Posted by ChrisM on July 23, 2001 at 17:01:15:
I posted this over on the "other board," but thought I'd share it here as well. First, let me say a hearty thanks to MHK, Terry, John Walker et al for giving of their time and experience. It is appreciated and to be applauded, no matter what your stance. I have edited it slightly based upon further reflection.
To the dives.....
My first dive with a backplate & wings - The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
Attended the Casino Point DIR demo and got chance to try out a backplate and wings setup. I didn't realize how good this setup was until I dived without it.
It's a gear review and a dive review, so bear with me....
On Saturday, July 21, 2001, my wife and I headed over to the island of Catalina - she for her first cold water dive, me to attend the DIR demo and try out a backplate and wings setup. The following is a blow by blow account.
Dive #1 - Oh boy, teaching your significant other how to do something you already do certainly puts those vows to the test. Several years ago I tried to teach my wife how to ski - "Just edge!", I remember saying (yelling) to (at) her. Geez, I've been doing this since I was 5! But she'd never worn a pair of skis in her life before that day, so she had no idea what an edge was. You would think I'd learned my lesson.
Actually, she was a trooper, and I exercised all of my patience. Cold water diving is not like jumping off a boat in Belize, there's a lot more rubber involved, usually right around your neck. But after a few fits and starts, we got down (to the ocean floor, that is). Highlight of the dive was a HUGE black sea bass, at least 6' long and probably 300 pounds, cruising at the edge of the 50' viz. Wow, that is a big fish, to say the least.
Kelp diving is like walking through the rooms of a house. Swimming along, you'll pass through the opening in the kelp and enter a chamber, kept dark by the kelp fronds lying on the surface, pinpoint shafts of sunlight darting down through the canopy, there's some female sheephead in there, maybe a couple juvenile garibaldis or a lobster, this is their room. Then you continue on and swim through the opening into another room. This one is bigger, you look up at the shafts of sunlight, then notice a school of 100+ Sargo hanging out near the top of the canopy, the school curving around the kelp as one. I could sit there and stare for hours.
OK, to the:
Recreational DIR demo: First off, the DIR people I met were for the most part very nice and laid back. Some are more fiery than others, but that's just personalities, no big deal and it doesn't change the conclusions after trying the gear.
There were about 6 GUE/DIR guys and about 5 attendees on Saturday, I was expecting more people. George Irvine was there (I have to admit and show my ignorance, I have only a faint idea of who this guy is, but he certainly is the topic of a lot of discussion on the diver.net board). I will do my research on him. However, his presentation was very low key and he appeared almost bored (my wife's reaction was that these guys should at least appear to be more excited about applying DIR to recreational diving, she was referring mainly to Irvine). But that just may be his style. He presented a short history of the evolution of the DIR gear and philosophy. Then John Walker presented the gear configuration (John you weren't low key), then Terry May fitted me for a BP and harness.
The gear up: Stainless Steel backplate, single tank adapter, and (I assume) 36 pound wing, Halcyon weight pockets. The pockets are difficult to put in once the rig is on (or I need practice). First impression: I stood up, and felt like I was going to topple backwards. The SS BP and STA are about 7+ pounds, taking weight off the hips in water but putting it directly behind you on land.
I used my own regs, so I had to figure out somewhere to attach the second and the computer (and, by the way, wasn't that a Suunto computer I saw on MHK's wrist? just asking :) ), second on a plastic (suicide?) clip to the right shoulder D ring, computer to the crotch strap D ring. Had I attached the computer to the left hip D ring, as they advise for the SPG, I could not have seen it.
Terry, Maciek (another attendee) and I got into the water. First impression: Holy shit, it's like I am sitting upright in a chair. the BP and wings float you nice and high out of the water (sounds like this was not Maciek's experience) and are extremely stable, no rocking back and forth, no floating on your face. And you cannot feel anything in the chest area, nor can you feel anything up near your ears (thanks to the crotch strap).
We were to descend horizontally, adding just a slight amount of air for buoyancy (ie not sinking to the bottom then filling the bladder), and then cruise around, working on our trim. I'd say it was extremely easy to maintain horizontal trim, but that would be misleading because it took no effort at all. I swam effortlessly about 2' off the bottom, not rising and falling with my breaths, stop, hover horizontally, turn sideways, turn the other way, turn face up, all of it while holding in one place and not moving. Inverted, I felt a little of the riding up of the integrated weights that I hate with my Balance BC, but not as bad. Terry scolded me for kicking up the sand at one point, but I think he didn't see the other diver that dive bombed me and decided that it would be a good thing if he kicked me in the head with his fins - amazingly, I don't think he ever knew I was there. So I retreated to the bottom and sat there in the dirt, very un-DIR-like. Hence the scolding.
