The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
ON THEIR BEST BEHAVIOUR|
I read with interest the article by Lewis Graham about tender loving care for dive marshals (Spare a Thought for the Marshal, Deep Breath, March), because I regularly act as dive marshal with Andark Diving when it runs its Sunday Dive.
I have found the solution to the problems he describes, and have wonderfully well-trained, responsible divers who give their correct air on entry and exit, always use an SMB and never get lost.
Stickers are the answer - nice, metallic smiley faces to be exact. Yes, just like the ones loved by children. I've awarded these for "good" behaviour and they really do work! I've had grown men come up and ask for a replacement because they lost theirs when they went in the water.
I strongly recommend their use to promote good practice among divers!
Wendy Male, Southampton
One out of two not good enough
I went to the west coast for an Easter weekend break, and chose a reputable dive centre that could get me in the water for two dives complete with surface interval, plus air and being matched with a buddy of similar experience (Advanced Open Water with 35 dives). I wanted to be back for the afternoon with my non-diving partner.
I booked by phone a month in advance, paying in full to secure my place. A few days later I received confirmation by post, with a leaflet that included the words "cannot indemnify the customer against the loss of fees due to poor weather or conditions beyond their control".
All divers turned up on time, boarded the boat and, after a safety briefing and ensuring that we each had a buddy, we set off. The person I was buddied with was AOW/25 dives and competent, but unfortunately had trouble descending below 3m because of equalisation problems.
After a minute we ascended, aborted the dive and boarded the boat. We had been the last in, so I couldn't go with anyone else. I was a little put out, but held no grievance towards my buddy.
He had to miss the second dive, too, but I went with two others as a threesome and had a good dive. We were back at the centre by 1pm.
I raised the question of a partial refund with our dive leader, on the basis that I had no control over the centre's choice of buddy and had missed a dive through no fault of my own.
After pushing the point it was reluctantly agreed to give me credit against one dive for the next time I booked with the centre.
Was I wrong to expect compensation? The bit about not indemnifying customers was in a leaflet which I didn't receive until after I had paid, and at no point was I sent, or told to read, any terms and conditions. The centre chose my buddy and nowhere did it state that it was my responsibility to check his ability.
Whether I am right or wrong, it seems a few questions should be asked of an operator before paying up. I also dive with a centre out of North Berwick, and if a dive is cancelled because of weather or other conditions beyond its control, no payment is expected.
The operator also looks forward to seeing us the next time - the opposite of the attitude I received from the Oban crowd.
Graham Brock, Edinburgh
Another Easter eye-opener
I have been a qualified diver for nearly a year, and dived at various establishments in the UK and abroad. Until recently I had been impressed with the emphasis on diver safety rather than financial aspects.
I recently moved home, and joined a local diving club, but I had not experienced the attitude I saw when I dived independently over the Easter weekend. I rang on the Saturday to book a couple of dives for the Sunday and was told that the boats were empty, so I booked one trip at 11.30am and one at 3.00pm.
I was rather shocked to be asked for payment upfront, which I had not come across before. I was also told that the usual RIB was out of the water, so I would be on a chartered hardboat for which membership discount was not available. Each boat trip was £16.
When I registered at the dive centre I asked if they would buddy people up, and was told that this would be done before we left. This didn't happen. We went down to the boat, where I met some others and ended up diving with them as a three. We were given no dive-site brief, or safety and orientation brief about the boat.
As we clambered aboard, the skipper said he had to refuel as he had been out fishing earlier. We sat there breathing in diesel fumes and were late leaving. The dive was good, but on the journey to and from the site we were engulfed in fumes, and a number of the divers felt extremely sick, me included.
We eventually arrived back at the centre just half an hour before the next trip was due to depart. Two other divers and I said we would not be doing the second dive because of the diesel fumes and I asked for a refund or to keep the dive for another time. The reply was "no, we've had to turn people away as the boat is full".
Another diver was told: "If we give you your money back, the skipper won't take the rest of the divers out." The boat left with two divers aboard - hardly "full". There was no concern for diver well-being, just money-making.
I was shocked by this attitude. I have been taught not to dive if you don't feel well, if you're unsure about the dive or feel under pressure. Anything can happen when you go diving, so should you have to pay upfront for it? Is this becoming standard procedure?
Failure by the dive centre to follow basic procedures, lack of consideration for diver well- being and the pressure placed on divers could have caused a potentially dangerous situation.
I hope this is an isolated case, and not a reflection on the standard of diving I can expect in the South-west.
Nicola Cornes, Cullompton, Devon
Comment: Read what skippers think about divers.
What happened to honesty?
