Sunday, 28 June 2020

Certification Cards: Sport Diving's Aid to Picking Up Girls

Hey girl wanna get wet?
Hey girl, wanna get wet?

Snorkelling is for big girls and sissies. Real men; tough, grab-life-by-the-balls men go SCUBA diving. SCUBA, after all, has loads of equipment. Stuff like valves and regulators and cylinder thingies. You know, the real technical stuff that only tough, black-clad hero types can possibly understand. And of course, you need training; tough, stamina-stretching, mind-challenging training. The sort of training that needs to be delivered by tough, hard trainers who, in another life, would have been NASA pilots or special forces soldiers had they not had flat feet, weren’t scared of the dark and didn't have to take care of their dad's photocopying business. And, once you completed this training for heroes you get certified!

Anyone can snorkel, but only real tough guys are bona fide divers with a plastic laminated id cards to prove it. Right? The idea that being a certified recreational diver makes you some kind of underwater James Bond is, and always has been, complete nonsense. Yet, amongst some sports diving enthusiasts and lets face it, a lot of instructors, the belief still persists. We’ve all met the pub bore whose list of career experiences exceeds the years they’ve actually been alive and they are properly found in all recreational sports but for some reason they seem particularly drawn to the world of SCUBA diving. One reason for this, in our opinion, is the sheer number of “professional diving” courses you can take and subsequently all those lovely laminated cards you can collect. But is the world of badge collecting SCUBA tough guys under threat? For a few years now the world of recreational diving has been dramatically changing, so much so that SCUBA diving has become… well passé. You see nowadays, real adventurous men with their beautiful, adventurous and tough bikini-clad girlfriends now go freediving, which is diving without all the faff – no tanks, no tubes, no regulators, etc. etc.

Imagine how galling it must be for tough guy Brad, to flash his laminated boat diver card like an FBI agent at the sexy blonde sitting at the bar, only to have her raise a perfectly manicured eyebrow and whisper “oh darling, I only date men who can hold their breath for ten minutes" then wink suggestively. All that pool training, all that money spent on buoyancy control devices and plastic laminated cards that certify you as a shore diver, underwater photographer and advanced bubble blower and you can’t even use them to pick up girls anymore. Now before SCUBA fraternities around the world get all hot and bothered and threaten to whip us with their hoses think about it for a minute. Apart from getting an extra luggage allowance from the airline why would you need these ID’s if it’s not to impress girls at bars? Who has ever been stopped by the beach police and asked to prove they’re licenced to use the SCUBA tanks they’re putting on or that they’ve undergone a course of instruction on reading a dive computer? The answer is no one. Ever! More of this later, but let’s get back to those tough guy sports divers getting frustrated at having freedivers stomping all over their macho turf. How are they going to get laid now? Well, if you can’t beat them, join ‘em. The beautiful world of freediving could be yours Brad, you just need err…. some training.

That though is the problem. Who exactly do you go to to get that training? After all there aren’t that many expert freedivers in the world, mainly due to the fact that the majority of the worlds best freedivers tend to kill or maim themselves by… Well freediving.

But that problem seems to have been swept aside, because now, the same people who can teach to you to fall off a boat with style or waddle into the sea from shore or even take a professional underwater holiday snap can now teach you to freedive. Yep the SCUBA diving organisations of the world have spotted the changing trend in recreational diving that threatens to stop bubble blowers picking up girls at bars and are surfing to the rescue.

If there is a something you want to do underwater, the diving organisations probably have a course for it. Which brings us back to the these courses, the ID cards that come with them and the question of how?

Are you certified to do that?

How can there be instructors out there who are qualified to teach SCUBA, photography, videography, cave diving, tech diving, underwater sculpture, deep-sea mountaineering and now freediving as well? All right we made two of those up. But we think you get the point.

Now if you any of you have heard of Malcolm Gladwell you will know of his 10000-hour theory. Simply put, you need to have carried out 10000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert. Assuming you did nothing else but practice for eight hours a day, every day, it would still take you almost three and half years to become an expert at something. Something like… Say.... Open water diving. And, assuming you want to be taught by an expert and not some nineteen year-old surfer dude on a gap year, that means the person who’s teaching you to dive from a boat should have many, many years of boat diving experience. If they also taught freediving, underwater photography, tech diving and cave diving as well then they would have spent around seventeen and half years practicing themselves and that’s before they have learnt to teach. All in all, if such an expert instructor existed, and they don’t, then they would have spent the best part of two decades of careful practice before they even met their first student. Possible from a time point of view maybe, but hardly from a financial one. After all, no one moves to Bali to become a diving instructor because they are a raging success in their own country.

Gladwell’s theory does, we agree, tend to fall down a bit since there is such a thing as skill transference and aggregation of experiential learning and it recent times it has come in for some heavy criticism. But it does point at a clear problem in the world of recreational diver training which is that most of it is utter garbage. In fact it is the training organisations themselves that seem to be fueling the Walter Mitty mentality that permeates the sport.

The problem is one of regulation. You cannot get a licence to drive a car without undergoing an independent test and nor can you fly a plane or even parachute out of it without undergoing an examination of your skill by an external assessor. And you can’t be a special forces soldier without undergoing rigorous assessment of your physical and mental capabilities. Yes you can buy the badge and pretend you are one but you’re not and never will be because it’s tough, very tough and the forces weed out those who are not up to standard. Wanting to just use the badge to pick up girls is unlikely to be enough motivation to get you through that sort of course.

In the world of sport diving no such standard exists. The same people who train you are the same people who certify you and in such a self-regulating world the idea that the person who takes your hard earned bucks to train you to dive is at the end of the course going to say “sorry mate, you're crap at this” and refuse to certify you is just ludicrous.

The training organisations are in it for the money and telling their students that the training they’ve just spent their money on has led to nothing is a quick way of going bust or getting sued. Of course if such a standard did exist, if each nation had a law that said an externally assessed sport diving certification was a legal requirement for diving in their jurisdiction then the same organisations would probably get sued to destruction anyway. Would this be a bad thing? We don’t thing so. In such a world, the number and types of course would fall dramatically, training would be globally recognised, organisations would be legally accountable and instructors would be externally assessed yearly to ensure that they really were experts and not just selling cards that you can use to  pick up girls at bars.

