The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
The ink was barely dry on my Open Water certification when out of the murky depths of Hollywood came Open Water... The Movie!
Now, not only did I have the unfounded fear of being consumed by a multitude of aquatic life, but also the very real fear of being left behind, forgotten, abandoned and alone, by the very people I'd employed to take me on a day of excitement and wonder and look after me!
I thought that perhaps this was just a rare occurence. I knew all about the Lonergans, of course, but thought the film-makers might have added "a little spice" to swell their coffers and keep us on the edge of our seats. So I purchased an SMB, put the film to the back of my mind and looked forward to my forthcoming diving adventures.
Two months later, I found myself in the gorgeous Straits of Tiran in the Red Sea near the end of my Advanced Open Water course.
Surfacing from an enthralling drift-dive (during which my instructor had been embarrassed to realise on unravelling his SMB that it had no line attached), we gave the overhead, double-armed OK signal. My SMB, by the way, had been chucked from the case to make way for my wife's hairdryer or whatever. So we floated... alone.
I could see our boat. We all could see our boat. In fact, we could see lots of boats, but within minutes it was apparent that the boat hadn't seen us.
It wasn't that long before the captain sounded his horn to acknowledge us. I heard the engines engage and saw the vessel begin to circumnavigate the reef to collect us. But the delay made me think. Was it annoyance I saw in my instructor's eyes during the moments before we were seen, or a teeny bit of panic? My mind wandered back to the movie I had enjoyed eight weeks earlier.
Last Christmas I made my list, and on waking discovered that good old Santa Claus must be a registered scuba maniac. He hadn't forgotten a thing - the whistle, the rattle, the strobe, the Gloo tube, a mirror, it was all there. Now that I also have my fantastic yellow flag to wave, I shall be safe. The only thing is, I just might drown from the weight!
Mark Newman, Maidstone
Comment: And now you have a Beaver Nova-Light to weigh you down even more!
I always read Off-Gassing with great interest, and the letter Enjoy It While You Can caught my attention in the April issue.
Why does Tom Moss consider himself too old to dive? I appreciate that there may be personal circumstances forcing his decision, but I would suggest he looks at www.divedorset.com, which is carrying a piece about my diving exploits.
I shall be 72 in May this year and have just come back from two weeks' diving - 24 dives - in Sharm el Sheikh. This brings my total to 650 since I started in 1989, but mostly achieved since 1998.
I have booked to return this July for a further three weeks' diving. By the end of the year the 700th dive will be well within my sight, particularly if the UK diving is good this year.
I am aiming, subject to my annual medical, to achieve 1000 dives before I hang up my kit. By that time I shall be 75-plus. I am disabled by polio, use a wheelchair and have met a great number of fellow-divers, buddies and instructors, now my friends, who have encouraged and supported me with my diving over very many years. I swim regularly, as Tom does.
Come on, Tom, don't give up yet. You're far too young to stop a sport that you obviously enjoy.
John Parmiter, Malmesbury, Wilts
I could not understand why Tom Moss was so worried about having to forego his diving when he reached the magic age of 66 - I presume because he could not get either travel insurance or diving insurance.
Surely he should shop around. I am 65 this year and have travel insurance through American Express, which includes diving to 30m. I am an Advanced Open Water Diver, up to the age of 80!
I am sure that other companies will quote him competitively, assuming health and other factors are reasonably favourable, if he cannot obtain the cover through Amex.
I look forward to seeing some further correspondence to prove I am right and to enable Tom Moss to continue to enjoy our wonderful sport. I shall not give up until either health or any other factor forces me to! Good luck Tom.
David Chalcraft, Swanage, Dorset
Recently much has been written in DIVER about the standards of diving and boat-handling exhibited in the Red Sea.
Having just returned from a week's diving in Sharm el Sheikh, after an absence of eight years, I can only echo some of the comments made by your correspondents. There seems to have been little or no improvement during this period. If anything, with the huge increase in the number of boats operating in the area, the quality of service has declined.
Our guide was consistently unable to provide reliable information on the direction and flow of the tide. This resulted in divers entering the water in strong currents, far stronger than I, as a charter-boat skipper, would contemplate here in the UK.
On one memorable occasion, during the dive briefing, our guide stated that there would be little or no tide at all - and then was promptly swept away from the stern of the boat when she entered the water with several other divers.
When we dived the Thistlegorm, the boat left at 5am to arrive on site at first light - not to catch slack water, as I thought, but to be the first there. The penalty was an extremely strong tide that caused great difficulty for the guide when attempting to tie the boat to the wreck, and spoilt the diving for some of the less experienced divers, who struggled against the current.
