Whirlwind in a tiny package

Regulators
Regulators

It seems a very long time since we announced the imminent arrival of the mini Oceanic Zeta regulator on the What’s Bubbling pages.

I had been pestering the importer for one to try ever since and finally, after about 18 months, was able to lay my hands on one.

This reg’s bottom-of-the-range sibling, the Alpha 7, did remarkably well in the recent Diver comparison test of inexpensive regulators (Take A Cheap Breath, April), proving to be one of the nicest regulators to breathe off that I have ever tried at any price.

The question was, would the Zeta, with its minuscule second stage, be as good – especially at depth, where you need it most?

I tried the Zeta on a twin-set alongside its slightly more expensive sibling the Gamma 2 CDX Enviro, which I was also trying out for these pages.

The Zeta was supplied with the rubber-covered DX4 environmentally sealed diaphragm first-stage.

1001tests2

The Zeta second stage has the same high-quality finish as the once-top-of-the-range Oceanic Delta 3 but is significantly smaller in size, if not price.

The toy-like Zeta probably has the smallest valve mechanism of any regulator.

It uses a servo design to reach its cracking point with low effort. As the user inhales, the internal pressure of the second stage is reduced and a small “control” valve is opened by water pressure on the front diaphragm.

This in turn opens the much larger “main” valve, which allows air to flow from the medium-pressure hose connected to the first stage. There is no perceptible time-lag.

The Zeta came fitted with the Oceanic Orthodontic mouthpiece. Some manufacturers think I have a big mouth when it comes to such subjects, but this one worked a treat.

It lodged firmly between my molars without any need to stick my jaw forward, and I have absolutely no complaints about the way I had to grip it, even after a series of long dives.

However, it also held my mouth well open to allow a good flow of air.

This you might think admirable, but the servo effect, as with many servo-type regulators from other manufacturers, is akin to opening the barn door and letting the hurricane blow in.

Yes, each time I inhaled, it came with a whoosh!

Some people like this effect. I don’t. It felt as if my uvula was being blasted down my throat, and I had to resort to putting my tongue up to diffuse the whirlwind.

Not only that, but working hard in a current at 50m and therefore having to heave on it manfully, it stuttered and fluttered worse than the Emperor Claudius on a bad day in Rome.

This proved very uncomfortable indeed.

Even just tilting my head down and breathing cautiously, when at shallower depths, I could precipitate an uncomfortable over-supply of air.

Thank goodness I could alternate it with the sublime Oceanic Gamma 2 on my other tank.

I asked buddy Chris Boardman to give me a second opinion and he said that not only was he, like me, very disappointed (he’s an Oceanic fan) but he couldn’t believe the company had let a valve that performed in that way out of the factory.

We were desperate to like the Zeta, but we couldn’t.

In fact, with each of us it accounted for about 25 bar of extra air used during an hour’s dive, so much greater was the supply of air than our demand.

The Oceanic Zeta DX4 might be minuscule but its price is not. It costs £344. A Zeta Octopus is also available.

Oceanic SW, 01404 891819

Plus

+ Aimed at divers for whom size really matter

Minus

– Very whooshy!
– Expensive

High-quality Finnish

Here are two further examples of diving equipment that bears the brand of that doyen of dive-computer manufacturers, Suunto.

As such, the Finnish manufacturer has attempted to include all the best features of the genre: charge-at-any-time, nickel-metal-hydride batteries; high colour-temperature xenon bulbs; sequential switching that gives a range of three brightnesses plus an SOS mode; double O-ring sealing of the casing; a safety valve to take care of any gas emitted by the battery; thermostatic protection in case of overheating; and the ability to charge by means of two external jack-plugs, so that there is no need to break the watertight seal.

The whole thing is encased in beautifully engineered aluminum with a spun finish.

1001tests3

The Suunto Navy 80 is 25cm long and has a battery of around 14V that gives a burntime of just over an hour with the standard 50W bulb. The less-bright Suunto F208 is 5cm shorter and half a kilo lighter.

