The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
I am amazed when thumbing through your magazine by the number of unfortunates who encounter a dive or dive buddy "from hell", and wonder why I never experience such catastrophes.
I was recently diving with a company from Phuket in Thailand. On our way out to a pinnacle called Shark Point, the boat manager announced that because of strong current (it was monsoon season) we would instead dive Koh Dok Mai. This is an isolated cliff that plunges from 40m above the waves to 25m below, with a beautiful reef wall and a sandy bottom that attracts rays and leopard sharks.
My dive group was a mix of continental Europeans, a Canadian and me, but everyone spoke English, so should have understood the briefing.
This clearly explained that there would be current past the reef, which would decrease as we descended and peter out by 12m. We were to assemble on the surface before descent and again at the bottom. This most of us did.
Two minutes into the dive my buddy, a German guy, signalled to the dive leader that he was going up again. After seeing him to the surface and signalling the boat, the dive leader buddied with me and that was that.
Diving at 18m while gently finning into the current produced a great drift dive along the wall, with its profusion of coral and lionfish, and rays and barracuda livening things up. The light was good, bringing out the colours of the wildlife, and visibility was 10-15m. It was safe by any standards, and fine for what we were doing. I really enjoyed it.
Back aboard the diveboat, I realised my error. According to my fellow-divers, this was a dive I should not have enjoyed!
My German friend proclaimed that he had taken the only sensible action in aborting the dive due to the dangerous current and visibility. Others said they expected to be able to see the bottom from the boat "like we could in the Red Sea". All around me were complaints that "diving in Thailand shouldn't be like this" and I heard mumblings of "the worst dive of my life".
It seemed I had dived in a bubble in which everything was fine, while my buddies were sharing a nightmare. They wanted good viz and total safety (in a sport where you survive under water only by artificial means). They didn't want current or plankton but they did want to see fish.
Then the penny dropped. These were the people who write "buddy from hell" letters. Probably somewhere in Germany even now a "Das Buddy von Hell" letter is being penned about me, for not following my buddy out of the drink that day.
The prodigious whining of this group took the edge off the day, not only for me but for the team that was trying to give everyone a good day's diving. My advice to them would be not to sign up for "experienced diving" in the Andaman Sea but to restrict themselves to the hotel pool or the local aquarium.
Philip Pope, Woodham Ferrers, Essex
In response to your news item Open Verdict On Inspiration Death, May 2003, we wish to challenge your suggestion that my husband Nic Gotto's death was due to his own negligence.
An open verdict was recorded at Nic's inquest. He died on 24 July 1998 while using the Buddy Inspiration rebreather.
At the inquest it was stated that Nic was a well-known diver with over 20 years of experience and was one of 15 confirmed diving fatalities using the same equipment. He had completed his Buddy rebreather training course in Bangor, Co. Down only a few weeks before he died.
Some minutes into his final dive, Nic was found at 27m lying on his back and convulsing. He was rescued unconscious and efforts to revive him were in vain.
The inquest heard that during the rescue his Inspiration sank and was not recovered for some days. Subsequently it was inspected by Dave Crockford, a rebreather expert then with the DDRC. Mr Crockford made a full and documented report that found the Inspiration to be in good condition and no modifications had been carried out. However, he found that both handsets, when opened, were cracked and full of seawater.
A witness had mentioned that Nic had had trouble calibrating his kit before leaving the pier. In his report Mr Crockford thought that failure of the system may have been consistent with water entering these cracks.
He found it interesting that no alarm was heard before, during or after the rescue.
Mr Hogan, pathologist, in his evidence, said that Nic had suffered drowning following a metabolic event that had led to him losing consciousness. He was unable to say if this event was hyperoxia or hypercapnia. He said that to make such a diagnosis samples of brain tissue would need to have been taken.
Nic had completed about 10 dives on his unit and the question was raised as to whether or not he had changed the contents of his scrubber canister. A witness, who is not a diver, and not familiar with rebreathers, gave evidence of a casual conversation with Nic on the boat where she thought that he said that the scrubber was good for 10 hours.
Later during cross-examination she conceded that Nic may have said that the gas supply was good for 10 hours. I was able to state that more than half of one of two 25kg drums of Sofnolime found in my garage was missing. The coroner stated that this may have indicated that Nic had changed his scrubber unit according to the instructions in the manual.
