Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - What a Worry!!
In October 1995 I finally got to dive the wreck of the Titan I off the North Coast of NSW that I had been trying to visit since early 1993. Some members of a dive club of which I was then a member had dived the wreck (in water almost 40 metres deep) but the reports they gave were not overly enthusiastic about the dive operator's safety procedures. In fact, they were ardent that the operator was dangerous in the extreme due to lax procedures on this, a deep and current affected dive. At the time I dismissed these stories as been an exaggeration.
When I visited (as part of another Sydney dive club group), the operator advised the club that he would only take persons certified as being advanced divers. However, as I have continually pointed out, just because a diver has an "advanced" certification (as little as 20 dives!), it does not mean that they are an advanced or capable diver, especially when it comes to deeper and harder dives.
On the first day of our dive weekend, we arrived over the site and anchored. It was immediately apparent to me that there was a current of about 1.5 knots. The skipper of the dive boat (owner of the dive shop) gave us a briefing on the wreck but did not mention any current. He put out a mermaid line of only 10 metres and no crossover line or line to the mooring line. No mention was made of any special precautions to be taken on the wreck (more about that later).
On entering the water, the current was strong but I had no real problem swimming against it to the anchor line. However, the trip down the line was a problem. The current continued all the way to 40 metres.
At the end of the dive the current had not decreased and it was very difficult for eight divers to hold on to the anchor line. I decided against trying the deco bars (due to my unimpressed thoughts of the operator's abilities) and I am right. As I return to the ladder, I see the bars at 45 degrees without anyone even touching them (the bars are far, far too light).
As we get aboard, we all agree that it has not been a pleasant dive but due to the experience of the divers in our group, we have not encountered any real problems. We also all agree that the operator has a lot to learn. Later that day, more members of the group dive the same wreck and the current is even stronger than in the morning, probably about two knots. The divers collectively are even more experienced than the morning group so they survive but are also not happy with the operator. This group's second dive is also in a current and their divemaster loses the anchor and they must do a blue water deco. We later learn that it is the divemaster's 65th dive!!!! Hell, each person on that group had done more dives that year than the divemaster's total. So much for standards set by agencies.
The next morning we do the wreck again (we are persistent if nothing else) and find the current about the same as my first dive. We also find that it is dangerous to get too close to the end of the hull as the current could easily sweep you away from the wreck into the murky water. Again, a warning should have been given about this in the briefing.
Well, what are my thoughts now as I write this article? Firstly, it is a very good dive site that could provide a number of enjoyable dives to experienced (rather than "advanced") divers who have done some deeper diving in similar waters. Secondly, the dive operator is an accident waiting to happen. The service provided overall is not too bad, excellent boat layout, nice shop, above average snacks/refreshments in between dives, good accommodation, reasonable prices and a friendly operator, but it is let down by an extreme lack of care.
How can it be improved? If I ran this operation I would drop the "advanced" certification requirement and introducing a log book check to ensure only experienced divers are taken to the wreck. I would also make sure that any divemasters are very experienced and know the dive sites so well that they can find their way back to the anchor in very limited visibility. Next, I would ensure that the dive boat had adequate accessories (wrong word really, should be mandatory equipment) needed for this dive. For example, a 50 metre mermaid line, heavy (and I mean heavy) deco bars or line, a crossover line to the anchor line and most importantly, a spare tank at the deco bars (there was not one provided). Upon arriving at the wreck, I would do a proper assessment of the prevailing conditions and provide an adequate briefing about the wreck, current, dive boat features (as detailed above) and include comments about what to do if something does go wrong.
At the present time, I could not honestly refer people to use this operator, no matter how experienced they were. The difference between a poor and dangerous operator and a good one is not all that much. With a little bit of effort, this operator could turn his operation around.
This operator closed his shop within 18 months of the above happening he now has nothing to do with running a dive operation of any sorts. At least it would appear that the customers have had their revenge by not referring new customers to him and not returning themselves and sending him broke.