The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
I appreciated the news item Are Divers Dying Rather Than Ditch Their Weights? (September) but was not altogether shocked by it. Nitrogen narcosis was raised as a possible explanation for some of the incidents and I would like to relate what happened to me during a dive on the M2 wreck.
In a moment of brain-fade, I took with me on the boat my weight for my single tank while intending to dive my twin-set.
I then failed to pick up on this mistake and dived with 14kg on my belt plus lead for the twins in the integrated pockets.
The descent was "interesting", and very fast. Great, I thought, already narked out of my tree, and hit the M2 in a cloud of silt. The fact that I had put enough air into my BC to prevent me spudding into the wreck didn't register, but I was aware that I could barely maintain any buoyancy.
As the dive progressed, I became more and more concerned with my lack of buoyancy, and any extra air I added just vented from my already full BC. I managed to ascend by finning until I reached a depth where I could get positively buoyant and complete a normal ascent.
I knew I had a problem, no lift, but at no time did it occur to me that I was overweight or that I should dump some lead or put more air into my drysuit. It's a real possibility that dumping weight never occurred to the victims in your news item as they tried to rectify their problems.
We all know that some divers deliberately get narked for the buzz, and while everything is going smoothly this may be fine, but when you have to make life or death decisions it's not a condition to be in. Learn to recognise the signs in yourself and others you dive with; treat narcosis with respect.
Mike Dicks, Farnham, Surrey
I learned to dive this year at an age when a lot of blokes are collecting their pensions, and completed the PADI Open Water and Advanced courses. I have been privileged to train and dive with some excellent instructors both in Britain and on holiday in Malta.
While being trained, I entertained the instructors by developing the PADI Underwater Rock-Climbing skill, going hand-over-hand up the wall at Stoney instead of making a proper ascent. This was a result of my wearing a mask with plain lenses; normally I wear glasses with lenses as thick as the bottom of a milk-bottle. The consequence was, as you would expect, failure to complete my Open Water until I had a mask with prescription lenses and was able to be reassessed.
All through the training programmes I have been impressed by the emphasis on safety. The pre-dive buddy check identifies the position of equipment such as releases and octopus, and some equipment employs visual cues, such as yellow for the octopus and the coloured inflate and deflate buttons on the BC.
So with this in mind, can someone explain why BC manufacturers make both halves of the releases in black plastic? Black webbing runs through the releases and they lie against a black BC, offering no visual cues to people such as myself when trying to find them.
This was brought home to me when helping fellow-divers out of their jackets before they got back onto a RIB. If the male side of the releases were of a different colour, such as white, it would be easier to find and undo the clips. Releases in black and white plastic won't upset the fashion-conscious and will contribute to safer diving. What do other divers think?
Incidentally, further to an article earlier this year referring to diving on a lawnmower, I presumed it was at Stoney but could not find it. Did somebody borrow it for the summer? When I go again, am I looking for a hover or a cylinder mower?
Paul Woolley, Enfield
In this day and age, I am amazed that the Health & Safety Executive does not insist that UK charter-boats carry an oxygen set! It is well-documented that the first course of action for a diver with DCS symptoms is to put him or her on O2. Most clubs have their own supply on their RIBS, but if you charter a boat, surely the onus should be on its owner?
In a large club, it's a problem. Mine sometimes runs four or five separate dive trips on the same weekend. We have two O2 sets and two RIBs, so if both RIBs are out we rely on the charter-boats to have O2 onboard. Not all do!
Here's another scenario: what happens if your dive-boat skipper has a heart attack while all the divers are on a drift-dive? Not all skippers have an assistant and, again, I am amazed that this is not an HSE requirement.
Charter-boat skippers will say that charter prices would have to rise to pay for such measures. I'm sure 99% of divers would be willing to pay a little extra for a lot more safety.
My advice is to check before you charter a boat that the skipper has oxygen on board and an assistant. Come on skippers - wise up!
John Rapley, Kingston & Elmbridge BSAC
The tragic death of Joanna Stillwell when she was struck by a speedboat has yet again illustrated how ignorance of basic seamanship can prove deadly. Although this and the death of Kirsty MacColl in 2000 occurred abroad, we should be aware that this kind of incident is just as likely, if not more so, in the UK.
Last year, I witnessed a small speedboat pass at high speed between four dive-boats, all flying dive flags. People on the boats attempted to wave off the speedboat, but this had no effect and it passed over a shotline full of divers completing safety stops. The teenagers on the speedboat hurtled into the distance, seeming to find the commotion they had caused amusing.
Possibly my strangest experience of boat users' ignorance occurred in 1998 while drift-diving off the south coast. Alarmingly, a small day fishing boat moored to my SMB, even though it had a flag and a picture of a diver on the side!