It was mentioned that Nic had dived the unit without open-circuit bail-out. He had ordered one from AP Valves but it had failed to arrive. Nic did have a regulator connected to his diluent cylinder.
Evidence was taken during three days of hearing with more than 10 witnesses giving evidence, including submissions from lawyers acting for me and for AP Valves.
Despite efforts by lawyers for AP Valves to prevent the coroner allowing the jury to consider an open verdict, the Coroner directed the jury to return one of three possible verdicts: accidental death, death by misadventure and open verdict. After a short deliberation the jury returned an open verdict.
Rachel Gotto, Union Hall, Co Cork, Ireland
In a previous letter published in your prestigious column, I voiced my concerns over training (Doing it Uniformly, January). Now, thanks to a memorable diving holiday in Malta, I feel that I may have been a bit hasty.
I was impressed with the standard of both service and instruction I received from Aqua Venture, a dive school in Mellieha Bay. I was there for only seven days so my diving was a little limited, but the team gave me good advice and took time to plan how I could get the most from my stay.
I opted to do two speciality courses, Deep Diver and Underwater Naturalist, as they said this would give me a variety of dive sites with the added interest of some personal advancement.
The diving was fantastic and the staff were polite, prompt and courteous and gave good dive briefings. The shop, training rooms and equipment were first class.
On my second dive of the day, the store manager seemed interested in the professionalism of his dive instructor. "Did the dive go well?"
"Did the instructor follow all the buddy checks?"
"Yes, thanks." This line of questioning went on for some five minutes. Then, out of the blue, he produced a copy of Diver with my letter highlighted. It seems that your magazine gets everywhere! I'm sure the standard of service I received had nothing to do with the letter.
The experience has reassured me that the high standards PADI sets for its registered instructors and the first-class service it expects from its schools are being upheld. I have now enrolled on the Dive Master course and hope to continue to instructor.
Mark Hartley, Doncaster
In response to last month's online shopping feature Virtual Mystery Shop, I would like to speak up for all the other successful online shops that weren't mentioned.
We manage the web development and marketing for www.simplyscuba.com, a market leader and pioneer of online dive kit sales. To omit Simply Scuba from a feature such as this is like reviewing online book shops and not featuring Amazon.
Would we be complaining if Simply Scuba had been featured and received 10/10 ? Probably not. However, I do think that if you are writing and printing a very persuasive feature like this, you do have a responsibility to ensure that it accurately reflects the nature and breadth of the industry.
Firstly, the Mystery Diver chose eight review criteria, including the returns policy and site security. While these (and the other six) criteria are extremely important, they do not make an effective online shop, merely an adequate one.
If the Mystery Diver really was comparing the sites with "the industry standards for e-commerce" he/she would know that successful sites now offer much more than a "padlock icon" and "FAQ page". Successful sites offer a range of customer-focused features developed to improve the online shopping experience.
These include dynamic product recommendations; independent customer reviews and ratings; multiple payment options including finance; and customer-centred loyalty schemes
Secondly, I would like to know how the eight sites featured were chosen. Most divers who already shop online are probably aware of Simply Scuba (or I'm not doing my job properly). However, if you are new to diving or new to online shopping, you would be forgiven for thinking that www.deepbluedive.com is the only online dive-kit store that you should dare to buy from, and that www.timunasea.co.uk sets the dive industry's e-commerce standards. In my opinion, the limited number of companies and restrictive criteria of the feature painted a false picture of our industry.
There are lots of other very effective and successful sites out there, and good luck to them. The industry needs healthy competition to drive it forward, and ultimately the customer wins.
Billy Allen, Suffolk
Mystery Diver replies: I'm glad my recent visit into cyberspace has had an impact. Followers of my column will know that I have sampled numerous aspects of the diving industry to "accurately reflect the nature and breadth of the industry." I am dedicated to ensuring that the consumer knows who is providing an outstanding service and who isn't.
Obviously my work is not done, as I now have diving services such as Simply Scuba throwing down their gauntlet!
As for my criteria for choosing a dive-related service for a Mystery Diver visit, I'd best not give too much away. All I can say is that a set of grand claims such as this cannot fail to escape my attention in the future.
I would like to pass on an experience I had of superb service from an online shop. I was looking around on the Net for a nitrox computer before heading off on holiday. I found that Sun Seeker Diving was offering a great price on a Suunto Vyper, so I placed an order.
