What a Fuss it Caused at the Time!

Sometimes there’s a conspiracy of silence and you’d often do better not to disturb it. That’s what I inherited back in the day when I first joined Diver Magazine but I spoke up when others preferred to stay silent. My introduction to the readers was a gradual one with frequent if irregular contributions to the editorial content but by 1993 I had become a regular. The publication was a gentlemanly affair in those days. With no real rival to speak of, the publisher had a free hand to do what he liked but in fact became emotionally indebted to the the British Sub-Aqua Club that had given him a contract that was almost a license to print money in those days. His Technical Editor was among the BS-AC committee that had awarded him the contract so what that man said held sway. It didn’t seem to matter that he was also drawing a salary from a well-known manufacturer whose products also became de-rigeur in diving clubs. However, he was getting old and curmudgeonly and soon I in mere middle-age was able to replace him. I came from the world of the media and saw the monopoly afforded to the magazine as an advantage in that it could afford to offend advertisers if need be, if it was to the advantage of its readers. I believed that building the readership beyond club membership was the secret to a successful future for the magazine. For example, when the magazine proprietor asked me to explain to him what PADI was, he was obviously shocked. He hadn’t heard of PADI but even back in those days it was certifying more new divers with British addresses than the club was enrolling new members. Once the proprietor came to understand that there was a future beyond the comfortable confines of the club circulation he decided to give me a free hand to write features that might have been a little more controversial and informative than in the years before. I relished the idea. I started comparing regulators side-by-side underwater. This alone caused a furore. There were some shocks among the results. In those far off days before CE-certification, some regulators were clearly not good enough for anything more than the shallowest dive. Lawyer’s letters began to arrive but we weathered the storm. The proprietor told me to carry on. Advertisers withdrew their advertising revenue but with nowhere else to go in those days, they were soon back. Next I did an in-water side-by-side comparison test of seven popular dive computers. I went to Sharm el Sheikh where there was deep water directly off the shore and enlisted the help of Sarah Woodford, who was working as the local rep for Regal Diving at the time. Sarah still lives in Sharm. The plan was to take the computers, strapped side-by-side together on a rig, down to 50m deep, put them into decompression-stop mode and see how they differed in the information they dispensed during the ascent.

The starting spread from the feature in Diver Magazine. The starting spread from the feature in Diver Magazine.
It’s impossible to remember fast changing displays so key to the operation was the facility to take pictures of the displays at crucial moments whilst under water. Alas, during the initial moments of the descent, it was discovered that the camera had gone faulty. We retreated back to the beach and Sarah went off to find an alternative camera. It was more than three hours later that we able to get back in the water and by this time all the computers had recovered from their brief dip in the sea and their displays were clear. In those days computer algorithms varied widely. That's the mathematical calculation it uses to calculate nitrogen uptake. Nobody seemed to know what was correct. During our test dive one particular computer gave hours of no-stop time when compared with the others before flipping almost instantly into a very long deco requirement indeed. The whole exercise, including the aborted initial dip, was reported accurately in the magazine. My whole modus operandi was to tell the unvarnished truth to readers despite regular howls of protest in those days from manufacturers. The article was entitled "Learning Curve" and it caused yet another furore from both some readers and that one manufacturer. Firstly, I received an ocean of criticism from readers who said that I had broken a cardinal rule and should not have done a deeper dive second. It was if they were saying that when I discovered the camera wasn’t working, I should have gone down beyond 50m deep so that my second dive to 50m was shallower. I preferred to turn back before I’d loaded much nitrogen. History and current medical thinking bears me out that I was right but that was not what it said in the BS-AC manual at the time. More seriously, the manufacturer of the computer that was so far out of step with the others that it was almost laughable decided to threaten to sue me. Things were getting serious. It was only when it occurred to them that the other manufacturers would be enthusiastic witnesses in court on my behalf (they were hardly going to admit that their own algorithms were not safe) that it backed off. So it seemed I had upset both some readers and some advertisers. They would have all hung, drawn and quartered me if they could. I’m pleased to say that the failure to sell as many units as it would have liked eventually encouraged that particular manufacturer to offer an entirely different algorithm with its computers and today (twenty years later) all the different computers available in dive stores  are much more in agreement with what will keep the user safe – although none can guarantee it since everyone's physiology is different.  Provided you keep track of your dive profiles with a suitable diving computer it is no longer seen as essential to do the deepest dive first. If you've enjoyed reading this blog, you will enjoy Amazing Diving Stories by the same author.

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