The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
As a female diver of nine years, I got fed up with wetsuits that were boring, colourless (if you like black you're in luck), and obviously designed to fit men. I like to be seen and, at the same time, to dive comfortably.
Although I dive in Britain, I like to travel abroad, and when diving in waters above 23°C I find a Lycra skin quite warm enough. I have searched innumerable websites to find something colourful that fits, and although there are a couple of good suppliers in the USA, their prices are high and some of them are over the top, even for my tastes.
Recently I had a flash of inspiration, and searched the web for aerobic gear, in particular catsuits. There are lots of sites, and they yielded many different styles and colours at affordable prices.
I found a supplier having a sale and, for the princely sum of £5, got a great catsuit, with navy blue legs to the waist and then a flowered top. I tried it out in Manado this year and not only was it comfortable, afforded protection, and meant that I was seen easily, but it dried quickly and was a dream to get in and out of.
So let's go for some girl power, search the web, and change the face of diving. Suppliers, come on - give us something we can look good in. The number of female divers is going up, and we spend a lot on fashion, so a new market awaits. Who will be brave enough to take up the challenge?
Marie Jewkes, Nuneaton
The dietary advice from Amanda Ursell in Supersize Me (June) was useful, but her article overlooked benefits that supervised diving can offer those who live with obesity.
As someone who has lived with obesity all his adult life, while I agree that most overweight people want to lose weight, turning one's life around can be as difficult as asking a blind person to see or a paraplegic to walk.
The key appears to be to build confidence by experiencing what life can offer beyond comfort eating. I've wanted to scuba dive and snorkel since I was 10. That was 30 years ago, and it's still difficult both to find the confidence and the right conditions to take the plunge.
I know I am not fit enough to dive in the sea, but an hour's diving in a heated swimming pool did me more good than 100 lectures about losing weight from concerned family and friends. The trick now is to repeat this experience.
Dieting is only half the solution - physical exercise and improved confidence are two benefits that scuba diving or snorkelling can offer.
Unfortunately, the diving community does not normally welcome those with an unsightly figure. In this image-conscious society, if you have a 52in waistline you're seen as a liability or embarrassment. Also, if safe diving is about working within your limits, obesity places so many restrictions on the diver that open water diving becomes almost unrealistic.
Andy Blackford's "witty" assault on the obese (Skinny Dipping), though fictional, only confirms that the diving fraternity, including clubs, schools and shops, breeds bigotry.
My own experience as a wannabe diver is of being the target for ridicule and innuendo. Knowing it was impossible for me to scuba dive in open water, I had thought it wiser to stick to snorkelling in shallow, easily accessible sites. I emailed local dive clubs and placed messages on numerous online forums, hoping someone might help.
My openness in stating my limitations (and waistline) resulted in derogatory replies - emails bordering on the malicious and nasty. If it is objectionable to offend those from ethnic minorities, what makes the average UK diver (and magazine columnist) think it acceptable to react with such derision that it damages the reputation of the sport? How can someone find the confidence even to turn up at a dive club, if he or she knows that most members share Andy Blackford's dark humour?
Living with obesity is about living with the knowledge that, unless checked, you will end up seriously ill or worse. For some, diving can be a rewarding stepping stone towards change.
Phillip Rhodes, Kingston upon Hull
I am 6ft tall, weigh 21 stone, started diving last year, got my PADI Open Water and everything was great.
I had always wanted to dive but had put it off because of my size. Then, one day, walking around our local lakes, I started chatting to a couple of blokes. One of them was bigger than me, and he said I was a fool to worry about it - he said there was plenty of equipment made for all sizes, and a lot of his mates were big blokes,
So I went for it, love it and now here are fat blokes being highlighted in your mag. There is not much open to bigger blokes, so don't take diving away from us by making us a point of ridicule.
I use less air than my skinny brother and can swim further than most at our club, so just leave us alone.
Kevin Davidson, Snodland, Kent
Supersize Me was interesting and thought-provoking. However, I must say how disappointed I was to see that your magazine has pandered to the stereotypical images thrust upon us these days in the media, and used a thin model for your front cover!
Michael Hopkins, Huddersfield
This is the wording of an email from a friend of a friend who tried diving in Egypt:
"Went diving with the tanks on under the sea, not sure whether I liked it or not. I didn't like it before I got in because they put you in a wet suit, stick flippers on your feet, put heavy weights round your waist, put a tank on that weighs as much as we would, then inflate a life jacket to the extent that you cannot breathe in.
