OBSERVATIONS FROM A DIVE-BOAT
My first 10 outings as a qualified diver (off a very pleasant boat in Kalkan, Turkey) were great fun and left me eager for more.
I saw some fish, but most of my time was spent learning about dive-boat protocol. There are things that they don't tell you on the Open Water Diver course...
1) Divers differ. The Germans have the best kit, take up more space on the boat and float better. The Brits are very friendly with the Germans and are careful not to mention the war or recent football internationals. In return, the Germans don't mention David Beckham or the Dome. American divers can be overconfident and amuse everyone by using too much weight while underinflating their BCs on entry. Turkish divers have gills.
2) Men In Black (MIBs) are snooty divers who don't talk to plebs like me. They chat among themselves about technical subjects and about their considerable exploits.
3) There are lots of experienced divers who will help you avoid elementary mistakes like taking off your BC in the water before your weights.
4) Everything is 25 per cent bigger under water except barracuda, which are 75 per cent bigger each time the story is told.
5) No diver on holiday can understand why anyone ever dives in UK waters. Everyone has either been to, or is going to, the Maldives or the Red Sea, and have special T-shirts to prove it.
6) Lunch comes back to remind you what you ate, at 20m on an afternoon dive.
7) When you are the only diver using tables you can really impress everyone with your knowledge of pressure groups and surface intervals. However, you have to ignore these because everyone else has a dive computer. After fairly shallow repetitive dives, you will be in pressure group ZZ and require decompression therapy while the computer-owners are smoking their post-dive cigarettes (all divers smoke).
8) The freshwater tank for rinsing kit is, by the end of the day, a more concentrated saline solution than sea water.
9) Getting out your handy spray dispenser of anti-fog is, in terms of faux pas, equivalent to making any but a token effort to fill out your logbook, saying "blonde women really are fun" out loud, holding tightly onto an anchor chain in a medium swell, or being the first in a group to reach 50 bar on a 10 litre tank.
10) No one on a dive boat knows everything. They are all at some stage of learning.
Graeme Miller, Milton Keynes
Grey diver power
I read with interest the interview with Douglas Nash of PADI (PADI Makes a Bigger Splash, February). I totally agree with him that diving has changed from being a macho sport to one everybody can do. However, the rest of the interview makes clear that while "everybody" includes the under-12s, the over-50s don't get a look in.
My husband and I were both approaching our 50th birthdays when we learned to scuba-dive. Since then we have each done more than 500 dives and have become keen amateur naturalists.
We built up a website (richardfield.freeservers. com) to act as a focus for fish identification. Through the site we have made contact with a number of older divers who share our interest.
The diving media and travel agents seem to ignore the potential of our age group. Other sports, such as skiing, have recognised the untapped potential of the over-50s but diving is still promoted as exclusively for the young.
While celebrating the achievements of a few, such as Jacques Cousteau, who continued to dive into old age, ordinary people over 50 are ignored.
Here is a challenge for PADI, Diver and tour organisers: Start to take notice of older divers in your training programmes; let's have some articles written about us in magazines; organise tailor-made tours for us. You might be pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic response.
Mary Field, London
Diving with diabetes
I would like to know what Douglas Nash has done about diabetic diving in recent years. Does he know how many of us there are, and how very near impossible PADI makes it for us to dive?
All PADI's paperwork states that insulin-dependent diabetics cannot dive, so a GP cannot sign our medical papers. I am one of the lucky ones. With determination on my part, I found Dr Chris Edge, who researches diabetes and diving. I was amazed to learn from him that there are only 230 of us, but between us we amassed 5348 dives over a year.
How many more diabetics would dive if PADI was more up to date and informative?
Linda Button, Dartford,Kent
Eric Albinsson, PADI Manager, Training, Quality Management and Memberships, replies: Any diver intending to participate in a PADI course is asked to complete paperwork which includes the RSTC (Recreational Scuba Training Council) medical statement. If "yes" is answered to any of the questions, or the student or instructor has any concerns, the student must be cleared by a doctor before diving.
The RSTC form has been designed, and is regularly reviewed, by a panel of doctors schooled in hyperbaric medicine. The guidelines highlight areas which might be of concern when determining medical fitness to dive.
It is for the doctor, not PADI, to dictate the tests and reviews to be conducted, based on an assessment of the student. PADI will accept any doctor's statement that clearly confirms a student's fitness to dive, regardless of what the RSTC guidelines. We would not make medical judgements ourselves, so have no "official stance" on hyperbaric medicine.
Five or six years back, as a newly qualified BSAC Novice 1, I headed off to the London Dive Show for some nice, shiny bits of kit.
