The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
I often read in Off-Gassing about the failings of "inexperienced" divers, and how others mock their faults.
So how many dives must a diver make before he or she is deemed to be "experienced"?
I have just logged my 68th dive, of which about 55 were in the open sea. Despite having the label Advanced Open Water Diver, with a Wreck Specialist add-on, I would not term myself "experienced", but "respectfully confident". I remain aware and prepared for the possible dangers and risks of each dive, throughout each dive.
I have even aborted a dive for my own safety, because my "experienced" buddy failed to respond to OK checks, or even look in my direction - so would he have noticed if I got into trouble? Other "experienced" buddies have included the human yo-yo who had forgotten even the most basic buoyancy techniques, and went through 150 bar in 10 minutes as a result, and others with a penchant for kicking up silt in enclosed spaces.
I"d rather dive with a safety-conscious diver with bad habits than a technically excellent diver who puts my safety at risk by ignoring me and the foundations of the buddy system.
In fact I prefer diving with the less experienced, as I find them favourably paranoid about the safety side of things, even though their skills need honing.
Perhaps it is the attitude of those who moan about them that is the problem, or do those divers forget their first dives, with all the fumbling and embarrassment? Taking the mickey will only alienate the inexperienced, and prevent them asking for help in improving skills that may one day save the lives of the moaners.
Julian Pearson, Cambridge
I enjoyed Louise Trewavas" article The Shape of Things to Come (October). It put forward some very interesting thoughts but one poignant fact was omitted. There are doubtless going to be many fascinating gadgets and (with luck) many more females diving, but what will we be diving in?
Earlier in the same edition I had read about the loss of 80% of the coral reef area of the Caribbean and David Bellamy diving in floaties. What is even more sad is that this is becoming fairly normal reading. If this is the face of diving to come, we need to prepare for the future in two ways.
First, buy a decent camera and video-recorder and film everything before it is either destroyed or stolen, so that we can sit in our armchairs in 20 years" time and reminisce. Second, we can step up pressure on governments and our dive agencies to join forces to enable more to be done to conserve and preserve the marvels left below us, while at the same time supporting bodies such as the Marine Conservation Society.
If you think you are unable to do any good as just one person, think of it like this: a single drop in the ocean is infinitely more than no drop at all! What is lost is lost, but what has yet to be lost is our future.
Peter Detnon, Rochester
In The Shape of Diving to Come, skipper Pat Dean comments on women divers who cannot climb boat ladders. As a lady diver for the past nine years, diving occasionally from Mr Dean"s boat, I know only too well the ladder in question.
Unfortunately, I have had two operations which have left me with limited movement in my ankles. Repeatedly I have explained the problem to Mr Dean but this falls on deaf ears and he continues to yell at me about how to climb the ladder. I didn"t realise he specialised in limited-disability movement.
In future I will dive with a more understanding skipper.
Debbie Moore, Devon
I was amazed by comments made by Graham Clark in his letter What About the Weights? (October) about Chris Boardman"s article on the BSAC Dive Leader course. Has he never heard of integrated weight systems?
The traditional weightbelt used by most divers is the system all trainees learn about, but there is more than one way to weight a diver these days.
Graham"s comments about weights being strapped to cylinders also surprised me.
Like many divers, I own a pony cylinder, which fixes to the side of my main cylinder. I have to attach a suitable weight to the opposite side of the main cylinder unless I want to spend the whole dive on my side!
Before criticising equipment set-ups, Graham would do well to understand that there is more than one way to set up kit safely. The standard configuration taught to beginners by most training agencies is not the only "correct" way, and not necessarily suitable for all situations and types of diving.
This shows how important careful buddy checks can be. The person you are rescuing may not be wearing "standard" basic kit, and you need to be aware of such things as drysuit inflation hoses, ankle-weights and integrated weights. Keep an open mind and ask questions. As with my pony cylinder, there may be a sensible answer to why things are the way they are.
Richard Stannard, Northfleet, Kent
In his haste to condemn Louise Trewavas" "fundamentalism", the retired military diver who wrote in missed a vital point about TV"s Wreck Detectives (Lay Off Wreck Numpties, Off-Gassing, October).
I think he and I would agree that the "experts" on TV displayed a level of ignorance and incompetence that should make any moderately experienced diver wince. However, we may also agree that providing diving programme time is likely to foster the desire to dive in others.
