The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
As a relatively inexperienced diver, having just reached dive 50, I recently dived the Thistlegorm for the first time.
I was ready for the disappointment of visiting a world-famous site that didn't live up to the hype, but it was well worth the 4am alarm call and exceeded all my
However, I am concerned that future generations will be unable to share this experience because of the damage being done by the absence of any suitable mooring. I was horrified to discover that the wreck doubled as attraction and anchor!
We were lucky enough to have flat conditions and only eight boats moored at the time (I believe the record is 26) but it didn't take much imagination to see the potential damage that this kind of direct mooring can do, and there was clear evidence of damage to rails and bars.
Back on the boat, amid talk of railway tenders, tractors etc, the issue of the mooring was raised with what seemed to me perfectly good solutions, such as sunken blocks with lines to the wreck being placed around the outside of it.
Their installation and maintenance could easily be paid for by a "Thistlegorm Tax", such as the 35 Egyptian pounds charged to dive Ras Mohammed, which is accepted as the norm.
I'm sure we are not the first boatload of divers to have this conversation, and I really hope we won't be the last.
Caroline Montgomery, Hemel Hempstead, Herts
As a gas-blending instructor, I am fairly confident in what I would say in reply to Andrew Nebbett's letter (Should We Test All Our Fills? March). It appears that he has mistakenly assumed that a nitrox tank containing 21% oxygen was in fact air.
Not so, normoxic (normal oxygen) trimix also contains 21% oxygen, but without a helium analyser you could not assume it was air.
However, I suspect that the tank in question contained 21% nitrox, a commonly requested blend for technical divers to engage in recreational diving while using their O2-cleaned equipment. If they were to use normal air, the equipment would have to be O2-serviced.
The important thing to remember is that nitrox tanks are O2-cleaned and filled only from oxygen-compatible compressors.
Which leads us to the second point - could the reverse happen, that is, nitrox in an air cylinder? It is highly unlikely, as it would break one of the fundamental rules of the gas-blender.
In partial-pressure blending, mathematical formulae and tables are used to calculate the amount of O2 to put in a tank before topping up with O2-compatible air to provide the required blend. This may mean adding 60 bar or so of pure O2 into a cylinder, and if that cylinder is not O2-clean, the risks of ignition and explosion are great. It would be a very foolish gas-blender who forgot this basic safety rule.
Rest assured, Andrew, if a tank has a nitrox sticker on it, or is bright yellow, it can be used only by someone with the training for it. If it's just a dull grey ally, then it's air.
I would heartily recommend any nitrox diver to consider the Gas Blender course. It's great fun and gives a good insight into the somewhat mysterious alchemy of the stuff we breathe and how it's made.
Peers Cawley, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS) is a rare and life-altering balance disorder that mostly occurs after people have been at sea, often on a cruise. Back on dry land, they continue to feel as if they are still on the boat.
Although people often experience a sense of rocking and difficulty maintaining balance after a boat ride or other types of motion, these symptoms usually last for a few hours or days at most.
This is commonly referred to as "landsickness". However with MdDS these symptoms persist, often lasting for months, even years.
MdDS has been described as "like trying to walk constantly on a mattress or trampoline". Main symptoms include a persistent sensation of motion such as rocking, swaying and/or bobbing, balance problems, fatigue, tinnitus, ear fullness, difficulty concentrating and many more.
Unlike other types of vertigo, the symptoms are usually with the sufferer 24/7, though sufferers usually have temporary relief in a moving car. Medications that work with other forms of dizziness or motion sickness are ineffective.
I had suffered with MdDS symptoms for short periods of time, but after a week-long trip to Sharm with five consecutive days' boat diving in June 2005 I am still on the boat, unfortunately without the added attraction of the diving! This has stopped a 28-year-old, otherwise healthy woman from working, diving and living a "normal" life.
I have had many visits to my GP, seen an ENT consultant and had an MRI scan and blood tests. I am on a waiting list for further tests and vestibular rehabilitation to, I hope, improve my balance.
The biggest problem is lack of knowledge about the condition. Few doctors are aware of it and those who are don't know what causes it or how to cure it, because there has been very little research.
Luckily I saw a TV programme on which a fellow-sufferer was interviewed, so I found the online support group that has helped to keep me sane. There may be divers out there undiagnosed with the condition, which it seems isn't as rare as once thought.
We would also like to catch the medical world's attention to enable further research. One of the few studies has seen some results in hyperbaric treatment for MdDS-sufferers, so maybe the diving medical community would have some insight into the condition?