It was obvious to me that there was a strong tide because the boat was sitting across the sea against the wind, a classic wind-over-tide situation. My partner and I decided to miss the first dive, and waited while the tide slowed down before diving. The result was a much more comfortable dive than that experienced by those who did the first one.
I left the Red Sea convinced that the dive centres are interested only in bums on seats and turning over as much money as they can.
We were treated like cattle and simply shunted by waterborne truck to dive sites to be processed as quickly as possible. Little notice is taken of tides and I doubt that they are understood, even though information is available. There is even a Red Sea Pilot book, giving general tidal flows.
Even without detailed information, it should not take competent dive guides long, considering how often they visit the regular sites, to work out the speed and general directions of flow in relation to the freely available high-water times. They could then predict slack water and give better information when the tide is flowing.
Finally, there are serious safety implications related to the number of dive boats at each site and the cavalier manner in which they are driven close to divers in the water. Is it any wonder that occasional accidents occur?
Bob Elliott, Weymouth
Through DIVER, I'd like to thank all those involved in the rebreather try-dive sessions at the London International Dive Show.
Over the years I've been to several shows with diving friends and, although wanting to have a go, have never mustered the courage. After all, you're at serious risk of looking a right muppet in front of a very large audience.
This year I took my wife (a non-diver) and young son (a recent convert) on the Sunday.
My wife knows how much I've wanted to have a go, so partly for that reason but also because I figured it might keep them both happy if I looked like a muppet, I gave it a go.
I'm really glad I did! OK, it was a bit like that first time you had with your first love - great, but you wish it could have gone on a bit longer. That said, it did give me a taste for bubble-free diving. Wife permitting, I may now go further down the rebreather road.
The poor chaps who had to be in that cold pool to help us (apparently the heater kept tripping out the electrics) were great, and the lovely lady who didn't laugh at me in a shortie suit, supplied me with a fluffy towel and unzipped me afterwards without a grimace deserves special thanks.
To do that all weekend is no mean feat. I imagine that those involved were volunteers, so all the more reason to say well done.
Andy Phillips, Ryde, Isle of Wight
I am relatively new to diving and discovered DIVER only a few months ago, but find it hugely informative and interesting. I decided to attend LIDS with the purpose of looking at dive gear and meeting other diving anoraks like myself, but had no real idea of what to expect from the show.
What a day! I learnt so much from suppliers and other divers and it was really beneficial to see and try equipment. I had very little gear of my own (wetsuit, boots, mask, snorkel) but managed to buy a BC, regs, fins, bag and computer, all at great prices and with fantastic advice.
LIDS has increased my diving enthusiasm tenfold and I would like to thank everyone for a truly fab day. See you next year!
PS: Lunch was great too: a pasty and a pint while watching the steel band - what more could a girl want?
Rachael Everitt, Maidstone, Kent
Reading Dan Smith's letter Everybody Needs A Buddy (March), I feel he has missed a point. If you are suffering from narcosis, it is likely that your buddy is too, in which case their actions may be a liability to both them and you.
Everyone will agree that in most circumstances, it is a lot safer to dive as a pair. Yet surely the worst-case scenario is being in trouble, and separated from your buddy.
This is always a possibility, and is more likely if you've stopped or been stopped due to a problem. In such a case, being used to being in the water on your own can be of great comfort, and self-sufficiency can be a lifesaver.
Surely there is value in solo-diving sites where you are familiar and comfortable with your surroundings, to get used to the isolation of diving solo. It's a lot better than finding yourself unable to cope with it when you're in a strange environment.
Solo diving cannot be taught. It is a step for divers to take when they feel confident of themselves, whether their motivation is photography, safety in case of a separation incident or wanting to complete a dive when no suitable buddies are available.
It's not suitable for a two-day course that doesn't include an actual solo dive.
Redundancy is an important issue on any dive, with or without a buddy, and you should always have a spare rig.
Tim Stobart, Sussex
My son is a competent, soon-to-be PADI Junior Open Water Diver who will be taking his final open water exams in a lake in the spring, supervised by myself, a Dive Master and the chief examiner at our local PADI training school. He can dive better than most holiday divers who dive only once a year.
I am, however, concerned with the current laws and the sue-me, sue-you culture that is destroying safe diving at those properly set-up sites which now refuse entry to the under-14 divers who are the future of the sport.
I love and cherish my time diving with my son, but would rather he take his exams at Stoney Cove, where a professional team is standing by should we need it, than at some lake in the south with nothing but a mobile phone and an emergency oxy set. What is diving coming to? Can nobody see the sense of diving only where it is controlled? Is insurance the problem?
