The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
Living on the Yorkshire coast, I receive many phone calls from divers seeking local knowledge and advice. I recently heard from a diver from an inland branch who wanted to visit for the day and take a trainee on an interesting but easy shore dive.
I recommended a suitable site, and patiently and diligently answered all his questions on a wide variety of subjects, including pub opening hours, car-parking, access, tides, pubs selling obscure beers, fish & chip shops, air fills, locally smoked kippers, Dracula-related souvenirs and public toilets.
I must confess that after an hour, my eyes were beginning to glaze over. Eventually, several yawns and cries of "Gosh, is that the time?" had the desired effect.
Five minutes later he rang back and, apologetically, said he had one more question. "How deep is the North Sea?" he asked.
Jill Wright, Whitby
We all know that diving one of the Midlands' favourite inland dive sites at a weekend can be frustrating. You either have to get there before 6am and wait until the gates open, or after 1pm to get a parking space. But my main gripe is about disabled parking.
It's mid-October, and Stoney Cove is packed on a Sunday morning at 10am. A friend and I arrive to be told that it's too much of a health & safety issue to allow another vehicle in. I ask if we can drop our kit off and bring the vehicle back up, as I am disabled and cannot carry my kit from the upper gates. The attendant says OK.
We drive down to find all three disabled spaces taken up by vehicles without disabled badges, but there is a double space empty by the PADI Portakabin. We ask the parking supervisor, who says: "Sorry, there is no space."
I point out that it is now an offence not to have access for the disabled, and ask him to move one of the non-disabled vehicles out of the disabled bays. He then says we can park opposite the PADI cabin, but on getting out of the car tells us to move, because a minibus is coming down with 12 PADI trainees.
The attendant seemed to think that Stoney's obligation to the disabled was fulfilled by having three marked access spaces, but that it didn't matter who actually parked there. Eventually, access was made available for me and another disabled driver down past the toilet block.
The following weekend, much the same happened. We had a good dive, but as a Diverlog member I did wonder what I was getting for my money.
T Harriman, Burntwood, Staffs
Margaret Baldwin, Stoney Cove Operations Manager, replies: Our waterside parking is nearly always over-subscribed at weekends. To help use the 100 or so spaces to good effect, we have introduced a small number of pre-booked spaces to be used by diving groups or schools.
When using this facility, group-members are required to leave their vehicles in the outer car parks. We also have three clearly marked bays for customers with disabilities; these too can be over-subscribed with Blue Badge holders, although some weekends all three spaces stand empty. If able-bodied divers try to use these spaces they are moved, as are any divers using them for equipment.
When the disabled parking is oversubscribed, we try to help divers with disabilities, as Mr Harriman knows. We acknowledge that we have used the disabled spaces to help customers with temporary disabilities, as we believe we are required in law to do this.
Unfortunately, it appears that our flexible approach to disabled parking is not acceptable to Blue Badge-holding divers. So in future our disabled bays will be available only for customers who hold and display their Blue Badge.
Should any customer have a complaint about Stoney Cove, please bring it to the attention of the Duty Manager on the day.
I originally wrote to complaining about insurance being cut off at the age of 65 (Enjoy It While You Can, April). I read the two replies to my letter in the May issue, and consider myself thoroughly "told off".
In my defence, I am pleased to say that I finally found a solution close to home - in the pages of , no less - and obtained excellent cover from Dive Master Insurance. As a result, I have just returned from a splendid week's diving in the Red Sea, so my thanks to everyone who gave me such generous encouragement.
Tom Moss, Camberley
John Boyle's article Breaking Into Underwater Movies (May) didn't mention what could be a really cheap way of encouraging divers to try filming.
Most digital stills cameras these days are also capable of capturing movies. OK, 640 x 480 (0.3 megapixels) isn't high-resolution, but it is still capable of capturing diving experiences in a way that stills cannot.
I already owned a Sony DSC-P93 digital camera and a 1Gb memory card. An underwater housing cost me about £150, and this meant that I could take still pictures and movies. The housing gave me full access to all the controls under water. The total cost was roughly what I paid a few years earlier for a Sea & Sea MMII EX and strobe.
With greater compression, a 1Gb card can last more than 40 minutes, or enough for an entire dive, and it's a great way of capturing those sights without spending a fortune.
Joe Hotchkiss, Stanmore, Middlesex
There are a couple of corrections to be made in answering Tom Claybourn's equalisation queries (I Am Not As Other Divers, May).
Firstly, there are more than two ways of equalising. The first he describes (pinching the nose and blowing) is called the Valsalva Manoeuvre, and is the one used by most scuba-divers. Freedivers, for instance, use other, more advanced, methods to cope with the rapid pressure changes they undergo.
