The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
KEEP THAT SPEARGUN AWAY FROM ME|
On holiday in Crete recently, I took my teenage family on a scuba taster session organised by a local PADI dive outfit.
Its brochure trumpeted safety as its priority. That was good, because I qualified as a Third Class Diver with a British Army BSAC dive club that used ultra-conservative Admiralty decompression tables (if you bent down to do up your shoelace you had to stop for five minutes on the way back up sort of thing).
Things have obviously changed since the '70s, but after a 90-minute lecture on how to breathe under water, give hand signals and achieve neutral buoyancy, the 25-odd tourists were judged fit to do their first open-water dive.
I asked how deep and how long the dive would be and was told no deeper than 6m, no stops, for 30-40 minutes. Out we went in groups of four or five per instructor, all born after I qualified. There was no mention of emergency procedures, Boyle's Law, partial pressures or current, and no "divers down" markers.
Ten minutes into the shore dive I started looking up as well as around. To my shock I saw, about 4m above and slightly ahead of me, a snorkeller with fins and speargun. I signalled to the instructor, who assured me "ignore, no worries", and did nothing to warn off the spearfisherman hovering above first-time divers. He remained with us throughout the dive.
Call me a dinosaur diver, but I thought fishing with a speargun was illegal, and in such close proximity to divers incomprehensibly stupid and potentially dangerous. After the dive I queried the incident with the instructors separately. Their responses ranged from indifferent to lame - yes, it was illegal to fish in Greece with a speargun, but they knew he was there and there had, after all, been no accidents.
My children were oblivious to all this and two now intend to qualify as divers, having enjoyed their taster so much. A good outcome, but only because the moron with the speargun didn't squeeze his trigger.
We intend to go to Malta next year, and the children want to go to another dive school. I'm not so sure now, especially if PADI instructors can't or won't respond to a potential danger when they see one. I was taught that if you ignore basic safety rules once, you probably won't need them again.
Kerry Hutchinson, York
I was reading a review of Thomas B Allen's book Shark Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance in the September-October 2001 issue of American Scientist, and had to prevent myself falling off my chair because I was laughing so hard.
I quote: "In 1996, only 18 people in the United States were killed or injured by a shark, whereas 43,687 were injured by a toilet. (Could the toilet be mistaking people for seals?)".
Juergen Jacoby, Hagersten , Sweden
In Technical Q&A in the August issue of Diver, Peter Maxton asked whether twin cylinders should be manifolded or independent, and Jack Ingle advised on the pros and cons of each option. In October 1999, another reader, Darren Crombie, asked a similar question in relation to deeper diving.
While I don't disagree with any of Jack's responses, for me the cons of independent doubles were not given sufficient weight.
I have spent some time abroad and didn't want to invest in manifolds and my own tanks, so my solution was to use rental tanks doubled up without a manifold. However, I found it all too easy to breathe down one of the tanks unintentionally - for example by monitoring the wrong pressure gauge, or after an unintended regulator switch during a brief return to the surface, or when inflating a lift bag.
This causes buoyancy/drysuit-inflation problems, because one of the two inflation systems will be connected to the empty tank. If you dive with a long hose as well, stowing and unstowing it when switching regulators gives rise to additional complexity, and the long hose will have to be clipped off when you're breathing from the short hose, which is not ideal.
These issues will also arise with manifolded doubles in the event of a regulator failure and loss of air, but I think inadvertently breathing down one tank is likely to happen more often than a regulator failure, and is an avoidable additional risk.
Because of nitrogen narcosis, the implications of task-loading from independent doubles are higher the deeper one dives.
When analysing incidents, much is made of the "descent into the incident pit", and I feel that with independent doubles the configuration issues and higher task-loading puts you inside the pit from the start of the dive. Like Jack, I have switched to manifolds and urge readers to consider seriously the pros and cons of each configuration before deciding to dive with independents.
In both responses, Jack said he preferred an isolation manifold, but I would also question the value of an "extended remote", as mentioned in the 1999 response and pictured in the more recent one.
As he points out, you need to be able to reach all three valves under water so that the cylinder with the regulator failure can be shut off. This enables the isolation valve to be opened and all air accessed through the remaining good regulator for the ascent.
More importantly, it prevents water entering the failed cylinder/regulator, for example in the event of an accidental descent after the failure, which could cause a devastating loss of buoyancy. Given the need to be able to reach all three valves anyway, the extended remote on the isolator seems unnecessary.
Simon Richards, Washington DC, USA
Comment: Good points. We will be looking in some detail at the whole question of manifolded rigs in a forthcoming issue of Diver.
From the mountains to the sea
In reply to Andy Blackford's plea (My Campaign For Real Reefs, August), the mountaineering world has the same "problem" with artificial elements being introduced into the sport. Classic climbs have been made much easier due to helicopter-lifts to camps and sherpas skilled in guiding tourists up the last bit, and just listen to any rock-climber whose latest route has been "bolted".