LP inflator hose is a lot shorter than what I am accustomed to, and the rear dump valve (which is hard to find on first use, second use, third use . . . .) are the only two valves. Hard to dump out of either of those and stay horizontally trim.
I really felt as if I was flying, cruising through, over, under and around the kelp. All that said, I still felt as though my buoyancy was pretty good and that had as much to do with it (or at least some) as the gear. I commented to my wife after the dive, "I like it, but I don't know that I'd replace my BC right now with it." Maciek wasn't as happy with the trim, he thought because he was using a weight belt.
Dive 3 - Suiting up for the next dive went a little more smoothly as my wife was getting accustomed to the equipment. Planned on just cruising at 30-40 feet for a while. Descended, thought to myself, "I don't feel much difference with my Balance BC," then "oh wait, add a little air, oops, it's riding up, a little more air, now vent a little," extend my finger to stay off the bottom, inhales and exhales are having a big effect on my buoyancy, I can feel the air moving from side to side when I turn sideways, and the weighting pulls me over too much. My buoyancy just seemed to be more at the whim of the air in my BC. "Umm, maybe my buoyancy isn't as good as I thought." Crap.
But this was still an amazing kelp dive. Saw my first shark egg casings sitting on the bottom, one flat with little curlicues on the ends, the other a large (7" or so) spiral, just sitting there on the bottom. Tons of sheephead, lobster, octopus, great kelp cruise.
The Good: Ability to stay in trim, felt very streamlined, even with my reg setup, a crotch strap is a good thing, can take weights off due to SS backplate, BP spreads weight over your back rather than right on your hips, flexible in that you can adapt the config to any situation.
What I can't figure out is that I used 26# with my rig, then used 19# plus a SS BP rig (for just about 26#), but I felt as if I had to do a lot more trimming with the BC than the BP. As someone pointed out on the other board, all things were pretty much equal, but it really felt like I had to put more air in the BC than the wings. If someone could let me know what's up with that .....
The Bad: Not really bad, just different. LP hose is short. These aren't bad things about the gear, just flexibility and adherence or not to DIR principles. As far as philosphy goes, and yes I admit I should know a lot more about decompression theory since I deal with it every week, but I do not foresee getting rid of my computer. I like diving with my pony bottle. It's another $600. I don't know about the long hose but the bungied second sure makes a lot of sense to me, and I don't know if it's prudent to do one without the other (i.e. donating a standard length primary hose might be difficult).
The Ugly: This was DIR's latest in its continuing attempts to cross-over to a recreational crowd. I think DIR has a lot to offer, however, as with the Catholic church, I am not prepared to(nor do I want to, and nor will I probably ever, but never say never) accept the whole philosophy regardless of whether it works for me as a diver. I believe that in order for DIR gear to truly cross over, there will have to be room for personal preferences. We are not diving caves, where yes, I want to know that everyone will respond the same way to the same set of problems and we all have the same set of gear. I am 100% on board with that. If I am doing a 60 fsw pleasure dive, and my equipment is safe, well maintained and comfortable, I really don't have time to bother with someone who would not dive with me simply because of the gear I am or am not using (unless, of course, it's just patently unsafe, which my gear isn't) (and, I know, I know, if you don;t need it at 300 fsw or in a cave, you certainly don't need it at 60 fsw - all I'm saying is that rec and tech are two VERY different environments, and what's right for one isn't necessarily right for the other).
I think some of the DIR guys understand this, but there is a continuing conceit that any other method is dangerous, or stupid, or just not acceptable in any manner, as demonstrated by a woman (who I believe is Irvine's sign. other, tho I may be wrong and apologies if I am) who was walking around -- at a "Recreationsl DIR" demo, remember -- with a shirt that prominently said in large, bold black letters on the back of her T-shirt "NO STROKES"
Let it be said, however, that I did not detect this attitude from anyone at the presentation. In fact, although I warned my wife that she might be turned off by the stance some take, neither she nor I felt that at all until I saw the shirt.
I may have an incorrect definition of a stroke, but as I understand it from this board it is -technically - someone who does not dive DIR. Perhaps it's been refined to mean someone who is generally unsafe. Assuming the former definition, however, I am a stroke by their definition, and it's not that I particularly care what this or that person thinks of me, but the attitude sure is a turn off. In the end, it doesn't really matter, because we will all dive as we like, as it should be. Halcyon does not require a DIR card to buy their gear, and I will probably get a BP and wings at some point, but because the equipment is good for me, not because it's what I am supposed to do.
Now go and dive
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