The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
TWO'S COMPANY, THREE'S A LIABILITY|
From the early days of my training, I have believed in the benefits of buddy diving, particularly when paired with a friend of equal competence. It's satisfying to share the underwater experience and reassuring to know that you are responsible for each other in case of problems.
However, there is a reduction in diving pleasure and in safety when diving in threes, especially when the third person is added to a regular buddy pair and is unknown to them.
I hate diving in threes. Often the third person is inexperienced, and my buddy and I spend the dive correcting problems (buoyancy, separation) instead of enjoying our dive. We are trained as divemasters and manage, but others might not cope so well.
Have you noticed that whenever there are threes, whether on dry land or under water, there is a natural tendency for the two friends to stick together to the exclusion of the third person? Each buddy might then mistakenly think that the other is keeping an eye out for the third person. In a buddy pair, problems should be identified immediately, but in a three they can easily be overlooked.
A case in point seems to have been a diving incident off the Texas coast where the "third person" ran low on air and was left to surface by himself in a strong current at a dive site more than 100 miles from the coast, with tragic consequences.
Dive operators seem more than willing to introduce a third buddy into a buddy pair, especially someone who has arrived alone but loaded with cash. If asked whether we mind if that person dives with us, my buddy and I are likely to refuse. We're not being selfish; we'd like to think that by saying no we're doing him a favour, making sure he has a dedicated buddy on whom he can rely.
If you're buddyless, get a life and find one, or ask the dive operator to provide you with a professional buddy, rather than tagging along with a couple who would probably prefer you not to be around!
For the operators such practices arguably short-change three divers and could leave their centres open to a liability claim in the event of an incident.
John Patterson, Houston, Texas
Let's hear it for fear
July's Diver really had me boiling over the article Look Inside Yourself, about dealing with diving phobias. The "techniques" mentioned by Brendan O'Brien might be all very well for sports supremos with first-rate coaching and training, but most divers of my acquaintance don't fall into that category.
As a diving psychotherapist and "licensed" NLP practitioner, I know that the NLP techniques mentioned are hard to implement effectively and of little use to the average Joe or Joan trying to "overcome" fears without professional training.
Most of the NLP practitioners I know are self-deluded if they claim otherwise.
What really makes my temperature soar, however, is this idea of "overcoming" fears. If I had a pound for every diver I have seen in my three seasons' diving who is scared and unable to admit it, I could have a season in the Bahamas.
Why are they scared? Because that macho culture which still surrounds diving - despite great advances - puts pressures on them which make it difficult to admit that they lack the confidence and skill-level to handle what's before them.
Some feign illness or somehow don't dive, which leaves them at the mercy of the club gossip machine; some give up diving altogether; and some have - or barely avoid - near-fatal accidents because they dive anyway, panic and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What they do not need is increasing pressure to "overcome" their fears. They are afraid - and rightly so! They need more experience, training and a supportive environment, as PADI stresses repeatedly, where anyone, at any time, can refuse or retire from a dive without feeling humiliated.
What is needed is recognition that it is OK and even natural to feel scared. It's nature's way of letting us know we need to watch out. Once a fear has been admitted and discussed, isn't it astonishing how often it dissipates of its own accord?
Until this happens, for every person who "overcomes" his fears, there will a buddy who is just pretending to do so. Woe betide any of us who get to dive with him or her.
Alex Brunel, Priors Marston, Warwicks
Dressed to kill
I couldn't agree more with Guy Tinsley's Deep Breath article about winter training in unsuitable gear (Goose Pimples, July). My first open- water dive was on a freezing March morning at Capernwray in temperatures of 4°C. My undersuit was so small that I couldn't get it past my thighs, while my drysuit was so large that Giant Haystacks would have found it roomy.
The gloves provided were ridden with holes, so when it came to performing the skill of removing and replacing my weightbelt on the surface, my fingers were completely numb. I spent five minutes trying to thread and re-buckle a belt that I had apparently dropped some time back. My hands were so frozen, I hadn't even noticed!
Everyone else in the group had similar problems with poorly fitting or poorly maintained kit hired from a local dive shop/school (not Capernwray's, which I have found more than adequate). We must have looked like a bunch of diving vagrants.
One woman in the group was shivering so violently that, once in the shallows, she had trouble standing. Two people had had problems with free-flowing regulators. When I later mentioned the problem with the gloves to the owner of the shop, the response was that there was a wide selection of gloves - for sale.
One of our instructors pointed out how costly it would be for the shop to replace all the faltering equipment. Perhaps the shop ought to calculate the cost of a dead or seriously injured diver?
Mark Pegg, Rainham, Essex
Your Deep Breath about training in mid-winter was bang on. I did my PADI Open Water in early April in a wetsuit. The water temperature was 5°C but we were told to put down 7°C.
The cold gave me physical pain, which made completing the course very hard. I haven't dived since, although I just bought a drysuit, so I hope I'll start again soon. Goose pimples, damn right!
