The team keeping us waiting were from the Rocks Department of the Environment Diving Section, run by my friend Clive Crisp. He had invited me to join a seabed survey in preparation for scuttling a new shipwreck.
Once his team had dropped buoyed shotlines from their cruiser, I would make a sweep search of the area.
Nicky Martinez, who has helped me on many Diver gear tests and has often worked with the department, would video the location.
Clive could then discuss the findings topside to ensure that there were no structures or marine life that might be damaged or displaced by the sinking.
On the bottom in 20m or so, and having set up the survey equipment, I spent a few minutes checking the Excursion’s underwater stability.
To do this, I got neutrally buoyant just off the bottom to see if the BC held me horizontally. One that pitches you head-up makes your fins more likely to contact the seabed and kick up the silt. It also reduces your streamlining, so you work harder to swim and burn more air.
The initial static test showed the Excursion to be an accomplished performer, with no tendency to pitch or roll.
The BC would now be put to a real-world test. I had reeled out from the shotline, laying out a distance line to the edge of visibility. Keeping the line taut, I circled the shotline.
Nicky had chosen to stay just behind me, videoing as we went. So that he could film through clear water, I needed to stay high enough above the seabed that my finwash wouldn’t lift the sand.
QLR weight-release and accessory pocket with knife-mount.
I would need to swim fast to cover ground within our time-limits, which gave me the impression that, as coldwater BCs go, the Oceanic was creating very little drag.
Moreover, the 15-litre steel tank I was using would never be my first choice – with some BCs, such cylinders had rolled me as I swam, destabilising me, which is exacerbated by fast finning. However, there was no roll using the Excursion.
With so many stainless-steel D-rings, there is lots of scope for neatly managing a lot of accessories, such as reels, DSMBs, power-packs and lights. The zippered pockets can be reached easily and will take folding snorkels, medium-sized torches and a full-sized DSMB.
There are grommets for attaching a knife on either pocket.
In the shallows I went through my usual BC safety checks. These test the ability to bring an unexpected buoyant ascent under control and ascertain how easy it is to jettison the BC’s main weights.
I began by testing the controls. The mouthpiece has the usual pipette for oral inflation, then differently shaped buttons to deflate and inflate the jacket. At 10m, the Excursion filled in about 8sec.
Next, I wanted to confirm that either the rapid exhaust dump built into the oral-inflation hose shoulder or the toggle-operated pull-dump opposite could vent air faster than the direct feed could supply it on maximum flow.
Should a direct feed jam open, this is important to allow you to control your ascent speed. The Excursion performed flawlessly.
To simulate bringing an out-of-control full-blown buoyant ascent under control, I hung onto a bit of wreckage in 10m, fully inflated the Oceanic and let go. The shoulder-dump stopped the ascent in a distance of about 1.5m; the rapid exhaust in twice that distance.
These exercises confirm that the Excursion can be safely braked should you lose control of your ascent under the worst imaginable conditions.
That said, stopping distances were a little longer than I’m used to with Oceanic BCs. This might be because the BC I was using was a size too large for me, which can interfere with how efficiently air migrates to the dumps.
My expectation is that the real stopping distances would be around two-thirds of these distances.
When I tested a different Oceanic BC, the Biolite, which was the correct size for me, the stopping distances were much shorter.
This underlines one reason to choose a BC that fits – and that is especially important for kids, who should not be put into oversized BCs to allow for “growing room”.
The bum-dump worked well, with an easily found toggle. I’d prefer the toggles to be in hi-vis colours to make them more obvious to another diver who might need to locate them quickly.
The QLR4 system makes emergency weight-jettisoning very straightforward.
Just pull firmly on the handles and the weight-pouches fall clear. It’s almost instant and uncomplicated, and I like that. Again, I’d prefer the handles to be hi-vis.