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July 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Dump Valves, Customs Scams, Suunto Lawsuit

your letters to the editor

from the July, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Undercurrent,

Regarding your April article on wetsuits, it was spot on! Being someone who is always cold, it's been a challenge for me to stay warm underwater, particularly on dive trips when my husband and I routinely do four dives per day, at an hour-plus per dive.

After three or four days, I am shivering even in the warmest water. Diving in places like Galapagos, Cocos or Socorro was just painful for me, and although I would persevere, it took a lot of the joy out of the dives. On our first Socorro trip, one of the other guests was using a Thermalution heated vest. She took pity on me and was kind enough to let me use it on one of the dives she sat out. The first thing I did upon returning home was to order one. After using it for about five or six years now, I never dive without it. Although they are not cheap, they are worth every penny if you are like me and always cold."

-- Robin Schiendelman, Limerick, PA

John Bantin replies: I've used these vests in conjunction with both wetsuits and drysuits. And when I've dived under ice without gloves, I found I had warm hands, thanks to Thermolution's far infrared technology warming my blood.

Divers Who Don't Know Dump Valves

Dear Undercurrent,

Regarding your May article about dumping air from your BC, I was amazed to find out that a woman on my last dive trip who was having trouble maintaining her buoyancy had no idea what a dump valve was, or that her BC had any, let alone four of them. After showing her a picture I took of her holding her inflator hose up with an elbow (bend) in it because it was much longer than her arm, I explained how dump valves work. After the next dive, she thanked me and was amazed that no one ever mentioned using them to her before.

I've seen this practice over and over again in my dive travels -- divers struggling with buoyancy who never use a dump valve to empty air from their BC, and thus, have large pockets of air floating behind their heads across the shoulders."

-- Neal Skrenes, Palm Harbor, FL

It's All in the Diagnosis

Dear Undercurrent,

I could really relate to your May article, "Don't Ignore that Dive Injury." Many years ago I was in Belize when I suffered decompression sickness, which resulted in me being flown to the chamber courtesy of Divers Alert Network. However, this chamber's therapy didn't reduce the symptoms, so the physician told me to go to a neurologist when I returned home.

I did so, and that doctor told me I had fused vertebrae in my lower back, which, when stressed, caused the nerves to be squeezed off, thus resulting in skin bends and other issues. So, for about 25 years, I dealt with skin bends, rashes on my stomach, and my hips getting numb exactly two hours after a dive.

But when I was in Mozambique recently, the dive center manager heard my story and suggested I get tested for a patent foramen ovale (a hole in the heart that didn't close properly after birth). His advice was great in that I was proved to have this condition. I went through the procedure to fix it, and since then have felt like I'm a new diver all over again. I think there may be many more recreational divers who experience these symptoms and don't know what they are or get treated."

-- Michael Hofman (San Francisco, CA)

John Bantin replies: Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) is Latin for "oval hole." We all have these holes in our hearts while in the womb, but they usually close up once we are born. However, in those who have a PFO, the hole allows venous blood to shunt across the heart into the arterial system, bypassing the lungs. This allows blood loaded with absorbed nitrogen to keep circulating within our bodies instead of releasing that nitrogen through the lungs, thus increasing the risk for DCS.

Is This a Mexican Customs Scam?

Dear Undercurrent,

On my way to a dive trip on the Socorro Aggressor, I was pulled aside by Customs in Cabo San Lucas and forced to pay 2,311 pesos (US$121) because I had dive camera gear. The customs official said he was giving me a break, because my system is worth much more than the $750 value they entered. I contested with the customs agents, politely, but was forced to pay the tax. What was my choice? To fly home? It was a truly disappointing way to start what should have been a thrilling dive adventure.

I am livid -- this seems like a rip-off or a scam. Nowhere in any literature, either on the website of Bluewater Travel, which booked my trip, or in the Aggressor Fleet's "Know Before You Go" information, does it alert divers that the Mexican government may choose to charge you a tax for bringing diving camera equipment. Did I miss some fine print somewhere?

