The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
I felt compelled to write to you expressing my complete abhorrence of Big Escape at Guantanamo Bay in October's Diver.
Although I agree with the editor that the article was a fine piece of photo-journalism by Jonathan Green, I must question the inclusion of the article in a magazine such as Diver, which advocates conservation over the indiscriminate killing of fish for sport.
As a diver, I believe in the "look but don't touch" ethos. I am repeatedly amazed and saddened by divers who return from a dive with a goody-bag full of crabs or lobsters and moan about pickings being poor in that area.
I was more than surprised when I read the Gitmo article, which claimed that the poor American soldiers, neither wanted nor welcome in Cuba, are left bored with nothing to do but scuba dive and kill fish.
According to the article these fish are unusually large, and I feel aggrieved that as more and more US military swap their M16s for spearguns and "shoot anything that moves", this will no longer be the case.
The USA is the only remaining "super-power" and tries very hard to dictate what other countries can or cannot do. However, it would appear that the average grunt continues to display a lack of "fire discipline" under water, as he does on land.
Perhaps it's time the commanders took note of the opinions of local inhabitants and began an education programme to drag their soldiers into the 21st century.
They should remind them of their duty and responsibility in conserving fish stocks and leave these to the locals who need to fish to live, not merely for sport.
I would be interested to see what PADI Aware, and other like-minded conservation groups, have to say about the antics of the US Forces at Gitmo - and whether the US Government would even care.
Rob Kerr, Aberdeenshire
There goes the alarm. It's 3.50 on a Sunday morning! The bed hasn't even turned warm and I'm getting up to drive for two and a half hours and throw myself into a muddy puddle!
OK, so our beloved and fabled Stoney Cove is a little deeper and at times a whole lot clearer, but I'm gonna get cold and wet. What the hell am I doing? Well, it's my hobby, and I love it.
We meet at 5am for the journey and speed up the M25 and M1 in convoy. We all do it, travelling from all corners of the country like strange Penelope Pitstops and Dick Dastardlys in undersuits, leaving spouses in the Land of Nod and the dog looking at us disdainfully. Why so early? To make the bottom car park!
All I ask is a little space, to save my legs from the killer walk from the top. We arrive well before 7 to see a huge line of cars already waiting to enter. But we're here to enjoy ourselves. The walk to the water isn't so bad and we're still smiling and looking forward to the day.
Then we walk through the middle of the throng, and there you all are, looking at me as if I'd stolen your favourite toy. You smug lot should be dancing and whooping - you're there in the bottom car park, ready to plop right in, but you all look so glum!
I know the safety issues, but please guys, let's have a few more smiles and a little more friendliness at Stoney. After all, we're supposed to be having fun - aren't we?
Mark Newman, Maidstone, Kent
It was widely reported in September, amid congratulations from the academic comm-unity, that Drs Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori had achieved the great aim of capturing extensive footage of the elusive giant squid.
Photographs were captured of the live beast as they kept it pinioned at a depth of 1km via a weighted jig - a set of ganged and baited hooks - for more than four hours, until it managed to rip off one of only two main feeding tentacles.
The images showed it as an energetic predator as it "made repeated attempts to detach itself, enveloping the long-line and swimming away in its efforts to struggle free. It was exciting to get a live Architeuthis tentacle. It was still functioning when we got it on the boat," Dr Kubodera told BBC News.
The large suckers repeatedly gripped the boat deck - and Dr Kubodera's fingers, when he prodded the severed appendage.
Well, hooray! Cephalapods have been known for some time to have an intelligence level comparable to that of a cat and possibly higher. Imagine the public outrage that would have followed the capture and torture of a rare jungle cat, previously known only from legend, that culminated in the filming of a forelimb being ripped off while the animal was alive.
Architeuthis was, and is, an extant species, so better trapping and filming methods should have been employed. I have rarely been so annoyed as I was by this act of barbarism.
Martin Hunt, Sale, Cheshire
In the title of his article about Patrick Musimu (News, September), Walter Comper uses the term "quantum leap". He, along with most people, seems to think that this implies some massive event.
A quantum leap is the movement of a particle, for example a positron, from one point to another because of local forces. It's really, really, really small.
In Don Mcallister's letter about the rigging of the octopus second stage on his student's kit (Which Side Are You On?, October), his observations about the S configuration formed by the medium-pressure hose supplying the octopus DV are valid, but his solution is in my opinion wrong.
