The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
I enjoyed reading about Chris Boardman's wreck diving course (Training On The Thistlegorm, March), apart from one thing - in the photos, he always has his feet slightly in the air behind him, in a classic neutrally buoyant, almost-lying-flat position. Just like you're supposed to be.
The reason this bothered me is that unless I use my drysuit, which has nicely buoyant neoprene-lined boots, my feet are always negatively buoyant, and seem to want to spend a lot of quality time with the seabed.
I have the same fins as Chris, and I don't carry any weight whatsoever on the lower half of my body, so what's going on here? Were Chris's feet being manipulated by some helpful dive-puppeteer on the surface? Or do I have heavy heels?
Perhaps a pair of tiny toe-lifting bags would be appropriate. Or neoprene fins. Tell me I'm not the only one with this problem. Please.
Richard Sewell, Belmont, Surrey
I am a British diver living and diving in Holland, and have experienced training with three major organisations, BSAC, NOB (Nederlandse Onderwatersport Bond) and PADI.
I am also, by profession, a technical trainer and routinely organise and deliver complicated training programmes. So I was interested to see that Mark Hartley in his letter (Doing It Uniformly, January) shares my concerns regarding diver training, though I have a little more to add.
We all have views on the differences in training standards between diving organisations but I would suggest that most of the problems I have encountered have been down to the instructor, not the body to which he or she is affiliated.
All instructors have individual diving techniques, experience and attitudes and this is reflected in the training they provide. The size of their egos often has more bearing on the quality of training than the sum of their ability and experience. This problem is often compounded by a complete lack of training in the delivery and coaching techniques which are so important in any training environment.
Only last week I was talking to a PADI instructor (BSAC crossover) who insisted that "buddy breathing" training was practically obsolete because of the mass adoption of the octopus as standard kit. My NOB instruction, however, insists on employing such training techniques and all pool training kit is supplied without an octopus to further illustrate the need for "basic skills".
Who is correct? They both are. The point is that the "trainee" has the choice to accept an instructor/buddy's word as gospel or decide for himself which approach suits his diving needs, equipment and location the best. You listen to all opinions, instruction, advice and evidence and simply choose to use it or lose it. Adopt what you feel is the most responsible and safest approach to your dive and you shouldn't go far wrong.
Mick Dunham, Netherlands
My 11-year-old son Matthew had wanted to learn to dive for a long time. Imagine his delight when, for Christmas, he received a fully paid-for Open Water PADI course.
I had managed to save up some of my nurse's salary each month to treat Matthew and make his Christmas a special one. Perusing my husband's copies of Diver, an advert had caught my eye, advertising the Scubaroom, Sutton Coldfield as "probably the best dive centre in the world".
I went along to the shop, handed over my money and planned the course dates. Matthew's first lesson was scheduled for Friday 31 January. He was very excited and couldn't wait to experience his first dive with "Birmingham's premier dive training centre", as the Scubaroom claimed in its glossy brochure. Matthew set about reading as much as he could about diving and learned to snorkel at his local swimming pool.
When we arrived, we learned that the Scubaroom had gone into liquidation, and that the owner and main instructor were said to have left the country.
My son was inconsolable, but fortunately Eurodive in Tamworth came to the rescue and agreed to train Matthew at reduced cost due to the upsetting circumstances. He retains his enthusiasm for learning to dive, but has also learned a hard lesson about how unscrupulous people can let down children with no consideration for the distress they cause.
Comment: Sadly, such stories crop up in every sphere of activity, and diving is no exception. Any reader required to pay upfront for anything is advised to use a credit card rather than a cheque or cash - it gives you a better chance of recovering your money.
I wholeheartedly endorse John Bantin's Deep Breath article Nobody To Blame But Ourselves (February). I am similarly confused as to why there is a general reluctance for divers to accept that they may be at fault when things go wrong.
After any sort of diving incident, I hear the divers involved slagging each other off and passing the buck - it was my buddy, it was the reel, it was the skipper and so on. Very rarely do they put their hands up and admit that they were at fault.
If it was kit malfunction, when questioned they invariably admit that they can't remember the last time the item was cleaned, serviced or used, or even how it works. How many times have I seen divers trying to control their buoyancy while using a Buddy Auto Air and pressing the purge button instead of the dump? Yet they will tell you that they know how to use it.
How many times have I heard "it was my first dive in a drysuit" offered as an excuse for lack of skill? OK, but why choose a 40m dive, with deco, in cold water, 12 miles offshore, with a current running and wearing a twinset and stages?