If you would like to talk about MdDS, please email me at email@example.com or visit www.mdds.org.uk and www.nhffoundations.net/mdds. Yours at sea,
Rachel Booth, Nottingham
At a time when you have just handed out the Diver Awards for excellence, perhaps you could have an award for the downright shoddy.
I booked a liveaboard through Red Sea Divers for three friends and myself about three weeks before the departure date in March, paying the £3600 in full. The boat was Blue Fin, which is chartered by blue o two, and we looked forward to the deep south itinerary, having done the north to death.
On the Wednesday I was phoned to be told that the boat was not sailing because the Egyptian authorities would not provide the appropriate paperwork. I was offered a northern itinerary, £250 a head back and some vouchers.
This sailing was cheaper anyway, so it was not a great gesture. But the blue o two rep told me it was a good deal and that this was all the company was prepared to do.
Now £650 is a lot of money to spend to go where you don't want to go, but one of my friends is a detective and dug out the truth about what happened. It seems that a large party had had to cancel at very late notice, too late to get their money back, so blue o two had simply decided not to send the boat out.
I phoned blue o two back and confronted them with the true story, which they didn't deny. I cancelled and we set about cancelling the car park, annual leave, dog kennels etc.
The detective went back to Red Sea Divers and we found a trip we all wanted to do, but leaving a week later. We re-arranged everything, but blue o two still had all our money. Red Sea Divers decided to pay for us, get our money back from blue o two and refund the difference as this trip was cheaper - full marks to them.
The following day I phoned blue o two to tell them to deal with Red Sea Divers and ask how they were going to compensate me for the deceit, inconvenience, phone calls etc.
Their prompt reply was: we aren't, you cancelled, read the small print, mate, we can do what we want with the boat. I asked to speak to someone in charge, but was told he was in Egypt and would call me on Tuesday. I never did get a call.
This company left it as late as possible to inform us that the trip was cancelled in the hope of getting other people on the boat. The director's attitude to customer relations stinks. Red Sea Divers was great and we ended up on mv Hurricane with Tony Backhurst, which was great,
If blue o two is the competition, Tony, don't lose any sleep.
Mark Pearce, Rochester, Kent
Jason Strickland, blue o two's Managing Director, replies: The clients were booked on Blue Fin, sailing to Elphinstone and the Brothers 10-17 March. This week followed the ferry disaster during which marine park permissions were temporarily withheld to all operators (some, of course, chose to ignore this and organise permissions to St Johns and conveniently swing by the Brothers).
The Egyptian authorities later gave the liveaboard industry a three-month extension to allow it to go on operating while it decided whether regulatory change was necessary.
The sailing was cancelled for this reason and because minimum numbers had not been satisfied. The clients were offered an alternative sailing covering the wrecks and reefs of the North for as little as £649 per person. On deciding that this was not appropriate, a full refund was issued on the same day.
I feel that blue o two has acted fairly and reasonably and am delighted that the clients had an enjoyable holiday.
I read with interest Jen Bouchet's letter about the spawning sea cucumbers she had seen at Pemba, Tanzania (Cucumber Love-In, April). She asked if anyone else had seen this spectacle. Jen may like to know that you do not have to go that far to see this phenomenon.
Early last July my branch, Plymouth Sound BSAC, was diving Hilsea Point Rock, South Devon when we came across the same thing. All the sea cucumbers were raised off the bottom and busy spawning.
Peter Messenger, Plymouth
I read John Liddiard's article Get Those Dangly Bits Under Control (April) and very good it was too. I totally agree, you do see some muppets around who have been in diving for some time.
With this fresh in my mind, I sat down to watch Nigel Marven's Creepy Crawlies on TV. He was diving to look for giant octopus, but he should have looked behind him. Not only was he dragging his pressure gauge around but also his own octopus must have been past his knees. And as for wearing a pink weightbelt and mask, what is the bloke on?
For a marine biologist, he seemed to be on a mission to wreck as much as he could on that shoot.
S Mather, Northants
It was the April issue, so I reckoned an April Fool's joke or two would be hidden within its covers. I found one, then two, then more, until it dawned on me that this was serious editorial. Then I became paranoid: had you set out to wind me up on purpose?
Being a backward person, I first hit John Bantin's Deep Breath (One Air, One Nitrox, What's The Beef?). His idiosyncratic style of diving works for him or he'd be dead by now, but advocating his nitrox/air twin-set mix is irresponsible, if one accepts that one's gas should be instantly available to another diver in an emergency.