I had left things a bit late, so was resigned to the fact that it would probably not arrive in time. I sent a quick e-mail to Sun Seeker just to check.
I was amazed to receive a call from Sun Seeker that evening. Knowing that it wouldn't arrive in time if sent in the post, Mark Tarsh arranged to drop it round to us personally the next morning Ð a round trip of 45 miles!
We would like to thank Mark for service above and beyond the call of duty.
Paul Burgess, Redhill, Surrey
It's summer and the letters about luggage allowance have started again, so I thought I would put my tuppence-worth in.
We recently got back from a great honeymoon in the Maldives, naturally taking our dive gear with us. Because of the summer/winter crossover we travelled out at the end of April with Mytravel and back in May with Monarch.
Two months before we left, I rang both airlines to request extra allowance on top of the original 20kg. Mytravel was very helpful and automatically gave us 5kg extra each for sporting items.
Monarch offered 10kg extra for golf clubs but, surprise, nothing for dive equipment.
I asked where the golf course in the Maldives was. I know there are some putting ranges on the larger islands, but I don't think you need a complete set of clubs for them!
It seems a bit stupid, and definitely not customer-focused, not offering extra allowance for dive equipment when you run flights to one of the best diving areas in the world!
On Monarch's website it states: "We aim to give their customers the kind of experience that will keep them coming back for more!" Sorry Monarch, but we won't be coming back.
Torin Spence, Kenilworth
Monarch Airlines' PR & Communications Manager Liz Bartlett replies: I'm afraid this case remains a bit of a mystery. Our policy states that all passengers travelling on our charter flights have a 20kg baggage allow-ance (30kg for those in Premium Cabin). Any sporting equipment carried in excess to this allowance may be subject to excess baggage charge. This policy applies regardless of the type of sporting equipment and is stated on our website.
However, passengers would normally incur charges for excess baggage only once they had exceeded 25kg. Passengers calling into our customer service department would normally be advised of this.
Referring to Nicola of Bromley's letter Blast Back (June), defending the diver who brought up the phosphorus, surely there is only one answer to this whole saga, whatever your level of diving experience. Look and leave!
We all know the staggering rate at which scuba-diving is exploding throughout the world. I have twin six-year-old boys and would like to think that they will experience and see as much as I have during my 11 years of fascinating diving. Let's use some common sense and just leave things where they are.
And as far as raising unknown ordnance...
Nether regions mystery solved
In the February Off-Gassing, R Hope asked to be advised about protective clutching of the nether regions during a giant-stride entry, witnessed on a holiday in Malta (Minding Dangly Bits).
Those of us in the Western hemisphere find it helpful to put one hand over the mask and regulator and the other on the weightbelt to prevent loss of an item of equipment we frequently find useful. Undoubtedly what he saw as the nether regions was actually a navel observation.
As for dangly bits such as pressure gauge and light, these are neatly attached before entry to protect the reefs and prevent inadvertent trolling for large marine carnivores.
Duncan Milne, Burnaby, BC, Canada
Tim Stobart asked about shops where you can try stuff before you buy it (How Can I Try Before I Buy? May). A shop in Urmston, Manchester allows you to do this.
It's called Diving and Marine Services and is at 246 Church Road. Its leaflet states that "all equipment is sold with a no-quibble guarantee and our exclusive Buy-Try Swap scheme".
David Cole, Bolton
Comment: We contacted Lynn at the store and she tells us it has been running a buy-try scheme for "as long as I can remember". Customers can try out gear in a swimming pool (not sea water) and return it if not satisfied. "We know what we're doing and in fact we get very little returned," says Lynn.
Out in the Bahamas recently on a shark dive, my dive buddy Chris and I jumped in to start our exhilarating descent.
At about 10m, surrounded by Caribbean reef sharks, I checked my Nikonos V camera to see that the settings were correct and, to my disbelief and horror, noticed that water was slowly filling the lens.
Meanwhile, Chris took my photo. It was his first attempt at underwater photography, using an MX10 camera. He had no idea that this was to be my last dive with my cherished Nikonos.
Flushing out the camera with fresh water and drying the inside was to no avail. We concluded that the flood had occurred simply through leaving the seals on the camera closed in a box for at least a year without use. They had probably perished and changed shape, and despite careful examination and greasing no longer held the camera watertight.
The moral of the story? If in doubt, take them out!
Kim Osborn, Banstead, Surrey