The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
Diving recently at Catalina Island off California, I was concerned to see a diver emerge from the sea, walk up to a dive instructor and shout something along the lines of: "Don't ever interfere with me under the water, you could kill someone like that!"
As the instructor was due to take me on a guided tour of the dive park, I wanted to find out what this was about.
It seems that he was bringing a group back from a dive when he saw the shouting diver at around 10m. Attached to his octopus was a teenage lad wearing only fins and a mask - no BC or weightbelt!
The instructor returned his group to the nearby shore and then went back to find the pair. When he did so, he signalled that they should ascend, and at the surface insisted that they surface-swim to shore.
The outburst I witnessed was the furious diver, angry at being made to look stupid in front of the boy, making his feelings known. It was very unpleasant.
When we talked about it later, the instructor questioned whether it had been worth intervening. The unpleasantness had been upsetting and anyone not knowing the circumstances would have assumed that he was the one guilty of malpractice. However, he had been concerned for the teenager's safety and, because the diver had hired kit from his dive shop, owed it to his employers to ensure safe practice.
Is it worth getting involved when the guilty party could become so aggressive, perhaps even violent? Should such divers be left to sort out problems of their own making? I wonder what Diver readers would have done?
Stephen Horton, Sheffield
It was very interesting reading the letter about divers' encounters with congers (Don't Mess With Conger Eels, September). Divers and fishermen alike know where to find congers and also where to avoid them, but you only come upon anglerfish by chance. Divers can't plan to avoid them, especially in poor visibility, though luckily I believe encounters between divers and anglerfish are probably rare.
A golden rule for divers is to leave fish well alone and to ensure that you do not put them in a position where they have to defend themselves. However, no one told this to the anglerfish I met several years ago.
By anglerfish standards it was extremely small - but extremely aggressive. I was swimming around on the bottom, minding my own business, when I came across it and it appeared to take an instant dislike to me. I immediately turned and swam away, only to find when I looked behind that it was chasing me.
I swam faster, it swam faster; I swam even faster and it swam even faster. Imagine this big-headed, mouthed and toothed monster chasing you - it's a diving experience I will never forget.
I think the only thing that saved me was the fact that I was swimming upwards, because anglerfish like to stay near the bottom. I have since heard stories of divers being bitten on the fins after being chased by anglerfish, and of a commercial diver who had just caught a turbot only to be faced by a large anglerfish which had decided that the turbot was his dinner.
I don't know the outcome but I have only seen one animal that came near to frightening me more than that anglerfish - a pitbull terrier chained to a stake to protect a car-park. I would be interested in hearing if any other divers have had unfortunate meetings with these fish. My tip if you meet one for the first time is this: don't hang around.
Martyn Smith, St Sampsons, Guernsey
I will never be Jacques Cousteau, or even Philippe. I'm fine with that. I'm one of those tourists who hire their BC and regs and dive for a fortnight in tropical waters once a year, to take some photos to show my non-diving friends and to remind myself that it's worth scrimping and saving for my next adventure.
In the past four years I've logged 50 dives, completed my PADI Advanced Open Water and Wreck courses and met wonderful people along the way.
This year in Coron, in the Philippines, I met an experienced wreck-diver from Kent and asked about his favourite site. He told me about Bikini Atoll and I sat enthralled. I decided to make Bikini my Big Thing for 2005.
I went to my local dive shop to see whether it would be cost-effective to hire equipment or buy it outright. The guy there had dived Bikini, but I soon got the sense that he felt perhaps I shouldn't. "I'm going to tell everyone who comes in here that there's a guy who wants to dive Bikini Atoll who hasn't got his own kit!" he said to me.
To be fair, I did get to hear the details of the diving, but why the initial attitude? Treat me as a figure of fun, but at least do it behind my back, after I've spent over £1000 in the store.
The tour operator with which I hope to travel has said that divers with my qualifications have dived Bikini, though I think some additional qualification might be a good idea before the trip, so that I get more from it.
The operator tells me of others who are taking a "TDI Deep Dive course" in preparation. What is TDI?
In almost every activity, there is a seam of elitism that segregates seasoned hands from the newcomers. It's prevalent in diving magazines as well. Have these people been diving so long that they forget what it was like before they had 100 dives in the log?
I'm sure that on a boat, or under water, these people would help anyone unsure or in difficulty without any flimflam, so what's the difference when on dry land?
I also go birding, and though seasoned birders were slightly taken aback when I told then I was going solo to the highlands of Papua New Guinea to look for sicklebills, no one derided me for not having the right "bins" (binoculars), or "scope" (telescope), or that I didn't know the avifauna well enough to appreciate the jizz. Do you see my point?
