The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIR FOLKS|
Recently, on a charter boat off the southern coast of France, I was asked to help liaise with a couple of Americans who were also booked on the boat. The dive we were scheduled to do was nothing spectacular, a wreck at 30m, but the operator had insisted that no wreck penetration should be done, as there were too many unknown people on the boat that day.
The Americans were Doing It Right (DIR) enthusiasts, with their long hoses, backplates and wings (Life on a DIR Planet, August). Things started to go wrong when they couldn't hire an aluminium twinset. Twin steel 10s or 12s were available, but not aluminium 80s. These two were more than a little unhappy at this, because as one of them put it "DIR dictates that you can't dive with twin steel tanks."
Hmm. I had always thought that DIR taught you to use what was correct for the dive you were doing. Twin steels are not really suitable when diving in a thin wetsuit , as they are quite negatively buoyant, but these two were using drysuits. Even if you lose buoyancy from either your suit or BC, you're still going to have enough buoyancy from the other, together with ditching your weightbelt, to get to the surface.
No matter how much I tried explaining this to them, they couldn't understand it. How many divers in the UK dive with twin steel tanks? Most of us who use a twinset do. Can we all be "strokes", as DIR purists would have us believe?
When they were kitting up, they were amazed that nobody else was using a long hose, but surely that is for overhead environments, and not really necessary for a standard open-water dive. It is designed for passing off to someone either in front of you, or behind you in a confined space.
I agree that a standard hose is a bit uncomfortable if you have to ascend on your buddy's air supply, but more than 2m of hose wrapped round your neck for an open-water dive?
As they continued to grouse about the "strokes" with whom they were diving, and the equipment we were using, they got on to lights and BCs. Their assertion that the only type of lamp to carry was a canister lamp was particularly annoying. Why carry a large lamp like that when you're doing a simple open-water potter round a wreck?
Are most of us UK divers "strokes" because we don't dive with canister lights on open-water dives? Ditto for a BC rather than a backplate and wings.
Having asked around a group of reasonably experienced divers, there seemed to be agreement that DIR has its place, in cave and deep wreck-penetration diving. All divers have far more equipment than they need, mostly purchased because the diving they have done has changed. DIR teaches you to analyse the dive, so if it isn't technical, is there any real need to dive it DIR?
If there isn't, please keep your distaste for divers who aren't "diving it DIR" to yourselves. For a simple open-water dive of the sort we were doing, standard scuba gear is the right gear, and cave gear isn't. Are you really "doing it right"?
Dr Jon Turner, Marcy l'Etoile, France
Do as you're told
Our training too often becomes redundant when the word "pleasure" is put before diving. I have been on pleasure dives where the buddy system has been non-existent, or seen buddies too far apart to respond to any emergency. I have been rebuked by divers both as a divemaster and instructor for needlessly shepherding them on pleasure dives.
John Bantin's article Clubbing in St Lucia (June 2001) is an example of "I'm too good a diver to co-operate with the person responsible for the conduct of the dive". Sorry, John you were wrong to take that attitude and even more seriously wrong to write about it, where you may influence others with less experience. Your instructor was correct that your age and ego made you, and therefore her and her group, vulnerable.
Double fatalities suggest that one diver has lost his life for another's error. Oscar Wilde wrote in The Importance of Being Ernest, "to lose one is unfortunate, to lose both is carelessness".
Howard Sherman, Clifford's Mesne, Glos
Yet again, the age-old argument over solo-diving rears its ugly head (PADI Recognises Place for Solo Diving, News, June). There are divers who will in no circumstances dive solo or advocate such "dangerous" practices. And there are others, like myself, who frequently dive solo, including deep, wreck and night dives.
I can hear Diver readers muttering: "crazy", "what does he think he's doing?", etc. But when an instructor is in open water with a trainee, is that instructor diving solo? What if the instructor gets into some sort of difficulty? Would the trainee be able to help?
An instructor is essentially diving solo, but with the added responsibility of looking after someone else. When I dive solo I am more aware of my surroundings and equipment than usual, because I know that if I get into any difficulty I must deal with it on my own. I don't put my safety record down to luck, but to commonsense and good old Scottish Sub-Aqua Club training.
If you are considering solo-diving, consider your ability and equipment first, then start shallow and work your way down. And if you still think solo-diving is for crazy divers, then open an asylum, because I see more crazy people diving at weekends than when I first started diving all those years ago.
Peter Mills, Port Glasgow, Inverclyde
Comment: The argument that instructors teaching novices are effectively solo-divers is indeed an old one, but perhaps there is less outright opposition to your approach than you think. John Bantin has some thoughts on solo-diving in this month's Deep Breath column.