I think we're gonna be sick!

This of course will never happen anytime soon since the training organisations would fight tooth and nail to stop their business model going belly up overnight. But maybe one day it will. But for now tough guy SCUBA divers will be able to train to dive without tanks and sexy blondes will still have laminated cards flashed in their faces and endure long lectures at the bar about breath hold techniques ad nauseam.

For the rest of us though, we will still know that most freedivers never underwent any formal training, never paid to get a laminated piece of card and never ever had anyone train them to fall off a boat. We will know that far from being for sissies, snorkelling is still the best route into recreational freediving and spearfishing and it always has been. Remember skin diving anyone? And we will know that SCUBA diving is full of phony expensive courses, taught by trainers who aren’t experts, designed so that Walter Mitty types have a chance at getting laid.

And for those sexy girls in bars we offer this piece of advice. If you ever meet someone who shows you a freediving certification card, prepare for a long and boring evening of tough guy talk or make your excuses and go find some snorkellers. We don’t have cards that certify we can hold our breath but we do know what to do with a snorkel.

Here’s some links to diver ready. A pretty good YouTube channel where the host outlines some of the utter nonsense that infests the sport diving world.

And here is one of our other posts about freediving courses.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Full-Face Snorkel Masks Save The World! Err... No

The sun is shining, the temperature is rising and thoughts turn to palm trees swaying in a sultry breeze, warms waters lapping against shore and the delights of dipping beneath azure waters to gaze upon Cousteau's underwater empire. Unfortunately though, such thoughts must be put on an indefinite hold as Covid-19 or SARS 2, The Revenge, as it is probably being called in Hollywood meetings, wreaks havoc on the tourism and aviation industry alike.
Still if you can't actually partake of your beloved water sport, you can still gain a modicum of pleasure in browsing the interwebby looking for some new whizzy bit of kit. There is nothing that enthusiasts of all sports like better than owning a new piece of tech. And there is nothing that sports kit manufacturers like better than selling us their shiny new gizmos, gadgets and thingamajigs that, they assure us, will make us look cool and fashionable the next time we go to the beach or step onto that dive boat.
Let’s face it; we’re all guilty of this aren’t we? Who among us hasn’t disposed of a perfectly usable piece of gear and replaced it with something we really didn’t need but it was a “bargain” and it looks soooooo good?

There are of course people who take such guilty pleasures too far. These people are called PADI diving instructors. Then there are people who don't go far enough. For this second group of people being cool and fashionable on the beach can be achieved with a single purchase, for they believe that coolness comes not from a natty rash vest, a snazzy wetsuit or even a body shape that resembles something faintly human. For them all water sport chic is wrapped up in a single piece of sci-fi wizardry, the full-face snorkel mask. These people are called many things, none of which is polite. But spare a thought for these people for in this dark and cloudy time their world is becoming even less pleasant.

Decathlon, the French originators of the first full-face mask are limiting purchases of their full-face masks to just 2 per person. This means that the poor, fashion challenged, purchasers of these masks are denied the chance to own every available colour these things come in. Oh the inhumanity of it all…!  Imagine having to go to the beach in your blue shorts and not having a blue mask to match. And let’s not forget the poor wives, in their pink bikinis, not being able to get a matching pink mask to complete the ensemble and having to make do with the boring white one instead!


Why is this happening? Well apparently, scientists, medics, students and people in sheds across the world are busily retrofitting full-face masks and turning them into ventilators and personal protective equipment in order to support the global fight against the pesky virus. Manufacturers like Decathlon are assisting in this by helping with supply and advice and therefore stocks are reduced.
Anyone who’s read our previous pieces on full-face masks couldn’t help but notice that we are not fans of these things. We think that they are…. how can we put this… not very good at all. But even we couldn’t have a problem with them being used in the battle against Covid could we? Err… Yeah we could.

Putting aside the ingenuity of the boffins and shed workers who are refitting these masks and their undoubted desire to help for one minute and assuming that Decathlon and other manufacturers are being nothing but altruistic in their assistance, we still feel a little uncomfortable about all this.
Imagine for instance that you are rushed into hospital panting like an asthmatic hippo, your lungs ridden with virus. You’d want the medics to use everything in their armoury to help you right? You’d want ventilators, drugs and computer panels that beep and flash every twenty seconds. But would you want a doctor to pull out a pink plastic full-face snorkel mask with a balloon thingy attached and slap it on your face. Would you? Really?

Let’s face it, lying in a hospital bed all wheezy and pale with cannulas in your veins and tubes shoved up your never-regions is not exactly dignified. To then have your head cocooned in what resembles Darth Vader’s summer dress helmet seems like adding insult to injury. Particularly if you remember that full-face snorkelling masks have inherent flaws that mean they aren’t much good for snorkelling and those same inherent flaws will probably mean they aren’t much good as ventilators either. This would be a stopgap at best, a temporary make-do solution to the very real problem of not having enough proper ventilators in the first place. And it will make your wheezing even worse, when it dawns on you that not only may you die because your hospital hasn’t got enough proper medical equipment, you may suffer an even worse indignity and actually be saved by a $30 beach toy. This of course would be catastrophic for healthcare systems around the world as public confidence is eroded by news of your miraculous survival.

After all what’s the point of ploughing loads of money into healthcare? Why should doctors and nurses go through all that training and what have all those research and development scientists being doing for years if the solution to treating Covid patients turns out to be a spotty student in a shed in Belgium who’s stuck a plastic thingy on a mask designed for fat people to go snorkelling in? That’s like a an Olympic skier finding out that he’d probably be better off slapping two planks of wood to his feet or an aircraft designer discovering that propellers really do work better when powered by elastic bands. It’s just too mad to think about. Science, medicine and research the world over would be a laughing stock.

But before you get all hot under the collar at such a thought we can ease yours and our own discomfort a little. You see despite myriad articles on the web explaining how and why these masks are being reconfigured, there is no actual evidence that we can find to prove that they have worked as ventilators at all. Yes there are a lot of clever people out there fiddling with things and trying to prove to their wives that the 3-d printer they bought wasn’t a waste of money but are they actually achieving anything other than publicity? We’re not so sure.

