WITH EGYPT’S SOUTH SINAI ALL BUT CLOSED to British divers, most Red Sea regulars seem to have been looking for an alternative or not travelling to dive at all.
Those of us planning to travel abroad and enjoy tropical reefs stuffed with brightly coloured marine life are still stuck with the same old problem of baggage-weight restrictions imposed by tight-fisted airlines.
A lot of lightweight dive gear has been designed and built over the past few years, giving air-travellers a number of ways of reducing the overall weight of their hold baggage. The latest is a lightweight, travel-friendly BC from Italian specialist Cressi, the aptly named Ultralight.
The Cressi Ultralight is a back-inflation-style BC, with its doughnut-shaped bladder encased in a 420-denier outer skin.
The bottom sides of the air-cell are gusseted with an elasticated strap to aid compression and air-depletion when dumping buoyant air on both descent and ascent. This also helps to keep the air-cell tight to reduce drag and maintain a low-profile during the dive.
The harness is constructed from webbing with padded anatomical shoulder-straps and a padded soft backplate. The twin-adjust sternum-strap has three optional positions and uses clips and webbing loops to adjust the height. The shoulder- and waist-buckles are 40mm plastic polymer trident clips.
The integrated-weight system incorporates Cressi’s Lock Aid design and sits on a non-adjustable waistband at the hip position. A single hideaway drop-down pocket is tucked into an opening in front of the right-hand weight-pocket, and is held in place by hook-and-loop pads until it needs to be deployed.
Cylinders are attached using a standard camband buckle set low on the back of the BC, with an additional webbing cylinder-valve strap at the top of the air-cell to lock the BC parallel to the tank.
The Ultralight name seems to be deserved, because this BC weighed in at a measly 2.1kg on my digital scales. I’m told that the sizes smaller than the L I had on test weigh even less, leading Cressi to claim it to be the lightest travel BC on the market. It comes in black with grey accents (male) and black with magenta (female).
I configured the Ultralight with a single 12-litre aluminium cylinder and 6kg of solid lead weights split 50/50 between the two integrated-weight pockets, and I was wearing a 5mm semi-dry suit.
This would be my standard northern Red Sea set-up (if I could only get there).
During the first underwater session the BC held me in a horizontal, slightly head-down position. I’d have preferred a bit more buoyancy at my shoulders but the doughnut bladder is flared and so larger towards the bottom, which allowed air to migrate and accumulate there.
Setting trim-weights around the camband started to sort out this dilemma. On subsequent dives, with the two half-kilo trim-weights already fitted, I also lowered the tank a few inches. This instantly transformed my trim to my preferred slightly heads-up position.
This configuration also put me in a totally vertical orientation at the surface, without the rear air-cell trying to force my face forward into the water. I’d nailed it, though it had taken a few dives and some thought to achieve the perfect solution.
Air migrated well around the bladder without any hint of becoming trapped, which meant that I could dump it successfully from any of the three exhaust valves and from almost any orientation under water.
Throughout the dives the harness and soft backplate felt extremely comfortable. The
shape and positioning of the straps gave an uncluttered, minimalist feel to the whole set-up, with the bonus that while on land the broad-sided waistband around the integrated-weight system spread the load across my hips and reduced the strain on my lower back.
The weight-pouches, with zips and T-handles with spring-loaded releases, were held firmly in place by the locking system.
The four plastic D-rings I found ideally placed for mounting instruments and octos, as were the four nylon webbing loops on the shoulder-harness for attaching lights and accessories.
I really enjoyed this BC. The lack of clutter around my torso felt almost liberating, and apart from being extremely light it can be folded in half and stowed in a small package, making it a truly travel-friendly piece of kit.
My only criticism is that the zipped weight-pouches seem a bit flimsy compared to the superb build quality used elsewhere, and the stitching and narrow seams didn’t give me the impression that they would last a two-week dive-trip, let alone a full season.
Having said that, if I owned this Ultralight it wouldn’t be a problem, as I prefer to have all my weight on a good, old-fashioned belt. I’m obviously becoming a bit of a dinosaur, because finding a new BC without an integrated-weight system nowadays is getting more difficult, but just imagine how much lighter this one would be without it – now there’s food for thought.
SIZES: XS, S, M, L, XL
LIFT: 90N for sizes XS, S, M. 150N for L, XL
COLOURS: M black/grey, F black/magenta
D-RINGS: 4 plastic
INTEGRATED WEIGHTS: Yes
POCKETS: Single hideaway drop-down
TRIM WEIGHTS: Optional
DIVER GUIDE 9/10
Appeared in DIVER May 2016