Give us fairweather divers a break. A bit of encouragement, patience and understanding on land, as well as under water, goes a long way. And as someone who was scared of the water as a child, the first time I suited up, the deep end of the pool was a long way.
HE Sawyer, Upminster, Essex
I couldn't believe some of the comments about buddies in September's The Big Question, especially the diver who said: "Having no-one to rely on makes you concentrate on what you're doing far more."
Divers saying they don't need buddies is like saying that if you don't wear a seatbelt you're likely to drive more carefully. Or, as the Royal Flying Corps once insisted, if you don't give your fighter pilots parachutes, they're more likely to try to get their machine back.
These are ridiculous, dangerous points of view. Your buddy is there for those crucial seconds when your air runs out, or you get stuck. You might drive all your life and never need your seatbelt, but you still put it on.
I have limited experience, but twice I've been in a situation where a buddy saved lives; once when my buddy had a panic attack at depth and started to pass out, and once when a tank ran out of air when the gauge showed 40 bar left.
I once saw a thought-provoking sign at a dive outfit in the Seychelles. It looked as though it was hung over a photo and it said: "This is the person who is totally responsible for the safety of you and your buddy under water." Then you realised that you were looking in a mirror.
Stephen Spawls, Norwich
I thoroughly enjoyed The Five Corners of Britain in September's Diver, but it seemed to have one glaring omission - what about the bottom right-hand corner?
Having contended with every potential invader from Julius Caesar to Adolf Hitler, and providing the world's busiest shipping lane, our little corner of Britain can lay claim to more than its fair share of wrecks. To quote a previous Diver: "Though Scapa Flow may be the wreck-diver's dream, Kent is the wreck-diver's paradise".
I have dived the area for nearly 20 years but have barely covered 50% of the wrecks within 10 miles of Dover Harbour. While we Kentish divers don't wish for the same type of tourist influx as, say, Scapa Flow, it would be nice to see some acknowledgement of this "diver's paradise".
Peter Woolmer, Falcon Divers, Chatham, Kent
During the diving season I spent many weekends diving along the south coast, primarily out of two of the UK's most popular diving bases, Portland and Plymouth. I noticed the differences in choice of and opinions about the colours of delayed surface marker buoys.
As a relatively new diver, but having spoken to a number of skippers, I agree with what seems to be the commonly held view that the standard DSMB should be either red or orange and the emergency DSMB, which signifies a problem under water with assistance required, yellow. (I am also aware of the argument that a yellow DSMB is more visible than an orange one).
A lot of divers adhere to this convention, but unless all do so, the impact of a yellow DSMB deployed on a busy dive site is significantly diminished. Could this not be a universal rule?
I have also noticed the lack of regard for DSMBs by other sea-users, usually pleasure-users. On numerous occasions I have witnessed jet-skiers and speedboats pass uncomfortably near to deployed DSMBs. I am unsure if these people understand the significance of the buoys or what the A-flag means on the supporting RIB.
Hopefully the shouts from the surface cover inform them to steer clear, but perhaps articles in the boating press would help.
Matt Frankcom, Great Kingshill, Bucks
I recently spent a week on a Red Sea liveaboard with two friends. We are PADI instructors and have worked extensively around the world, so it came as a shock that not only were PADI standards breached and ignored but also rules of common sense.
We had been sold a "luxury trip" on a boat that still had several teething problems, such as toilets leaking from their bases, but were more concerned that no one gave a thought to the safety of the divers. As a group of 14 we were led round sites with limited information as to our dive plan, no regard for the varying qualification levels and no recommendations as to emergency procedures.
A dive on the Giannis D involved the guide leading the entire group through the wreck. Many of the divers had never penetrated a wreck, let alone in such cramped and dangerous conditions. The guide paid no attention to the divers' air. Inevitably the less experienced, used to having their air monitored, ran out on more than one occasion.
This drives home the message John Bantin raised in his article Buddy Pair, Group Dive - Or Chain Gang (August), that divers should be more aware of safety issues and monitor air for themselves as well as sticking to the plan. However, in this case, not even the guide stuck to the plan, exceeding the maximum depth by up to 10m.
On returning from a holiday organised by the same company, a friend told me that the divers had been offered the chance to partake in a deep dive. Some had turned this down, but those who took part, many of them qualified only to Advanced Open Water level, completed a dive to 58m.
Without safety precautions and adequate training, divers are playing Russian roulette exceeding the depth to which they have been trained. It's down to the diving community to bring below-standard situations to the public's attention. Not only are we being cheated of the diving experiences we have been promised, but rogue companies are putting our lives in danger to boost their profits.
Becky Wise, Brighton
After reading Buddy Pair, Group Dive - Or Chain-Gang? I felt a frighteningly real angle was missed.