So perhaps it’s not quite time to throw the towel in on developing proper ventilators and other medical kit. And maybe engine designers shouldn’t rush to invest in rubber just yet.

Our discomfort about all of this is further eased by the fact that these masks may have a role as personal protective equipment. Clearly the purpose of any PPE is to provide a barrier to the infection and these masks do that as long as they are fitted with a filter. Although the nurses and doctors working in ITU will probably not be too thrilled to wear them. If your putting your life on the line in Covid wards we imagine that you’d probably prefer to be wearing a certified mask that has been safety checked and tested to ensure it does actually provide protection rather than being handed something that’s been knocked up in a Berlin apartment by a student dress designer called Otto.

Still that doesn’t mean that members of the public couldn’t make use of them to help in the easing of lockdown. Mr and Mrs Average Joe can wear them as they go go about their daily business right? Well yes, as long as that business doesn’t actually mean moving about much. You see as we pointed out, these masks have inherent flaws in their design. The manufacturers even state in their marketing guff that if you use them for snorkelling, which is what they were designed for remember, you cannot swim with them on or exert yourself too much as you will quickly find that the design hinders your breathing. That’s right, the Easy-breath suddenly becomes the very hard-to-breath. So we imagine if you were wearing these things as a anti-covid mask while walking to work or heaven forbid, running for a bus, you are likely to end up needing one of those real ventilators that hospitals have run out of.

Still if you have one of those masks at the back of the wardrobe and it’s in a colour you like you might want to put it on, sit yourself down and loose yourself in the 24 hour television coverage of doom and gloom. But then if you’re staying in doing nothing, why do you need a mask at all?

For more in-depth info on why we dislike these masks read our over posts here and here. Or you can read an excellent critique of them on Scuba Doctor here.

Oh one last thing, We do know the difference between BIPAP, CPAP and Ventilators. And we know that the retrofit is geared towards BIPAP but since the media everywhere are referring to them as ventilators (which shows that a lot of people don't know what they're talking about) we thought we would refer to them in the same way. Now, tongues back out of cheeks please.....

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Typhoons, Snorkelling and Men With Funny Shaped Balls: Japan 2019

Miyakojima Island: A DSC Quick Guide

Who are you looking at?

It’s only April and already 2020 is turning into a year to forget. The Covid-19 virus is front and centre in everyone’s mind with half the world’s population going into house arrest, economies going bankrupt and every Tom, Dick and Harry coming up with designs for new ventilators, which it turns out may not be the best way to treat patients. Then there are journalists, politicians and academics the world over systematically blaming China, Donald Trump and each other for the handling (or lack of it) of the situation.

So, to try and take your mind off the calamity unfolding outside of your window let’s take you back to 2019. You remember 2019, it was the year that journalists, politicians, academics and media commentators the world over told us we’d all die of starvation because of Brexit or that bearded Jihadis’ would brutally murder any man who let their wife go shopping without covering their ankles first and of course, it was all Donald Trumps fault. Oh and a certain Jeremy Corbyn would become Prime Minister of the UK. We’ll give you a minute to stop laughing about the last one….

In September 2019 we were boarding a flight from Paris to Tokyo eagerly anticipating the thrills, spills and crunching tackles of the Rugby World Cup. We would have loved to flown direct from Heathrow but such was the draw to this particular tournament that half of England, two thirds of Scotland and Ireland and seemingly the entire population of Wales were heading in the same direction. Consequently flights from the UK were either full or so expensive that we would have had to re-mortgage our own homes and most of our neighbours ones as well. Fortunately the French clearly believed their team had little or no chance of doing well in the tournament and so flights out of France were bereft of rugby fanatics and consequently very reasonably priced. At least that’s what we thought, turns out the reason our flight was so reasonably priced and so bereft of rugby’s hordes was because it was an Air France flight and no one it seems wanted to travel Air France. Something we now fully understand. Air France has the hardest, most uncomfortable seats you could imagine, the in-flight entertainment was appalling, the food inedible and they only had one can of beer aboard which apparently was being shared amongst the first-class passengers. We were offered wine of course, but since we consider wine to be at best, a drink for old women and children and at worst, even less appealing than badgers spit we declined and settled down for a cramped, grumpy sleep.

Japan is a long, long, long way when your buttocks are imprisoned in a seat that would make a spiked railing feel comfy, but our aching behinds were forgotten when we finally arrived in Tokyo. Fans from twenty nations mingled gleefully with the locals sharing beer and jokes whilst bemused Americans wandered around the neon lit streets wondering what on Earth was going on. The whole city throbbed with expectation. Japan has been involved in the world’s greatest rugby tournament from its inception but had only recently made its mark, having beaten the South Africans (rugby royalty) with a last ditch try in the previous tournament in 2015. Now every citizen of Japan seemed to have donned the red and white striped samurai shirt of the national team and confidence imbued by their teams coming of age against the Springboks, felt they too could now discuss the finer points of a rolling maul, line out plays and the need to earn the right to go wide with their peers from England, Australia, New Zealand and of course South Africa – all former world champions. Japan awaited, electric, primed, glory really could be theirs. This was going to be a tournament to savour. However, anyone who knows much about Japan would probably tell you that holding an international sporting event in the middle of Typhoon season is not a very good idea and they unfortunately would be proved right but that was in the future and as the tournament progressed and Japan began dismantling reputations with their fast and relentless style of rugby we took the opportunity to take a break from the beers and funny shaped balls to head south to Japan’s version of the Caribbean. We are the Dangerous Snorkelling Club after all and never miss an opportunity to get wet on the outside as well as the inside. So we boarded a flight to Okinawa and then onto Miyakojima.

