The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
I went down to my local dive shop to get a 30% mix for a dive the next day. For various reasons, my cylinder was full of clean air, and I was told that it would have to be half-drained. The assistant took it outside and opened the valve wide. I asked if this was safe and was told: "Yeah, it'll be OK."
The cylinder was brought back in with ice on the valve and put straight to the O2 filling clamp to start the fill. I asked again if this was safe, and again was told: "It'll be OK."
As I stepped outside to do some other bits and pieces, I heard the words: "God, that's tight!"
As I went to put the cylinder into the boot, I heard a jingling from inside it, and took it back into the shop. I was promptly asked if I had dropped it!
The assistant phoned his boss and, after long discussion, I was told that the debris tube had come out of the inside of the cylinder valve - and that the shop was not responsible.
I pointed out that my cylinder had been serviced only a month before by Safety Air Services (SAS) of Merseyside; that it hadn't rattled before it came into this shop; the rapid draining of the cylinder had caused ice to form around the valve; and that it was filling the cylinder with O2 straight away that had, in my opinion, caused the tube to fail.
The discussion got heated but I stood fast: "You caused it, you fix it!"
Eventually they caved in and I was given a receipt with no charge. I left, not expecting to see my cylinder for at least a couple of weeks, but three days later the shop called to say that it was ready to collect. "So you fixed it yourself, then?" I asked.
"Yeah, it's all fine," was the reply.
I phoned Safety Air Services for advice. The person at the other end was knowledgeable, and disgusted by my story. He pointed out that the cylinder was now contaminated, as this dive shop had neither the tools nor the conditions needed to carry out such repairs - which was why it sent cylinders to SAS for testing.
He said I must insist that the shop send the cylinder back to the test centre for a retest and service. He had no doubt that the assistant's incompetence had caused the failure of the debris tube and subsequent contamination of the cylinder.
The shop assistant wasn't happy and said he wanted to phone SAS. Then he called me back and said that SAS was happy with the repairs and could see no problem.
"Safety Air Services is expecting my cylinder and it has the serial number. I insist that you send the cylinder at your expense for a retest," I said. The assistant finally accepted the solution under protest.
Safety Air Services has asked me to relay a message to all divers. In such situations, it says, stand fast and seek advice.
Had I subsequently had a diving accident, the Health & Safety Executive would have investigated and traced the test of the cylinder to SAS. Even though it had been interfered with by this rogue outlet, it would be SAS which was ultimately prosecuted.
Steve Evans, Surrey
I have to take exception to one poorly researched section of the article Virtual Mystery Shop (June) - that of buying dive equipment through online auctions such as Ebay.
It misses the obvious way of avoiding fraud on Ebay, using the site's own feedback system. Every seller has a reputation built over time. Good reputations run into hundreds of positive individual replies, with levels in the high 90% range.
If, for instance, you want to buy an expensive item, the seller should have at least 100 individual replies (mostly as seller, not buyer), and the positive number of replies should be 98% or greater.
Even then, one should read what the negative feedbacks are, and how it dealt with them (all easily seen in the feedback screen). The Mystery Diver also forgot to mention that Ebay promises to reimburse you if you are defrauded (minus a minimal amount). To be protected, you have to purchase via Ebay, and the buyer highlighted in the article did not do this.
I have not been defrauded so cannot vouch for how honest Ebay's guarantee is. I have found most people there surprisingly honest and friendly, however. I purchased a regulator set, dive torches and a dive computer, saving a lot of money, and all these items were as promised.
The biggest threat is British Customs, which likes to slap hefty duties on goods from overseas. But even with this, the regulator set was still far cheaper than we could buy it in London.
Finally, if you do find the right item from the right seller, there is nothing so frustrating as being outbid in the last five seconds. But this too is easily overcome - simply bid up to what you are really prepared to pay.
Andrew Mitchell, London
Dave Ireland's letter When Do We Ask For Help? (June), about what to do when you have suspected decompression illness symptoms, raises a very pertinent point for a large proportion of the diving population.
As with Dave, divers do not want to cause any form of fuss for what they consider is probably an ache from a day's diving. However, if you are at all unsure whether you have a DCI symptom or not, it is best to seek professional medical advice and get checked out.
The sooner the diver presents and discusses any problem with a diving doctor, the better the chance of a 100% recovery.
There are several 24-hour numbers that divers can phone in the UK to get free advice from diving doctors. For England, Northern Ireland and Wales call the Royal Navy Doctor on 07831 151523 (24 hours), and for Scotland call Aberdeen Royal Infirmary on 01224 681818.