Having heard that it was possible to buy scissors for cutting monofilament fishing line, and not wanting to end my days tied to a wreck at 45m, I headed for a "technical" equipment stall.
"Scissors, luv?" The three large, butch, rufty-tufty guys on the stall fell over themselves laughing! "What d'you want them for? Doin' a spot of underwater needlework, are we? Anyway, how you gonna use them with gloves on?"
So it was interesting to see in your knife review Be Sharp (February) scissors for underwater work on sale, and at £48 quid a time! Perhaps I gave them an idea!
I bought a pair of cheap "snips" from my local DIY store. They cost about a fiver, and last a diving season before dying of terminal rust. I still get a lot of stick from my fellow club-members for carrying scissors, but if I only ever need them once, I'll be very glad they're in my BC pocket!
Annie Hanley, DO, Dolphin SAC (Cirencester)
Jaundiced eye on the establishment
I read with interest Pete Fergus's letter Governments Guilty of Double Standards? (Off-Gassing, February). He implies that there are a vociferous few within archaeological circles who can manipulate the system so as to influence members of Government. Surely not!
Those who are privy to power and authority breed contempt for those who are subservient to it. Isn't the state the BSAC found itself in with its finances a short while ago testament to this?
Welcome to the mean, greedy, venal, jealous and dishonest world of the British Government, politicians and the Civil Service.
These are the words of Ric Wharton from his book The Salvage of the Century, concerning the retrieval of gold bullion from HMS Edinburgh, reviewed in the same magazine.
I can give you cold comfort, however, Mr Fergus, that the above is not just true of the British establishment. Remember an American called Mel Fisher, a chicken farmer who no one took seriously until 20 July 1985, when he found the Atocha and an estimated $400 million worth of treasure.
His ensuing legal battle with the state of Florida finished up in the Supreme Court. He wiped the smiles off the faces of politicians and the greedy, venal and jealous system, but it also cost him dearly, not only in monetary terms.
A British person who was castigated by the establishment for his recovery of treasures and artefacts once wrote: "If you are young at heart, have a go, if you can dodge the 'diving scholars' (everything you find must be handed in to teacher!) you will not be disappointed. "
Dave North, Winsford, Cheshire
Why not enforce existing law?
I want to know why the Government is so keen on bringing in new, draconian legislation (with all the cost involved) on wreck-diving when it is unprepared to police the legislation already in place.
The suggested new legislation would have no effect on the small minority of people currently illegally "salvaging" protected sites (either war graves or heritage sites), as the likelihood of being caught and prosecuted is so slim.
The wreck found in the mid-'90s off Salcombe contained a quantity of gold trinkets and rough gold ingots, and the group involved got the site protected and gained the licence to raise the material. Unfortunately, non-licensed divers raided the site, but when this was reported to the police and the Government, the reaction was one of apathy.
It is the law-abiding divers who will suffer when our diving is severely restricted. Instead of alienating the diving community, the Government should be encouraging divers - the largest source of information on the marine environment available.
Michael Paige, St Martins, Guernsey
The long swim ahead
I read February's issue with growing incredulity. BSAC, PADI and the SAA, all getting together as one big happy family, great! (Buddying Up by Nigel Eaton and Burying the Hatchet in a Broad Church by Martin Read).
I am all for it, but as chairman of an SAA club blocked by the BSAC from even being allowed to submit its Lottery application, I think we still have a long swim ahead. We have BSAC, PADI, SAA and Professional Boatmen's Association members in our club.
S G Farquhar, Hastings SAC, Sussex
Nature of the animal
I was surprised to read Martin Read's experience in the February Deep Breath of the well-qualified PADI instructor who, on approaching a BSAC branch for membership, was told he would have to enrol on its next novice course.
While we do not know the reasons for the decision, and I can understand the need to "check him out", I would have thought a suitable branch dive with an experienced buddy diver would have been sufficient to assess his competence, with the support of his logbook.
I imagine most branches would welcome with open arms a member who could contribute immediately to their activities without needing training. Provided branches observe the club's rules and regulations, they can please themselves how they conduct their affairs. However, the BSAC has responsibility as governing body for recreational diving in England and Wales to protect and support the interests of all divers, and this is a policy we actively promote.
Past "rivalry" between the various training agencies was probably due to a lack of understanding. When the BSAC was founded in 1953, its training programme developed in an amateur club environment where experienced divers passed on their expertise to those joining. This club ethos continues today. It was also based on UK diving, where conditions can be much more challenging than the tropical waters in which much recreational diving is now done.
The BSAC was established "to promote underwater sport and exploration, science and related studies, to promote safety in these activities and by co-operation with other organisations with related objectives, to provide the widest exchange of knowledge and experience therein and by setting and maintaining the highest standards so sustain recognition as the governing body for all such amateur activity".