No free lunch
As a Yank reader over the Web, I would like to say that Monty Hall's Deep Breath column about sharks, and shark-feeding in particular (Waiting to be Eaten on Camera, June), was right on the mark.
I firmly believe that feeding sharks to entertain divers is at least as stupid as allowing John Q Public to feed the bears in Yellowstone Park, USA.
After years of practice getting handouts from people in cars, the bears started mauling tourists who didn't bring food. Even now, bears in Yellowstone are occasionally put down for threatening people.
I wonder how many sharks in the Bahamas, Florida, South Africa and elsewhere already associate the sound of divers hitting the water with a free, easy meal. Every time a dive boat puts a chumsicle over the side, someone is training sharks to associate us with food. Thanks Monty.
Scott Winners, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
Dressed to kill
I would like to draw attention to the total ignorance and disregard for safety shown by private ribs operating in and around the Farnes.
My buddy and I were diving on the Somalia. There were one or two boats at the site, ours being a large hardboat chartered from Seahouses. The weather was wet but clear.
After enjoying our dive we ascended the shotline to about 3m, waited as two other divers boarded our boat, and watched as she pulled away from the line. I then had a good look around, and as the surface was clear, we continued our ascent, with my buddy very slightly below me.
As I raised my hand above the surface, I was suddenly struck by a blue-hulled RIB. Luckily I was quick enough to pull myself back down the shotline. The RIB skimmed my cylinder, and the prop was as close as I ever want to be to one.
As we surfaced, the RIB could be seen speeding off in the distance. Our skipper thought we must have been hit. We were very lucky, because this idiot went straight across a buoy on a well-known dive site, showing total disregard for others.
The incident has been reported to the authorities, but we were both shaken and are now very apprehensive on surfacing in populated dive sites.
I hope you can publish this letter as a warning to other divers to be extra careful. Skippers say these incidents are getting all too frequent, and are of course concerned, as there are a number of unregistered charter boats in the area.
Share your sightings
Congratulations on being the most professional of all the dive mags. There's always something interesting to see. I do nearly all my diving here in the UK, and everyone knows there is some amazing marine life lurking around, such as leatherback turtles, but they're hardly ever seen.
People don't generally get to hear about sightings of unusual marine life. Let's say divers in Sussex were miles offshore and saw a tope or thresher shark - would they bother to let anyone know? Would Diver consider a page dedicated to interesting marine life sightings around the British Isles?
James Yonge, Tenterden, Kent
Comment: We'd like to hear about any unusual sightings from readers - and another good place to share them is on the forums on our website, divernet.com
Diving dentists get stuck in
I was interested to read Ian Gregory's letter about his disintegrating teeth (New Diver, Old Teeth, July). I used to be involved in hang-gliding and remember when Judy Leden, the British women's champion, broke the altitude record by being dropped from a balloon out in Jordan.
She first had to get all her fillings changed, to ensure that there were no air pockets in the amalgam which could expand during the pressure drop at altitude, causing her teeth to explode (embarrassing at any time).
Ian's problem is the converse - his teeth seem to be breaking down because of increased external pressure. As a diving dentist practising on the Isle of Skye, I see many divers, both sport and professional, but this is the first I have heard of this phenomenon.
Ian gives the game away when he says he has feared dentists because he associates them with pain and unnecessary work, which is why his teeth are in less-than-perfect condition.
Dentistry, like diving, has progressed in leaps and bounds in the past 20 years and modern dentists are expert at controlling pain and discomfort. Ian's teeth might simply be overdue for a bit of TLC, so he should get them checked.
Ian wants a "magic mouthwash" to kill infections. One does exist. It's called a toothbrush and, in the right hands, is deadly. If used properly, and if Ian has annual check-ups, he won't need to find a "good denture-maker" to help him grip his demand valve.
Dave Monks, Isle of Skye
Mr Gregory has my deepest sympathy. Not only can it be difficult to grip a DV with bad teeth but they can also lead to dangerous situations. Pain can be extremely sharp, have a sudden onset and possibly contribute to panic.
Poorly restored teeth can break during ascent, releasing sharp fragments into the mouth and possibly the airways. As a dentist, I suggest all divers should have their teeth as fit as the rest of their bodies.
These problems can be avoided relatively easily. If you don't already have a dentist you can trust, ask around for one with a good reputation. Once found, stay with him.
Dentists want to find problems before the symptoms appear, and the longer you wait, the more extensive and expensive the treatment.
If your teeth have been long neglected, you may be looking at a few months of regular treatment and a maximum cost of about £360 within the NHS. After that, maintenance should be relatively simple to carry out.