Marine Garden
Miyakojima is a green jewel embedded in an azure sea. Its beaches are wide strokes of pristine white sand and its waters are crystal clear. This at least, is what the tourist guff will tell you and in normal times we are sure it is true. But we arrived on the island between those two future typhoons that had suddenly loomed onto the radar, the first having only just cleared the island as our plane touched down at Miyako airport, the next was due to make landfall within forty eight hours. So the air was dense, clammy and claustrophobic and the water would be murkier than a Chinese government report but we’ve snorkelled in worse conditions and Miyakojima boasts some of the best coral reefs in the world. So braced for disappointment and yet keen to dive in we headed to the southern coastal resort of Shigira. Japan can be a perplexing place at the best of times, its language seems to hark back to the days of hieroglyphs and although the Japanese have developed a taste for all things modern and electric they haven’t managed to master the art of using a knife or fork yet. That said nothing could be more perplexing than finding a colossal Bavarian castle smack bang in the centre of Shigira. To make matters worse it's pink. And no, we weren’t drunk; there really is a giant pink German castle in Shigira. It’s part of what’s called the Ueno German Cultural Village and it was closed for the duration. Our first thoughts were a knee-jerk assumption that it was linked to Japan’s military past when they were part of the Axis alliance but not wanting to upset the locals (Japan’s WW2 history is a sore point at the best of times) we avoided too many questions on the subject. Turns out our assumptions were wrong and its existence is all down to an act of heroism by the locals when they rescued survivors from a German ship back in 1873. Read about it here.

There are many great spots to go snorkelling in Miyako but in the short time we had on the Island we opted for three spots we’d been told by the locals were the best. The first is Yoshino beach located on the Island's Southeastern corner and a short drive from our base in Shigira. Yoshino beach is one of the most famous snorkelling spots on the island. It sits beneath a precipitous cliff face and is reached by a steep, winding road off highway 83. You can drive straight down to the beach but since parking spaces at the bottom are limited it’s more prudent to park up at the top and pay a few hundred Yen to use the shuttle service that operates from the small diving shop. The beach is long enough to find a quiet space all to your self and although the recent typhoon had done considerable damage to the reef, the marine life was still there in abundance, including several green turtles who patrolled the coral with languid strokes, our presence in their midst prompting little more than the occasional nonchalant glance. Yoshino is a spawning ground for the turtles and its shallow water and normally calm conditions make it a great spot for snorkellers of all abilities but try to arrive early if you want to see the turtles as they tend to drift away into the deeper blue once the beach becomes crowded.

Clown Fish

The second spot is the wonderful Nakanoshima beach on the western flank of Irabu Island located to the North West of Miyako. Irabu Island is reached by driving over the Irabu-Ohashi Bridge, a 3500 metre long undulation of steel and concrete that spans the glistening waters between Irabu and Miyako. It is apparently; the longest bridge in Japan and driving over it brought back memories of cruising over 7-mile-bridge in the Florida Keys. Nakanoshima (referred to by the locals as Kayaffa beach) is a wide bay protected from large waves by the coral reef which makes the waters relatively calm. Although we did find areas of the bay subject to some strong currents so caution is recommended. The waters here abound with clownfish, zipping in and out of large anemones, and puffer fish can be found loitering in rocky crevices. There is a small shack located on the beach where a local rents out oversized wetsuits to tourists but like all of the beaches we visited amenities are limited. There are also no lifeguards on duty and the island authorities lean towards the “your life, your responsibility” attitude which we found quite refreshing. That said if you are a poor swimmer or have never snorkelled before, stick close to shore and never go in the water alone.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped off at a small bakery and experienced one of the most bemusing incidents we had in Japan. We selected some sausage rolls, something’s that looked like custard tarts and some cream buns. We then watched perplexed as the cashier slowly and methodically wrapped each individual item in highly decorated paper, taped them and then placed them into another bag, which was then wrapped up again. The whole process took at least ten minutes and by the time we had paid a large queue had formed behind us. We kid you not she wrapped our cream buns up like a Christmas present. The result was typical Japanese perfection, each item a delightful parcel of paper and tape, including a little bow on some. The downside was all the cream was smeared over the inside of the paper, which does tend to ruin your cream bun experience.

Puffer fish at Nakanoshima

The third and last spot we visited was the Imugya Marine Garden located on the edge of Shigira. The Marine Garden boasts a unique eco-system due to the fact that natural spring water bubbles up from the ocean floor to mix with the seawater. The waters here are calm and sheltered, even in bad weather, making it a Mecca for snorkellers of all abilities. We arrived just as the sun broke the horizon and spent a few lazy hours amongst the corals. Anemones proliferate here, as do sea turtles and the ubiquitous shoals of coral fish. It was a great way to the end the few short days we had on the island and as the second Typhoon neared we packed our bags and headed back to Tokyo for the final array of rugby matches.

Waiting for kick off

Shinjuku, Tokyo
As most know that second Typhoon impacted Japan with a vengeance sending the country and the tournament into chaos. Yet despite some bleating from Scottish quarters and the threat of legal action, only a few games were actually abandoned. Scotland got to play the hosts for a place in the quarter finals and no doubt regretted their screams of “get the lawyers” as Japan not only weathered the early highland charge, they blew it away with a series of devastating attacks that tore the tartan defence to shreds and left Scottish dreams lying in tatters all over the pitch. Japan went on to face South Africa in the quarterfinals, there would however be no repeat of the 2015 glory. Despite endless and valiant attempts to play the game at speed the South African’s were not going to be humiliated again. In a brutal show of defensive strength they suffocated the life out of the brave blossoms and Japan’s world cup was over. The South African display against Japan should have made England, the other eventual finalists, take notice, but sadly they appeared to have overlooked the tactics the Springboks used. For despite putting on the most complete display any English rugby team has produced in their demolition of New Zealand, England had no answer to the South African’s stifling defence. England simply couldn’t cope with the Springboks defensive precision or strangulating tackles and what should have been a glorious free flowing game of rugby descended into a battle of brute strength that only South Africa were ever going to win. South Africa took the crown for a third time in their history (the first final they’d actually scored a try in) and what for many fans was the greatest tournament ever in the history of the world cup was over.

