We love diving, whether it's technical diving to explore deep wrecks or just sport diving to search for seahorses or nudibrancs, we can't get enough. We also like to try different equipment and enjoy sharing what we have experienced and learned. We hope you find our blogs interested and that they help you make the most of your equipment and diving. If you like our blog posts, please feel free to 'like' them and share them with your friends.
Truk Lagoon claims the world’s greatest wreck diving and with over 60 ships plus aircraft, in a protected lagoon, the claim is justified. On this trip we were invited to join Max Gleeson (maxgleeson.com) and Lesley Hillyer (AquaSea) as they continued to work on Max’s second documentary on the wrecks of Truk Lagoon (more below). Martin, with his huge ‘underwater selfie stick’, also joined our group.
|Buddha, on the Oite|
We have been to Chuuk before, using different twin tank systems and although a simple back plate and harness was the better option, it still felt cumbersome in narrow doorways and corridors. This time we went side mount, I had my Stealth 2.0 Classic while Karen used a Stealth Rec wing fitted to her Classic harness.
In switching from cold water to warm, with different suits, tanks and side mount rigging, it took a couple of dives to get weight, trim and ‘boat procedures’ down pat. Operating out of the Blue Lagoon Dive Shop – our boat driver, Rhys, went from intrigued observer to expert assistant, helping to don tanks after just a few dives.
|Roller, near the San Francisco Maru|
Max’s second video will feature lesser known and deeper wrecks of Truk Lagoon. This worked well with our objectives to revisit the Oite and because I needed a better photo of a road roller lying on the sand with the silouette of the San Francisco Maru in the background. I'd taken a photo on the last trip, not thinking about the ship in the background (hence, I didn't get it right).
Cutting a long story short, these are the ships, our dive depths and some of our notes for those whom might contemplate similar (and there’s much more to see).
|Wreck||Our depth||What to see|
|Yubae Maru||30m||tableware and saki bottles, props sticking up|
|Patrol Boat||27m||limited damage, interesting valves and gauges|
|Nagano Maru||58m||trucks and road roller in the hold|
|Kiyosumi Maru||27m||torpedo holes at bow, a bicycle, coral decorated masts|
|Fujisan Maru||58m||a large tanker with fuelling pipes, signal light on sand|
|Oite||62m||one of only two destroyers in the lagoon|
|Momokawa Maru||36m||bridge telegraph and phono tubes|
|Shotan Maru||49m||vehicles in the hold, bullets, shells, pots and pans|
|Unnamed lighter||27m||(see below)|
|Amagisan Maru||38m||large forward gun, great exploring|
|San Fransisco Maru||62m||tanks, vehicles, road roller, engine room and lots more|
|Seiko Maru||41m||large decorated masts, bathrooms and mess, telegraph|
|Taiho Maru||44m||(see below)|
|Kensho Maru||27m||large engine room in excellent condition|
|Aikoku Maru||40m||manoeuvring helm and telegraph at stern, galley|
|Soporo Maru||26m||had to happen – 3m visibility, but clear inside|
Highlights for the trip were the Oite, San Francisco Maru and two wrecks that had not been visited by divers for many years.
|Tank on San Francisco Maru|
The Oite is (was) a destroyer and the speed boat in the lagoon, with a slender hull and with two large props, after the engines, fuel and munitions there must have been little space for the crew (respectfully, some are still there). With a limited run time it was exploring on a schedule (luckily, we did two dives on her), but we located a gun in the wreckage of the upturned bow that we hadn’t seen before. The stern section, upright, has a large gun and anti-aircraft guns that make for great photos. The San Francisco Maru was great, as always, and I got the photo of the roller.
The first of the two ‘new’ wrecks, was the Taiho Maru. Blown in two but Max and MacKensey (our guide) found her rear half. Rumour says it lost popularity as a dive site many years ago because the leaking aviation fuel burned divers’ exposed skin – fair enough! The water is clear now and this wreck, lying on its port side, has one of the most photogenic props in the lagoon.
The second ‘rediscovery’ was an unnamed lighter, a maintenance vessel and water pump. It also has a pretty prop, partly buried, with a huge coral fan nearby. The pump control room near the bow was fascinating, full of gauges, valves, and pipes going in every direction. We found navigation lanterns and much of the compass, including brass gimbals and the large glass dome.