It uses a 7V battery and gives a 20 minute longer burntime with its less dazzling 20W bulb.

Both weigh around half a kilo when submerged, which makes them heavier than many comparable lights, and both take around four hours to charge from scratch.

They both have tempered glass fronts which allow you to use them in air as well as in water, and they both give a broad beam with a wider halo.

The sophisticated electronics of the charging units supplied allows you to connect and forget.

So, for example, you could keep them permanently on charge between dives when staying on board a liveaboard dive-boat, and they will always be ready to give the best burntime possible.

A built-in microprocessor takes care to adjust voltages so that performance is constant throughout the charge of the battery.

1001tests4

When the battery nears the end of its charge, the lamp dims automatically before finally switching off to preserve the battery-pack.

The microprocessor also decides if the battery-pack is giving off gas, in which case it will shut down the light.

I used the smaller F208 for night-dives and found it best to set it on the lowest brightness. At full power it turned everything in to a day-dive!

It proved to have a lovely soft and even beam, and at full power in daylight it lit up the details of the reef satisfyingly in a full spectrum of color.

Pulling one unit apart to see what was inside revealed the works totally enclosed within a second, inner aluminium casing. You have to pull the unit apart when the time comes to replace the xenon bulb.

Both these lights represent a high level of precision in the manufacturing process. The Suunto Navy 80 costs £345, the smaller F208 costs £239.

Suunto Diving 01420 587272

Plus

+ High performance
+ Good build quality

Minus

– A little heavier than some other lamps
– On the expensive side

You don’t get owt for nowt!

I guess I haven’t been too kind to those manufacturers which have taken up the Nature’s Wing split-fin idea.

Trouble is, I get grumpy when I’m away for a week’s diving and suffering the indignity of having to use something which reduces my performance significantly.

It’s especially galling when it is fins that don’t appear to live up to their promise.

Some manufacturers tell me that, because of what I wrote about their products in Diver, their children have had to go without Christmas presents and their wives to forego promised winter holidays in Barbados.

1001tests5

So what should I do? If I tell the story they want to hear, their houses will be full of broken toys and their womenfolk displaying their tropical tans to the men building their kitchen extensions.

Meanwhile, the manufacturers will be back in the office trying to come up with yet another unique selling proposition.

Which brings me to split fins. The Apollo models I tested worked but were remarkably heavy.

I didn’t do many favors for the Mares Volos, an Italian alternative to doing the splits. I also found Scubapro’s Twin Jets far too floppy to be of any use when heading into a current.

The problem is that we consumers want fins that will magically propel us without effort. There is no easy answer to that one, but some fin manufacturers try to persuade us that there is.

They make fins that slip on comfortably and feel like you’re not wearing any.

Try them in still water and you’ll be impressed – no aching thighs, no risk of cramped calves… and probably no risk of getting anywhere when the going gets tough.

It’s like riding a bicycle with the rear wheel jacked-up off the ground – the effort is reduced but you won’t travel far.

The new Scubapro Twin Speeds appeared to be far more resilient than the Twin Jets, and more likely to push some water when I needed it.

You don’t get owt for nowt, but I was interested to see whether the promised increase in comfort and decrease in effort would be balanced against any loss of perceived performance.

I wasn’t going to do any scientific comparisons, just take them diving for a week to see how I got on with them.

My buddy Chris Boardman tells me that the maker of his super-techno bike designed an aerodynamic cycling helmet which, after extensive testing, it pronounced nearly as good as an unclad head.

Great, except that being able to dissipate heat sufficiently fast from the head poses real difficulties for competition cyclists.

Those test machines hadn’t sweated, but the wearers of the helmet did.

It’s a similar story with fins. Manufacturers might use fancy machinery for quantitative testing, but the machine never finds itself heading into a current and trying to get back to a boat with a dwindling air supply.

The Scubapro Twin Speed fins worked reasonably well if we stuck to a strictly formal finning technique – the type of stroke you might use when getting your head down and pumping head-on into a current.