If you feel uncomfortable with dental treatment, tell your dentist about it. The NHS system unfortunately leaves the dentist with little time for each patient and your fear may be overlooked, but when reminded, most dentists will be sympathetic.
Don't let bad teeth ruin precious dives. Good luck, Mr Gregory! Good magazine, by the way.
Erik Ahlbom, Blackpool
Trouble in paradise
Here is a sad story about what were until recently very healthy, spectacular reefs and a diver's paradise in Sarangani Bay near General Santos City on Mindanao in the Philippines.
During the past 12 months crown of thorns seastars have caused some problems on the Kapatan and Lago Reef systems, but within the past six months a fish-farming operation has expanded by setting up more floating cages to raise cobia.
Now, even at 40m, the reefs are covered in slime and algae which causes the floating sediment and silt to stick to and choke the corals. I estimate that there is now less than 20 per cent of living coral in the area.
It's terrible to lose such good reef systems but it shows that the organisations which are supposed to monitor such activities are not doing their work correctly. Not a happy diver...
Chris Dearne, General Santos City, Philippines
Counted on and off
I read with horror the article on the US operator fined for "losing" divers (Florida Operator Fined After Divers Went Missing, News, July). I find it hard to believe that its only control on numbers was a roll call at the start of boarding.
A simple method could be implemented similar to that used with breathing apparatus in the fire service. A board with tallies could be placed on the boat. Each diver then takes one, writes his or her name on it and in the space on the board.
The diver then returns it at the end of the dive. This would give a clear indication of who has not returned from each dive - rather than at the end of the day, when it would be far too late.
We should be pushing for such safety methods to be part of every dive. It's not expensive, it's not rocket science but it could save your life!
Dean Butterworth, Coventry
The villain of the piece
Here we go again. A couple of months back it was the evil British Sub-Aqua Club preventing a Sub-Aqua Association club from even being able to submit its Lottery application. Presumably it was conspiring with the Post Office to stop SAA members buying stamps.
Now, it seems, there's a wicked BSAC plot to boost membership by stopping PADI divers getting mortgages (Catch Question, Off-Gassing, July). I know bashing the BSAC is good, clean fun and sometimes it deserves it. All the same, the tendency of some people to blame them for everything from crop failure to Manchester City's relegation is surely getting a bit out of hand. Hasn't it occurred to your recent letter-writers that the BSAC doesn't make Lottery grants, nor does it sell mortgages?
Shouldn't the argument be with the Sports Council and mortgage-lenders, rather than the BSAC? Shouldn't the focus be on persuading them to change their outdated rules? Isn't rational argument better than conspiracy theories?
The good news is that Friends Provident has seen the light. Homes are now safe. The Huns have been vanquished. A glorious PADI triumph over the Agents of Darkness. And I think the BSAC should come clean about who really shot JFK!
Ian Hussey, Sohar, Oman
The recent diver casualty figures in UK waters make sad reading. Lives are being lost in pursuit of something we do for enjoyment.
I was diving with friends around the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth on the weekend that two divers tragically lost their lives diving the Halland at 60m on the other side of the firth. Listening to the radio traffic left us with an empty feeling as it became evident that things had gone badly wrong for another group of divers.
If they had known beforehand that something was going to go wrong, obviously they would not have put themselves at risk. However, I feel strongly that "risk assessment" does not play nearly a large enough part in diver training.
It's easy to discuss worst-case scenarios of deeper diving in a cosy classroom environment, surrounded by buddies you want to impress with your diving knowledge and experience. It's easy to dive to greater depths than you've been to before for an assessment, secure that someone experienced is watching your every move.
But when you have signed your cheque and sewn on the course badge, are you really ready to deal with any incident that might occur at depth, when you are cold, it's dark, the viz is zero and nitrogen narcosis is chewing up the parts of your brain that usually make rational decisions?
Mal Carleton, Leuchars, Fife
I have finally settled on Diver as the magazine, that fulfills my requirements, one reason being that it isn't tied to a diving association (I'm PADI trained) and gives me a feel for what is happening across the whole UK diving scene.
What I have seen is a little like what used to happen in computer magazines with "My Computer is Better Than Your Computer", but for "computer" read "association". Your feature about the PADI Open Water course (Antonella Learns To Dive, July) made my toes curl and then horrified me that the trainer was so bad. I'm sure BSAC divers (and SAA and the rest of the agencies) have similar instructors.
Each association supplies something the industry and paying public need. We need to appreciate this and ensure that the rogues are rooted out, because without the paying public, the agency will fold and it will be a case of "My Association Was Better Yours".
John Greenoff, Essex