"Then somebody takes you by the shoulders and launches you into the rough sea (about 80 feet deep), then this Hitler-type bloke thinks you should just DO IT!!! My fella managed okay, but there were 2 women after me, the first one came out crying and the second one punched him!!!!
"Then we went out to sea for a full day snorkelling. I didn't like the fact that you had to jump off a moving boat and that the boat left you for half an hour, and met you round the other side of the coral reef!!! Daren't even think about Jaws!!! But it was amazing seeing the fish."
The mind boggles.
Julia Dack, Nottingham
I read Harmony Hedger's letter about her dive in Tenerife (Preoccupied By The Bikinis, April) and was appalled at how these two young ladies were treated. The operator should be named and its bad practice exposed.
People need to be aware that some diving operators see divers as walking wallets, not as customers. If this leads to reduced customer service, you have to ask what else they ignore in their pursuit of profit.
I have holidayed in Tenerife four times, each time with Island Divers, a British-run school of 18 years. I know that its Graham Levett is campaigning to have legislation put in place covering all dive operators - simple things such as O2, first aid, boat cover (something I often saw lacking this May), qualified dive guides and DSMBs.
As an instructor I have worked in many places and seen bad working practices. I remember being bawled out for turning a boat round after I decided it was not safe to carry on to the dive site. My boss, who had to refund three divers, saw only $ signs.
Any diver going away on holiday should check
out websites and talk to other divers. If you are not happy, say no and walk. I do.
Chris Hall, Huddersfield
My girlfriend Helen, though being PADI Advanced and with 80 dives to her name, four dive trips to the Red Sea, one to Turkey and one to India, plus countless trips to our favourite local dive site, Lamorna Cove, still gets nervous before a dive.
She is ready to give up at the slightest problem, moans about her buoyancy, the cold, the wet, new computer not working, leaking seals, the lack of dolphins in Cornwall etc, and continually defends her lack of confidence every time I mention diving the Manacles.
But surely, as this picture from Lamorna proves, Helen is probably the best diver in the world!
Richard Merritt, Penzance
(PS The can was retrieved.)
In Medical Q&A in June, someone asked whether you could develop bends by freediving after a scuba dive.
I have scuba-dived for more than 30 years and have lived for many years in the tropics, where I have done a lot of underwater photography. I have always been physically fit, and even did my military service as a navy diver.
However, I have twice freedived to 15-18m during the surface interval after a scuba dive, and afterwards, on the dive boat, felt some tingling in my knees. It was the kind of minor tingling I have felt occasionally after deep scuba dives - not real bends, but a warning sign. I have never had these symptoms without diving.
This is enough to make me avoid freediving after scuba. Be extra-careful if you are over 30.
Eric, Espoo, Finland
Deep Silence, about Leigh Bishop's training on the Ouroboros rebreather (July), was a nice article. It was just a shame that, considering the skill level of the divers involved, they couldn't manage neutral buoyancy.
The pictures clearly depict divers kneeling all over the wreck of the Thistlegorm. What has happened to "leave it as you find it", so that other divers can enjoy what previous people have already seen?
Why did these divers need to go to the Thistlegorm to do a skills circuit? It could have been done on a flat, sandy patch, where they could have destroyed the bottom to their hearts content.
Every year I return to Thistlegorm to see that it is slowly diminishing, and being stripped of its reef content. Please, if these courses are to become popular, which I'm sure they will, can the training establishment pick dive sites a little less sensitive to human destruction?
Craig Nelson, Cheadle, Staffs
Well done on picking up on what a nightmare Excel Airways is to deal with, and how user-unfriendly (Mystery Diver, June).
I flew with it on a dive trip to Cuba in May for 14 nights. The weight allowance was, for a long haul, a measly 20kg but my dive gear alone weighed 21.5kg.
I rang to see if Excel would allow me an additional 10kg. After waiting for 30-plus minutes on two occasions, the customer service agent confirmed the additional allowance. I asked for this to be put on my booking record but was told: "No need, it's common knowledge at check-in."
As per Excel's website instructions, I emailed three times and faxed twice for confirmation - sweet FA back. At Gatwick, I heard passengers complaining that Excel was charging for everything over 20kg.
My baggage weighed 32kg and I was charged £84. With nothing in writing to back up the agent's assurance, my objections were futile. The plane was very small, the leather seats had seen much better days, the ashtray was full of old chewing gum and they had forgotten to load the earphones for the in-flight entertainment.
