Appeared in DIVER October 2018
BUOYANCY COMPENSATORS COME IN TWO DISTINCT FLAVOURS: jacket-style, with the buoyancy cells low down and stretching right around your front just above waist-level, and wing-style, where the cell sits between your back and your gas supply.
Sidemount wings are basically the same as a wing but with the cylinders attached in a different place.
At the surface, when I’m waiting for the pick-up post-dive, I really like jacket-style BCs. The placement of the buoyancy chambers keeps me face-up with my head well clear of the water.
Everywhere else, I prefer wings. They’re easier to get into, easier to clip stuff off to and more streamlined in the water. Also, the gas added for buoyancy control sits above my body and makes it easier to achieve decent horizontal trim.
I also like Red Sea liveaboards. Good food, like-minded company, three or four dives a day – what’s not to like? And I like my wreck-diving. There are lots of wrecks in the Red Sea, and on a dedicated wreck safari I can dive them all day, every day.
Some are shallow and more reef than wreck; some are deeper, with more metal than fish. In the past I’ve dived twins to maximise dive-time, but that’s overkill for many of the dives, so I wanted to try a system where I have a single tank and can add stages where needed for deeper and decompression dives.
Brett at Nautilus sent me the latest iteration of the X-Deep Ghost to try. It’s a minimalist wing-style BC built around an aluminium skeleton backplate and intended to hold a single cylinder, but with a full tec-style harness to clip on stages. Exactly what I’d been thinking of.
The harness is made from high-strength 5cm webbing and is full of little touches to keep things neat. On the shoulders, for example, are Velcro flaps that appear to be intended just to show off the X-Deep name but keep the shoulder-straps under control.
There are two versions of the harness: the standard, which is one piece of webbing, and the deluxe, which has big pinch-clip break buckles to make de-kitting easier. I had the deluxe version.
Adjusting the harness was easy. The shoulder D-rings are cranked to make the tail stand up a bit and be easier to find and clip to, but they were lower down than I prefer, so I moved them upward.
And for some reason the Ghost comes with two shoulder D-rings but only one waistband D-ring, so I raided my spares box and added an extra D-ring on the right side of the waistband.
The buoyancy chamber is a single cell in the shape of a tall, thin D laid on its back, with a dump on the inner face of the wing bottom left and a conventional inflator mounted to the top-centre of the bladder.
Theoretically you can configure the inflate either left or right, but there’s a built-in bungee loop through which the hose tucks on the left shoulder-strap, and every other BC has hose to the left, so why mess with years of muscle memory?
The bladder is narrower at the top than the bottom, so the buoyancy is low down when you’re on the surface to keep your face and mouth well clear, and the overall design is minimalist and streamlined for ease of swimming.
When you inflate it, the bladder fills and cradles the cylinder, which is held tight by two conventional cam-bands.
These have plenty of Velcro to hold the tails of the cambands secure once done up.
A V-shaped metal rail on the rear of the jacket adds to the positive location.
Donning the wing is simple, but because the waist-belt attaches to a separate place on the backplate to the shoulder-straps it paid to take a moment to open out the waist-straps before sliding into the shoulder-straps.
There’s a substantial crotch-strap to collect, then you thread the waistband through the crotch-strap loop and fasten using a heavyweight stainless-steel buckle. That buckle wasn’t going to come undone by accident, that’s all I’m saying.
A rubber loop on the buckle side of the waistband keeps the long end under control.
Incidentally, the crotch-strap loop turned out to be perfect to thread contents gauges through to keep them tidy.
Once you’re in, the inflator corrugated hose seems quite short, but the loop of bungee on the left shoulder kept it where it needed to be, out of sight but easily to hand.
Out of the water, the harness spread the weight comfortably on my shoulders, and in the water the Ghost was just peachy to dive with a single cylinder.
The bladder filled slowly and controllably and the whole outfit seemed to have a magnetic attraction to a solid horizontal trim, which meant it passed my “have I stopped thinking about the kit?” test in seconds.
The harness didn’t move when I changed orientation, and the cylinder always felt solidly in place on my back. Head up, down, inverted – none of it made the Ghost shift from where it was intended to sit.
Dumping gas was easy enough, but I think the rear dump could be positioned closer to the bottom or edge of the bladder. I found that I needed to squirm around a bit to get air out of the bottom dump, and ended up dumping from the inflator hose.
That can flood the bladder over time, but after a full week’s diving there was no more than a teaspoon of water in the BC when I emptied it out before hanging it up to dry.
I’m also not sure about putting both dumps on the left side of the BC, because that means you have to use your left hand to dump. Sometimes it’s better to be able to use the hand that’s currently unoccupied rather than having to switch hands.
Clipping on stages was easy, and with ally stages there was no change in trim. The cranked shoulder D-rings were useful, and the waistband D-rings easy to find.
The extra load didn’t twist the harness or cause the shoulder-straps to move, in water or out, one stage or two.
On the surface post-dive I had no problem staying comfortable and face up while waiting to be picked up, and it was easy to unclip and pass up extra cylinders, so the boat-guy had only a single bottle to pull into the boat at any one time, something I’m sure was appreciated.
I tended to pull the BC up and over my head rather than unclip the buckles when recovering to a RIB, and undid the buckles later. It was nice to have the option.
Have I mentioned that the X-Deep Ghost weighs only 2.3kg dry? That made packing less traumatic than it can be.
In reality, the only thing separating the X-Deep Ghost from 10 stars is that missing waistband D-ring and the position of the bottom dump, but neither issue would stop me buying this excellent piece of kit.