And if it was a matter of conditions - drift, low visibility, drop-off, cold water etc - you will probably find that they have never dived in, or feel uncomfortable in, that environment. "I didn't want to stop my buddy diving" or "I felt pressured to do it" are other typical responses.
So learn and practise your skills, get the relevant training, don't think you're better than you are or that your diving is perfect, go slowly, don't bow to peer pressure, use the appropriate equipment, don't dive if you're unhappy, use your noggin and accept that you have a responsibility to yourself and others.
I am sure your diving will improve and be more enjoyable as a result. More importantly, you won't ruin my day's diving because I am called on to bail you out.
Joe Davin, Evesham, Worcs
As somebody who would not always agree with John Bantin's views, I must commend an excellently written Deep Breath. All too often, the "easy and fun" approach to handheld diver training, and the sometimes over-protective club environment, stops divers taking responsibility for themselves. Under water, your most reliable buddy is the one you saw in the mirror this morning. Wise words, Mr Bantin. Respect.
John Collins, Kinsale, Co. Cork
I note that Dr Lynne Taylor considers my views on the lady who sued colleagues in her own dive club to be irresponsible and dangerous (Coastguard Want To Be 'Bothered', February).
By coincidence, I was filling in my membership form and there, enshrined in black and white, are the following words: "...I undertake scuba diving and other underwater swimming and associated activities at my own risk and responsibility." It would seem that this particular lady was not inclined to do this.
Dr Taylor suggests that other divers on a trip do not want to be bothered to call the Coastguard. I don't know what club Dr Taylor belongs to but I find this an outrageous suggestion. I am sure that any diver would not have the slightest hesitation in calling the Coastguard if they genuinely felt that there was any possibility of a bend.
When I started my diver training 20 years ago, it was suggested that BSAC stood for Bloody Slow And Careful. Not very flattering, perhaps, but it certainly sums up diver training today. I do feel that BSAC divers are second to none when it comes to duty of care and safety of other divers.
Graham Lundegaard, Gloucester
Comment: So you reckon divers don't have the slightest hesitation in calling the Coastguard? Perhaps you should listen to what the Coastguard has to say - see page 12.
I don't want anybody to feel that I am condemning Mike Snelling (Skipper's Eye View, Off-Gassing, January) and I wholeheartedly condone anybody who takes his responsibilities as professionally as he does. However, as somebody who deals with accident investigations, I would like to say a few words about Mk 8 Thunderflashes.
The Mk 8 was never authorised for use by the military as a diver-recall signal. It was removed from service a few years ago because it was the one piece of ammunition involved in the greatest number of accidents.
The item that was authorised for use for diver-recall was the small N5 Thunderflash. To give you an idea of the difference in explosive power between the two, the Mk 8 contains 12 grams of low explosive and the N5 only 2 grams.
The Mk 8 Thunderflash is far too powerful to be used as a diver-recall signal. Its use close to anybody under water can cause overpressure injuries to the ears, temporary blindness and disorientation.
The misuse of Mk 8s is widespread, and I have spent the past 10 years removing them from military dive clubs. If you are able to obtain such items legally, the N5 mentioned and the Large Simulator Battle Noise L28 have both been trialled and tested by the military for use as diver-recall signals in an emergency.
If your club has any Mk 8 Thunderflashes, please hand them in to the police or Coastguard. Their use can greatly increase the severity of the incident that required their use in the first place.
Mal Quigley, Kineton Station SAC, Leamington Spa
As an avid watcher of diving programmes for far too many years to mention, I was glad to see that National Geographic was running a series called The Sea Hunters. This diving and camera team travels the world locating "lost" wrecks, and gets paid for it. Nice work if you can find it!
In the most recent programme I watched the divers, constantly referred to as "professional" by the narrator, go in search of the Bluenose, a record-breaking Grand Banks schooner wrecked on a reef off Haiti.
They first carried out a test dive on what was described as the most beautiful coral reef off the coast of Jamaica. They were wearing gloves, had loose pieces of equipment dangling - and were standing on top of the reef!
They proceeded to the coral reef off Haiti and again wore gloves to help them gain their balance, while trailing octopus rigs, measuring tapes etc across the reef.
There were numerous scenes of the divers kneeling or standing on the coral and, in one unforgettable scene, kicking the reef to get a better foothold.
Perhaps this crew should go to look for the most famous lost wreck, the Ark, supposedly on top of a mountain in Turkey.
This challenge would suit their "professional diving" skills, which to me would be better used mountaineering.