My dive-boat was picking up other divers at the time and unfortunately couldn't warn those on the other boat until after they had tied off. My SMB now has "No Mooring" written on the side - though that assumes these people can read.
I have done a great deal of training with the RYA over the past 10 years and am aware of its policy that skippers should self-regulate in terms of qualifications and education, in the interest of accessibility of the sport.
However, as vessels become cheaper and faster, the lack of requirement for even a basic knowledge of seamanship puts more and more lives at risk.
As our government won't intervene until the number of deaths provoke suitable outrage, we as divers can at least do our bit to raise awareness. DAN Europe's Propeller Injury Prevention Campaign is designed to do just this. Visit www.daneurope.org/eng/safetyprograms.htm, where you can also log incidents.
I'm sure most boat-users around the UK are sensible and safe. However, next time you surface after a dive, say a little prayer that you don't meet one of the minority.
Paul Galley, Bristol
Referring to the review of Denney Diving by Mystery Diver (September): this is a very good column and I accept that the article does not overly criticise Denney's but it does not portray the true image of this firm. Chris Denney and his crew will do anything to help you regardless of your level of experience. He will not sell you something that you don't need.
They have visited my branch and conducted equipment lectures and have also taken the trainees back to the shop for lectures in the evening, not for financial gain but because of the high service that Chris and Mark continue to provide.
If the coffee machine is dirty, I will live with that knowing that I will receive a service second to none.
These articles are important to divers but they do not always paint the whole picture.
Garry Ridler, Pickering, North Yorkshire
In response to the letter Shame on the Graffiti Idiots (August), on a recent trip to Plymouth I dived Scylla twice and found the grafitti on the bridge wall as photographed in your Wreck Tour.
However, when our third day's diving was cancelled because of fog, we headed for the National Aquarium. We watched a very interesting film about the preparation and sinking of the Scylla, including the dismantling of bulkheads, laying of explosives and the securing of the boiler-room, which the engineer assures us is now diver- and crowbar-proof!
And, yes, you've guessed it, I realised that I and many others had jumped to the wrong conclusion. Simon Jones and the others had signed their names before the wreck was sunk. This proves that the "grafitti idiots" described in the previous letter were, happily, not divers.
Kathy Moore, Bournemouth, Dorset
Shark-fishing is still going on in the Maldives, although the government says the opposite. According to Maldivian regulations, shark-fishing is forbidden only in some - not even all - tourist atolls. Those responsible fish for sharks wherever they want. If questioned, they say the catch has been made in other zones.
To prove the opposite, they have to be caught red-handed - which is not easy, as lines and nets are brought out with the last daylight and collected early in the morning.
There have been prosecutions but in practice the fishermen approach bodies such as the Atoll Administration or their Parliament Representative to help them get away unpunished. Outside the tourist industry there is no understanding of the situation regarding sharks.
The government is also the biggest exporter of shark fins through its state trading organisation STO and is, with the possible exception of the Ministry of Tourism, not interested in changing anything for the better.
The situation is dramatic. The country has been almost stripped of larger sharks. Only at near resorts are some minor populations left. Fishhead in Ari Atoll has one or two sharks but used to have 50. Madivaru (Rasdhoo) had about 200 hammerhead sharks - now fewer than 10 are left.
These sharks have not moved elsewhere, as some people say, they have simply been killed.
Only small whitetip sharks still exist in sufficient numbers, as they are of little commercial value, though even this can change fast, once the bigger sharks are "out of stock". The only solution now is an export ban on shark fins.
Norbert Schmidt, Maldives
We asked Moosa Zameer Hassan, Assistant Director of the Environment Section, Maldives Ministry of Tourism, to comment: The government does not deny that shark fishing is an ongoing economic activity of the country. There is an export market for shark fins and meat, though sharkfin soup has never been prepared, served or sold in the Maldives.
We accept suggestions and feedback from divers on ways of protecting sharks in the Maldives. However, there is a geographical difficulty in managing and enforcing the seven administrative atolls established by the government as protected zones from shark-fishing, and the 25 tourist diving spots set up as marine protected areas.
Export controls on shark fins and products are being discussed within government agencies, as it is important to find an alternative livelihood for the shark fisherfolk.
Any fisheries management experts who could assist in this are asked to contact the Maldives' Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.
On reading the letters Can't All Buoyancy Be Like This? and Lotus Blossoming (Off-Gassing, August), I had to put fingers to keyboard.
I have been diving for only two years, but living at the other end of the country from David Marke and only five miles from the sea have done a few more dives than him. I also went to the Maldives last February and did my Advanced Open Water course with Prodivers, at the Kuredu Island resort.
