The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
My husband and I dive nearly every weekend in the Clyde, most often at Trail Island, which houses a seal colony. We have dived here for the past two years and seen plenty of seals on the surface, but never in the water.
On a recent dive we were followed by a large juvenile from the surface down to 40m. We were surprised to see flashes of its marble-grey stomach, then at 8m I looked round to see it rubbing itself on my fin. I was delirious with excitement, and wished I had taken the camera, but then the fin-tugging started.
It was great fun until we got to 40m, when the seal started to get more playful, nipping at my legs. I screamed. My husband felt that things were getting out of hand, so we made a slow ascent, all the time with the seal nipping at my fins and legs. It stopped every time we faced it. At one point I saw it about to nip my husband's fins - its teeth were very thin, 3-4in long, and scared the life out of me.
I didn't look round again, just concentrated on the ascent, holding onto rocks as the seal pulled me down a few inches once or twice before letting go. I was relieved to get into the boat. I had been scared, though it had been very exciting to be played with by a seal.
It didn't intend any harm, or my suit would have ripped. The only damage was a tiny hole with some teeth marks in the rubber strap. So if you dive Trail, watch out!
Margaret Healy, Auchenharvie Sub Aqua Club, Ayrshire
We were on Koh Samui in Thailand this September and had booked three dives with a company we have used for some years, at South-west Pinnacle, Shark Island and Sail Rock. The dive required a three-hour ride on what turned out to be a snorkelling boat, containing 33 divers and 99 tanks!
There was nowhere to put our kit, the weather was so rough that the boat was going from side to side, divers were vomiting over the side and unsecured tanks were rolling around the deck. It was a nightmare, but we reached the dive sites.
All 33 of us were told to set up our gear in the non-existent space at the same time, as the boat continued to roll about. We saw a few people fall over the tanks, and equipment was getting damaged by the tanks rolling around.
We did the dives, but getting back onto the boat in that rough sea was a dangerous business. My partner was caught on the ladder by her octopus. I freed it by swimming under the ladder, which nearly caused a bigger accident.
When we got back to the mainland I told the dive company that diver safety came first, and that this boat did not meet the standards of a normal dive boat. We were told that our usual boat had a small cooling problem and was being repaired. The one that was used instead was named - the High Seas!
Kam Jethwa, Germany
I read with amazement and dismay the news article Coroner's Verdict Questions PADI Training and St Abbs Safety (October), and in particular the outcome of the inquest.
This is a sad verdict to reach. I was a member of Seadog Dive Club at the time of this tragedy and, while not present on the trip, was friendly with many of those who were. I trained with Seadog up to Divemaster and cannot stress how much it follows HSE rules to the letter.
It seems that, yet again, divers and dive operations are being made a scapegoat by a judicial system that feels justice cannot be seen to have been done without apportioning blame (albeit in this case by passing a verdict of misadventure).
While all our sympathies go to the family of the diver involved, I feel that this places an unnecessary slur on a dive instructor I know is impeccable in his dive-planning and trip organisation.
What amazed me even more were the comments of ScotSAC diver Ian Neilson, the "expert witness". What exactly are Mr Neilson's credentials? Why is St Abbs "not a suitable diving location for inexperienced divers"?
The coroner commented: "This was a serious expedition and he [Hawkins] should have received correct and expert diving tuition in all the circumstances." Why? He was not there under tuition but was a qualified diver who had done two dives the previous day with no problems. He seemed to have no problems on his third dive, until he suddenly fell face-down on the surface while waiting to be picked up.
The HSE's in-depth investigation uncovered no errors on the part of Seadog or Barrie Whiteley. It added that it recognises "that the standard of supervision required for recreational diving by qualified divers differs from the standard required for trainees on a course". So why did the coroner choose to ignore the findings of the HSE in favour of an unknown Scottish diver's opinion of what he thought happened, and register a verdict of death by misadventure?
This verdict will make a lot of diver operators and instructors rethink whether it is worth organising trips in future, if it opens us up to potential litigation if something goes wrong.
Jay Bolt, Yorkshire Divers
I have just returned from a holiday in Australia with my family (three divers, one non-diver) and was shocked by the cost of diving at the Hayman Resort, Hayman Island, Queensland.
One dive, 200m from the jetty, cost Aus $136 (£60) for 47 minutes at 16m in 5m viz. I tried to take photos but the guide was attempting a speed-swimming record, making that impossible.
The alternative, if my two sons and I wanted to take photos, was to hire a boat for $900 plus an instructor and boathand. Without our own gear, charges would have been $50 more each.
I did dive the Agencourt reef with Poseidon on 13 occasions and have only praise for that outfit, which allowed us to dive unescorted while taking photos. It asked me where I would like to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. It allowed my 11-year-old to dive with me (12 is the age limit in Queensland to be qualified) and stowed our gear on the boat when not in use.