That is a bloody pink castle
If you have no interest in rugby then you’re probably not in the least bit interested in the excitement, the thrills and the sheer unpredictability of the 2019 world cup. A tournament in which the world order was over turned, reputations were made and reputations were destroyed. New Zealand were beatable, England were superb and hapless in equal measure, Wales failed to impress again as did Australia, Japan were bewildering, phenomenal and a pleasure to watch and South Africa were brutal, boring and immovable. Likewise if you have no interest in snorkelling then there is no way we can make you feel the sheer exhilaration of diving beneath the surface, of swimming over coral reefs and drifting alongside turtles. But snorkelling and rugby aside if there is something we would implore you to take from this post it’s this: Go to Japan. Yes the Japanese language is almost incomprehensible and the failure to evolve the chopstick into a something that resembles a fork can be frustrating and waiting for what seems eternity to have your sticky buns wrapped up in tinsel defies logic, but these are small bug bears. Japan is a nation that beguiles, bemuses and inspires in equal measure. From the hustle and bustle of a crowded subway train and the neon seediness of Tokyo nightlife to the sound of gentle waves creaming a coral sand beach, Japan is series of mini adventures and we can’t recommend any of them highly enough.

Oh but don’t fly Air France, your buttocks will never forgive you if you do. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Ignore Everything We Told You Last Week And Do What We Tell You Now. The Advice On Jellyfish Stings Changes Again!

What is the correct first aid treatment for jellyfish stings? Finding this out can be a confusing experience. Just typing “first aid for jellyfish stings” into a web browser throws up a wealth of information, the majority of which is utter bull crap, or at least we thought it was. We were confident, you see, that we knew exactly how to treat a jellyfish sting and having added shaving cream and various condiments to our first aid kit, we were pretty certain that we had covered all the bases and were prepared for anything the gelatinous little buggers could throw at us. What we weren’t expecting however was for everything we thought was right, to be proved wrong, and vice versa. Yet that is exactly what has happened and it’s not just us who’ve got it all wrong. Thanks to the work of some white-coated brainiacs in Hawaii and Ireland, some very authoritative sites including the British National Health Service and Diver Alert Network are going to have to revise their advice too.

The problem is all to do with Portuguese man-of-war. Ah you might say, but a man-of-war is not technically a jellyfish so those brainiacs are barking up the wrong tree all ready. Technically you’d’ be right. A Portuguese man-of-war is a Siphonophore not a jellyfish. However in this instance it makes no difference as Portuguese man-of-war belong to a family called Cnidarians, which include Jellyfish, Hydrae, Anemones and Corals. The tentacles of these Cnidarians contain tiny capsules called Cnidae or nematocysts and it is these toxin-firing structures that cause all the pain and suffering to unwary humans.

The advice that the most authoritative websites give on treating Portuguese man-of-war stings was not to douse the stings with vinegar or alcohol as this made more nematocysts fire and consequently things got worse for the victim. On the other hand, if you knew that the critter that stung you was a notorious Box Jellyfish, then the advice was to drown the affected areas in so much vinegar that the whole place smelt like a Sarsons factory. Confused? Why wouldn’t you be? But things get worse. Some sites suggest that you use baking soda, alcohol, or lemon juice and the myth of urinating on the affected area still persists in places. The British National Health Service (an authoritative organisation, you’d all agree) suggested that the area should be treated with shaving foam and then remaining nematocysts/tentacles scrapped from the skin using a credit card. If shaving foam wasn’t at hand then rinsing with seawater was a good substitute before you got to work with your American Express Card.

Now however Dr Angel Yanagihara of the University of Hawaii and Dr Tom Doyle of the University of Galway, Ireland and their colleagues have put these treatments to the test. Their findings, published in the Journal Toxins, revealed that almost of all the suggested treatments were utter codswallop and the only effective treatment was in fact vinegar. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a sting from a Portuguese man-of-war, a Box Jelly or a Mauve stinger, the best first aid is to rinse with vinegar to remove any residual stingers or bits of tentacle left on the skin and then immerse in 45°C (113°F) hot water or apply a hot pack for 45 minutes.
As for the use of shaving foam, Yanagihara, Doyle et al, found that shaving cream didn’t inhibit the nematocysts from firing and the use of credit card “shaving” produced further firing due to pressure. Doyle himself explained that “this is Quite a u-turn for me” as he helped write the current Irish protocols almost ten years ago, which unfortunately recommend the worst possible combination of steps: seawater rinsing followed by ice pack treatment. "In the coming weeks, I look forward to meeting with members of the Jellyfish Advisory Group to discuss our new findings and how we can revise the current protocols." He said.
Anyone Bring The Chips?
Now before any of you get too clever and start asking silly questions such as what type of vinegar should we use? And is distilled as good as malt? What about white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar or that stuff the French call wine – Beaujolais isn’t it? That’s vinegar most of the time isn’t it?
The simple fact is that vinegar, any sort of vinegar will do. As long as it’s not diluted – which means straight from the bottle chaps. The research also pointed out that use of ice packs should be discontinued and only vinegar followed by heat immersion or the application of hot packs are effective.

Now we know that some of you sharp-eyed types out there might have spotted the name Yanagihara and thought to themselves, “hang on”. “Isn’t that the same Dr Yanagihara founder and principal of Alatalab Solutions, LLC, manufacturer of Sting No More®products”? And you’d be right, she is one in the same. But before you start concocting conspiracy theories about the contents of Sting No More products and the possibility Dr Yanagihara might be the secret owner of a large vinegar manufacturing plant, let us be clear that Yanagihara has already declared a potential conflict of interest as the inventor for USPTO applications PCT/US2012/000095 and PCT/US2015/037974. A.A.Y. and as the founder and principal of Alatalab Solutions, LLC, manufacturer of Sting No More®products. The University stated: management of this disclosed potential conflict of interest was achieved under an approved University of Hawaii Conflict of Interest (COI) plan. All aspects of the COI plan were followed while conducting this research study and in the independent analysis of data. No other member of the group declared a conflict of interest. No. We have no idea what all that means either but we suppose that no one at the University thought there was a problem so why should any of us?

Anyway, Yanagihara et al have already started studying the next stinging jellies on their list. As they've examined two of the three main classes of dangerous stingers, they have their sights set on the last remaining class: true jellyfish (class Schyphozoa). Again collaborating with Doyle, they are working on evidence-based first aid measures for lion's mane (Cyanea capillata), one of largest jellyfish in the world. Which means of course that all this advice might change in the near future. But then there are few things in life you can depend on other than the fact that you are born, you will pay tax and you will die. Oh and that scientists will be adamant about their findings right up to the point they’re contradicted. Until then however we will be revising our advice on our snorkelling hazards page to take account of this research and look forward to revising it again in the near future.