I know from my own formative years what an influence these programmes can have on a child, and wonder if this is the type of image today's "professionals" should convey to future divers.
Rob Jones, Engineer Support Unit, BFPO 543
I am writing to update you on a new drysuit-diving practice I have discovered. I call it "barffing", and it is an air-saving way of achieving positive buoyancy while under water.
I use the mnemonic FEEDBACK (Flatulence Enters Envelope Drysuit Buoyancy Adjusting Controlled Kombustibles) to explain barffing. I consume great quantities of Brussels sprouts, fresh asparagus, textured soya protein and curried baked beans 12 hours before a dive.
On the dive, I "let one rip" if I want to go up, and dump air as normal if I want to go down. The air I have saved allows me to increase my downtime.
I have also found in the crowded changing rooms at Stoney Cove that by peeling off after a dive, the room is soon vacated thanks to the noxious fumes, giving me plenty of room for changing.
I feel that this is an idea of merit, and hope that readers of your esteemed letters page will join me in barffing their way to diving happiness.
Mark Clegg, Reigate, Surrey
Comment: Never let it be said that Diver is dumbing down!
I totally agree with the letter from Ben V Toms (Defending the Duchess's Nose, February). I have fond memories of this lovely dive in Starehole Bay and it would be a travesty if this historic ship were touched by modern machine and its bow cut away.
Imagine the wonderful surprise I had on a recent visit to an antique shop in Hertford when I found, in a case, a model of a sailing ship which turned out to be none other than the Herzogin Cecilie herself.
I drooled over this beautiful model for ages, my only uncertainty being about how accurate the constructor had been.
I don't recall seeing any detailed pictures of this fine lady before, so if anyone can point me to some I'd be grateful. I would then pop back to the shop and make the Duchess mine.
Neil Dobinson, Bognor, West Sussex
My wife and I are relatively new to diving, but as a pilot I have done several hundred hours of flying. In the course of diving we are surrounded by many divers of varying degrees of experience and it is interesting to hear their different interpretations of the rules.
In flying you have equivalent discussions with even bigger anoraks of varying experience. However, the rules seem far more clearly defined, and if you have a query or are confused by certain legislation, a "wiser" head normally has the answer.
In flying there are punishments and fines if rules are broken, designed to avoid endangering others through irresponsibility, lack of experience or naiveté. However, in diving, there seem to be more grey areas.
Even while we were on an Advanced Open Water qualifying dive, some of the Open Water divers on qualifying dives were also at 30m. All that happened was a "you shouldn't do that" talk. I am not saying there should be massive policing of diving activities, but it is a worry!
In January's Off-Gassing, Steve Smith says that he dived beyond his qualification and makes various comments on the rights and wrongs with regards to insurance.
Can I as an AOW diver go to 40m legally? Not according to another letter from Mr Byrne, again based on insurance pay-outs, yet many divers I speak to say I can!
So, Mr Ed, why does Diver not answer these questions rather than allow this sort of confusion to fester?
Comment: Sorry, we hadn't realised with the original letter that there was a question to be answered! PADI AOWD sets the diver a recommended depth limit of 30m, and unless you have managed to arrange an insurance policy that allows you to exceed your qualification depth, the insurer won't pay out for consequent injuries or death. It's not a matter of legality so much as contract. In this connection, the following letter may be of interest...
As a qualified PADI Rescue Diver since 1996, many readers might be forgiven for assuming that I could carry on with my chosen pursuit free of further certification requirements.
But over a number of years, with hundreds of logged dives from Yucatan to the Black Sea, it was becoming apparent that I was diving deeper than the 30m for which I was certified.
Often this was either condoned in a cavalier manner or studiously ignored for financial reasons by dive operators. Of course, I have always had diving insurance but this would instantly be invalid should I have an incident beyond 30m.
With this in mind, I decided to do the responsible thing and become qualified to 40m. There are a few courses available but the one I chose was PSA Extended Range Level 2, taught by Lee Crabtree at his new Deco-stop diving operation in Lanzarote.
The course is designed to instil responsibility and I believe produces a safer and, if required, self-reliant diver.
It was done one-to-one, in easy-to-understand terms and at times with an injection of coarse humour. The service my buddy and I received was the best I have experienced.
Lee volunteered to strip my less-than-perfect regulator and mend my buddy's split wrist seal so that we could complete the course stress-free, all in his own time, using his own tools and materials free of charge.
Many diving establishments talk the talk, but this one walks the walk.
Dylan Silverwood, Gransmoor, E Yorks