Chris Davies, Walton on the Naze, Essex
I was pleased to read Guy Tinsley's article because it made me feel I was not the over-sensitive, rather pathetic individual I had been made to feel I was by the instructor who took me through the final paces of my PADI Open Water last November.
I had enjoyed diving on holidays in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, enjoyed most of the course and was confident about the final qualifying dives. These turned out to be a thoroughly miserable experience, however, due to poor visibility and low water temperatures.
It was late October and the temperature off the South Coast was well below 15°C. We were led down in semi-drys by the instructor in his drysuit, exactly as described by Guy Tinsley.
Within minutes of being in the water I started shivering and indicated this to my instructor, who shook his head and ignored me.
As I waited for the other three divers to do their tasks, I felt biting pain in my hands and face. My mask was fitting badly and I was shivering so much I had real problems adjusting it.
When it came to my turn to flood and clear the mask, the coldness of the water was torture. The instructor in his cosy drysuit made me do it twice. By that stage I just wanted to get out.
After drying off, I put three fleeces and two windbreaks over my other clothes and continued to shiver while the instructor took his time telling us how to fill in the forms etc. He said we were lucky - sometimes it was really cold. It was several hours before I was near to normal temperature again.
I told my boyfriend the experience had made me never want to dive again. If not for memories of previous dives, I don't think I would have done, but I went diving in Thailand as soon as I could and did my Advanced in warmer waters.
I agree with Guy Tinsley that if instructors are genuinely interested in encouraging people to be safe recreational divers, and introducing them to a wonderful sport to be enjoyed, they should not take novices unprepared into chilly waters. Instructors can't do much to improve poor visibility, but they could at least ensure that their trainees are not risking hypothermia.
Jane Harrison, Bath
Paying through the nose
Four years ago I decided to buy my own gear for diving in colder waters. I had seen Seaway equipment being used by our German cousins and was impressed by the high quality and novel designs. Seaway Direct, a UK company, sold me what I needed at exceptionally competitive prices.
My Seaway gear continues to perform faultlessly. However, my stab-jacket now looks the veteran of the many dives it has made and I decided to replace it. I called Seaway Direct, to be told that it had stopped trading.
The reason given, a very bad review by John Bantin who, based on the experience of my "long-term test", must have reported on a rogue piece of equipment, and British divers' reluctance to buy by mail order or on-line.
My Seaway BC cost just £189. To replace it with something of similar quality, I will have to pay well over £400. It is still rip-off Britain and we the diving public are partly to blame.
Too often we pay through the nose for shoddy equipment and poor service, believing it must be good because of the high price. In a popular high street store I found a pair of "sports" ankle weights for £3.99. The same thing in two dive stores cost £22.50 and £16.99 - why?
In another case I bought a lamp for a very popular dive light for £2.50 on-line, but in most dives shops they retail for around £16.50 - why?
Roger Hudd, Tadley, Hampshire
Comment: John Bantin's test was of a Seaway regulator first stage coupled by Seaway Direct with a problematic Nexus second stage, so your "long-term test" has no bearing on whether this was "rogue" equipment. Read the review and decide for yourself. But we agree that price is not always an indicator of quality.
Atlas or not?
Having lived in the Sinai for three years and dived the area for more than 25, I am fairly well-informed on all the dive sites and shipwrecks, so I was interested in Gavin Anderson's feature on new Red Sea wrecks (Room to Roam, August).
Apart from the photograph of the un-conservation-minded divers hanging onto the marine life, I was rather dismayed to note that, whatever the shipwreck was, it certainly isn't the Atlas.
This is no fault of Gavin, whom I know always takes the utmost care with his research, but sadly whichever source he got this one from is very wrong. It looks like a great shipwreck for divers and a much-needed extra dive to relieve the pressure on the over-dived Thistlegorm, Giannis D, Carnatic and Krisoula K. The real Atlas is several hundred miles south and is well documented through all naval and salvage sources.
This isn't the first time major problems over identification have cropped up. Many ships now under water change name several times in their often short history. All it takes is a mis-spelled name, a typing error on a manifest or just plain guesswork and "A New Mystery Shipwreck" surfaces again.
Lawson Wood, Dunstafnage
I must complain about the "posed" photograph showing divers to have removed their regulators and hanging on to what little coral is growing on hitherto virgin shipwrecks, all for the purpose of a fun picture. Come on, guys, you know better...
For the record, the Atlas was launched in 1909 as the Conrad Mohr and later became the Irini before being purchased by a Greek company in 1935 and finally renamed Atlas.
The ship was a tanker of 4009 tons measuring 345ft by 48ft with a draught of 23ft. On 6 September 1940 it was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Guglielmotti and sank in position 15 50N, 41 50E. There were no casualties. As anyone with access to the appropriate chart will soon realise, she now lies some 600 miles south of Ras Banas, off Yemen.
Not for the first time has Peter Collings given an incorrect name to an Egyptian shipwreck and it is sad to see a reputable underwater photo-journalist such as Gavin Anderson take him at his word.