Also, the clicking noises Tom describes are not the entrance to the sinuses opening, but higher-pressure air moving through the Eustachian tubes into the inner-ear cavity.
Tom's ability to equalise by swallowing alone is not uncommon, and is known as BTV equalising (Beance Tubaire Voluntaire). It is a technique that is either very easy to adapt to or very difficult, depending on one's physiology.
Tom, you are not alone in your abilities, and yes, it is perfectly safe (so long as you are not experiencing pain in your eardrums).
In fact, you will be the envy of many freedivers whose hydrodynamic profile in the water is made less efficient because of having to use methods involving nose-pinching.
The lead item in the June Medical Q&A posed the question: Freediving After Scuba - Is it Dangerous?
As someone who suffered Type 2 decompression illness from freediving 16 hours after scuba diving, and as the Training Officer of the British Freediving Association, I thought I would let you know our recommendations on this.
Following my bend, we talked a lot with the Diving Diseases Research Centre and other experts and now recommend that people treat freediving after scuba like flying after scuba.
That means 12 hours' wait for one dive, 18 hours for more than one, and more than that if you have done any necessary deco. Basically, wait until your computer has cleared.
For this, we define a freedive as anything below 6m. This is what we teach on all the AIDA UK Freedive Courses, and it has seemed to work so far.
We also have recommendations on surface intervals between freedives and numbers of dives in a day, to prevent DCIs being caused by the freediving itself.
Samantha Kirby, BFA
Further to the responses to your Big Question on nitrox qualifications in June (No, No, To Newbie Nitrox), my 9-year-old grand-daughter has just received her PADI SEAL Team ID card, and enclosed was a PADI Enriched Air leaflet.
Is this a new SEAL Team mission?
Paul Woolley, Enfield
Diving can be so depressing. On our recent liveaboard trip to the Similan Islands off Thailand, we had the misfortune to dive with a couple who had no respect for marine live whatsoever.
On the way to the boat, they shared with me the fact that they had ridden captive dolphins on their last trip, and apparently the dolphins had loved it. On the dives to follow, they were constantly bouncing off coral, and when they weren't grabbing fish, they were feeding bananas to turtles.
When they tried to catch a turtle during a night dive, back on the boat I couldn't contain my frustration any longer. My explanations were met with a dismissive wave of a hand. I couldn't understand why the crew said nothing, and asked our divemaster to include a comment on conduct under water in next morning's briefing.
It is heartbreaking to see divers behaving so ignorantly. We should be setting an example as to how to interact with marine life.
I propose that every diver sign a code of conduct together with the usual medical disclaimers before embarking on a diving trip. Perhaps this could be designed and endorsed by all the major diving agencies. At least it would remind everybody that we are responsible for what we do to the world that fascinates us so much.
Artur Pryn, Glasgow
Comment: The good thing is that you are not alone in feeling this way - see this month's Big Question responses on page 13.
Every year most of us have at least one trip abroad, dragging our large-capacity dive bags behind us. And almost as many times we pull out our plastic to pay the excess charges to cover it.
Last year I had a couple of trips to Italy, flying with Ryanair. Its policy on all sports equipment is that if it goes over the baggage allowance limit it can't be carried unless you pay for it, and that's a breath of fresh air.
You can pre-book sports equipment for a standard fee, which gives you an unlimited weight allowance for one bag of equipment. On both occasions I found it very easy.
This year I decided to question airlines' discrimination in excess-baggage policies. Other sports, particularly golf, benefit from additional allowances, and lower charges on any baggage that goes over this limit, and I don't understand how a golf bag differs from any other sports equipment, other than that senior management at the airlines are probably golfers.
I contacted both British Airways and Qantas. BA's response was: "Increasing numbers of passengers carrying golfing equipment madeit necessary. Currently there are not sufficient numbers of passengers carrying other sporting items for us to introduce an across-the-board policy."
Qantas has taken a similar stand: "While I accept your argument that there appears to be no logic in allowing some sporting equipment to receive preferential treatment, I suspect airlines would prefer to have everyone pay the full excess baggage rate, rather than add to the list of exceptions."
Surely the time has come to stop accepting the airline's policies without argument? As advised by both airlines, divers need to demonstrate a commercial advantage to applying different rules to dive kit, so let's have more emails to airlines and some support from the training organisations to encourage them to rethink their policies.
Meanwhile, perhaps everyone should look to find out if their summer dive trip can be booked through Ryanair. Cheap and cheerful it may be, but at least it's fair about baggage!
Regarding Jeremy Freeman's recent letter in which he described how he talked in an air pocket under water in Sicily (Sicilian Sushi, April), may I suggest that this is really not a good idea.
