The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
I dive a small site in North Wales that a number of your readers might have dived at some time - Trevor Pier. There was a brilliant feature in your magazine a number of years ago extolling the virtues of this site, which undoubtedly enticed even more divers to the area.
I generally dive it about half a dozen times every year, and it never fails to turn up something of interest. My main reason for using it, however, is that it is a perfect first dive for trainees, because it is usually no deeper than 8m and diverse life can be found beneath it.
In mid-March I was taking a trainee into the sea for the first time at Trevor. We struck up a conversation with a group of fishermen, who asked what we expect to see during our dives. Imagine my shock and anger when, on explaining that we would usually see a couple of lobsters (everyone who dives there regularly knows where they live), they informed us that late last year two divers (one male, one female) came out after their dive with a lobster each.
I am not against divers taking "one for the pot", but when insensitive, self-centred idiots remove them from isolated areas such as Trevor, on shore-based dives, questions must be asked.
Surely it would have been better to leave these two lobsters in place so that the dozens of trainees who use this site could see them in their natural habitat while they were on their first dives? I have lost count of the times that trainees have said that seeing a lobster on their first dive blew them away!
Sadly now these animals have gone, and who knows how long it will be before new ones take up residence under the pier? So this is a plea to those divers who would take them (you know who you are): please leave them alone so that in future, lots more divers can enjoy them all year round, instead of just the two of you enjoying them for one night.
Terry Maloney, Liverpool
Life outside the clique
I read with interest Tony Small's article (Join the Club - Please!, Deep Breath, April), mourning the lack of commitment and staying power of diving club members.
As a student, I signed up with the university diving club in my second year, with the "trying something I've never done" motto that I'm sure motivates many students.
I religiously attended lecture after lecture, eventually passing BSAC Club Diver and Sports Diver theory exams. But practical sessions were scarce, and I found myself being encouraged to attend Dive Leader lectures when I had yet to complete any outdoor diving for my Club Diver qualification.
Enthusiasm to organise practical training for novice divers was noticeably lacking, though admittedly those who successfully wriggled their way into the selective social circle seemed to enjoy an accelerated training programme.
A year later I find myself as unqualified as ever, with an unused semi-dry and BC hanging in my wardrobe, wondering if I will ever get the chance to dive those mighty wrecks so vividly described in Diver.
So once I finish my degree in the summer, I'm going to scrape together the meagre remains of my student loan and try and get myself a PADI qualification. Then perhaps I'll find a club that actually wants to take me diving.
Darren Tong, Nottingham
The cult of It Suits Me
I have been following with interest the recent articles and correspondence on DIR (Doing It Right) and DIS (Doing It Simple), referring to the cult of "correct diving". In 31 years of diving, I have seen the undocumented practice of ISM (It Suits Me) being put to good and safe use.
Most of us use equipment bought from the major manufacturers, which forces certain layouts and equipment configurations. I could if I wished put my BC on backwards and wear my cylinder at the front, but I tend to go with the flow, and have adopted the standard back-mount approach.
I use ankle weights, because it suits me. I use a standard weightbelt, because it suits me. All my gear is configured to put things where I want them. I feel comfortable, everything falls to hand without looking, ergo ISM.
I like my old Buddy Commando in faded orange, as the pockets hold my SMB and reel and all my other junk. I like buying gadgets to add to my gear, as you can't really simply get a fill every Saturday. I will probably buy fancy wings at some point - when it suits me.
I have dangly bits of kit. My pony reg is on the left and my Air II runs off my main cylinder - probably a DIR nightmare, but it suits me.
I often dive with folk who have cummerbunds on their BCs with their weightbelt lurking somewhere beneath it, but as long as I know what they have, that's fine for me.
If it takes a world conference of DIR divers to rubber-stamp a colour change on the bungee they use to keep their 20ft hose tidy, we will end up with a global version of "Euro Diver". I still can't figure out why wrapping a hose round your throat is classed as a safe configuration. I tend to avoid nooses, as I find strangulation an additional dive risk I would rather avoid.
Evolutionary success does not come through survival of the fittest, but of those who adapt to change. As long as you know your gear and follow proper buddy procedures, why not follow the evolutionary path and vive le difference!
And then I can start a retro cult and preach the benefits of twin-hose, single-stage demand valves and homemade wetsuits!
Gordon Mackie, Edinburgh
No excuses - bad diving to blame
I read Paul Kay's piece on the dangers of Dorothea Quarry with a sense that I had heard it all before (Dorothea: The Incident Pit?, March).
Indeed I had, and so has every other diver. I do a lot of technical diving but also enjoy club and sport diving. The smart divers look, learn, adapt and make sport diving safer, but most just bubble on, treating every dive the same.