Easter 2002 was an expensive experience for our club. During our annual pilgrimage to Porthoustock Beach, on the Lizard:
Is "disappearing" kit becoming a trend among the hitherto honest diving community? Or were we just unfortunate?
- One member had to recover our 20 litre jerry-can from the RIB of another club. Its cox alleged confusion - really!
- One of our spare trailer wheels used for beach-launching went walkabouts, never to be seen again.
- Two 24 litre fuel cans disappeared from an inflatable parked on a beach full of divers when the boat was not required that day.
Bob Bryant, Severnside Sub-Aqua Club, Bristol
Being relatively new to diving, I expected there still to be plenty of "Doing It Rights" and "Doing It Wrongs" for me to encounter. With reference to your fascinating article on the wrecks of Bikini (Wrecked and Gone to Heaven, April), I was wondering if the diver posed next to the dials and portholes on the bridge of the Saratoga (and on the cover) is really able to turn his head, Action Man-style, through 360°?
I noticed from the article that the diver has what would appear to be the hose to one of his regulators wrapped around his neck.
My inexperience tells me that maybe this is a common technique among wreck-divers to prevent the hose snagging on a protrusion. However it is not something I was taught or advised to do.
Should I start trying to swivel my head right round too?
Ian Mac, Twickenham
I was fortunate enough to dive Bikini in 1998 and have read many articles about it, both before and since that visit. However, the most descriptive, accurate and interesting that I have seen is that by John Bantin in the April edition of Diver (Wrecked and Gone to Heaven). Well done, John and Diver.
Charles Shippam, Norwich
Recently I was working at an exhibition where I had been carrying heavy boxes up and downstairs. I was arranging to buy a set of regulators off a buddy and needed to give him my drysuit low-pressure hose to fit to the first stage, so I collected the hose from my car and went in search of him.
By now the effects of carrying all those boxes, and my stomach filled with chicken kebab, chips and lager from the previous night, was causing a bit of a strain.
I nipped off to the loo, where an experience close to giving birth to a flock of sparrows occurred. After such great relief, I walked out of the cubicle, clutching the hose in my hand.
The gentleman standing at the sink looked up at me, and then at the length of black hose, with a look of utter astonishment and disbelief.
I spent the rest of the day hoping that he wasn't going to ask me to carry anything for him, as I didn't think I would be able to look him in the face again!
Marcus Adams, Glen Parva, Leicester
Red Sea to the rescue
Recently the diving school with which I help here in Geneva found itself in a deep fix. It had made a fortnight's hiring for a group of its clients with a boat company in the Maldives which had announced that it had gone bankrupt.
The news came about 18 hours before the air tickets, purchased separately, became non-refundable. In desperation I called David of Red Sea Divers in the UK to see if he could help, even though it was a bit off his patch. I'd like to pay tribute to the extraordinary service he gave, presumably while still looking after his normal customers. Sixty-four minutes later (after five e-mail exchanges), he had found a boat with the right dates and the right number of free berths.
I've always had good service from Red Sea Divers but this was fantastic. Thanks a lot, David!
Robin Offord, Bernex, Switzerland
Memories of a mermaid
I was interested to read your obituary of Trevor Hampton
(British Pioneer Diver Dies, News, April). It brought back memories of my diving training in the River Dart estuary in June 1957, wearing only a bathing costume and a woollen sweater!
My apprehension, plus the very cold water, were a great shock to the system.
Before my qualifying dive I felt very sick, so had to return a few weeks later and managed to qualify as Mermaid No 55 at the British Underwater Centre. My husband had qualified the previous year as Master Diver 32.
Trevor was always very patient, relaxed and cheerful with all his pupils. His wife Gwyn was always waiting at the Boat Cottage for the divers to return, providing hot coffee to warm us up.
We spend our holidays on the Erne estuary and visited Trevor and Gwyn most years. On our last visit we received their usual warm welcome.
Trevor was as lively as ever, and full of stories. He said he wanted to live to 160! His zest for life was amazing, and we miss him greatly.
Mary Glanvill, Chard, Somerset
Inconsistency in regulator test
I think the mag is excellent and caters for all levels of diver, which is as it should be, but in the March edition I noticed a grave error.
In the regulator tests (Into the Mainstream), which were interesting and informative, I noticed that when describing the testers you gave their ages - all except Louise.
I assume that this was an oversight, as we live in an equal opportunities world today, and that you will no doubt put it right in the next edition. Or are you still gentlemen who wouldn't dream of asking a lady her age, or just too scared of Louise to ask her?
Louise, I think your column is one of the highlights of the mag, and I always read it first.
Bob Kingdom, Hull
Comment: Too scared!