If youngsters are taught to a high standard as at our training school, where my son has learnt all the skills over the past six months, surely they should be able to dive at proper sites, rather than being relegated to those non-purpose inland sites where the risk is higher.
James Alexander, Herne Bay, Kent
In his letter Diving While On Duty - Is That Work? (April), Ian from Dorset asked whether he would need an HSE diving medical while employed by HM Government in the Services and for instruction.
The Diving Regulations in the UK do not apply to "operations in which members of the armed forces of the Crown or of a visiting force are engaged in warfare or training for warfare". He therefore does not require an HSE-approved diving medical while engaged in these activities.
If he instructs with a Services sub-aqua club, his activities are not part of his formal duties and his services are like those of BSAC diving club instructors, and will not require an HSE medical either.
When he is employed as an instructor in the UK and receives remuneration, he will need an approved medical from a doctor on the HSE approved list (www.hse.gov.uk/diving/medical/amed1.htm), as he is then working under the Recreational Approved Code of Practice.
As to why HM Forces will not accept a medical from an HSE-approved diving medical examiner, that's a matter for them to decide. Ian would need to take this up with the Surgeon-General, who approves medical examiners. But the tri-service medical standards for HM Forces sports divers are more stringent than those required by any of the recreational organisations, and are defined by and contained in the Single Service Medical Regulations.
Derek Moore, Southport
I am writing to inform you of the strange goings-on that occur when I equalise.
First, I would like to remind you that there are actually two ways of equalising, the normal way (hold your nose and blow) and simply swallowing. I would now like you to swallow. Can you hear a faint clicking noise in your ears?
If you can, that is the entrance to your sinuses opening up. This is what happens to you when you equalise.
The strange thing is that I can make that clicking noise automatically, on demand, without swallowing or equalising normally. For my past two diving trips, I have been using this third method and it equalises my ears perfectly.
I do not understand this, so I hope someone can explain to me what's going on - and is it safe?
Tom Claybourn, Reading
"I hear that someone who lives near the boat has a compressor. It's so hard to get an air fill now - yet another dive centre has closed its doors for good. Still, when I go online I have a choice of four or five warehouses that offer that BC I bought at £5 less than the shop that closed. It didn't fit but, hey, I got a bargain!"
Is this the attitude of today's diver? With reference to your recent Big Question about supporting your local dive shop (March), while working in the industry for the past six years I have watched the decline of the small centre as these "bargain warehouses" rape the market and unsuspecting diver alike.
Whatever happened to getting professional advice from a professional, rather than from a "sorry, I only work here part time and I teach sailing" assistant (I had that recently at a Southampton dive centre on asking for a fill).
I can't understand the mentality of spending £20-£30 travelling to a dive show, then paying for parking, entrance and being looted of cash for a cup of tea, only to save £40 on the BC you wanted.
If it has a fault, or if you require some help with it, you trot down to your local centre to ask for advice, only to find that it has closed because customers are not using it.
Everyone is entitled to a bargain, but as someone who has seen two dive centres I used close down, please please please support your local shop and the experts who run them!
Brian Turner, Southampton
There tend to be more complaints about poor diving services than praise for the good ones, partly because we have such high expectations, and partly because some products and services are below par, but we don't always remember to give praise when it is due.
I recently had an experience that shows that there are people out there really trying to provide high levels of customer service.
My Citizen dive watch had not logged any dive data for the past five dives but seemed to be working perfectly in all other respects, so I needed to get it sorted out.
On previous occasions I had taken the watch to a high street retailer who had returned it to Citizen UK for me. Each time it had cost me a relatively large amount of money, and I had been without the watch for up to four weeks.
This time I decided to try Citizen UK directly by emailing its technical service department in the hope that it might be able to suggest something. The most I expected was an email asking me to send the watch in for inspection, so I was surprised to receive a call from the department.
We discussed the problem and I was told that the battery probably needed changing. I was asked to send the watch directly to Citizen UK.
I sent it off on Thursday lunchtime and it arrived on Friday morning (you can track the progress of Next Day delivery on the Royal Mail website). To my great surprise it arrived back at my house on Saturday morning. An amazing turnround time by the Citizen UK staff and very good service from the Royal Mail as well.
The watch had been checked and the battery changed, and it had also been cleaned and presumably pressure-tested.
I's like to say a big thankyou to Citizen UK. The moral is this: try the direct route and don't forget to say thanks!
John Haselden, Redditch, Worcs