The problem is not the training, the agencies, the dive sites or any of the other 101 excuses that come up every time we have an incident. The problem is the divers. If we don't sort it out, someone else will, and that means regulation.
Paul Kay says the major concerns at Dorothea are cold, depth and consequent darkness. He describes the problems of freezing regs and says that 3íC is not uncommon. Given these conditions, is it beyond the realms of responsibility for divers to read a book or two about ice-diving, or at least the sections on equipment?
The pictures could have been better chosen. Where were the winterised regs, the redundant air supply and why were people practising sharing in a potential freezing environment? If darkness is an issue I couldn't see a main torch, never mind a back-up.
Divers seem to forget that all dives are different. How many change their thermal insulation to suit conditions? During deep dives, how many work out their air requirements, or even their surface air consumption rates? Deco may well have to be altered because of the cold.
I have often been ridiculed for my dive preparations, because I tend to bring my technical- diving thought process to sport dives as well. But we are entering an alien environment hostile to human life, using mechanical and electronic life support systems to stay alive.
There is truth in the line "proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance". One of the guys at work says: "Every day is a school day", and he's 50! Good advice or just annoying rhymes, try planning and listening - even a trainee might have something worthwhile to add.
I bet that if there is a diving heaven - and I don't mean Bikini Atoll - a few bold divers are looking down wishing they had given it a little more thought. John Cockburn, Linlithgow
Diving from a standing start
I have just returned from Lanzarote after completing a PADI Open Water diving course and three adventure dives. Not bad considering that only six months ago I couldn't swim a stroke and was afraid of water.
I had spent many years talking about diving, sailing and other water-sports that were precluded by not being able to swim. At 38, it was about time for some rapid catch-up. My partner suggested I enrol for swimming lessons at a local leisure centre. Four months later, I could swim a kilometre non-stop. Nothing could stop me and I decided to learn to scuba dive.
I found a diving school in Dublin which appeared to offer PADI Open Water certification in two weekends. Like a kid with a new toy, I signed on the dotted line and completed the theory and confined training in three short sessions over a weekend.
My first open-water diving experience was in the Irish Sea on a cold morning in January with a sea temperature of 9íC and 50cm visibility. Not ideal conditions but, after waiting 18 years, nothing was going to deter me now.
That was to be my first and only dive with that school, however. The two-weekend course turned into a two-month-or-more proposition, but not slowly assimilating knowledge, rather an over-intensive flash of theory and pool dives at the beginning of the course and the qualifying dives sometime never.
My lesson was to beware of instructors offering quick certification all year round in seasonally sensitive climates. That I was signed up says more about the motives of the instructors than their framed certificates.
By mid-March, with only one dive under my belt, and reasonably discouraged, I went on holiday in Lanzarote. I decided to do the three remaining qualifying dives with the Centro De Buceo Atlantica dive centre in Port Del Carmen. What a contrast - a professional, courteous and friendly service. I was soon qualified and did three adventure dives, seeing an angel shark, a grouper and an octopus in a sunken trawler.
I have really enjoyed my diving experience, and taken the first few steps in realising a childhood dream. Between dives, I am training for a triathlon, but that's another story!
John Costigan, Dublin
Redundancy isn't a put-down
I noticed the letter from Tony Hodge entitled The Rough Side of Redundancy (Off-Gassing, March) and had to make an observation. While I'm sure that Tony's pony isn't "superfluous" or "no longer needed", I think his dictionary might be.
As an IT professional, crossword-compiler and, yes, diver, I would point out that the word "redundant" has taken on newer connotations, initiated in the IT and engineering industries.
To quote the Concise Oxford Dictionary: "Redundant: not needed but included in case of failure in another component", or Chambers: "Redundancy: presence of components which improve reliability". I think these precisely describe the status of a pony cylinder.
If Tony wants to start on "derogatory" terms in diving, why not the dreadful "DIR". Doesn't Doing It Right imply that the rest of us are incompetents, "doing it wrong" for all these years? Anyway, Tony, look on the bright side - at least redundancy means more diving time!
Steve Walker, Sowerby Bridge, W Yorkshire
Turning the other cheek
I read that the Belgian government was planning to build a motorway through British First World War graves. Then I read Diver and the attack on your columnist Louise Trewavas by Rev Andrew Phillips (War Grave Wreckers Evil, Not Sad, Off-Gassing, March).
The job of a columnist is to entertain us, provoke thought and debate. Trewavas is certainly doing that. The job of a Reverend is to espouse Christian values: compassion, forgiveness, humility and love. Unfortunately I could not see how his insistence that divers were evil, and his angry, accusatory tone, did much to further these Christian values. This is a matter for his own conscience.
