I recently had the privilege of being a guest at one of London's most iconic structures, Tower Bridge. We went into the engine-rooms, with the enormous coal-fired, steam-driven motors that raise and lower the bridge, a testament to the engineering feats of a bygone age.
They showcase what could be achieved by casting iron and brass, then machining the metals to fine tolerances.
I mention this visit because a recent arrival at the DIVER test centre had me reminiscing about those long-gone Victorian engineers.
It's a ratchet-reel built from a combination of modern plastics and good old-fashioned stainless steel, using engineering of which I'm sure the Victorians would have approved.
Manufactured to very high standards, Kent Tooling's 50m composite ratchet-reel is a lighter version of the maker’s popular all-metal reel.
It’s built with a backplate made from composite plastics and all other components fabricated from precision-cut 316 stainless steel.
The trigger mechanism is a simple spring-loaded lever; it has a knob with a locking-pin to enable the reel to be set for either ratchet or free spool modes.
The reel has a stainless line drum that’s 90mm in diameter and 45mm deep and holds 50m of high-strength line.
The line is prevented from spilling from the spool edge by a stainless line-guide, fitted to the backplate by hex key bolts with adjustment slots to fine-tune the clearances.
All other reel components are secured using stainless-steel pan head hex bolts, leaving a rounded finish without sharp edges to shred water-softened skin.
The reel is supplied with an attached stainless piston-clip for mounting it to a suitable D-ring and comes with yellow (pictured) or black backplate. There is also a choice of yellow, pink or orange line colours.
This model comes in other capacities and sizes from 40m to 150m and both left- and right-hand configurations. The 50m reel weighed in at a little over 900g, and is claimed to be 400g lighter than its all-metal equivalent.
I mainly employed the reel for what it’s been designed for, the deployment of delayed surface marker buoys. A large loop tied in the running end of the line meant that it could be passed through the buoy’s attachment point and over the reel before being pulled tight. This results in a foolproof, snag-free connection without any failure points.
Under water, the reel was set into free spool mode with a quick twist of the spring-loaded knob on the release lever, before depressing it until the locking-pin located its corresponding hole in the backplate.
I filled the buoy with exhaled gas and the DSMB shot to the surface while the reel smoothly and effortlessly paid out line.
As soon as the buoy had completed its journey, it was a simple task to release the locking pin and place the reel into ratchet mode, allowing me to hang onto the tight line connected to the world above.
The reel’s handle was of the correct proportions to easily wind in the line on ascent, even when wearing bulky dry gloves.
During subsequent dives I also used the reel to lay line, as if penetrating the confines of a wreck or cave interior.
In free spool mode it was easy to lay the line but, unlike the dedicated wreck-reels from the same manufacturer, this one lacked the ability to add resistance by tightening the spool against the spindle.
The problem is that this ratchet-reel spins so freely that a momentary lapse of concentration can, and did, result in it overrunning, leaving me with a bird’s nest of line to sort out.
In an age in which plastics are king, it’s unusual to find a dive tool that’s been engineered to exacting mechanical standards using mostly metal. I say mostly because, as with everything nowadays, some plastics will inevitably be involved.
The engineers of yesteryear would, I’m sure, have given a quiet nod of approval for the design, precision and workmanship involved producing a reel that’s robust, functional and fit for purpose.
PRICE: 50m, £99
MATERIALS: Composite plastics, 316 stainless steel
ORIENTATION: Left- or right-hand versions
AVAILABLE SIZES: 40m, 50m, 65m, 75m, 100m, 125m and 150m
COLOURS: Black or yellow backplate, choice of pink, orange or yellow line
WEBSITE: Diving Products
DIVER GUIDE: 9/10