If the student is carrying out an assisted buoyant lift, while supplying air to a buddy as an AAS donor, it is all too easy, when raising his or her own corrugated/direct-feed BC hose to dump the expanding gas, to place an arm under the octopus hose and dislodge the DV from the buddy's mouth.
Don implies that the only solution to rigging on the right would be a Poseidon octopus DV. Has he not considered the side-exhaust Oceanic Omega II or Apeks Sentinel (albeit no longer in production)? Indeed some Scubapro DVs, while conventionally configured, can be modified in minutes to rig "back to front".
There are many alternatives to the "problem" without potentially creating an even bigger one. What about fitting an "omni-swivel" between DV and hose? Oceanic fits them as standard on the Omega II.
Go for what works for you by all means, Don, but please don't adopt the DIR mentality of "do it our way because that's the only right way, or you're a stroke" (whatever that might mean). I am a BSAC Advanced Instructor and Trimix Diver, so I don't speak from an ill-informed standpoint.
Andy McKnight, Fowey Divers, St Austell
I was impressed by Don Mcallister's certainty of what's right and what's wrong regarding kit configuration. During a holiday dive in Cuba using rented equipment, I was very grateful of the right-hand octopus when the primary second stage fell apart at 25m. It meant that I could continue the dive (albeit a little nervously) under my own steam.
Having observed so many examples of the right-hand octopus set-up, did it not occur to Mr Mcallister that there may be reasons for using this configuration?
Running out of air would for many divers be traumatic. Sharing air face-to-face is probably the most reassuring position for both receiver and donor, and a right-hand octopus would be less likely to interfere with the raising of the BC inflator hose on ascent.
Diving students soon learn that water absorbs colour, but surely an instructor should think in broader terms than black and white. By the way, what's a numpty?
Ian Smith, Cliftonville, Kent
Working in the aquatic retail industry, I've had the opportunity to observe anemonefish up close. Sarah Curran's article The Nemo Factor (October) was informative, with no incorrect information, but I felt that a few snippets had been left out.
The relationship between anemonefish and their hosts can be seen quite easily in an aquarium. Apart from the benefits mentioned in the article, the fish also feed the anemone bits of food. After all, it's good manners to bring a bottle or a cake when invited to a house!
Anemonefish are part of the much large damselfish family, notorious for its aggressive nature. Some of the larger ones can be very aggressive, and their bite draws blood. When I was cleaning the tanks, they would often attack anything within reach - hands, nets or bits of rock.
I would not recommend trying to "persuade" any anemonefish to fight intruding fingers off, regardless of size. Apart from the stress on the fish, many species are quite delicate and, particularly if its "foot" becomes damaged, this would mean its death.
There are plenty of advocates for careful finning on reefs, but it's not just corals that are at risk from poorly trained divers.
Chris Moody, Ferndown, Dorset
Thank you for the Apollo TAS Lift BC review (diver Tests, August). It's nice to know that there are still people in the industry with a similar attitude to my own.
I designed and have been using for about five years a couple of BCs consisting of a simple harness, a very streamlined low-capacity blade (less than 10 litres lift) and a backpack, either a metal plate or a conventional plastic one.
If properly weighted, it provides me with enough lift both in depth and on the surface for all ranges of diving I usually do, from 5mm full suit through 7mm two-piece suit to drysuit with tanks between 7 and 15 litres.
As John Bantin wrote: "It encourages the diver to get the weight right in the first place."
Daniel Poloha, Slovak Republic
Last February diver published a news item about me. I am 28, live in Minnesota and have dreamt of scuba diving since I was a little kid.
Diving is a challenge for me because I have a tracheotomy, depend on a ventilator to breathe 24/7, and am mostly confined to a wheelchair. I have lived with Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy my whole life and have very limited physical abilities.
Diving with these medical issues has never been done before, but I believe that anything is possible if you want it badly enough.
The biggest challenge is that a new life-support system needs to be developed or an existing system modified for me to explore the world under water. Through persistence, it is starting to come together.
Since your article I have been in many other publications, on radio and TV. Several people said that someone in my situation couldn't go under water, but I have been under water, and have been increasing my time every session. It's now up to five minutes. A custom-made drysuit with a special watertight connector on the outside enables me to connect the 8ft-long double-limb ventilator circuit to the inside of my drysuit.
I float my ventilator above me in a plastic container and now use a Neptune II full-face mask, with supplementary air supplied from the surface. My local dive buddies have been a huge help. I can't begin to tell you how amazing it feels to be in the water and weightless. It makes me feel free, and they almost have to drag me out of the pool!