Three dives including lunch and transport to Port Douglas cost $195 (£84 pounds). As for Hayman Resort, has anyone paid more for a dive anywhere in the world?
Martyn Doherty, Douglas, Isle of Man
Comment: People do pay a lot to go diving but they expect to get their money's worth. See this month's lead feature on the most expensive diving money can buy.
In September's issue I was very pleased to see that the Mystery Diver visited Tony Backhurst Scuba Centre in Cranleigh, as we have just had the shop refitted and become a Scubapro showroom. It was ideal timing, nice one!
However I feel that a number of my remarks were taken the wrong way. Diving is a serious sport but at the same time is supposed to be fun. When customers come into my shop I try to create that atmosphere, and having a joke with them is all taken in the context in which it is given, with good humour!
I have the greatest respect for BSAC divers and the methods by which they are trained. However, I feel that any diver who has not dived in 10 years from whatever agency should begin their training again.
I know you could just do a refresher course but there have been a number of changes in diver training and equipment used since then. Most instructors I have spoken to since have had the same opinion as myself.
Anyway, are you Mystery Diver or are you just a miserable diver? Lighten up a little and try and see the bigger picture. It is not just what we say but how we say it that makes all the difference!
Barry Aldridge, Tony Backhurst Scuba, Cranleigh
I was part of a group of divers aboard Tony Backhurst's my Cyclone sailing from Sharm El Sheikh in June. As a 49-year-old, single (my husband doesn't dive), female diver I had many concerns about a liveaboard diving holiday.
I had read of problems that could be experienced diving in Egypt, including boat transfers.
I was also very aware of attitudes (usually male) towards single, chubby, female divers, particularly those of my age (no matter how qualified they are or how good a diver), and I faced the trip with fear and trepidation.
On arrival I was surprised to find that, apart from the nightmarish customs hall, the arrangements were perfect - transfers good, equipment treated with care and divers treated with respect by divemasters Kerry and Dan. No sign of the chaos and "herd mentality" I'd read about. Care was taken to see that all divers had a great time.
For those who make noises about the Red Sea being better 30 years ago, I don't know about that or even care. We did an afternoon, evening and an early morning dive on the Thistlegorm with no-one else around, thanks to clever organisation by the divemasters and the captain. We dived the Ulysses at Gubal Island because with a liveaboard we could take advantage of currents which have to be just right. Reefs, wrecks, corals and marine life were out of this world.
For what it's worth, this chubby, middle-aged, female civil servant had an amazing time. So go with a good tour operator and live your dream - it's worth it. Mine was!
Julya Walsh, Campmuir, nr Coupar Angus
Having travelled to Sharm el Sheikh so often as an underwater photographer, I'm well aware of baggage weight limits. The DIR philosophy of less is best has been applied to all my travelling luggage. My wife even has to have a streamlined hair-dryer made of carbon fibre!
We turned up at Manchester Airport and joined the check-in queue for our holiday flight with Excel. It seemed to take a long time. I heard people whispering about the size of other people's luggage and found myself wanting to put on record that before Sharm became a popular discount holiday destination for Brits, it was only divers who descended on the Red Sea.
This was our fourth trip of the year out of Manchester, with the same luggage and camera gear and exactly the same combined total of 56kg - quite good for a two-week stay, you would think.
Not this time. A very nice young lady at the desk explained that I was overweight. "No, I'm only 63kg," I replied, trying the friendly approach.
"Your luggage, sir," she smiled.
"I'm allowed 30kg, surely?" I protested. "That's what I've had for the past five years and I flew from here on the same flight last month and had no problems."
"Well, you're only allowed 20kg," she said. "We'll give you an extra 5kg as our gift, but you still owe us £60!"
"Come on, if I had some golf clubs you'd let me take them on. What's the difference?"
"It's scuba gear!" Eh?
Apparently this rule has been in force since 2000 and, according to the book she showed me, on flights to Luxor and Sharm via Excel the baggage weight must be clamped down to 20kg. You can check your golf clubs in for £15, but your scuba gear does not count as sports equipment.
I wasn't the only one - a group of 25 from Liverpool-based Orca Divers was also affected! Some of them threatened to wear all their gear onto the aircraft, which I'm told works, so from now on that's what I'll be doing.
Craig Nelson, Stoke-on-Trent
I recently had an unpleasant experience while teaching at Dosthill Quarry. The first day went very well, and on the morning of the second I put a number of cylinders used the previous day to be charged by the on-site compressor and began diving using previously charged cylinders.
The first dive went well. On the second, however, we used the cylinders charged that day and when I reached 6m I noticed a distinctly oily taste in the air and began to feel nauseous. I immediately aborted the dive and left the water.
I of course spoke to the site manager regarding this problem and, after some unrepeatable expletives, was told to take my equipment and leave the site! I was unwilling to accept this and forced the issue, insisting that an air test take place.