Also Cleans Horse's Hooves
Oh one last thing. The best advice for jellyfish stings is – don’t get stung in the first place. If the area you are snorkelling in is known for jellyfish, wear a full wetsuit including a hood and gloves 

Those of you who’d like to read the full research paper can find it here

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Is That Shiny New Gadget Really Worth Investing In?

Is This An Investment Opportunity?
In the olden days, if you had invented a new revolutionary device that would allow someone to breathe underwater or even a couscous based beauty product, you only had a few ways of raising the necessary finance to get your shiny new product from the drawing board to the shop shelf. You could ask your friends and family for the money but then you wouldn’t have any friends or family.  You could remortgage your house, sell your kidneys or your children or as a last resort you could sell your soul to a bank and take out a loan. The result of this was that a lot of houses got re-possessed, people were sent to work houses and very few shiny new products ever made it onto those shop shelves. Nowadays though, thanks to the idea of crowdfunding, wannabe entrepreneurs everywhere from Tokyo to Timbuktu have the opportunity to pitch their idea to millions of potential investors around the world. Crowdfunding has been a great success but let’s be honest, for every brilliant idea out there, there are thousands of really, really bad ones. For just as crowdfunding is an opportunity for inventors to showcase their revolutionary new products it also offers the opportunity for the more delusional among us and, of course, the downright dishonest to pry some money out the over trusting and unsuspecting alike. 

Is It An Underwater Gill Or A Motorcycle Handle?
Take for example the case of the Triton Underwater Rebreather. Some time ago this idea appeared on the Iniegogo site. The South Korea designer, Jeabyun Yeon, claimed he was inspired by the breathing apparatus that first appeared in the James Bond film Thunderball and described the concept as a future product that one day, would end the need for complicated SCUBA gear. The device was marketed on the Indiegogo site as:

“A state-of-the-art oxygen respirator, that allows you to breathe underwater up to 45 minutes and at a maximum depth of 15ft by utilising our ‘artificial gills’ technology & liquid oxygen technology. Swim among tropical fish, marvel at exotic coral and experience the serene beauty of marine life without having to come up for air. Welcome to Triton." 

To use the Triton rebreather, swimmers would bite down on a plastic mouthpiece. Two arms, which branch out to the sides of the scuba mask, would then function as efficient gills to deliver oxygen. The scaly texture on the devices arms conceals small holes in the material where water is sucked in. Chambers inside separate the oxygen and release the liquid so that the user could breathe comfortably in the ocean. Using a very small but powerful micro compressor, the concept system would compress oxygen and store it in tanks. The entire gadget is powered by a micro battery, which is around 30 times smaller than a current battery and can charge 1,000 times faster. Wow. That sounds amazing doesn’t it? Of course it does. In fact too amazing to be true. Even those without advanced engineering degrees could quickly recognise that such a product would burn your face off, freeze your lungs and then explode –not necessarily in that order. Whatever it did though, it wouldn’t let you breathe underwater. Now, you might think that even the most gullible investor out there would raise an eyebrow at the description of the device and how it worked. Yet despite the Triton's claims being roundly discredited as a scam, the device was soon all over the media. In seemingly no time at all, the team behind the Triton had raised $900,000 in investment. One Indiegogo user, Hovnimrsk Prdelac, from Marseille France, was so upset with Indiegogos apparent refusal to stop collecting money for the Triton device that he launched his own campaign to raise awareness of the scam. In that campaign he brilliantly dissected the claims made for the Triton and debunked each one before ending his critique with this eviscerating statement: 

“So, we have a designer, a salesman, and a marketing expert who claim they invented a device worthy of four Nobel Prizes (impossible molecular filter extracting dissolved oxygen from water; micro compressor with the power of two trucks; mini battery powering it for 45 minutes, "30 times smaller and 1000 times faster than current batteries"and cheap Dewar flasks surpassing the evaporation rate of thousand-dollar laboratory cryogenic containers by three orders of magnitude), yet they have no engineer, no scientist, no technician, and no expert in cryogenics, chemistry, nanotechnology, or hyperbaric medicine. Amazing results for three young lads with no degree in science, and just some experience with marketing and design!”

Fortunately in May 2016 the people at Indiegogo, having made numerous unsuccessful requests for the Triton team to substantiate their claims, suspended the campaign and refunded all the contributions made (although they have relaunched a new campaign explained in the link). Which was good news for all those investors that, despite the quite obvious flaws in the claims and the fact that a revolution would need to take place in the fields of engineering, materials and molecular chemistry for the Triton to actually work, parted so easily with their cash. 
Obviously the Triton case is an extreme example but scams and dodgy inventions are not the only thing the wannabe investor should be wary of. Sometimes it is not the product that is the problem, but the way it is being marketed. Take for example an idea that has recently caught the attention of snorkellers, freedivers and bubble blowers alike. The device is called Scorkl and has recently appeared on the Kickstarter site. According to the marketing blurb, Scorkl is a self-contained breathing apparatus that offers anyone the chance to breath underwater for up to ten minutes at a time, longer if you buy more than one. Hey you could even buy six or seven and stay under for sixty or seventy minutes and you don’t need a compressor to fill these things up, since you can buy a hand pump that will do it for you. 

Now let’s make it clear that, unlike the Triton, the Scorkl does actually work. The reason we know this, is the fact that it is what is known as a redundant air supply system and looks remarkably similar to SpareAir, which is offered by submersible systems and has been on the market for 25 years. In fact the Scorkl looks so much like SpareAir that trademark and patent infringements are very possible. 