There isn't necessarily a problem here. If the change won't alter or destroy present eco-systems, and if the people who make use of aids, or artificial wrecks, are aware that they have eliminated some of the dangers of their sport and are honest about it, surely the two can co-exist?
Where do you go to test new equipment? The most dangerous climb/wreck you can find? Of course not.
And while beginners should be kept in a safe area to begin with, where do you go after that to test intermediate/below-genius skills?
The adventurous would probably prefer to have a taste of what the more experienced are doing. If this can be arranged by skilled help, or a "designer" wreck, they get the adventure and the skills-testing without instant death. Surely this is good? More accessible wrecks also help clear some of the gridlock on existing wrecks.
I have the greatest admiration for someone who can do the research to find a hitherto undiscovered wreck, then execute a difficult dive to visit it. It's just not my cup of tea. With 22 years of scuba-diving and countless wreck-dives, I still enjoy just pootling about with my eyes on stalks on a wreck I haven't seen before, be it ss Rubber-Ducky, sunk for the purpose, or an unknown.
Technical challenges are good, but not the be-all and end-all of diving for me.
C Bergdahl, Aberdeen
All by myself
John Bantin's Deep Breath article (When It's Best To Be Alone, September) is provoking a response. As a diving instructor for more than 10 years at the University of Muenster, I have trained many students, though never to dive alone. But during training dives in murky lakes or reservoirs, I often felt as if I was a solo diver, being responsible for both the student and myself.
What does diving mean to you when you're doing it with a familiar buddy? It's a way to relax, to watch fish, to get impressions of the unknown and to enjoy the silence while nobody is talking to you.
I started thinking about solo-diving and practised it for the first time in Corsica last year. It was only a short dive down to 10m, but the original feeling returned - sheer fun and pleasure.
At the same time I realised that all dives with familiar buddies are like solo dives, because you are swimming together in the same direction and sharing the same experience.
In my opinion, solo dives are an option but only for the trained, experienced diver and in good conditions. The problem is in defining the rules: who is trained, who is experienced, how good do conditions have to be?
Anyone who wants to bend the rules for their own pleasure will do so, and even an Open Water Diver with only 50 dives might consider himself trained and experienced. For such guys, abandoning the buddy system could be fatal.
Finally, what do we do about insurance policies which, in the case of an accident, ask where the buddy was? John Bantin is asking the right questions, but I doubt whether the system is prepared for solo-diving. Perhaps the British Sub-Aqua Club should put up a committee to discuss the rules. By the time it gets it fixed I will be retired, having enjoyed a good lot of solo dives.
Thomas Assmann, Muenster, Germany
Three's a crowd? What a cheek!
I was really irritated to read John Patterson's letter (Two's Company, Three's A Liability, October). I love my diving, but unfortunately my partner does not share my passion for the water. I have a few friends who dive, but getting them together at the same time as I want a holiday, or when they have the money to go, can be difficult. I therefore go on diving holidays alone quite a lot, and have had many successful and enjoyable diving threesomes - for want of a better word!
Mr Patterson is both insulting and presumptuous in stating that lone divers/travellers a) should "get a life", and b) are "often" some kind of liability. If a person is a bad diver (and this doesn't necessarily mean inexperienced), this should be dealt with appropriately by the dive leader on the trip. That's what the check dive is for.
As an experienced diver, I am not too comfortable being buddied with a novice either, and would quietly express my objection to the dive leader, purely on the grounds of that person's safety. When I was a novice, I wanted to stick with the dive leader, rather than burden anyone else with my lack of experience.
Perhaps Mr Patterson should be the one to get a life (not to mention a more pleasant attitude), and try to remember that we weren't born with a reg in our mouths - we all had to learn.
Leanne Bentley, London
Inflating a DSMB with a cold octopus
I recently took my Advanced Nitrox Diver course and, in common with most of my group, was most concerned about the deployment of my delayed SMB in midwater. That meant frequent early mornings at Stoney Cove to practise using my exhaust bubbles until I could successfully inflate the magic tube while maintaining my chosen depth. Despite initial difficulties, I mastered the skill and passed the course.
I was intrigued to see the recent reviews in the diving press of a gadget that would have enabled me to use my octopus to do the same thing (For When The Balloon Goes Up, Diver Tests, September). But I was concerned to read no reference to the dangers of deploying your octopus in this way in cold, inland waters.
In March I was diving in Stoney Cove with my 18-year-old son. The water temperature was 5¡C. Tom and I had dived together weekly through the autumn and winter and were very much an "in-practice" buddy pair. We had reached the end of a 30-minute dive at the Wessex helicopter and began to deploy a DSMB using my octopus. After a single one-second burst, it locked into free-flow and the entire contents of my tank boiled away into the cove.