A Diver Help Card with these numbers on is being relaunched later this year by the Diving Safety Group, which comprises the UK training organisations as well as the Health & Safety Executive, British Hyperbaric Association and Diving Diseases Research Centre. This card will be distributed by diving organisations, through the Dive Shows and in the diving press.
Sally Tyler, Administration Manager, DDRC, Plymouth
In a quarry or in the sea, divers use both red and yellow surface marker buoys and delayed SMBs. Part of my IANTD training was that a yellow SMB/DSMB signalled to the surface that the diver below was in trouble or had a problem, and that a standby diver would be sent down, or a drop-tank be lowered. A red SMB/DSMB signified that a diver was OK and making an ascent.
Why can't the dive community get together to set a universal standard for safety reasons? Then, if there was a problem and the boat crew or surface cover saw a yellow buoy go up, they would be aware and act accordingly.
Jason McNamara, Stone, Staffs
I was astonished to read in a magazine recently a letter from someone who had informed his insurance company that he sometimes carried an air rifle in his car. It was of a type which has a reservoir charged from a compressed air bottle - like a diving cylinder.
His insurer, and some others, apparently would void the motor insurance if compressed air were carried, even if only in a rifle reservoir, and quoted an insurance premium that made his blood run cold.
Having transported diving tanks every week in my cars for many years, I was taken aback by this sinister revelation.
David Edwards, Warwick
Comment: Don't know about your gun-toting correspondent, David, but Leonie Edwards of the Association of British Insurers tells us that carrying compressed air should make no difference at all to your motor insurance premium.
I read the letter Same Old Ball-Game With Airlines (June), and the following may interest those considering dive vacations on Malta and Gozo.
Divers travelling with Air Malta can obtain an excess baggage allowance of 15kg on top of Air Malta's Economy Class travel allowance of 20kg and Club Class 30kg. All you need do is give the names of those who require the excess at the time of booking.
Inform the check-in desk that you have this equipment on the day and be prepared to show that you are qualified to dive for the allowance to be allocated. If BA will not give divers going to Malta an excess baggage allowance but Air Malta gives 15kg, who will you be flying with?
D M Goddard-Harding, Croydon, Surrey
We read about the problems a reader was having in getting additional weight allowance for diving equipment. Air 2000 allows an extra 10kg per diver on production of a diving certificate at check-in. We flew with the airline last summer, and experienced no problems. Well done, Air 2000.
Susan & Bryan Renicks
In February I travelled by Air Tanzania from Zanzibar to Johannesburg following a diving holiday. My case, containing my dive equipment, failed to arrive.
Air Tanzania and the handling agent, Swissport, failed to trace the case or to produce any documentation to confirm that it ever made it onto the flight. It didn't seem to know what had happened to it after I checked it in.
The usual tracking bar-code system was not used, only a simple tie-on luggage label. This sloppy handling was particularly worrying in light of the British Government's increased warnings to travellers in Tanzania following attacks in Kenya.
Air Tanzania admitted that it could not establish a weight for my case as it hadn't been weighed at check-in. I was informed that it was therefore contractually obliged to offer me compensation of only $20 per kg.
The total claim for my "lost" luggage was close to $2700, including a BC worth $600, wetsuit $200 and case $200, but Air Tanzania offered me only $400. I had personal travel insurance but am still now at least $1000 out of pocket.
Despite several letters, Air Tanzania failed to budge. It suggested that if I had declared that expensive equipment was in my case at check-in (yeah, right!) it might have increased its offer.
I wasn't trying to make money from what was a stressful experience, and am now nervous about taking my own equipment abroad, though the alternative of hiring sub-standard old equipment is also a worry. So divers beware.
Vanessa Green, Witkoppen, South Africa
I read the letter Over a Year and I Still Can't Do Nitrox (June). Though PADI's reply goes some way to explain that the instructor Mohamed Eman, or Hamada, was probably an innocent bystander caught up in someone else's foul-up, I'm worried that this sort of mud-slinging has damaged Hamada's professional reputation.
My girlfriend and I went to Sharm over New Year 2002/03, diving with Ocean College, and were lucky enough to end up with him as our dive guide for much of the week. We found him friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Pre-dive briefs were thorough, and throughout the dive he always kept a watchful eye on us, checking that we were OK and air levels fine etc.
We thought Hamada was a credit to both the school that employed him and to his profession in general. I'd better explain that I have no connection with Ocean College or Explorers, or any personal connection with Hamada!