I was informed that it would take two hours to get an air test kit and was told to wait. I phoned the HSE to check my position and seek advice on any further action necessary with regard to my students. It was at this point that I was phoned by Dive-in, accused of being a troublemaker and threatened that trouble would be made for me should I speak to the HSE again.
The test kit arrived and the first test was carried out by the "competent person", but not in accordance with the manufacturer's guidelines (though it still showed a large amount of oil).
I requested that the test be repeated properly. It was again carried out incorrectly so I requested yet another test. This time a colleague and I watched each part, and again the "competent person" tried to do it incorrectly, but we stepped in and ensured that it was done right. The results showed four times the amount of oil permissible.
I wrote to the site manager but have received no reply. I urge all professional instructors not to assume that sites are doing things properly and to check before allowing your students into the water. The behaviour my students witnessed that day make me embarrassed to admit that I am part of the same organisation as the Dive-in staff.
Ian Hall, PADI Master Instructor
Ian Forster of Dive-In replies: Dive In has operated Dosthill since '88 and charged thousands of cylinders, with not one instance of oil being introduced into any diver's cylinder.
Mr Hall's "claimed" contamination was thoroughly investigated and dismissed by the HSE several weeks ago. All the evidence indicates that his cylinder was not contaminated by Dive In. Hundreds of cylinders from diving schools and individual divers were filled safely throughout the same day.
The staff went to great lengths to investigate the matter politely, in accordance with the centre's procedures. As a precaution, filling was stopped. Despite claiming to feel nauseous, Mr Hall wore a smug grin when making his complaint, was very rude, had an aggressive attitude and used foul language in front of two members of staff, including a female.
When it became evident that his claim was spurious, he became increasingly agitated and intimidating, to the point where the assistance of an off-duty police officer was requested.
I spoke to Mr Hall by phone but his different accounts did not match information from other sources. The motives for his complaint are unknown, but he was previously removed as a member of the Dosthill Rescue Team.
He, and the organisation for which he worked, was subsequently "banned" from all Dive In centres for failure to pay monies owed - not for being a troublemaker - and PADI has been asked to investigate their activities in relation to a breach of PADI's ethical standards.
Returning from a trip to Anglesey, I had the bad luck to have a wheel-bearing collapse on my boat trailer. Having no replacement (no comments!) I contacted the Automobile Association for assistance. That's when my troubles began!
The boat is a 6m RIB on a single-axle Snipe trailer, much like many dive club boats, and certainly smaller than quite a few!
However, the AA wouldn't recover the trailer under the terms of my AA Relay membership because it said it had an 18ft (5.5m) length limit for recovery.
A quote to get me from Chester to Worcester, which it obtained for me, was £400 plus VAT!
I eventually had the recovery garage take it to its premises for repair and for me to collect later.
This prompted me to do some research (as well as buy spare bearings!). It seems that most recovery companies have a length limit. Green Flag has a slightly longer one of 21ft (6.4m). Sea Start does offer a trailer recovery scheme with no length limit for £59 if you are an RYA or BSAC member, though the cover is for a maximum recovery cost per year of £700, or £400 in any one recovery.
At least Sea Start will get you back. It reckons that the £400 would cover most UK recoveries. Interestingly, it uses part of the AA to do this!
Apart from carrying spare bearings, don't rely on anyone to get you home unless you have checked carefully exactly what cover you have for your trailer.
Howard Painter, Worcester
In Neville Oldham's letter Wreck-Finders Will Keep Quiet (October), he is right to draw attention to the potential legislative changes to the ability of amateur divers to engage in underwater archaeology, including excavation.
Many divers who have completed Nautical Archaeology Society and other agencies' training courses have a lively interest in what is happening to our maritime heritage. They are concerned that change will affect their ability to do underwater archaeology in whatever form they now enjoy it. Recent legislation and English Heritage's mission statement all emphasise the importance of public access to what is, after all, our heritage. It does not belong to a government body, but to the public, and that includes divers.
New legislative frameworks should be closely scrutinised by the recreational diving groups to ensure that the diver is at the centre of groups that look after the underwater heritage. We also need to challenge assumptions that amateurs cannot produce work of an exceptional standard.
I assure Neville that the Respect our Wrecks group (with representation from SAA, PADI and BSAC) is still working closely with a number of different groups to try to keep our interests in the public domain.
We will continue to challenge assumptions about avocationals taking a full part in archaeology under water at all relevant forums; and we will continue to talk to all those groups who have any influence over the situation.
Representation and negotiation may not be very visible, but the team is working hard to ensure that licensees and all others concerned get a fair hearing, and that the contribution amateur divers can make to monitoring what happens underwater is brought to the notice of the "great and the good" whenever possible. Neville, do contact me to discuss things further.
Jane Maddocks, BSAC Wrecks Advisor