They worked reasonably well but not startlingly so.

However, the moment I needed to move forward a tad, perhaps adjusting my distance when taking a photograph, or sculling idly with one fin to alter my angle, nothing much seemed to happen.

It seemed to require a full fin-stroke or nothing.

Added to that, the enormous dimensions of the Twin Speeds made them very inconvenient when donning in the RIB, and they were no less cumbersome inside wrecks.

Their added length, and the fact that I had to resort to a conventional and over-large up-and-down finning stroke even in some tight corners on the reef, means I must confess to having inadvertently damaged more coral during that week’s trip than I have done in the past 10 busy diving years.

Of course, I would have preferred to tell you that the fins were great.

Scubapro Twin Speed fins come in S/M, M/L and L/XL sizes and cost £69.

Visit Scubapro UK website, 01256 812636.

Plus

+ Work well enough in calm water
+ Comfortable

Minus

– “All or nothing” finning action required
– Overlong when in tight corners

THE REEL THAT TURNED UP LATE

It’s remarkable that, just as I had finished what I had attempted to make an all-encompassing test of SMB winder-reels, I was out in the middle of the South China Sea when up comes a man from Essex.

Pulling an item from the pocket of his BC, he asks: “Have you seen this novel little winder-reel we make?”

Typically, it’s from a small British enterprise in the business of injection-moulding. Being divers, the two partners have tooled up to make what they consider to be the perfect reel.

1001tests6

They have the capacity to knock out thousands but have never got round to telling anyone about it.

“We have a website,” he said. “It’s www.bodaine.co.uk.” So how many of you would think of looking up that name in the quest for the perfect reel?

When will small businesses realize that a great part of the cost of producing a product is the cost of telling people it’s available?

It’s called advertising and marketing, and it’s no accident that you see more BMWs than Ladas on British roads.

BMW advertises its products and the buyers pay for it. Lada owners – well, that’s another story!

But I’m going to do Bodaine Developments a favor and tell you all about the Bodaine reel, and it won’t cost that company a penny!

First, it looks very different from any of the reels we featured in our reel review in July. That’s because the axle of the bobbin runs parallel to the handle instead of at right-angles to it.

In fact, my heart sank when my new friend showed it to me. If it had been sent to me in time, it would have given me the chance to introduce a different perspective into what was a rather samey subject.

Both ends of the axle shaft are supported where it meets the frame.

The winding crank is counterbalanced to provide a damping effect as the spool rotates at high speed as the buoy ascends from where it has been deployed at depth.

The ratchet is disengaged and a pawl-lock keeps it that way, so there is no danger of suddenly being dragged upwards. Metal line-guides reduce the likelihood of tangles.

This reel has no lanyard. The makers reckon divers cannot be trusted to avoid attaching the reel to themselves, and in doing so invite accidents.

The handle is designed to be clipped with a karabiner to a D-ring if needed.

The Essex boys know the degree of robustness needed to withstand the worst excesses of club-diving, and reckon their reel will stand up to any rough-and-tumble handed out.

The components are all made from ABS, Nylon 6, stainless steel and brass.

I am pleased to report that the reel is negatively buoyant. I did feel slightly ill-at-ease winding myself up the line, probably because the hand that took the weight was at an unfamiliar angle.

On one occasion I had difficulty making the ratchet engage, and resorted to locking the line off by winding it round the handle.

Funny things happen when you’re diving. The next time, it worked perfectly.

The Bodaine Mini Reel costs £38.

Bodaine Developments 01376 349315

Plus

+ A fresh look at an old problem

Minus

– Never heard of it!

John Bantin has been a full-time professional diving writer and underwater photographer since 1990. He makes around 300 dives each year testing diving equipment.

John Bantin
John Bantin

LET’S KEEP IN TOUCH!

Get a weekly roundup of all Divernet news and articles Scuba Mask
We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Connect With Us

0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x