It is much more than just another training agency. Diving with the BSAC, enjoyable though it might be, is only a means to an end. Encouraging members to extend their underwater experience in whatever direction their interests lie is what the club is all about.
Training agencies' interest is in providing a programme that allow trainees to acquire the skills to dive safely and as quickly as is commercially viable, with no interest in taking them further.
This is fine for those wishing to be competent to enjoy a holiday experience but branches provide the opportunities for BSAC members to do much more with their diving skills, supported and encouraged nationally by the club, with its considerable experience and support services. This is what the BSAC is about and I believe this is what we do best.
I accept that many of the other clubs around the country were initially "splinter-groups" of the BSAC, often due to "politics", and I have no doubt this will happen in the future. It's the nature of the animal. But I share Martin Read's hope that most sport divers inside and outside the BSAC will accept that divers worldwide, irrespective of their allegiances and training systems, belong to a fraternity with a common goal, that of enjoying all that the underwater world has to offer.
So I also share Nigel Eaton's hope, expressed in his editorial, that "the spirit of open-mindedness between divers of different training cultures" will prevail. There are far more important issues which threaten our sport and our joint efforts must be directed towards defending these, rather than the insular and corrosive effects of internal politics.
Derek Cockbill, Vice-President, BSAC, Newton Abbot
It's not even grammatical!
I was recently sent an e-mail message from an individual which contained only the four words: "go to bsac dope". A friendly invitation to try diving with an organisation other than the one I trained with?
Will diving ever be rid of these halfwits? Don't they realise that such one-liners undermine all the good work being done to foster better understanding between the diving organisations and most of their members.
I assume this individual singled me out for his "BSAC invitation" because he read my letter (published in another magazine last year) highlighting the harm people like him do to the sport we all love. Or, perhaps he visited one of the websites I built and maintain for a PADI training school and an SAA club.
I am relatively new to the sport but have dived with people trained by PADI, SAA, BSAC and CMAS. I had not come across one of those divers, referred to by Martin Read in Deep Breath, who believe they are "a legend in their own logbook" - until the halfwit got in touch.
Dave Hasney, Reading
Taking issue with regulator test
Statements made in Diver Tests in March about the Scubapro S550 regulator (Less is More in Warm Water Reg) were technically incorrect and potentially damaging to sales of the product in the UK.
John Bantin commented that the S550 has no "de-tuning knob". The knob on the S600 second stage to which he refers is an inhalation resistance control, designed to allow a diver to adapt the second stage to specific diving conditions, and restore hydrostatic equilibrium when a diver is head-down. It does not simply detune a regulator.
John's statements that the S550 is "unashamedly a warmwater reg" and "unsuitable for use in Stoney Cove in the winter" are technically incorrect. The fact is that the entire range of Scubapro regulators is fully certified for coldwater usage surpassing the European standard EN250 300 bar coldwater rating.
The statement that there are "no metal parts to act as a heat-sink and warm up very cold depressurised air from the water around it" is also technically inaccurate.
An entirely metal second stage would need to be used to effectively create a heat-sink situation within a regulator second stage with a very low temperature differential. The alternative way to create coldwater resilience within a second stage is to insulate its internal components.
This is done very effectively in all Scubapro second stages by using insulated materials such as polyacetal, carbon fibre and Delrin Molibdene.
Finally, the comment that the S550 was "not as good compared to its more expensive brother" is also incorrect. Both regulators use the same material construction and internal components, and their performance is strictly identical when the S600 is adjusted to its optimal setting.
How therefore could John state that the S600 has higher performance and is a coldwater regulator while recommending the S550 as a warmwater regulator only?
Mick Robertson, UK Sales Manager, Scubapro (UK), Basingstoke
Where have all the good times gone?
Am I alone in noticing that the content of letters published by diving magazines has become altogether a bit too serious and prescriptive? It seems we are required constantly to wrestle with the "great debates" concerning war graves, marine conservation, PADI versus BSAC, the latest fatality statistics or reports of dangerous and dodgy practices encountered on diving trips. Oh, how it brightens my day when I read these pages!
As divers we must, of course, discuss these issues to review our actions, improve our standards and educate others in and around the sport. But one might form the impression that a distinct lack of fun is being had these days!
Where are the letters telling of fantastic trips, stunning dives, positive testaments - the evidence that people are being enthused and their lives enriched by their experiences of the amazing underwater world?
Is there still room in this sport for mature adults who can think for themselves, determine their own standards of behaviour and moral codes in relation to risk, one-for-the-pot or picking up an interesting article from the seabed?
We are all individuals and should celebrate the diversity of opinion within the diving community. Be yourself and enjoy your diving!
Dale Deacon, Leeds BS