Apart from the usual three mandatory dives, we also had to do Peak Performance Buoyancy and choose two other dives - six dives for the price of five. Like David I found the course of great interest and value, instantly putting into practice what I had learnt on the next dive, which was a wreck dive.
You would not believe how many people on the dhoni used the bottom/wreck as a platform for support, or to stop themselves from sinking or floating up. Surely all training organisations should do as Prodivers does and make Peak Performance Buoyancy mandatory.
On a lighter note, I too was inspired to take up yoga (with help from my wife), hoping that it would improve my air consumption (the jury is still out on that one).
But I do find that it has helped with my general fitness and, being more supple, I get into my kit easier, so I'm going to keep it up just in case!
Jeremy Howland, Cornwall
On a recent diving trip to Cornwall, the services of Gulfstream SCUBA were recommended by my hotel. Late on a Wednesday afternoon, I called at this dive centre to have my tanks refilled and was told that the compressor would not be available for at least an hour.
I said I couldn't get back that evening, but as I was meeting colleagues at St Ives jetty at 8 the next morning asked if I could collect my tanks at 7.45am. I was assured that this would be convenient.
I arrived at 7.30am but no one turned up until 8.35, by when the other divers had departed. The shop manager agreed that this was most unsatisfactory, said he would have words with the person concerned and asked me to call in at 9.30 the following morning.
When I arrived I was given profuse apologies for the error. I said this was all very well but I had lost my last day's diving through no fault of my own.
The manager said he was not prepared to compensate me for my loss of enjoyment at a cost of £35 plus two air-fills of £5. He said that I was diving with a commercial organisation, and he would consider compensation only if the person in charge of the diving wrote to him setting out his qualifications and details of all safety features on the boat.
I was offered a refund for my fills but was never given this. I was also offered a free day's diving with the centre's school, but I was homeward bound that day and I said I was unlikely to drive 800 miles later for one day's diving. At this point the manager turned away and addressed other customers.
Back home I contacted the local Trading Standards Office and was advised that the centre was in breach of the Supply of Goods & Services Act, and that I am entitled to the compensation I had suggested. I was also told that what happened was a breach of regulations, whether I was diving with a commercial organisation or a rowing boat.
P M Gill, Boston, Lincs
Phillip Hazell of Gulfstream SCUBA replies: We immediately offered a refund for the air fills and complimentary space on our boat, which Mr Gill was unable to take up. He requested £35 compensation; we explained that due to VAT regulations we could not create a refund for something not bought from us.
We offered to pay Mr Gill's diving costs directly to the skipper, but needed an invoice from the skipper with a copy of his commercial workboat certificate and qualification as part of our standard duty of care to customers when sub-contracting diving vessels. Such documents can be requested by the HSE at any time, so accurate records need to be kept.
Mr Gill asked what a commercial vessel should carry. We explained that a skipper charging for his services needed to be MCA-approved, which meant having full safety equipment, to which he asked, what if the boat he was on didn't have all this? We said a skipper who did not comply would be breaking the law. We would not pay for illegal diving services and nor should he.
Our local Trading Standards Office has confirmed that the Supply of Goods and Services Act entitles Mr Gill to a refund for his air fills, but it said our offer of free boat dives and/or payment of his diving fees far exceeds our obligation under the act and is fair compensation for his loss of diving.
To date, we have not received an invoice but our offer of payment still stands and Mr Gill is most welcome to take up his complimentary boat dives on any future visit.
In September News you reported a claim that a team was taking over running of the chamber at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth, with Dr John King as medical director.
This is not the case. Capital Hyperbarics Ltd, based at this hospital since 1999, owns and operates the chamber. We are in the process of relocating our chambers and management team to Highgate Hospital, where we will continue to provide a high-quality service to divers.
Drs Julian Eden and John King have no connection with the ownership of the chamber at St John & St Elizabeth; indeed from mid-September there will be no chamber there, because of redevelopment.
I am concerned that patients may turn up for treatment at St John & St Elizabeth and be unable to be treated immediately due to the absence of chamber and qualified personnel.
For divers seeking advice or treatment, our emergency pager number remains the same: 07623 937666.
Dr D McCann, Medical Director, Capital Hyperbarics
I passed my PADI Junior Open Water course in Spain three weeks ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the following week I signed up for two dives off a boat. I experienced two fantastic phenomena, a halocline and a thermocline.
The halocline was beyond belief, like diving without a mask on. The thermocline was also amazing, as the temperature difference was incredible. I am completely hooked on diving now and I can't wait till my next dive.
Robert Hill (12), Sidcup, Kent