THE CHEST LABEL BOLDLY ANNOUNCES Beuchat, France, 1934. Beuchat is a company with a rich history that predates Cousteau’s Aqualung, having its origins in the interwar years of goggling, made famous by the Antibes-based American Guy Gilpatrick and Parisian Yves Le Prieur’s diving club, founded on his invention of a small air-cylinder coupled with a freeflow regulator.
But Beuchat would later become suit-makers to the celebrated captain, providing the signature black suits with yellow piping for the shows that, in the late 1960s and ’70s, made Cousteau a household name.
After a succession of dealership changes in the UK over the decades, with mixed results, Beuchat is now distributed by Midland Diving Equipment. MDE’s own history dates back to the 1950s and it has a strong track-record for marketing some iconic scuba brands.
The Focea 5 is a one-piece, back-entry suit with seals at wrists and ankles, which makes it a semi-dry. It’s one of a range available in men’s and women’s styles, thicknesses of 5mm or 7mm (only the 5mm tested here is sold in the UK) and with or without a built-in hood.
A yoke off the hood seals under the Focea’s collar.
Beuchat does offer a hood-attached over-shorty as an optional extra for the Focea 5 Comfort Overall Collar but it is the hoodless model that’s reviewed here.
Wetsuits don’t so much generate warmth as slow heat loss. Neoprene is a poor conductor of heat and so delays body warmth being lost to the water, which absorbs heat about 20 times faster than air. So the thicker the neoprene the longer you can dive comfortably. The deeper you dive, the more neoprene compresses and the less efficient it is, so you cool faster, not helped by water usually being cooler at depth.
Flushing, or water movement through your wetsuit, is the fastest way to lose body heat. In the past UK manufacturers often made suits to measure, sculpting them around the diver and virtually eliminating flushing, such that you could remove it and it would only be damp inside. Those tailors are mostly long gone.
“Designed in France”, says one Focea logo proudly – made in Cambodia, admits another. It’s cheaper to make suits outside Europe, and most big diving brands do so. But without the option of a custom-fit, how do you minimise flushing in a stock suit?
As a semi-dry, the Focea depends on seals, baffles and seam construction to minimise water-flow through the main entry and exit points. You want as little water in your suit as possible and, once in, to keep it there.
Wrists and ankles have long cuffs with rubber-faced neoprene designed to be turned in, so that the rubber is against your skin. It “sticks” to your skin and makes a much better seal than the nylon lining, intended to help you slip your suit on easily and add strength.
To protect the seals, the forearms and calves have fold-over sleeves. These are zippered, to make it easier for you to invert the seals.
The neck-seal is designed to dock with a matching one on the hood-yoke, and the hood sports a face seal.
It also has a baffle that allows any air seeping in from your mask during clearing or ascents to exit through small holes in the top, and works to prevent cold water entering.
The back zip has an underlying flap, ridged and slotted to seal across the back and minimise flushing through the zip.
Finally, the seams are dry-stitched – after the edges of the suit are glued together it’s stitched twice, once from each side, but the needle never penetrates the suit.
Dry-stitching adds to the time and cost of making a wetsuit, but it does prevent heat-loss via the seams. This is important in the Focea 5 because, with more than 40 individual panels allowing 20 different grades of neoprene to be used in various places, it has a lot of seams.
Some areas of a suit such as joints need a lot of flexibility while others, like knees, need to be abrasion-resistant. Warmth is prioritised around the torso, ease of movement around the shoulders. But the many panels also allow the suit to be better shaped for a closer fit, virtually eliminating water-inviting gaps.
A zipped-back cuff makes inverting the seal easy.
Suspend the Focea 5 from a hanger and you’ll see that the elbows and knees are bent and the back follows the curve of your spine.
The anatomic cut also increases comfort. For example, the pre-bent joints help to prevent neoprene bunching up behind your knees as you swim, which can cause abrasions.
The underarms are raglan types to avoid seams needing to meet in the armpit, an area that can be vulnerable to tearing.
Along with reinforced knees and elbows, areas such as the shoulders, apt to be scuffed by BC straps, or the butt, which can get worn from sitting, have a non-slip synthetic coating.
The hood has a built-in snap-hook that tucks away when not in use. It clips to a D-ring on the right hip, so you can carry it around the dive-site until needed.
The Focea 5 also includes a universal computer-holder – a neoprene patch into which you thread the wrist-strap.
A touch-fastener panel sticks to the left forearm to stop the computer moving around as the suit compresses and the strap slackens.