Scorkl then is not a new idea as such; it is in essence a small SCUBA tank fitted with a regulator, which as mentioned above has been on the market in the form of SpareAir for 25 years. What is new is the idea of using a hand pump to fill up the tank and there are some rather big questions on whether that actually works or whether it’s a safe idea at all. There are also some issues surrounding the claims made about the amount of time you can spend underwater using the Scorkl or how deep you can go. According to the Scorkl inventor, David Hallamore, "it's easier to say 'up to 10 minutes' because it's easily understandable, but it's a complex equation and how long you spend underwater on a Scorkl full of air will depend on how fast you are breathing, how big your lungs are, how hard you're working, how cold it is, ... so it might be less than 10 minutes. It might also be more, and maybe a lot more depending on how you use it. The Scorkl, Hallamore explains, contains 3 cu ft when filled to 3,000psi or roughly 60 breaths. The "up to 10 min" calculation works as follows: At 3,000psi the Scorkl holds the equivalent of ~60 breaths. An inhale/exhale cycle of 10/min (1 every 6 seconds) allows for ~6min underwater at 1 atmosphere. A slower cycle of 6/min (1 every 10 seconds) allows for ~10min. 

The problem with this calculation however, is that according to health professionals everywhere, the average person takes 16-20 breaths per minute, more on exertion. That means that at 20 breaths per minute the Scorkl will last just 3 minutes. At 16 breaths per minute it will last an extra 45 seconds and since everyone is already under 1 atmosphere of pressure before entering the water, both of these calculations are based on surface breathing without exertion. So the 10 minutes of air claim only makes sense if the user is a very fit and very experienced diver sitting on a beach or maybe a hibernating tortoise. Then there is the question of the hand pump used to fill the Scorkl. How long do you think it will take an average person, breathing averagely, to pump enough air to fill it to 3000psi?  Well, according to Hallimore, it takes around ten pumps per breath to fill the Scorkl (600 pumps). It gets harder to pump as the pressure in the tank increases but it is manageable for an adult. A steady pumping rhythm of 50/min fills the tank in 12 minutes. Most people will want to rest intermittently though which allows the tank to cool down. Ah! so you might not want to pump too vigorously or persistently just in case the damned thing explodes before you actually pass out from exertion.

Now, despite the Scorkl’s similarity to another product, the questions of how long it will take for an average person to run out of air or whether you’ll suffer a coronary whilst trying to refill the bloody thing, the real problem is none of these. The real problem is that the Scorkl is seemingly being marketed at snorkellers, swimmers, boating enthusiasts and everyone in between. The problem with that is that no matter if you fill the Scorkl with a hand pump or a compressor, it will contain compressed air and if you are not aware of the dangers of using compressed gas underwater there is a good chance your lungs will go pop.

If you’re a bubble blower please bear with us, if you’re not a bubble blower please pay attention because here comes the science bit. Boyle's law explains why changes in depth while in shallow water can be more hazardous than equivalent changes of depth in deep water. In essence, British physicist/chemist Robert Boyle discovered that at a constant temperature and mass, the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to the pressure exerted on that gas. When the pressure is doubled, the volume is reduced to one-half of the original volume. Conversely, when the pressure is reduced by one-half, the volume doubles. While exposed to atmospheric pressures at sea level, our lungs are in a state of equilibrium as we inhale and exhale. Slight pressure changes occur as we change elevation, yet equalisation of the pressures inside and outside the lung is a passive and inconspicuous event with each breath. During descent into water, all gas-containing spaces in the body tend to shrink as the pressure surrounding the body increases; for example, the lung volume of a breathhold diver becomes smaller with the descent in the water column. Because scuba regulators deliver breathing gas at the ambient pressure of the diver, a higher concentration of the breathing gas enters the lungs, preventing the reduction in volume that would otherwise occur.

If the diver does not exhale during ascent, the lungs will progressively increase in volume until the elastic limit of the alveoli is exceeded and lung injury occurs. This forces gas into one of three locations: 1) the space within the chest cavity (pleural space), a condition known as pneumothorax; 2) the tissue planes within the lung itself (interstitial space), from where it may travel into the space around the heart, the tissues of the neck and the larynx (mediastinal emphysema); or 3) the blood. In this latter condition (arterial gas embolism, or AGE), gas bubbles can then pass from the pulmonary capillaries via the pulmonary veins to the left side of the heart and then to the carotid or basilar arteries (causing cerebral arterial gas embolism, or CAGE).

It is important to note that a breathhold ascent after inhaling from a scuba tank from a depth as shallow as 4 feet (fsw) may be sufficient to tear alveolar sacs, causing lung injury and one of these three disorders mentioned above.

In short, it is a very good possibility that hordes of Scorkl users, unaware of the dangers of holding your breath on ascent are going to turn up in hospitals around the world with frothy red goo jetting out of their noses. Consequently there will be bad publicity, recriminations and the inevitable lawsuits. Which is not exactly the sort of investment most people are looking for, particularly if the company is already facing legal action for patent infringement and the myriad injuries caused by overheating tanks exploding on beaches everywhere. David Hallimore obviously recognises the dangers of lung expansion injury as he points out that the “misuse of the Scorkl can be dangerous. Whilst decompression sickness isn't much of a risk because of the depth and time restrictions of such a small cylinder, pulmonary damage (chest expansion injuries) is nevertheless a risk if a user holds their breath during ascent or ascends too quickly
Non-scuba trained users should not use the Scorkl below 3m depth or more than five times in one day. Staying above 3m dramatically reduces this risk of pulmonary damage (although does not eliminate it entirely). Each purchaser will be provided with an information kit informing them of this (and other) risks and strategies to avoid them, even within the 3m limit (for example, not holding one's breath and/or exhaling during ascent, not ascending too quickly)
Scuba-trained users will be able to use the Scorkl below 3m at their discretion but they too will be warned of the same risks”

Well, you might say! That’s all right then. People are going to be informed of the risk. After all what sort of person would misuse a Scorkl anyway or ignore a warning? To which we would reply, perhaps the sort of person who doesn’t read or even ignores information kits. After all, people have been warned of the dangers of smoking for decades and yet people still smoke. And then there are the sorts of people who invest nearly a million dollars in a device that was, and still is, even less genuine than an Estate Agents smile. There is a solution of course and that is not to sell the Scorkl to non-SCUBA trained people but we suspect that is not what the company is going for. So any investors out there might want to think very carefully about the safety implications of such a device being available to everyone, everywhere, before handing over their money.

So what have we learned? Well what we’ve learned at the DSC is that a fool and his money is easily parted and that if we were going to put our money into a crowdfunding project we’d take a long look at what the idea is, whether it is feasible or plausible and not likely to explode in ours or anyone else’s face for that matter. And, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. If you didn’t already know this then we’re happy to impart our advice. If you did know, we’re sorry to have wasted your time and suggest you get back to your beer, Cheers! 