Project Innerspace, a not-for-profit agency, is my leading sponsor, but despite all the donations, funding is still a major concern. It has to cover the formal training needed for travel for me and my dive team and family to finally go diving in the ocean. I hope to dive in the Florida Keys by next spring or summer.
It's not just for me - it's for all of the other people who have a dream of doing something that others say can't be done.
Thanks to everyone for your continued support and encouragement. You can follow my progress on www.scubadivingdream.com and www.divingadream.org.
Matt Johnston, Woodbury, USA
I completed my PADI Open Water Diver course in Florida in May, while my girlfriend did a Discover Scuba. Selecting a magazine was a priority, and having tried a few we gravitated towards Diver, as it consistently both presents a balanced view, and flags relevant or interesting topics for comment.
On the issue of fast-track training and "badge" divers raised in the September issue, I am a naval architect and yacht designer, and in the sailing world a similar debate is raging about Yacht Master qualifications being issued to until-recently land-locked students.
The qualification loosely equates to PADI Master Scuba Diver.
We are fully aware of the difference between training and experience. I have been sailing offshore since I was a teenager, sailed the Atlantic four times, seen over 65 knots of wind with huge breaking seas while hundreds of miles from sanctuary and accrued many times the number of sea miles required, but I would not call myself a Yacht Master.
This is partly out of deference to the vastly more experienced company I keep.
Similarly, while we enjoy clear, warmwater diving, to progress up the dive qualification ladder we will do as many dives and in as varied conditions as possible, one benefit of UK diving.
We live on the wreck-rich Isle of Wight, with its potential for strong tides and variable viz, and regard this as akin to training to run a marathon with rocks in your pockets.
Referring to John Bantin's Nitrox For Free article in the same issue, I completed an "Intro to Nitrox" on the back of my National Geographic course, immediately after my OWD. My forward-looking instructor bundled it into a FishAWARE dive and gave me an overview of the concept. Downside? None, bar minimal expense.
In Majorca, we both extended the nitrox module of our AOWD to full nitrox certification, and (my comments on gaining experience notwithstanding) my girlfriend was able to go from an OWD referral to Nitrox-certified AOWD in a week. We both regard nitrox as non-technical and were "sold" it on the grounds of safety, exactly as described in your article. It's a no-brainer for us.
Christian Stimson & Sian Raynor, Isle of Wight
I booked a week on a Red Sea liveaboard at the last minute and was happy to get on anything that I could. I had no issue with the itinerary, though one of the dives was the ferry wreck Salem Express. It would be no different to walking through a cemetery, I thought, and what could be wrong with that?
The Egyptian dive-guide had explained that this was the final resting place for the many people who died when it sank, and asked us not to penetrate the wreck.
After the dive, a diver from the club that had booked most of the boat played a video on the main TV monitor. It included footage that he had taken inside the Salem Express.
In addition, there was loud and inappropriate conversation across the lounge about a child's tricycle and other victims' possessions found while penetrating the wreck.
The crew could only look on sadly. Watch-ing the expression of our dive-guide served as a sad reminder to me of how much crew-members have to compromise their feelings and views in needing to be polite to us paying guests (no matter how despicable) and avoid unemployment.
Why did the leader of this dive group not take these people to task? Because he was one of those penetrating the wreck, and the same person later seen sitting astride the mast of the Carnatic and hitting it with a lump of metal to break off a souvenir.
I won't be diving the Salem Express again. My angry disgruntled self does want to name this dive club, but I am going to try to be good!
Sophie Niall, London
Well done Bill Quinn and John Bantin (Kit Q&A, October), for risking the wrath of the "fin police" by daring to mention "flippers".
I learned to dive with "flippers" (my BSAC Diving Manual uses the words synonymously) even before the word was hijacked by the TV dolphin series and ridiculed ever since by all "new wave" (that is, mid-'70s-on) aquanauts.
As a fish biologist, I have always felt that the term "fin" applies only awkwardly to divers' foot extensions, which are much more akin to the flippers and flukes of aquatic mammals than to the tail-fins of fish. Fish invariably deploy their tail-fins in the horizontal plane rather than vertically, as diving mammals do - including us.
Flatfish? Well they are just lying on their sides so, as far as they're concerned, they still use their tail from side to side. And even when a fish's tail-fin is divided into two lobes, they do not beat independently as most divers' fins/flippers do.
As a verb, "fin" does work better than "flip", though my dictionary doesn't list this usage of fin. But what's wrong with "swim" - isn't that what fish do?
I am quite happy to "come out" and use either term, fins or flippers.
Paul Fivian, South Devon