The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
In May's Off-Gassing, Bob Elliott raised his concerns about dive guides and facilities in the Red Sea (UK Skipper Shocked in Red Sea).
My experiences of dive schools in the area are the opposite. The school chosen for most of my dives on a recent trip to Sharm El Sheikh was exceptional in all aspects of planning, equipment provision, organisation and customer service.
Each dive was very different but I thoroughly enjoyed them all and never felt at risk or in any way concerned. The same high standards extended to the dive-boat crew, who were always on hand to offer help and advice, and always managed to spot us and extract us safely, despite the large number of other boats and divers in the area.
The only disappointment was on our last day, when a fellow-British diver embarrassed himself in front of our multi-national friends and Egyptian hosts by failing to follow very clear instructions given for a duration/direction-specific dive.
This resulted in him and his buddies resurfacing almost 20 minutes late and several hundred metres from where they were expected.
We all know what really happened, despite his hollow claims that he had been on the surface "unnoticed" for almost 20 minutes!
He criticised the divemaster and his team, claiming that the dive was "dull" because it was "too safe". He boasted that he enjoyed diving only when it was "dangerous", and rabbited on about wanting much deeper and more complicated diving.
Clearly the beauty and excellent diving conditions were too ordinary for him and he longed to return to the joys of deep wreck-diving in the UK.
As an "experienced" diver, he may have been a little frustrated by those who, like me, are relatively new to the sport and found it all great fun. Unfortunately, he came across to many of our fellow-divers as a right plonker.
Perhaps Bob Elliott could recommend a dive school that might offer him the thrills and freedom to avoid safety guidelines that he so desperately seeks.
Peter Allman, Grouville, Jersey
As a former PADI instructor, I recently discovered that one of my students had just passed her Instructor Exam in Thailand.
I guess I should have been happy. Far from it. Remembering how uneasy she was under water, with no spatial awareness, I am shocked that she is now in a position to teach recreational scuba diving following back-to-back courses to get her dives up.
I feel let down that you can now take an IE only six months after your Open Water course and with only 100 dives, and become an instructor in charge of people's lives. How can you teach if you have little or no experience of cold water/low viz/night dives/fresh water/reservoirs/wreck-diving/drifts/currents etc? That student had only ever known perfect diving conditions.
Use of drysuits/reels and DSMBs/compass/ computers/pony bottle/nitrox etc? I have seen new instructors who don't even own a computer or tables or a torch, let alone BC and regs.
Then there is theory. Ask any new instructor about DCS or CNS, and see what you get back.
I would like to see fewer instructors coming into the world with no experience with the diving public. Before you can take your IE, you should have a pre-determined number of hours as a working divemaster with guiding, away from the Divemaster course.
The fact that you can take one course after another is bad. To be called a Rescue Diver after 25 dives is even more absurd. Most divers have problems looking after themselves, let alone someone else in a panic.
With higher standards, we could reduce diver fatalities and increase diver education and the quality of diving and diver behaviour, as well as being treated as professionals and getting the pay to go with the qualifications.
I invested thousands of pounds in training, both rec and tec, and even working full-time I never recouped any of it. But there is always an inexperienced instructor waiting to take a job that pays little.
Grant Budd, St Albans, Victoria, Australia
I travel to the Caribbean regularly with my job, and get to dive in many of the islands. Am I alone in being aggrieved by the often-combative approach of some local instructors and divemasters?
These are usually the ones working for the larger commercial dive operators, and appear to see the job as an opportunity to assert themselves as dominant alpha male.
I have been told that my trimix certification "isn't sufficient for diving in the Caribbean as it doesn't prove I have mastered the basics of PADI training". I have been told "no snorkel, no diving!" as I am about to back-roll in.
I have had my computer virtually ripped off my forearm on a 20m reef dive, as the divemaster wanted to "check my status and make sure I hadn't gone into deco".
I have had underwater air horns blasted at me and other divers, accompanied by "non-standard" gestures, for violating the 18m maximum depth by a metre or two. I have found an instructor rummaging through customers' gear looking for computers so that he can check their maximum depth ("It's my right, I'm responsible for your safety!").
Best of all, I have been threatened with a "worldwide ban from diving" for choosing to use some of the remaining gas in my single aluminium 12 for a conservative stop, instead of presenting myself to this buffoon for an inspection on deck, possibly with a few silent bubbles floating about inside me, but with the golden 50 bar showing on my gauge!
I couldn't refrain from laughing during that ridiculous verbal onslaught in front of 12 other paying clients, which probably further fuelled his rage!