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Don't Go Sea Treking, Go SeaTrekking!

Introducing the exciting sport of queuing underwater
We had never heard of Sea Trekking and when we did, what came to mind was a picture of fat tourists, large surface-supplied helmets framing their terrified faces, groping their way along a submerged guideline.

This, they would undoubtedly have been told when they parted with their hard-earned cash, would be an undersea adventure like no other. It’ll be like you’re Captain Nemo undertaking a fantasy walk beneath the waves just like in the Jules Verne classic. Sea Treking requires no swimming ability, no previous experience or specialised skills. Just descend into the water, travel along the pre-set route and enjoy the “once-in-a-lifetime adventure” of being surrounded by marine life of all shapes and sizes. Yawn!

Of course, more often than not, the helmet-encased tourists stir up so much sand and sediment as they haul themselves across the seabed that the fantasy adventure soon turns into a hellish walk where the only thing visible through the murk is the odd wrasse flitting between the clouds of silt and bubbles. And not all the bubbles come from the same ends….

We cannot think of a more horrendous way to spend thirty minutes of our life than to be herded like cattle across the sea floor, our heads enclosed in a cyberman’s helmet, trying to avoid looking at the wobbling backside of the flatulent Homer Simpson look-alike in front. It’s not a Jules Vernesque adventure, it’s hell in high water and the very thought brings shivers to our collective spine.

Fortunately however there is another form of Sea Trekking, one that is much more to our taste. Back in 2005, so the story goes, a group of youngish people who enjoyed hiking decided that walking around the coast was fun but what would be much more fun is if they added the sea to their hiking trails. Ah, you might exclaim, they’ve discovered Coasteering. That sport where you hike around the coastal fringes leaping in and out of the sea etc. Err… Well… Yes and no. SeaTrekking combines hiking, snorkelling and freediving and although it shares some similarities with Coasteering it has several significant differences one of which is that unlike Coasteering, the SeaTrekker doesn’t see the water as an obstacle to be navigated, rather it is a part of a journey that should be enjoyed. SeaTrekking is about traversing coastal areas, travelling above, in and below the water as much as travelling on land. SeaTrekkers spend days, even weeks exploring the coast carrying everything they need with them and at night they camp beneath the stars on secluded beaches and coves. Some of you might consider such an activity as rather romantic, an escape from the rat-race, exploring the shores less travelled and spending long evenings starring up at bejewelled skies. Others however, might be thinking that it sounds like hippy nonsense. The sort of stuff that pot-smoking wasters, who still wear tie-dyed t-shirts and refuse to wash their hair, dribble on about. In truth, both points of view are valid.

SeaTrekkers with kit
SeaTrekking is the brainchild of one Bernard Wache, whom it is fair to say, does have an air of hippydom about him. “We wanted to escape everyday life,” Wache explained to National Geographic Magazine, “We were looking for a way to feel what’s essential again.” However don’t think for one minute that he is just another airhead trying to “find himself”. For one thing, Wache is German, not the most airy-fairy of races we’re sure you’ll agree and for another he is a Designer and diver who has put some considerable effort into finding a way that the SeaTrekker can take their tent, cooking gear and spare underwear with them into the water without ending up with pile of smelly damp stuff at the end of each day. The first example of what would become a lifelong obsession to design watertight gear for the sport was a simple garbage bag that he tied around a sleeping bag and then to his foot. After that, he couldn’t let go of the idea of diving with camping gear. “I always wanted more time in the ocean,” the veteran snorkkeler and freediver explains, “going the most direct, puristic way I could imagine, without technology, boat, or backup.”

For a decade, he tinkered with ideas for how to keep his gear dry, sewing and gluing prototypes by hand in his basement. Finally in 2011, he contracted a company in Munich that make aluminum molds, and started commercial production. “Some people make a house, or a family,” Wache says. “I made a rucksack.” His new company Aetem, (which is similar to Atem the German word for "breath”) has plans to make new versions of the original waterproof rucksack, that will be better and cheaper.

Although still relatively new, SeaTrekking is gaining popularity as a sport and a dedicated community of intrepid adventurers is cropping up in Europe, Japan and beyond. Wache’s company Aetem, also offers tailored tours along coastlines not normally accessible by foot. Thailand, Croatia and Sardinia are just a few of the locations that can be visited.  

Oh the sense of freedom you get from packing stuff
SeaTrekking, with its adventurous spirit of exploration, love of nature and romantic notions of getting-away-from-it-all sounds marvellous but we do have a few issues. For instance the current waterproof bag, on offer on Aetem’s website, retails at over 900 Euros. That’s not cheap and even if the newer versions come in at half that price, that won’t be cheap either. Secondly there is that entire hippy, Gaia loving, anti-materialism stuff that fills the Aetem and SeaTrekking community website. In fairness there is nothing wrong with wanting to get back to nature, but it does sound a bit hypocritical if the way you go about “escaping everyday life” is to manufacture and sell a very expensive product and then move into the world of commercial tour guiding. Selling stuff seems a strange way of escaping materialism. These are minor issues however, born from too many beers and, in all honesty, a little bit of jealousy. You see, what Wache calls SeaTrekking, is very similar to what we’ve been doing for years (except we call it extreme snorkelling), we just didn’t think to try and make money out of it. But then nor did we realise that we needed to take a great big waterproof backpack filled with camping gear with us when we go for a days snorkelling, as we tend to have a 4x4 waiting for us at journey’s end. We like to call this: planning ahead. Then again, running a adventure tour company or designing a waterproof rucksack seems like a lot work to us and we’d rather be snorkelling. 

Nitpicking and jealousy aside, we think SeaTrekking is not a bad way of spending some free-time and if you are of bold spirit and are a good swimmer we’d recommend you give it a go because as once-in-a-lifetime underwater adventures go, SeaTrekking kicks the proverbial brown stuff out of Sea Treking.

By the way we have joined the SeaTrekking community, we don’t know why but it seemed like a good idea at the time. We may however be posting some stuff on their website so why not have a look around now and again.