Keep nasty habits to yourself
I have just returned from a Red Sea liveaboard holiday and am still bathed in the warm afterglow that all divers feel following such an experience.
Most divers will agree that there is often a defining moment that binds together a group of divers previously unknown to one another.
On this trip it was at that awkward moment shortly after arrival on the boat and the divemaster's general briefing, when those who were on their own had to sort out who was going to share with whom.
After the natural pairings, there were two double cabins left between three of us.
The embarrassed silence was broken by John, a no-nonsense, what-you-see-is-what-you-get scallop diver: "Well, none of us has any nasty habits. At least, I hope not. So let's toss for it."
After three attempts, John and I ended up sharing and over the next week, with the aid of a bottle of Jack Daniels and another of brandy, we put the world to rights.
One night, when we were all at dinner, I asked John across the table if he could define what he had meant by "nasty habits". Everyone made their various contributions, some of them printable.
Farting was well up on the list, but it seemed that the greatest offence that one diver could inflict on another was to snore.
This could drive a fellow-diver to distraction, and there were tales of litter-bins being put over heads and of missiles thrown.
It says a lot for my lack of nasty habits that John and I are still in touch. I will soon be joining him on a scallop-diving trip off the Dorset coast. So if you're thinking of going on a diving liveaboard my advice is, leave any nasty habits at home!
Graham Harker, Taunton
The trouble with going Dutch
Last September my buddy and I booked to dive in Bonaire with Harlequin Worldwide Travel. We received the usual high standard of service, plus more of its dinky grey leather ticket wallets - worth the price in themselves.
Regrettably we also had to fly with KLM/ALM via Amsterdam and Curaçao. This was our third trip to Bonaire, the previous two having been marked by varying degrees of airline ineptitude (wrong sort of rain at Amsterdam, pilot can't fly in the dark, let's see how many flights we can combine into one, etc). This trip was no different.
Following an outbound delay caused by a technical fault with the aircraft, which involved flying in circles over the North Sea drenching unsuspecting fishermen and Clacton residents with discharged fuel (what happens if they decide to light up down there?), there was an unscheduled return to Schipol and a three-and-a-half-hour delay while men with hammers attacked the wings. We landed at Curaçao at 7.10am, but the flight to Bonaire had departed at 6.50, perhaps the only instance in recent history of it leaving on time.
We were promised that onward transfers would be no problem but were offered standby seats on the next (already overbooked) flight to Bonaire, departing at 5.50pm - maybe.
The three or four intervening flights had been cancelled, apparently due to lack of demand!
KLM was unhelpful so we paid $120 to Divi Divi Airlines for seats in its eight-seater air taxi to Bonaire (worth every penny, if only for the air conditioning - the pilot holds his door open!).
I won't go on about the retiming of the ALM flight back causing us to have a 12-hour layover in Curaçao instead of the scheduled 1hr 45min.
I wrote to Harlequin on our return telling our tales of woe and asking it to seek redress from KLM /ALM for our extra expenses and the unused tickets from Curaçao to Bonaire.
It came as no surprise to hear that KLM (the Dutch airline equivalent of British Rail) refused to play, on the grounds that EC regulations require it to cough up only if the delays are due to overbooking - so tough Schipol!
What came as a very pleasant surprise was a cheque from Harlequin itself, covering our extra payments. The company didn't have to do that, and I wouldn't have expected it to do so. So a big well done and thanks to Lea and the team.
As I told Harlequin, I would rather walk barefoot over burning coals with petrol-soaked rags wrapped round my legs than fly with KLM again.
Steph Butcher, Bromley
I'm a PADI instructor running a small dive operation in Pattaya, Thailand. I met a BSAC instructor who had recently emigrated here and suggested that we could work together to offer both training options.
She hadn't carried out any teaching for some time, so she contacted the BSAC to see what training updates, materials and upgrades might be needed. She was told that, unless she was a current member of a UK branch, she could not work as a BSAC instructor overseas.
As she has no intention of returning to live in the UK, this is something of a problem, and if she plans to work as an instructor in Thailand, her only real option is to cross over to PADI.
I am BSAC-trained, but switched to PADI after I came to Thailand 12 years ago, because I wanted to start as a freelance instructor before launching my own business. All the major dive shops in this town were and are PADI-affiliated.
Although my main loyalty is now to PADI, I have a great regard for the BSAC. However, if this case is typical of its attitude, it is handing the overseas diving market on a plate to training agencies with a more enlightened attitude.
David Chandler, Pattaya, Thailand
Comment: Your friend was misinformed, according to Alistair Reynolds, the BSAC's Technical Manager - she needs to be a member only of BSAC Direct, not a local branch. Call him on 0151 350 6200 to get things moving.