As Jim Breakell rightly points out, the dive guide "has a difficult job". Anyone who has faced a group of six divers ranging from "just passed" to Divemaster in viz of 5m or less on a deep site will know that the job can bring considerable pressure (pardon the pun).
While working for numerous dive centres on Koh Samui in Thailand, I witnessed alarming practices on the part of one or two of the operators and their staff, ranging from poorly maintained equipment to Divemasters who had been trained only by other DMs teaching PADI Open Water unsupervised, from start to finish, before the centre owner signed the logbook and certifications.
That's two generations unsupervised by a qualified PADI instructor -not to mention all those new divers with invalid certificates and potentially fatal training.
I don't want to scare people off. Most dive centres in Thailand are well-run and as trustworthy as any in the UK. But there is no litigation there - if someone dies, the attitude of the bad few is: "Who cares? They can't sue."
What will happen when these DMs are eventually faced with that horrible group? Will they cope? Check the credentials of your guide before you enter the water!
Paul Fox, Birmingham
After reading Andy Blackford's characterisations of American divers in the August issue (Risk-Free Diving? No Thanks), I felt compelled to point out the glaring errors in his column.
Firstly, not all American divers are dentists. Indeed, there are literally dozens who are not. In the interests of oral security, however, please don't tell anyone.
Secondly, Mr Blackford says he was diving in America. He was not. California was ceded to Austria when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor.
Finally, Mr Blackford's attitude towards lawyers is sadly out of touch with reality. In fact, a leading panel of experts (consisting of most of my ex-wives) have determined that lawyers are an essential part of the economic health of a nation. Redistribution of wealth is far more difficult without their services.
I hope you will not deal too harshly with Mr Blackford. He is, after all, mortal and subject to unprovoked attacks of yawning. More to be pitied than chastised, I think.
While totally agreeing with John Rapley's letter about charter-boats carrying oxygen (No Excuses For O2-Free Skippers, October), his follow-on risk assessment for boat skippers goes a bit far.
The idea that divers would "pay a little extra" would not fund wages for a competent crewman with hardboat handling and navigation skills. If you could find someone, it would mean around £80 per day extra on the charter cost.
And would divers pay for weekends cancelled because of bad weather? We had two such weekends in September. A crewman would still need paying, or he would disappear.
Come on, John, there is as much risk of the engine breaking down while waiting for divers in the water - or should we get the HSE to rule that all boats have two engines, as we do on Furious?
All hardboats in Plymouth carry oxygen as far as I know. We carry 1000 litres, two VHF radios, two GPS, two sounders and all us skippers talk to each other frequently. It's as safe as it can get for the price.
Have you been abroad lately, John? Most places have no HSE or MCA, which control us charter-boats and skippers so strictly.
Pete Hambly, "Furious", Plymouth
I read the letter Kicked While She Was Down (July) and felt sad to read of the couple's experience. I live in Egypt and my husband and I took up diving recently. Sea Scapes of Maadi, Cairo, organises liveaboard weekend trips to the Red Sea and we have made lots of friends on these excursions.
I have found all the divers and instructors very gracious, helpful and patient. I realise that there are the other kinds of people out there, but have not come across them yet, thank goodness.
On the PADI Open Water course and on my second weekend trip I experienced some scary moments, almost to the point of giving up, but my buddy/husband and the others persuaded me to persevere.
I was so glad that I didn't give up, because on my third trip I was able to do the Advanced course, did my first wreck dive and was enthralled by the whole experience.
With each dive I gain so much more knowledge and experience, fun and excitement, so I was pleased to read that Matt Edwards' girlfriend had broken through the barrier that bullies can put up for others and is now enjoying diving.
I trust this letter will help to encourage others who, like me, have had scary diving experiences or suffered bullying, to press on.
To all experienced divers, please remember that you were a beginner once. Remember how you struggled into the wetsuit for the first time and dragged on the BC, trying so hard to remember how it all worked, and be patient with those of us who are new to the sport.
Linda Scarr, Egypt
I have always used the travel insurance associated with my bank account, which carries a not inconsiderable administration fee. Three years ago, I asked for a covering letter explaining that I was insured for diving abroad, which I received.
A few weeks ago I rang the bank insurance services to ask them if I could be sent a more current letter. When it arrived, it stated that I had to be either a BSAC Sport Diver or PADI Advanced Open Water Diver. If not, I had to dive with a qualified instructor!
This presented a problem, as I am an SAA Dive Leader and Open Water Instructor, and have been diving for 25 years.
Anyone who is not a member of BSAC or PADI should check their insurance carefully, as I was told that this is common practice among insurance underwriters.
Had I used the letter previously issued, would I have been covered for a diving emergency? Two weeks and several phone calls later, I still have not received clarification from my bank.
John B Shallcross, Bolton, Lancs