The sad thing is that many people take their first tentative steps into diving in such holiday destinations, and are probably put off for life by these underwater Nazis.
My only advice is to seek out the smaller and often more experienced operators who value and depend on their clients, offer more of a personal, fun experience, and can also cater for varying experience levels.
That said, I can't wait to go back to Grenada. I really miss it!
Derek Watts, London
I am a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver. I started diving at 13, have done 40 dives and was 15 yesterday. My family and I buy your mag every month and have not missed it once. We love it so much, it is the dive bible to us.
My sister Tracy loves reading it, so does my dad Noel and mum Carol. Please say hello to them and my dog Scratch, who helps with the gear, and my cat Trouble, who does the same.
My favourite part of the mag is the Wreck Tour, because it's fun to look for the hidden object. The black cat in the July issue was good. If you made one issue every year that was waterproof, you could bring it diving for deco stops and more people would buy it. Lots of diving luck.
Dawn Slevin, Ballinasloe, Ireland
I must take issue with Kate Saxton's letter (Stop This Sports Discrimination, July). Over the past five years we have travelled with Air Malta, BA and BWI on diving holidays, taking all our diving kit (excluding tanks but including shot-weight pouches) and have never experienced any weight-allowance problems.
After booking the tickets, I have only to make a phone call to obtain an extra weight allowance. I explain what my buddy and I will be taking and ask if this is possible without extra charge. The response has always been a polite yes, with the proviso that we need to produce evidence of our diving qualifications or that we are carrying diving equipment.
At the check-in, we have mentioned the extra allowance and this has been confirmed.
On two occasions with Air Malta this extra was not marked on the records, but even then, despite having in excess of 70kg between us each time, we were checked in without fuss, complaint or extra cost.
I sometimes think a polite "Can you help me?", rather than banging on about other people's baggage and how much golfers or snow-boarders can take, pays dividends.
Check-in staff are perhaps grateful to deal with passengers who are not rude or abusive and treat them with respect. Good mag, and I'm glad I took up the subscription!
Neil Meston, Dartford, Kent
I've had enough! I appreciate that the colourful adverts for diving holidays on exotic shores help to keep the cost of our magazine down, but to start a letter as Kate Saxton did with: "Every year most of us have at least one trip abroadÉ" is going too far, as I suspect most readers do not.
The less-colourful majority are happy to dive in home waters and are now very bored with self-pitying letters to all dive periodicals about airline excess baggage. Can I suggest diving at home, taking up a money-saving hobby such as the much-maligned golf, or taking less luggage?
I have just packed all my diving and associated holiday gear into a rucksack for a club trip to Plymouth and it weighs under 20kg (weights excluded). I suspect that all this extra weight is down to notebooks to catalogue complaints or, more worryingly, large egos.
Max Lister, Falmouth
Comment: Just for the record, according to our most recent reader survey 55% of you are planning to visit the Red Sea in the next 12 months, let alone other destinations - and more than 60% of you dive in the UK too.
I read with interest Gavin Parsons' article about his encounter with oceanic whitetip sharks at the Brothers (The Money Shot, July). I was on mv Rosetta last November when I encountered at the same location a rather larger version, which seemed to take it personally that we were in the same ocean.
Four of us were swept off the reef, and started a rather rapid drift south. Out of the blue came what I at first took to be a large hammerhead. It made two passes, and on the third made a purposeful head-attack run. Fortunately the two Dutch divers with us took the focus of its attention, bravely allowing my buddy and I to surface alongside our RIB.
De-kitting rapidly, I looked down to see the divers thumping the oceanic with a camera. They made a rapid ascent from 5m.
My buddy, who was lying in the water watching, was the last into the RIB. He landed fully kitted in the bottom of the boat as the front half of the oceanic broke the surface just behind him. It then returned, running on the surface alongside the RIB.
Next day, still at the Brothers, the surface was broken by that unmistakable dorsal fin. This oceanic came close to the boat, and the Dutch divers, ever willing to provide a tasty morsel and afford their companions a good show, threw themselves into the water.
After a while I joined them for half an hour of close-up encounters. The photos were taken with an MX5.
Michael Learwood-Griffiths, Boston, Lincs
The feature on DPVs (Wacky Races, July) contained mistakes and contradictory information about the Torpedo 3500. It stated that the DPV "has a very sleek hydrodynamic shape, which is then ruined by being covered all over in railings!" The side bars/railings cover 1% of the outer surface area and do not affect the hydrodynamics. They allow users to attach gauge bars, camera platforms, reels, torches etc and to store the 3500 upright. They also make it easier to carry it to the dive site and recover it from the water.