Experienced divers have been killed because they decided to breathe the dead air in caves, underneath ledges or trapped in wrecks.
Dead air spaces are formed by a number of factors, including the exhaust bubbles of previous divers or air trapped in a wreck. They often contain insufficient oxygen or too much carbon dioxide to breathe safely.
Hypercapnia, from excess CO2, can cause severe confusion, drowsiness, muscle spasms and rigidity. As the level of hypercapnia increases, so will the breathing rate (it is, after all, CO2 levels that trigger our desire to take a breath) and a never-ending vicious cycle begins. The cure is fresh air. After-effects are severe headache, nausea, dizziness and sore chest muscles.
It gets worse where a lack of oxygen, hypoxia, is the problem. When O2 levels in your breathing gas are reduced to 16%, as in the exhaust bubbles of divers, minor signs of hypoxia begin. At 12% O2, matters get serious, and below 10% you will lose consciousness and can drown.
You will have no idea of what's happening, because there are no natural warning signs of hypoxia. So as it develops, you will experience a false sense of well-being or euphoria.
Another problem is that you don't know if the gas in a dead air space has reacted with the natural, and unnatural, elements surrounding it. If there were animals there when the gas first collected, they would probably have died. You would have no way of detecting a putrid stench, with your nose closed off by your mask.
So, if you must come up in a dead air space and talk to your buddy, inhale from your regulator and speak as you exhale. Then stick that reg straight back in your mouth, and avoid removing your mask. Better still, avoid these spaces altogether. They can be decidedly unhealthy.
Christian Gerzner, Terrigal, NSW, Australia
I was passing a tourist shop in Bude, Cornwall and was horrified to see dozens of boxes outside full of young porcupinefish, boxfish, pufferfish, dozens of different types of shells and hundreds (I'm not exaggerating) of starfish of different sizes, many dyed different colours.
Is this legal? I had to stop myself from rushing into the shop to have a go at them, but thought I had better find out if this is allowed. If it is legal, how on Earth can we complain about Third World areas damaging the environment?
We are always being told to take only photos and leave only footprints, but when our own shops are buying goodness knows how much, what chance is there for the poor creatures?
Brian Spiller, Tintagel, Cornwall
With reference to the letter Why Are Under-14s Not Welcome? (May), Stoney Cove welcomes all scuba-divers and snorkellers aged 12 and over. The minimum age of 12 was introduced at Stoney Cove in July 2000, when some training agencies reduced the minimum age for scuba-diving to 10.
This decision, based on our observations of young people and our assessment of the potential hazards associated with the underwater environment at Stoney Cove, has been taken in the interests of diving safety and our duty of care.
From time to time we do review this decision, but all the indications are that Stoney Cove will continue to operate this minimum age policy.
Margaret Baldwin, Stoney Cove
Four of us had booked a trip to the Maldives, and were delighted to find that we were to fly on one of the fastest-growing airlines - Qatar Airways. We looked forward to a level of service and comfort similar to that found on other airlines charging premium rates.
I phoned the travel agent in advance to see if there was any extra baggage allowance. Yes, the three divers could have an extra 10kg.
We arrived at Heathrow at 4pm for a 9.15pm take-off. Check-in did not open until 5pm, we were told. Were we on the 8.30 or 9.15 departure? At 5pm, when it opened, we had to join the back of the queue, as we were on the later flight. This changed when we mentioned that we had already stood for an hour and had given our flight time correctly at the outset.
Then we were confronted by Ahmed, who told us that as we were 31kg overweight - just 7.75kg per person - we would have to pay £850 extra baggage allowance. As a concession, he would halve this amount. We refused.
After standing our ground for two hours, we were saved by Basel, the man in charge. He had the solution - one small case on wheels could come with us in the cabin, and suddenly all talk of excess charges was dropped.
He gave us our boarding passes, and we found that we had four seats totally separate from each other. We went back to Basel, and off he went. Some 15 minutes later he returned smiling, with tickets placing all four of us together. We left the check-in three and a half hours after joining the queue.
To our horror, in the departure lounge Ahmed suddenly appeared from behind the check-in desk! But he only wanted to escort us personally onto the plane, where he told the cabin crew we should be given special attention, as we had all had a really difficult time since reaching the airport! Never mind that he had caused most of it.
The cabin service was excellent but at Doha, our stop-off point, the small case on wheels was removed, as it would not fit into the overhead lockers. At baggage-collection in Male it was nowhere to be seen, and the plane was now bound for Columbo.
After another half-hour delay, the offending case was produced. But this may not be the end of the story - we fly back in two weeks' time!
David Cursons, Haughley, Suffolk