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Experience #2: Cathedral Cave
Eua is quite different to the other islands in Tonga, it has been formed from up-lifted limestone with impressions of ancient coral often clearly visible in the rocks. It is also the oldest island in Tonga, and the highest.
The island also has a surrounding plateau, much of which sits between low and high tide. A number of underwater caves have formed in this plateau, many of which are waiting to be fully explored. The most well-known is the Cathedral Cave, reportedly the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Entry to the Cathedral is from the ocean through a wide arch at a depth of 20 - 25m. Once inside, the cave opens up into a large cavern with several ‘skylights’ in the roof, which appear like ‘blue holes’ when viewed from the cliffs above.
Although there is light inside the cave it is a true overhead environment with no safe entry or exit through the skylights.
Despite any swell and ocean noise outside the cave, inside the water is calm and silent and light streams down from the roof in beams as if coming through blue stained-glass windows. When passing under the first few skylights no imagination is required to work out how this cave got its name.
In the main cavern area the waves roll over the skylights in a fascinating display, it’s like watching thunder clouds rolling across the sky in a dramatic time-lapse video. Then with each cycle of ebb and flow of the waves above mini-tornado whirlpools reach down into the cave – it’s best to stay below all of the turbulence and just enjoy the show.
This was our fourth trip to Eua and fourth dive into the Cathedral Cave but this time we had no dive-leader responsibilities. It was a chance to enjoy, to photograph the beams of light and to float on my back in mid-water, face-up tank-down, watching the mesmerising display in the skylights above.
It's a happy place.
Words can never capture the feeling of being there, so I'll let the photos help in explaining.
It doesn’t matter if you believe in simple geology or something more, the Cathedral Cave in Eua is a truly special place that will only ever be known to divers.
The XDEEP Stealth 2.0 is at the heart of the best sidemount system available and the one that you should own, but what else might you need to be a fully equipped sidemount diver? This article discusses the Stealth 2.0 options and accessories that I considered, over a period of time, when putting together my rig. Hopefully it will help you get started a bit quicker!
Stealth 2.0 harness Accessories
The adjustable Central Weight Pocket (CWP) is one feature that puts the Stealth ahead of the rest. The medium CWP (6kg / 13.2lb) works in most situations but a larger (12kg / 26.5lb) CWP may work better with thick dry suits and aluminium cylinders – when you need extra weight. A small (3kg / 6.6lb) CWP is also made by XDEEP, but the medium CWP offers flexibility even if it is less than half-filled on tropical dives. Strange as it may sound, I use a medium weight pocket but move my weights from the bottom to the top of the CWP when changing from light weight to heavy rubber fins – it gives me perfect trim.
Additional weight can be added with dumpable weight pockets or trim pockets. The XDEEP dumpable weight pockets (also used with the Hydros and Zeos) come in two sizes and bolt on to the flat square brackets on the waist band. These pockets can sit between your hips and the cylinders, which can push the cylinders out from the body and reduce streamlining (a little).
So unless a lot of weight is needed the larger CWP or trim pockets may be preferable.
XDEEP trim pockets come in two sizes: 3kg (6.6lb) or 6kg (13.2lb) per pair of pockets. These can be threaded onto the shoulder straps or the waist band. For single cylinder sidemount, with a steel cylinder, the larger trim pocket is a good solution for a 3kg counterweight.
Each Stealth harness includes four rubber rings on the waist band; two fixed with a tri-glide and two floating (to optimise the trim of aluminium cylinders as they get lighter). These rings are very strong and flexible but swapping to steel D-rings can be easier to feel when wearing gloves. XDEEP also offer an optional butt plate for the Stealth, which makes it even easier to clip on steel cylinders when wearing gloves – but some people just like the butt plate as a place carrying accessories.
Additional D-rings and tri-glides maybe added to the harness to make connection points for accessories. Tri-glides on the shoulder straps with thin bungee loops are a convenient way to hold the main loop bungee (for the top of each cylinder) in position.
Regulators, Hoses and Cylinder Valves.
First stage regulators with LP ports on a swivel turret, and a fifth port on the end, are ideal, such as the Tecline R2 TEC Sidemount Set. The swivel turret allows hoses to be stowed neatly and then rotated to deploy the regulators when needed, while the SPGs remain in position.
The end ports on the first stage allow shorter BCD inflator and dry suit hoses to be used, to minimise clutter. If you want to use your existing regulators, and they don’t have a 90 degree port, you could try a 90 degree hose adapter for the first stage. For many people, a 25 - 30cm LP hose works best between the end port of the first stage regulator and the Stealth’s BCD inflator, however most SM regulator sets include 20cm hoses, which is just a bit short for the inflator, but is fine for a dry suit. For particularly large divers, longer BCD and drysuit hoses may be needed. Some people may find that a longer or shorter BCD corrugated hose and inflator hose suits them better, but for safety the corrugated inflator hose must be long enough to allow for oral inflation.
Left and right sided cylinder valves provide the best access for valve shut-down drills and emergency procedures. Valves used for backmount twinsets with blanking plugs, where the manifold would normally go but obviously not needed here, are a good solution.
Connecting your Cylinders.
Cylinders are attached to the harness with a bolt snap (with a larger ring for hands with gloves or just for easier management) near the base of the cylinder and a bungee around the neck. Two options for connecting the bolt snap are a webbing tank band or a steel ring clamp.
Bolt snaps are secured by a strong cord threaded through the bolt snap and under the cam band / ring clamp. Rubber retaining bands may be used to hold the hoses neatly on the cylinders but you can also make your own using some of the bungee provided with the Stealth – although I do find that these tend to roll off the top of the cylinder.
Accessories. What accessories do you need - cutting tools, an SMB for open water, torches, wet notes, a reel, spools and line markers? I will often carry these, depending on the dive, and I always include some double-ended bolt snaps (very handy), a spare regulator necklace and spare bungee. I have a small pouch clipped on to my crotch strap D-ring but I’m really looking forward to the new (and larger) XDEEP pouch.
Note that the Stealth comes with a bracket to mount a primary light canister on the crotch strap.
The Stealth 2.0 Sidemount diver’s shopping “Wish List”:
Happy shopping – hope your wishes come true!!