We were then told that the plane was too small to fly direct to Cuba, so we would be diverting to Gander in Canada for a fuel stop. Twelve hours of sitting with your knees around your ears is no fun.
When I returned home, I did feel a little compensated to read Mystery Diver highlighting the inept lack of customer service, crap planes and overall inferior operation of this airline.
Warren Price, Letchworth
I have just flown with Excel Airways to Hurghada. I think Mystery Diver had a good flight, if he complains only about the legroom and grubby and uncomfortable seats.
I fully agree on this but we also found on both the outward and return flights cabin crew selling headsets for the in-flight entertainment that they already knew was not working. When we asked for a refund, we were told to write to Customer Services.
Our seatbacks went back of their own accord on both flights. The meal, for which we were charged extra on the outward leg, was dried up and, on the return, barely edible. We were supposed to have a choice, but there was none.
To top it all, when we collected our luggage, our new case had been badly damaged.
We first flew with Excel two years ago, and that was just as bad. We hoped it had improved, but In future we will change the package rather than have to fly Exhell.
Steve Scally, Herts
I recently flew to Larnaca with Excel Airways, as part of a last-minute package booked via a cancellations line. I agree that its telephone habits are appalling, and though I sent an email with details of my size (6ft 6in), and stating that my partner and I would both be carrying dive gear, I received no response.
At the check-in, however, I was delighted to discover that appropriate seating had been pre-allocated for us. The check-in representative, noting that seats with still further legroom were available, then kindly swapped the allocated seating around!
We had no problem checking in our dive kit, gaining our additional 10kg each free of charge with no resistance. The return journey was similarly pleasant.
I note that Mystery Diver booked his seats via the Internet. As a tall person, I have found that online booking, while very useful and efficient, often does not provide the opportunity to highlight one's size, so I make arrangements with the airline over the phone. It will usually provide the same price as quoted on the website, but can do the pre-allocation there and then.
I am glad Mystery Diver has highlighted the plight of the taller diver, but feel he has unfairly criticised Excel on the basis of a single experience.
Dr Martin Sutcliffe, Inverness
Sue Lister, Excel's PR Manager, replies: Due to substantial increases in the price of oil, Excel Airways has regrettably had to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to excess baggage, as practiced by many airlines. The standard hold baggage allowance of 20kg per person remains unchanged, but we regret that we are now unable to waive excess baggage charges.
Passengers taking diving equipment on all flights are, however, allowed 10kg excess baggage free of charge in addition to their normal allowance. Large groups must inform the pre-flight department at least one week before departure.
Receipt of email should have been sufficient to process any request of this nature, and I am truly sorry if check-in staff made an error with relation to our new policy with Mr Price. We will happily refund his additional 10kg charge on receipt of proof of payment, and will ensure that this does not occur in future.
I was surprised and disappointed to learn that readers found aircraft cabins in a tired and dirty condition. We evaluate interiors regularly and replace seat covers and carpets when required. Even on the tightest turnrounds contract cleaners clean the cabins between flights.
European Aviation Safety Agency specifications contain requirements for seat designs related to preventing serious injuries in emergency landings. These are not based on passenger comfort, and there is no specific design standard for minimum space between seats. Excel Airways in fact offers a larger seat pitch than some charter airlines.
We offer a minimum choice of two meals on all flights, and I am sorry if the choice ran out before serving your reader. And if our service providers were late delivering in-flight entertainment headsets, we would have to choose between potentially losing our flight slot or departing without the headsets.
Neither situation is ideal and we would apologise for any disappointment.
Excel Airways is dedicated to becoming the UK's leading charter airline through a total commitment to delivering the highest standards of safety, service and reliability and our sincere apologies for any disappointment caused.
Your much-dived and experienced tester John Bantin seems to have a very sketchy knowledge of twin-hose regulators and their history (Aqua-Lung Mistral, DIVER Tests, May).
They came in both single- and twin-stage versions, and those of us who used them had no difficulty in breathing.
They were not "impossible to share", but much easier, in that you just tilted the mouthpiece through 90° and surfaced face to face, making it easier to monitor the facial expression of the distressed diver (see BSAC manuals pre-1983).
Only in the very earliest days did you have to tilt to one side to clear them. There were such things as non-return valves in those days.
As for advantages, they never froze up and the exhaust bubbles were always well away from your field of vision, whatever you were doing. I welcome them back.
Reg Vallintine, London