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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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March 2000 Vol. 26, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Letters to the Editor

drifted away, sucked down, or left behind

from the March, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Editor:

We keep reading your comments about divers lost off the Barrier Reef, most recently in your 2/00 issue. We were on the liveaboard Nimrod III on the Reef a few years ago when we were swept out to sea when the tide changed mid-dive. The Australian dive guide checked before the dive and told us there was no current, yet, as soon as we entered the water, we encountered a very strong current which pulled us laterally and down. When we hit 110', we aborted the dive and surfaced. The boat was a long way off and there was no watch on the aft part, so no one saw our signal as we were swept between two islands and into the deep blue water.

We were lucky. We managed to get back on the reef, Karl crammed his finned left foot into a hole in it, and we clipped our BC straps together. We held there despite the tide. Fortunately we stayed calm and focused and tried to think instead of losing hope, panicking, and ditching our gear. That’s important, because every item can be an asset. Still, we were in the water quite a while before we began to think we would survive. We were rescued just as it was getting dark after 6.5 hours in the water. We were 4.5 miles north of where we’d entered.

We had more than 300 dives each at the time, and we know that “shit happens.” Still, the number of incidents on the Barrier Reef raises serious safety issues. This is particularly true when the operators can’t even count the divers. Divers need to know about these incidents, and they need to be self-reliant as much as possible. The dive guide is not your mom — far from it. If we were on a day boat with a number of divers, we’d make very sure the operators knew us. We’d be tempted to tear a $20 bill in half, give them one half, and tell them they’d get the other when we got back on board with it. — Karl & Nancy Rubinstein (L.A. CA)

Editor’s Comment: Considering the effects of inflation, I’d be tempted to make it $50, especially in light of the way divers have been getting lost on the reef of late. Last month we reported on a British diver retrieved after 24 hours adrift, and this month the Aussies staged a repeat performance, losing an elderly California snorkeler (see flotsam). While both incidents saw a prompt response by crew that resulted in large-scale searches, neglectful crew is obviously a serious problem.

Head counts should certainly be mandatory (without the sort of legislative action the Aussie government has had to take to address the issue). However, another reader recently sent in a suggestion for a simple, practical safeguard for verifying that the head count is accurate and that all divers have safely returned. Considering the serious repercussions of a wrong count, a system like this one that confirms the count makes a great deal of sense. I think I’ll forward it to the folks down under.

Dear Editor:

Divers being left at sea is a frightening prospect. We at Best Dives will be e-mailing a list of 200 travel editors with a concept I’m calling “Cards on Board.” It’s not my idea — just one of those lessons I learned the hard way. My first live-aboard (1975) was the Aquarius II in Honduras — a ratty old yacht with a crew bent on selling drugs. On one dive my buddies and I surfaced to find this 54' boat at least 1 mile away. They left without us! No problem: the captain had made every diver leave his/her c-card in the water fountain before going in the water. A crew member made sure no one entered the water without leaving the card, and the boat never left an area without making sure all the cards had been picked up and all the divers were back on board. It eliminated the problem of getting the head count wrong and returned to the diver some of the “power” to ensure his own safety.

I hope you’ll join me in instituting “Cards on Board” for safer diving. — Joyce Huber, Best Dives Guides

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