Wasn"t I five years old when Hans & Lotte Hass went diving to adventure? The memory of those programmes "catches at my heart and blows it wide open". I would have hoped, however, that in later life Hans might have blushed with shame to recall those early documentaries. The comments he used to make about Lotte, for example, would make most men wince these days.
Louise displays the same passion for her diving which I discovered aged five and retain 50 years later. She is unafraid to describe how it makes her feel. She also rings the bell for British dive sites. Too often diving friends return from foreign sites dissatisfied and return, nervously anxious, for their fix of cold, zero-viz Channel diving. It"s an adults-only experience.
Louise"s articles target adult divers. Let the children find their inspiration from the kiddie programmes on TV.
Bill Langdon, Hythe, Kent
My wife and I have just spent an idyllic two weeks on the Costa Smeralda. Sardinia is a beautiful island with wonderful friendly people, fantastic clear warm water and a climate to die for.
Lesley does not dive so on holiday I keep my diving to a minimum. Last year in Corsica I dived only twice and found little or no life in the Med, so this is no hardship. This year it was the same off Sardinia.
I dived in the Parco National, which includes the islands of La Maddalena, Caprera and Spargi. Visibility was perfect but there was virtually nothing to see. I found one young grouper, looking very lonely and probably wondering if it was the last one on Earth.
Most disturbing was the amount of coral on sale in almost every shop. Coral in the Med is virtually extinct, having been fished out for trinkets years ago. Now it seems that the trade is getting its supplies from the Far East. It seems that many people are still intent on destroying our world.
The day after my return to the UK, I dived a wreck off the Isle of Wight and saw a stack of life. I hope we can keep it this way.
Roger Hudd, Tadley
What a pleasure it was to read Mark Hayford"s Deep Breath article Let"s Get Physical in the October issue, and to see his change in philosophy in the past year regarding tough training.
As a US Marine, I"ve often thought that much dive training was too fluffy. I"m not advocating a strict military curriculum for what is essentially a recreational activity.
However, to be prepared for the real thing, you should practise how you play. Train as realistically as possible while maintaining safety, and practise, practise, practise.
My best friend and I often follow this theory. Practice can be incorporated into the dive, as well as during safety stops. This makes many dive professionals nervous.
On a recreational dive trip, our instructor friend had fits when we surfaced both breathing on my cylinder. But only by navigating murky water with him breathing on my octopus did I realise that my short-hosed compact octo was worthless, even with a calm diver breathing it (sucking soup through a straw was his description).
I have since replaced it with a longer hose and full-size second stage.
Military training doesn"t end after boot camp. Likewise, dive training doesn"t end when you earn your certification. My advice: find a buddy you trust, practise hard, and practise often.
Scott Daubert, Harrogate
I recently completed my Rescue Diver course and this was one of the most gruelling and rewarding courses I have undertaken.
Like "Dimitri", my club (TDTI) believes that to be an effective practitioner you have to be trained as realistically as possible, and this means no holds barred when it comes to rescuing panicked divers.
Our friendly divemaster was transformed into a shark at an all-you-can-eat diver buffet. The result was a bruising of body and ego, but the benefit is a very healthy respect for the techniques we have learnt and also recognition of our limitations as newly qualified Rescue Divers.
Vincent Tanti, Bedford
I was interested to read Graham Sands' comments on using cheap sports watches for diving (Time to Save Your Money, Deep Breath, November).
I passed PADI Open Water this summer and needed a diving watch so that I could use the - don't laugh - PADI recreational dive-planner.
Graham is dead right about the bizarre interpretation placed on the description "water- resistant to 100m", which seems to be "OK for gentle washing up in a domestic environment; vigorous scrubbing may void the warranty".
Faced with the choice between £20 in Argos and £100-plus at the dive centre, I chose Argos, though it seemed to me that the watch was almost as safety-critical as a depth gauge or a submersible pressure gauge - remember, I don't have a dive computer to do the sums for me.
My risk assessment ran like this: If my buddy and I both have cheap watches, we risk one or other of them failing on a dive. However it seems unlikely that both would fail on the same dive.
As an additional precaution, even if both watches fail we still know the time we dived so we can always get an idea of our dive time by asking someone the time when we surface.
As it happens, £40 spent at Argos on a couple of cheap watches has proved to be money well spent. Obviously I don't push my luck too far; I always take the watch off to do the washing-up!