Known locally as the Half Wreck, the tanker in your pages is the Adamantia K, a small vessel of 844 tons which was owned by Mobil Oil (Nigeria) at the time of her loss. Lloyd's List of 25 January 1958 records: "Adamantia K wrecked in vicinity or Hamata. Crew safe. Demands help... Vessel visible but Master declares not salvable."
Major Ned Middleton, Outweil, Norfolk
Gavin Anderson replies: The guys in the funnel were posing for one of their friends - I took my shot in passing. I don't condone their behaviour, it was simply an observed scene.
Regarding the tanker, I know Lawson Wood and Ned Middleton are well-informed about Red Sea wrecks, but I believe that neither of them has dived either part of this one. From the evidence I saw and that Peter Collings has uncovered, I believe it is the rear part of the Atlas. Perhaps the missing part is 600 miles further south - it wouldn't be the first time two parts of a ship have ended up far from one another. What's certain is that the wreck I dived was far larger than 844 tonnes.
It's sad that both Ned and Peter continually have a go at each other - on this occasion, I seem to be piggy in the middle!
Don't mix up your RGBMs
We read with interest two articles in Diver in September - the Pick Your Algorithm computer test and Getting Round The Bends by deep-diver Mark Ellyatt. Can we add two comments about the different "RGBM algorithms"?
The Suunto Vyper reviewed in the test report uses the "Suunto RGBM" algorithm. This is described as "almost invariably the most cautious of them all. This was because it added in a 3min safety stop to mandatory deco stops".
When any one of several adverse free-gas factors exist, the Suunto RGBM algorithm is more conservative than the decompression model that we have in the earlier Suunto Solution, where the only free-gas variable is a controlled ascent rate.
The objective in introducing the Suunto RGBM algorithm was to add defence against adverse changes in a diver's free-gas status.
The Suunto RGBM is not the same as the Abyss dive-planning software with "RGBM algorithm" that Mark Ellyatt used to enable him to shave three hours off a 160m dive. He describes his dive as experimental - each to his own.
The Suunto RGBM does not advise in any way the sort of liberal interpretation Mark Ellyatt achieved with his dive plan - it is based on a conservative interpretation of known DCI risk.
John Sinclair, Suunto Diving UK, Alton, Hants
Centuries of maturity
I've been snorkelling since I was eight, always with the aim of progressing onto scuba. I have finally reached the age that will allow me to start training, and after reading your report (Growing Up Too Fast?, June) and the letters that followed it, feel that the points raised are well made.
I have spent the past six years learning to snorkel, because it gives a good foundation to build on and is rewarding in its own way. I feel that PADI and other agencies, instead of rushing children into full scuba, should start them off with snorkelling, as this will give them the basic skills needed, and nearly as much enjoyment.
I have a younger sister who does a little snorkelling when we are abroad, and know that on her own she is quite sensible but, when with friends, can be very hyper. If she were diving, I feel that she would be just as hyper.
She is only a few years younger than me, but those years are vital. When she is my age, I expect she will be a lot more mature. When it's just a couple of years on paper, it's centuries in maturity. That maturity is vital for scuba but less important for snorkelling, as it is less technical.
Sam Cook, Dorking, Surrey
We would like to thank the skipper of Loyal Helper, Frank Elston, and his crew for saving our club's trip to Normandy. When the main generator suffered a major breakdown on the first morning, he could easily have cancelled the trip and returned to Poole, but he knew that getting our money back was not what we wanted.
Frank carries many spares but not the one needed. He arranged for his daughter to pick it up and bring it over on the Cherbourg ferry on a Sunday, and continued to put us onto wrecks and recover divers, with at times only his harbour generator's limited capabilities - no mean feat, considering the size of Loyal Helper!
After the two dives on the second day, we moored in St Vaast-La-Hougue and Frank went to Cherbourg to collect the part by taxi. It was installed overnight and we didn't miss one dive. The group really felt we could only thank Frank enough if we did it publicly in Diver.
John Parry, Thurrock Aqualung Club (BSAC 608)
Downsides of nitrox
In your Technical Q& A in August about whether Mr C Edwards should switch to nitrox, Jack Ingle's reply seemed very biased towards it. Yes, it has advantages but some disadvantages too. Cost was only briefly touched on but is a big factor. Then there is the fact that supply is not that good at present, which to his credit he did mention.
However, he did say that divers feel less tired after diving on nitrox. As an ex-commercial diver with 30 years' experience around the world, I would point out that all our shallow dives are done on air, working hard in a short period, up to three times a day. I never met one commercial diver who said he felt tired after a dive.
I am not against nitrox, but it is helpful to get all the facts and not just those that promote the product. As for the comment that some day all teaching will be straight onto nitrox, I believe you just might meet some opposition as long as air is still the most readily available diving medium, and the cheapest.
M I Watson, Stowmarket, Suffolk