a wetsuit.
2 Get active and make your voice heard. If every diver gave up 20 minutes a week to campaign on environmental issues, it would have an impact. It doesn't take long to email your local MP or sign an on-line petition. Who knows in an election year what impact this could have?
There are some good websites such as WWF, the Shark Trust or Surfers against Sewage that provide guidance on who to contact and the issues for which campaigning is needed
It is not possible to go back in time but it is possible to make a difference in 2005.
Richard Smith, Northampton
I read with interest the article Riverbed Treasure Hunt (January) and can totally relate to the joy of diving in our rivers ... hugely underestimated!
I would, however, like to add one more tip for any divers wishing to make the most of the opportunities in their nearby waterways. It will keep them out of trouble and help them avoid a potentially embarrassing encounter with the authorities.
Generally all our waterways are governed by, and under the jurisdiction of, an environmental body. Rivers are the responsibility of the Environmental Agency and canals the British Waterways Board. Both are happy to allow divers in their waterways but ask that, if at all possible, notification of any planned diving is sent in writing to them.
This, as you will appreciate, allows them to notify the navigation offices well in advance and, should any work be planned for the area of waterway where diving is intended, the applicant can be made aware and possibly advised to seek an alternative site.
These governing bodies may also have information on a site that may not be public knowledge and may present itself as a diving hazard! Divers may also be advised of "river state" and advised not to dive in potential flood conditions.The authority may also insist on boat cover.
One other thing: I would suggest that all rivers and canals are treated as "contaminated". Weils Disease is rife in our fresh waterways and the flu-like symptoms can be easily overlooked. It can be fatal if not treated early enough!
Andy Clark, Thames Valley Police Diving Team
Is there such an illness as CDD (Compulsive Diving Disorder)? On a family holiday to Cyprus last year I was talked into the experience of my lifetime. After signing up for an initial dive, I spent the night not sleeping, as I thought I might forget to breathe under water!
After the dive, I signed up for the PADI Scuba Diver course, and it has changed my life. Family and friends are sick of hearing about it, but they will have to adjust. I seem to spend all my time planning my next diving trip. Is this normal?
What makes it even more extraordinary is that I have spent 21 years in the Navy, and until now never so much as swam in the sea. I was never a great lover of the sea!
Dave Bailey, Gosport, Hants
I've been set back by an unwanted resident. A mouse decided to shelter from the weather in my garage, in my drysuit bag ... and in my drysuit, chewing through it in the process.
That's a £600 suit knackered. I pay all that extra insurance money for dive-equipment cover, and when I call up, it ain't covered ... because apparently there's a clause excluding damage caused by rodents. Magic. Has anyone heard of anything like this before?
Dave McAllister, Greenock
I just wanted to compliment the author and researcher of the DiveDome Mystery Diver article in the January issue.
The research and analysis was spot on. I am a financial analyst in the City and do this sort of research all the time, so top marks all round. If this was a listed company, I would be selling ... fishier than the Sardine Run! Great stuff.
Dr Richard Windsor, London
In reply to Andy's letter What is 'Work'? (February), the Health & Safety Diving at Work Regulations 1997 Recreational Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) applies when at least one diver taking part is at work or carrying out a commercial undertaking.
A 'commercial undertaking' is where a business, trade or profession is set up to provide diver training services, guiding or touring under water. The ACoP applies to all commercial recreational diving schools.
A 'diving project' means any activity made up of one or more diving operations, in which at least one person takes part as a diver. A school or independent instructor must comply with the regulations.
Being 'at work' is not a black and white issue and any case could be argued in the courts. Andy will have to decide if his position fits these criteria: Are you taking part in a diving project 'at work' or 'not at work'? A person receiving any kind of remuneration for services is 'at work'. The remuneration can be a favour or reward such as free air fills or training, use of equipment and so on.
If there is no remuneration, the law will look at the issue from a different perspective.
There needs to be a minimum number of staff before a diving project can be conducted (three for an open-water diving operation, one at the surface and two in the water; two when diving in pools and tanks). So a volunteer will be considered to be at work and covered by the Health & Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 74 and the DWR 97.
If your involvement in a recreational instruction diving at work project is required for the project to be undertaken, you are 'at work', whether you are remunerated or not.
Dive clubs are not covered by the HSWA 74 and DWR 97 but have a Duty of Care under Civil Liability to their members and others affected by their activities. They must follow the club constitution and conduct their instructional diving activities in a safe manner in accordance with organisational guidelines.
This can be achieved easily by following the Recreational ACoP. In effect, safe conduct for recreational instruction activities is roughly the same for professionals and amateurs, just worded differently in legal terms.
Andy asks whether instructors need to hold a commercial medical if 'at work'. The answer is yes. The question of liability insurance depends on whether he is self-employed or employed by the dive school or instructor.
As for remuneration to cover his costs, (medical, insurance, professional status, travel, equipment, air fills etc.) he will need to discuss that with the commercial undertaking with which he is engaged.
Derek Moore, Southport
There I was with my wife and son at the baggage reclaim in Marsa Alam airport, waiting for our luggage before joining mv Excel for a week's diving in the southern Red Sea.
Our growing fears climaxed as the conveyor stopped and the handlers disappeared. Credit to the bravery of the small gentleman who stuck his head round the window, told us in broken English "Sorry, no more", and scarpered.
A dozen other travellers shared our plight. Airport staff took details, but it was clear that our dive gear and my clothing would not catch the liveaboard.
Our tour rep juggled skillfully between keeping his guests informed and reassured, liaising with the dive guides on the boats and with Tony Backhurst back in the UK. Before long we were on Excel and Andy, the dive guide, mapped out the plan and took details of our missing possessions.
We were promised that these would be with us before we sailed at 7 the next morning. Yeah, sure! But Tony Backhurst had instructed that whatever the cost, neither we nor other guests should have our holiday disrupted by this mishap.
Though not his responsibility, he had said he would bear the cost and inconvenience of sorting it out. Seven hours later, we were woken. Three full sets of dive kit and a basic replacement wardrobe for me had been arranged in Hurghada and driven down through the night. We left to dive at 7am as planned ... impressive or what?
OK, so the Egyptian boxer shorts could double as caravan tarpaulins and, in contrast, I would have needed to be surgically separated from the swimming trunks had I dared to swim in them, but I went short of nothing.
My thanks go to fellow-divers for their sensitive hints that a second change of T-shirt was in order near the end of the week. But mostly my thanks to Tony Backhurst. Most operators will talk about putting the customer first but few really do it!
The trip was great and my luggage ended up having a marvellous time in Luxor, but I'm afraid the baggage-handlers at Gatwick have been scrubbed from my Christmas card list.
Dave Martin, Wolverhampton
You reported in February that divers from the Orchid Cancer Appeal plan to be the 'first to swim the English Channel under water'.
The first man to swim the Channel underwater was Fred Baldasare, who crossed in 1962 in 18 hours. His wife Jane had been first to try in 1960 but was defeated by weather.
Byron Cowie of London Branch BSAC nearly succeeded in 1962 but had to give up when his back-up team of fellow-members supplying him with cylinders became seasick!
The same year, another young Englishman, Simon Patterson, made a record underwater Channel swim using an airline rig in 13 hours 48 minutes. More details are available in my book The Club (available from BSAC) and in an article in the current Historical Diving Times.
I wish Colin Osborne and his team the best of luck.
Reg Vallintine, London