J White, Rampton, Cambridge
I read with interest Leigh Bishop"s account of his Wilhelm Gustloff wreck expedition (Death & The Amber Room, September), but as a Polish diver living in the UK I found some of the facts slightly misleading.
The idea of going to Poland in May is as sensible as an attempt to dive the English Channel in mid-February. The diving season in the Polish part of the Baltic Sea runs through June till September. Outside that time conditions are too unpredictable to run a regular diving business. In summer at least six dive boats operate from Hel, and three dive centres offer gear rental and air/nitrox fills. Helium is half the price it is in the UK. During my last stay in Hel, a dive was basically a phone call away, anytime and anywhere.
Accommodation is abundant, with varying standards from £5 a night. For £15 it will easily surpass that of a classic British B&B. It was Leigh"s sleeping arrangements that made me laugh - I have no idea why the expedition chose the biggest hole in Hel.
If you are going to Poland by car, make sure you have valid insurance (green card) or your car may be impounded, just like Leigh"s van.
Make sure that your base is within reasonable range of your chosen wreck, or you may find that the Gustloff is actually 7-8 hours" boat drive from Hel, as Leigh did. And arrange your accommodation and dive boat upfront to avoid disappointment. If you need any help, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I"m going to Hel again next summer, and I can hardly wait...
Leigh was 100% right in one respect: the water there is bloody cold.
The intro to the Health & Safety Executive guide Managing Health & Safety at Recreational Dive Sites states: "Where you see the word "must" in the guidance, it means a legal obligation, ie you are breaking the law if you do not comply. Terms such as "should" and "need to consider" do not indicate a legal obligation."
The booklet covers legal obligations of anyone starting a business, commercial diving operations and inland dive sites. Yet the word "must" seems to appear only twice, once concerning commercial operations and once inland dive sites, when it states: "As a minimum, you must provide information to all visitors of known hazards at the site."
All the inland dive sites I have used, bar one, comply with every detail and more because they are run by divers for divers. I am sure that professionally run operations would rather all guidance came in the form of "musts" than "should bes", to protect their professional status.
"Oh, no, not more rules and regulations!" you cry. But there are no regulations, other than the one I quoted. This seems to be a guide to anyone who wants to open a dive site, qualified or not.
Somewhere along the line, the HSE"s hands have been tied. As litigation hits our shores like a tidal wave, the only solution is for the scuba industry to regulate itself before the mother of all incidents forces the HSE to swamp us with regulations.
Diver has produced some excellent articles by divers discussing these possibilities, so there is genuine concern. I am a commercial diver, and while the HSE regulates well for commercial dive operations, I think it lacks the experience to legislate well enough for the recreational scuba-diving industry. What do others think?
Shopping in my local healthfood store, I was appalled to discover shark cartilage in the vitamins and supplements section!
How could this high-street retailer justify stocking such a product? I doubt whether shark, in capsule form, is essential to the well-being of healthy-living enthusiasts.
Is selling this product any different from powdered rhino horn, for example, or extract of tiger?
My motivation for wanting an end to shark-fishing is not that I may continue to dive among some of the most beautiful creatures on Earth, but that the oceans are preserved in good health for future generations.
Neale Bailey, Birmingham
I have found the perfect solution to the problems we experience in taking dive bags abroad.
First, find the rudest company you can, then book your flights online. I booked my last trip to Spain via Guardian On Line Travel, which found me seats with BA. No phone numbers were given in the information I subsequently received and I was able to contact the company only via an email address.
I emailed three times to order vegetarian meals and to say that I would be taking an extra "sports bag" (I never say "dive bag" unless pressed).
I received no response, so at the airport I simply said I had notified the company and that it had no objection. My last holiday meant changing at Heathrow each way and the bag went through all four flights free of charge.
We didn"t get the vegetarian meals on the longer flights, but it was a small price to pay.
Martyn J Tuckwell, Prudhoe, Northumberland
On Slapton Sands 12 years ago I witnessed a rescue by a diving vessel that was luckily in the vicinity. Its name, I believe, ended in "... Sport 7".
A naval boat had gone aground virtually on the beach. Attempts with a line by another of the four boats - on a naval exercise, I presume - were unsuccessful. The line snapped, so divers went into the water to assist. After watching and photographing for a while, my film ran out, and I didn"t stay much longer.
I wonder whether those concerned or any of your readers can recall the incident? I should like to hear the end of the story.
John Keogh, Exeter