Our training kicked in and we were able to sort ourselves out and complete an octopus-sharing ascent from 22m without incident. So far it remains the most interesting entry in my logbook.
Anyone who spends time at an inland site realises how frequently free-flows can occur, even with modern, well-maintained equipment.
I will never forget the sight of the needle moving around the dial of the gauge to zero, and I will never again use anything but my exhaled breath to deploy a DSMB.
Where such an important safety issue around a new piece of equipment is not mentioned, readers are bound to begin to ask what the essential difference is between a review and an endorsement.
Terry Reilly, Long Eaton, Notts
John Bantin replies: Appropriate training is essential if undertaking dives in fresh water at 5°C or less, when any regulator might be liable to free-flow due to freezing.
Long-stay Brits get a raw deal
Having tried several times this year to book a two- to three-week trip to the Red Sea, it seems impossible to book a flight-only deal to Sharm, Hurghada etc.
The tour operators seem to do a good job of providing week-long flight and accommodation deals in four-star hotels for a reasonable price (although even booking a two-week package this way can prove problematic).
But what about the diver who wishes to stay longer in the Red Sea, perhaps taking in diving at more than one location? Or the diver who perhaps prefers to stay in less-upmarket hotels or, like me, travels with a family, in which case five times the asking price from one of the operators with no child discounts tends to get very pricey.
This got me looking at what was on offer to our European neighbours. A few clicks on the Internet uncovered a wealth of flight-only options from Germany, Italy etc to popular airports such as Sharm.
So why is no operator willing to offer the same from the UK? I believe such a service would be very well received.
Mark Williams, London
I read the article on the Thistlegorm (Join The Queue) in the August edition of Diver. It is interesting to see a WWII wreck, but I found the lack of fish/corals at the site disappointing. It was meant to be spectacular 10 years ago, with an abundance of life which I guess has been killed off by all the divers touching bits of the wreck, and bubbles being trapped.
We were the first boat there and our guide had to descend to attach a line. Because of strong currents this took three attempts.
There are no "official" mooring lines as the Thistlegorm is a war grave and the Egyptians don't want to offend the UK, although they happily charge the fee to dive in the area.
We heard some interesting rumours about the wreck:
a) that when it sank, the crew had to make their own way to land, and then work to pay their passage back to the UK.
b) that Jacques Cousteau was paid by the British Government to dive it, and that a now-empty cargo hold was filled with either gold bullion or nerve-gas/chemical weapons which he was sent to recover.
c) that before Cousteau found the wreck the funnel was actually sticking out of the water, and the site was well-known to local fishermen. After the "find" the funnel mysteriously disappeared. If you view the point of collapse, it is sharp-edged and looks as if it was cut in half, then keeled over.
Steve Kennedy, London
Father and son
Thank you for your recent article on child divers (Growing Up Too Fast?, June). I was at Dosthill quarry one Saturday in July, parked next to a father and son preparing to go diving.
They seemed very inexperienced. The boy, though big for the 12 he proved to be, struggled to pull a 12 litre cylinder from his dad's car boot. A well-known dive school in Birmingham had provided it for a course he was doing.
The father told me his son had done only eight dives, yet he was prepared to take him diving. I told him it was irresponsible because he didn't have enough experience, but he said he had discussed his dive plan with the quarry operator and got its OK. He was worried by our conversation, however, and said he was going for a very conservative dive.
In the event they surface-swam to a shallow part of the quarry and dived without incident. They were not the only adult-child pair at the quarry that morning.
I understand that ignorance and enthusiasm within a family play a part in such activities - my own daughter, who is also 12, has had a try-dive and wants to learn. However, I feel that any training should be safely conducted, and perhaps the dive school should anticipate such situations.
Graham Vanes, Wolverhampton
Francs very much
As newly qualified PADI Open Water Divers, my wife and I were not relishing the cost of buying two sets of scuba gear. On a recent holiday to France I was idling away an afternoon with a bottle of vin rouge and the August Diver, in which various ads for on-line dive shops made me wonder just what the French pay for their equipment.
I did a quick search and found a site which sounded promising. Scubaland is one of the biggest scuba outlets in France, with its own training pool, a very large shop and prices on its website that made me sign "out of air".
I phoned and decided that a visit was essential. After a four-hour drive to Brest we were given a warm welcome, and felt like kids at Christmas when the calculator converted the prices from francs to sterling (F10.6 to the pound). Using a credit card we paid £235 for a Scubapro Glide 2000 BC, £329 for a Seaquest Diva LX BC and £189 each for two Apeks TX100 regulators with Aqualung octopuses.
Graham & Jackie Brown, Burnham on Sea