Nick Harley, Worthing, West Sussex
I was happy to read the letter from Mrs Gotto in response to your report on the inquest into the death of her husband Nic Gotto while using an Inspiration rebreather (Rebreather Death Revisited, July). It was refreshing to see the other side of the story aired to enable people to draw their own conclusions. As someone who was present at the inquest I found your initial report left a number of serious points unbalanced or missed out altogether. Points which made it impossible for any reader not present at the inquest to make an informed judgment on the matter.
Life is a precious thing and it is one of our rights, as members of a democratic society, to make informed decisions about the way we lead our individual lives, but in order to do so, we must have access to all available information.
Lisa Scott, Somersham
What a great article Through The Magnifying Glass by Cris Little was - a fantastic insight into the bits that a lot of divers just swim by, complete with fantastic close-up pictures (July).
However, that "cheap plastic hand magnifier" which Cris tells us to take under water in our BC sadly would not work without an air space.
As many divers will remind you, glass, or in this case plastic, has a similar refractive index to water, so light travelling between the two does not bend, hence no magnification. Try it in the bath (sadly, nothing looks bigger in my bath).
On the other hand, it's a great gag to tell novices that if they can't get it to magnify they're doing it wrong, and to keep trying until they get it right!
In Cris's defence, you can achieve what he tells you to do if you buy one of the magnifiers used for studying bugs and spiders. These consist of lenses supported over a square plastic box which, perhaps with a bit of silicon sealant, will hold an air space, like an upturned glass. I also seem to remember reading of a magnifying glass with an air space sandwiched between the lenses.
Anyway, don't let my little criticism detract from what was a terrific article - keep up the good work, Cris.
Paul Henson, Nottingham
Cris Little replies: Notwithstanding the physics, the cheap plastic magnifying "glass" I use does work (a bit), especially with the normal magnifying effect of the diving mask. An underwater scanning electron microscope would be handy - any engineers with time on their hands and a swimming pool?
I feel there should be some sort of body in which enthusiastic and innovative divers could discuss ideas that would push the boundaries of diving technology forward, in the UK if not globally.
Since the BC and dive computer were invented, no significant advance in equipment technology (other than a nice colour for your fins) has been made available to sport divers.
I am sure that the words "if only there was a device that..." or "I could do better than that if..." have been uttered after many a dive.
The problem for inventors is that you have to invest thousands of man-hours, not to mention pounds sterling, in developing your "bright idea", only to run the risk of having Hyper Global Mega Corporation plagiarise it and tie you up in a legal battle you can never win. You can try to find sponsorship, but how long will it take to find someone you think you can trust?
Does anyone out there feel the same? If so, would they be willing to come together to form some sort of technical group/body that could provide support for the "like-minded", and bring British innovation to the fore?
Paul Sullivan, Southampton
I read your recent news item regarding the experiences of students mistreated by their trainer (Instructor-Trainees Left Stranded by Bogus Trainer, May).
It would appear that NAUI needs to exercise far greater care in its selection and monitoring processes for its appointed British representatives in the light of its track record.
My experience closely mirrors that of the trainees in your article. About eight years ago, I and a number of other unsuspecting people enrolled on various courses run under the auspices of NAUI by its first sole UK representative.
My relationship with this individual quickly soured as a result of dubious activities which culminated in him abruptly leaving the area but leaving no forwarding address.
I and others pursued the matter with NAUI in the USA but received no satisfaction. I subsequently continued in the sport with PADI.
My initial dealings with NAUI suggested a commitment to high standards of practice and quality assurance. Sadly these remain unfulfilled, because no apology or even an honest expression of regret has been forthcoming.
I feel that NAUI has both a legal and moral obligation to accept liability for those organisations it deems to be sole representatives.
Chris Lawrence, Abermule, Montgomery
While diving in Anglesey recently, I learned the value of keeping kit well-serviced, training and practice. I failed on one count but was bailed out by a degree of success in the other disciplines!
Two years ago, on return from honeymoon and realising that my wife was to be my main buddy, we spent time at Stoney Cove simulating problems and accidents and gaining proficiency.
One of our "situations" was the classic "out of air". Ignoring the traditional signal, we worked on the theory that the desperate person would simply grab the regulator out of one's mouth. We continued with these regular practice sessions.
The incident at Anglesey happened on the first dive on day two when, 18m down, I inhaled half-water and half-air.
The next breath was pure sea water! My reaction was to inhale again, but I realised, with panic rising, that it was sea water again.
It would probably have been best to take my octopus but instead (and possibly to my everlasting shame) I simply grabbed my wife's regulator.
I am thankful for our earlier practice. She calmly took her octopus and we reached the surface shaken but alive.
I would urge all divers to have kit serviced regularly and to practise potential problems. I don't think I would be alive today if we had relied only on our initial training.
Neil Thorneywork, Evesham, Worcs