"We stripped it down to its bare essentials before using it." The unit was supplied with three optional accessories - gauge bar, camera platform and buoyancy bag. John Bantin simply removed the first two items.
"Let go and you stop. You need to let go when you adjust your buoyancy or clear your ears, which interrupts progress somewhat." DPVs should only ever be used for horizontal propulsion, when ear-clearing is unnecessary, and all DPVs stop if you let go of the start/on/go control. There is no reason why a Torpedo diver would need to stop to adjust buoyancy, especially if they attach a lanyard.
"This scooter is really only of use during recovery at the surface." We accept that this sentence was a mistake in that it should have referred only to the buoyancy bag, which of course is designed to enhance surface recovery, snorkelling etc.
DPVs are great tools for less fit and disabled divers, yet these aspects were inadequately mentioned. Your coverline Speed Trials, coupled with the headline Wacky Races, tainted further with many Jeremy Clarkson-style comments, denigrated the article significantly.
Torpedo DPVs are for recreational use. At just £699, the 3500 was more than 70% cheaper than the average price of the others reviewed.
Had we known you were planning Speed Trials/Wacky Races, we would have considered supplying a Twin 3500 DPV. At just £1398 it is over £1000 cheaper than the average of the others and would have been the fastest DPV in the review.
That said, we think comfort, usability, price and runtimes are more important than speed.
Steve Mackay, Starlight Distribution
Obviously Mark Woombs (The Fish Are Back, June) hasn't seen my film E-mail From A Shark, or followed the research into basking sharks by Dr David Sims from the Plymouth-based Marine Biological Association.
Mark repeats the old but now discredited theory that basking sharks lose their ability to feed by shedding their gill rakers, and "rest" in deep water in the winter - I think he means "hibernate"! It is now scientifically accepted that this theory is false.
Basking sharks feed all year round, but in winter the plankton layers are deeper, which is why we do not see them. They make such massive vertical migrations searching for plankton that they are possibly the record-holders in the shark world when it comes to the distances they dive.
The article also says that very little is known about where the sharks go in winter.
Wrong again! David Sims has also established that far from disappearing to the abyss in the winter, they are off the UK coast all year round, making them truly British sharks.
Maybe Mark should buy a copy of the DVD!
John Boyle, West Cornwall
On 19 June six of us from Rhondda SAA set off for Martin's Haven. Three of us travelled in the same vehicle, having arranged to meet the others at West Wales Divers for air fills and some of the best bacon butties in the west.
We then dropped our kit off at the bottom of the hill before bringing the vehicles back up. There were about 80 divers and mountains of kit on the beach and grassy banks - it was Bristol University Underwater Club.
"Uh-oh," said my buddy. "Do you think the rest of our kit will be safe when we're in the water?"
"You've heard of honour among thieves?" I said. "Well, we've got the divers' code. It'll be safe as houses."
Two wonderful dives later, we brought the vehicles down. Because it was so busy, we had to move the kit to the top end of the banking.
We quickly loaded up and set off home via a couple of pints in the Lobster Pot Inn. But just before we reached Carmarthen, we realised that there were four tanks in the back. We had an extra 10 litre tank which, when we turned it over, revealed the letters "UBUC". Duh!
I phoned West Wales Divers and left my details. I also looked up UBUC's website and emailed the committee address but received no reply.
So if anyone from there sees this letter, our sincere apologies. DIVER has my contact details and we can arrange the return of the tank.
Long live the divers' code.
Brian Cochran, Pontypridd, Mid Glamorgan
There we were inside the wreck of the infamous Black Hawk. It seemed like a thousand bib were circling us as we knelt in anticipation of what might lurk in the dark of the hull.
They closed in on us like a pack of wolves, till suddenly they scattered. My eyes widened with surprise. My buddy turned and we both looked into the murk of the hull. Something was moving towards us.
We seemed to be glued together as we raised our torches at the same time to see what came our way.
Like a ghost it glided towards us with menace and purpose. It was a conger, six, seven, no eight feet long. It wound its way between us. We were transfixed.
Fearless, it swam around my buddy and crossed in front of me at arm's length. It was huge. As it passed my left shoulder, I couldn't resist. I felt myself draw up my arm and stroke the beast all along its flank. I noticed its eye move as it returned my gaze. We were in awe of this magnificent animal.
It swam back, confident that we were either no threat or not lunch. As it turned around at the end of the hull to face us again, we saw something that sent a shiver down our spines - Dad. A much bigger and fatter conger was waiting down there, gaping its huge mouth.
We departed without delay, shocked and stunned. Fantastic!
Rich Edwards, Evesham, Worcs