-- Rene Cote, Richmond, VA

Ben Davison replies: Rene, here's what we read in Frommer's travel guide about what you can bring into Mexico: "When you enter Mexico, Customs officials will be tolerant if you are not carrying illegal drugs or firearms. Tourists are allowed to bring in their personal effects dutyfree. A laptop computer, camera equipment, and sports equipment that could feasibly be used during your stay are also allowed. The underlying guideline is: Don't bring anything that looks as if it's meant to be resold in Mexico. Those entering Mexico by air or sea can bring in gifts worth a value of up to $300 duty-free, except alcohol or tobacco products."

That said, Mexico remains a country where tourists may be taken advantage of by border officials and policemen, and law enforcement can be arbitrary. While your experience has a curious odor to it, we can't say whether the individual was acting on behalf of his country or himself. You can ask to talk to his boss or ask for a printed regulation, but the $121 might not be worth the risk of escalation or delay in your travels. Some tour operators escort their people through customs to avoid such hassles.

Leisure Pro Is Staying Quiet about the Suunto Lawsuit Settlement

Dear Undercurrent,

While shopping for a new computer, I saw that Leisure Pro was advertising a Suunto Cobra at a discounted "closeout" price. I had read your article [in the October 2018 issue] about the settlement Suunto made in a lawsuit about defective computers it manufactured between January 2006 and August 2018, so I wrote on Leisure Pro's Q&A section relating to this computer, "How do I know this is not one of the Suunto Cobra computers that were recalled due to malfunction?"

Mario C. from Leisure Pro eventually sent this answer: "According to Suunto, there was no recall. It is that if you had a computer with a faulty sensor, they'd take care of it even [if it] is past warranty."

As you noted in your article, despite the fact that the plaintiff was not injured, he did receive standing in the suit, and, ultimately, a courtapproved settlement that specified: "If you purchased a Suunto dive computer between 2006 and 2018, the proposed settlement provides for a free inspection, repair or replacement program to determine if your dive computer has a faulty depth pressure sensor. If it does, you can opt for a repair or a free replacement."

This means purchasers who bought a computer covered by the settlement now have a legally specified entitlement for these services. However, that entitlement is only as good as the knowledge that it exists. My experience with asking a question about the issue on Leisure Pro's website, and their subsequent rebuttal -- and removal of my question and a legitimate answer -- shows Leisure Pro would rather its customers not know about this issue.

-- Bob Speir (Falls Church, VA)

John Bantin replies: The original lawsuit featured a computer that had not malfunctioned but (it is alleged) might have malfunctioned in the future. We do know that some pressure sensors are supplied by outside suppliers to Suunto (and to other computer manufacturers, too), and they obviously had a bad batch at some time. I recommend that you carry more than one computer to monitor your dive, regardless of what type you buy. Also, it does look as though Leisure Pro is trying to sweep this potential problem under the carpet.

Why Can't Scubapro Stop with the Plastic?

Hi Ben,

I recently took a liveaboard in Raja Ampat, then took a non-diving trip to Ireland and Scotland. In all three places, I was happy to find almost universal use of reusable materials (including straws) and little, if any, disposable plastic. However, once back in the States, I was immediately struck by how much disposable plastic I ran into everywhere. It appears the U.S. leads the world in trashing the planet.

I recently had to replace my Scubapro fins, and was dismayed to find my new Scubapro fins came in big plastic bags, with each fin inside another plastic bag, and a plastic insert in each foot pocket. Apparently, Scubapro hasn't yet worked on reducing plastic packaging.

-- Greg White, Cobden, IL

Ben Davison replies: Greg, too much of that Scubapro plastic ends up in the oceans. Scubapro, and other scuba companies that make their living off the ocean, need to step up and show some leadership. So far, the dive industry remains a big disappointment in cutting back on unnecessary plastic.

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