Before lecturing anyone else about humility, I suggest Rev Phillips takes a look in the mirror. Trewavas has pointed out the inconsistency of his campaign by highlighting cases such as the Belgian motorway. Perhaps his bullying tone is to distract us from the fact that he did not answer this point.
Phillip Gagnou, London
Viper dry now
I was very concerned to read the report on the Dacor Viper Tec in your latest regulator test (Into the Mainstream, March), because after your tests I had purchased the actual regulator in question from Hydrotech.
I travelled to the Red Sea in February for a week's diving in a group of 20. I completed 14 dives and the only problem I found was indeed a wet breathe. But never, even when face-up, did I have a situation in which I could not breathe.
As an instructor I spend a great deal of time under water swimming backwards face-up, keeping an eye on my students, and would not consider using any equipment that performed poorly. Since my return I have changed the exhaust diaphragm and no longer have a problem.
The Dacor Viper Tec gives nothing but a good performance and now dry breathing. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Mike Atkinson, Rotherham
Comment: The fact that you had to change the exhaust diaphragm suggests that the regulator might well have been faulty when it was supplied for our group test. Clearly it is the responsibility of any manufacturer or distributor to check its products thoroughly, whether they are going for evaluation or on sale to the public. If you say that you found the Viper Tec performed well and allowed a dry breathe once repaired, that's good news.
More high-profile than high-risk
It is with some sadness that I read that another diver has paid the ultimate price in pursuit of their hobby. There has been a lot of media attention of late paid to Dorothea Quarry following the recent spate of fatalities.
This is not altogether unexpected, as the number of diving-related incidents receives wide media coverage due to diving's high profile and undeserved reputation as a "high-risk" sport. Couple this with the fact that the HSE is investigating a number of diving businesses, and we could find ourselves in the unenviable position of being regarded as "reckless".
We divers know that the training we receive from our respective agencies is thorough and demanding. So much so that when I contacted my mortgage-lender and appraised it of my hobby and qualifications, it did not "load" me.
Unfortunately, Joe Public is less enlightened. So how many other hobbies have a mortality rate as high or higher than ours? Consider the risks of off-road motorcycling or whitewater canoeing, and I am reliably informed that there were about 16 deaths in the past year from horse-riding. These pastimes are less high-profile than scuba-diving, but will the HSE "investigate" other activities as actively as ours?
If we wish to be defended, however, perhaps we should begin by behaving in a manner which will not bring criticism upon us.
I do not wish to sound critical of divers who push the limits, because but for people like them our hobby might not exist at all, but I believe we have a duty to the other members of our agencies to govern our actions.
If not, it appears that, with the bit between their teeth, the regulators will be only too happy to force us into licences and regulations that we really do not need or require.
John Poulton, Newport, Gwent
Anglesey's not dull!
Having run a dive charter boat for the past four years from Menai Bridge, Anglesey, I was delighted to see a feature in Diver about the island, but I must draw attention to some inaccuracies.
The Norman Court is not the sister-ship to the Cutty Sark. She competed on the same runs, but that's all. The author also describes the famous Menai Straits Hole as running from 20-40m, but I can assure him that nowhere in the straits is deeper than 31m on a big spring tide.
However, my main disappointment is his description of the north-east side of Anglesey. With the exception of the stretch between Red Wharf and Amwlch, he says the north of the island round to Holyhead "can be pretty dull".
I can only conclude that John Warburton has never dived the area. To dismiss as dull somewhere like Puffin Island, with its friendly seal colony, is ridiculous.
Scott Waterman, Anglesey
Flushed with pride at Dosthill
In defence of your Wooden Weightbelt title-winner, Dosthill Quarry (They've All Won Divers!, March 2002), may I draw your attention to Taking the Waters by Brendan O'Brien (October 2000). He says in the article: "The problem is a lack of drainage because of where we are."
How many remember Stoney Cove when you had to climb the fence to get in, and everybody seemed to use the same boulder for cover?
When Brendan visited the Dosthill site he said the Portaloos were spotlessly clean, and on my visits I have found them to be the same. The lads do their best to keep them so, but perhaps some divers need to improve their aim!
Perhaps the readers who voted for Dosthill because of its toilets have not yet had the pleasure of being in a RIB or dhoni at sea after a good night on the curry. Might I suggest the consumption of high-energy, low-residue foods and not the superb double-deckers the lads in the van produce for the grateful few. Or, as mama used to say: "Go before you Go."
I hope this award deters the more choosy and leaves the rest of us to enjoy this small, friendly, club-like site. Keep up the good work, Dosthill, and wear your Wooden Weightbelt with pride.
Alan Taylor, Manchester