Of course, he would not accept this as he dives solo, which is why he fails to mention any responsibility for other divers. I knew this article wasn't an April Fool's, as Bantin has been banging on about this for a while.
Then we come to Mystery Diver swallowing the industry line about equipment servicing. I was convinced this was a wind-up until I read the Health & Safety Executive's report Performance Of Diving Equipment on its website. Then I became scared, as several of the premises on which it is based are bizarre. Why are such reports foisted on the public with neither opportunity for comment nor debate with the HSE?
Onto the Get Those Dangly Bits Under Control article, with a caption saying: "You can loop a pressure-gauge hose under your arm and clip it to a shoulder D-ring" under a picture of the hose clipped off to a waistband D-ring.
The bit saying that necklaced regs "must not be so tight that the octopus cannot be pulled out or, even worse, that the mouthpiece comes off when it is pulled" refers to a picture showing what I think is a correctly rigged necklaced reg with the bungee tight under the mouthpiece's zip-tie.
If divers were hog-rigged, they would not be remotely Christmas tree-y.
Anyway, I chose to buy this Diver and will probably buy another. I've had fun writing this and hope you go on having fun publishing your magazine. Please don't let JB leave - I need someone to keep my blood pressure up, lest my Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells persona mellows.
Comment: Sorry about those Dangly Bits captions - they weren't intended as April Fool's jokes.
Just finished reading the April edition cover to cover and found a Cadbury's Creme Egg on the illustration of the Saxon Briton in Wreck Tour. It's at the bottom left of the main part of the wreck, I guess a couple of metres from the winch mounting plate. Guessing by the size of it, it must be a good metre tall!
Comment: Now that was a (small) joke.
I read John Liddiard's review of Coral Reefs, Nature's Wonders (Double Standards on Reef, March) and wondered if he had read the same book as I had - but his conclusions and very imprecise comments made me think.
When he commented on the photographs, "especially the ones with divers in them",
I realised that here was an element of criticism for the sake of it. "Diver with gloves grasping huge clam" seemed to me more likely indicating the size of the clam.
"Page 40, diver without gloves, holding coral" - definitely wrong. In my copy the diver was wearing yellow gloves. Are Liddiard's hands yellow or is he colour-blind?
It must have taken 20-25 years for Walter & Jean Deas to accumulate all the photos, both theirs and those of many other contributors, then to check them prior to publishing this book. The list of acknowledgments is colossal and an indication of the work involved.
The heading for the review is based on Liddiard's biased opinion. I suppose he is so perfect that he has never done anything wrong while diving!
Diver's own editorial judgment seems to have slipped a bit, re the letter from Martin Greig (What They Did To Reethi Rah) in the same issue. Mr Greig comments on the terrible destruction of a coral reef in the Maldives so that a luxurious holiday centre could be built. He castigates divEr for choosing "to celebrate such a wanton act in the pursuit of tourist dollars". Monty Halls' reply was a bland cop-out.
Roger Bruce, Tadworth, Surrey
I attended the London International Dive Show at the ExCeL Centre on 1 April. Fantastic as ever, lots of tempting diving holidays, but a little disappointing on the girlie dive T-shirts.
I attended three seminars and was glad I did (apart from resting my feet). Dr Jules Eden described warning signs of the bends that all divers and diving buddies should look for, but also showed us two studies where cases of the bends had been ignored or wrongly diagnosed.
It wasn't all doom and gloom. The seminar was light and entertaining while still conveying how important it is to seek medical help if there is any suspicion of a bend.
In the second seminar, on the Titanic, the footage was excellent and clear, as were John Chatterton and Richie Kohler's explanations of why they were doing what they were doing. The talk blew a few myths, and we were shown a vast section of the vessel that had been ripped away from the hull, instead of the classic bow shot that conveys only that this is a large vessel.
I look forward to seeing or hearing more about their underwater expeditions.
Monty Halls' presentation on The Great Ocean Adventure passed quickly with stunning footage. It finished with a round-up of footage of everything from manta rays to manatees, great whites and tiger sharks, with Monty jumping off a cliff or driving over huge sand dunes.
Everything was done out of genuine love of marine life. The sharks were not hassled, the manta rays weren't cornered and made to perform and the manatees were not harassed.
They approached Monty and the crew out of curiosity.
Although very different, all three seminars provided a lot of information and laughs. At the end of each the floor was opened for the audience to ask as many questions as they wished.
Monty Halls was happy to sign postcards, pose for photos or chat about diving experiences. There were no big egos on display, and
I would urge anyone who gets the opportunity to attend such Dive Show seminars.
Danyelle Motley, Billericay, Essex