Side mount proved a great choice for exploring. With much of the wooden decks rotted away it was easier to slip between the steel framework than it had been before with twins, or to roll 90 degrees and just swim through narrow doorways. Sometimes it was the camera arms that were more difficult to get through windows, when you don’t really want to touch the wreck – to preserve both it and yourself. Both Stealth rigs are very streamlined, meaning minimal exertion and less air consumption at depth – I’ll use it again next time.
Back to Max’s videos. The first video (volume 1), includes some history on Operation Hailstone (why the wrecks are there) and features 15 of the more famous and popular ship wrecks in the lagoon, plus a chapter on aircraft. It is a great video and it might also be the best ‘dive trip planning tool’ that you’ll ever see. Max and Lesley have done an amazing job organising, filming and putting the video together. I’m looking forward to volume 2, and Max has already offered a teaser on Vimeo.
Taking the Xdeep Ghost on holidays over a year ago I loved it so much that I’ve been using it at every opportunity where a single-tank backmount system is called for. It still looks like new after use in some tough conditions, but by being so good it delayed me from trying the Zeos – but the time has now come.
The Xdeep Zeos is promoted as an “out of the box” system, suitable for the new diver and able to ‘grow’ with their needs. I was after the benefits of a backplate, harness and wing system, and tough enough to handle rough entries and exits, being knocked around by breaking surf and able to withstand getting washed up onto rocks …yes, OK, conditions do need to be quite bad to keep me out of the water.
I chose to keep it simple, a basic harness without the optional deluxe set shoulder or back pads. A steel backplate would mean less lead to carry, but rather than be rational I chose a vibrant blue aluminium backplate with matching single tank adapter (STA), for a bit of bling. I moved the Xdeep weight pockets from my Ghost to the Zeos (interchangeable); why wear a weight belt if you can transfer the weight to a backplate? The left weight pocket has a D-ring, so I shifted the existing D-ring to the right side for another attachment point. I also chose the 28lb / 13kg wing, instead of the 38lb / 17kg wing, with the idea of a smaller wing being more streamlined; I don’t see the need to exert any more effort than necessary!
My test dives were a couple of boat dives with the aim of finding grey nurse sharks just off the NSW South Coast. Although I had a couple of new divers to keep an eye on, it seemed like my first pleasure dive in a very long time.
I’d adjusted the shoulder straps the night before so had no problem slipping into the harness. In the water the fit was secure and comfortable – a 7mm semi-dry wetsuit gave me enough padding, and the backplate is a good comfortable shape with well positioned slots for the harness. The Zeos trimmed to a near-horizontal position but I found my head hitting the first stage regulator – my error by fitting the STA by the top bolt hole of the backplate, it needed to be lower, an easy adjustment (after diving).
The double-layered wing construction of the Zeos is similar to the Xdeep Hydros technical BCD, making it a very rugged unit – you don’t normally see this kind of construction in sport BCDs. The double layer adds a little bulk compared to the Ghost, however the Zeos was nicely streamlined when pushing into a gentle current - my old jacket BCD now feels like a sea anchor.
28lb / 13kg lift is similar to a small - medium jacket BCD, but it's a lot of lift when correctly weighted and the weight of gas in my tank will only change about 5lb during a dive. The less weight the less lift needed. At the end of the first dive, bringing the newer divers to the surface, another diver lost his weight belt climbing on board. So back down to 20m to pick up a 24lb weight belt, being deliberately 2lb overweight for this test dive and with half a tank of gas – that’s about 28lb of lift needed, the same as the wing! At maximum inflation I was neutrally buoyant but with all the lift in the wing sitting behind me I was comfortable and trimmed, unlike a jacket where full inflation feels like being crushed to the point of restricting blood flow. (I had an Xdeep closed SMB if extra lift was needed.)
Some other notes. Some divers worry a back inflation BCD will push them face down on the surface; the Zeos had an upright surface position - the wing shape is well designed for streamlining and when on the surface. The Zeos wing has a large-toothed zip making it easily to unzip and wash out salt between the inner bladder and outer shell. Jacket BCDs have pockets (often half filled with integrated weights); however, more D-rings can be added to the Zeos harness and the Xdeep pouch is also a more versatile option rather than pockets. The Zeos is offered “out-of-the-box” in a couple of configurations, but it can be customised to individual needs. The wing and STA can be swapped for a Hydros wing and twin tank configuration, providing an upgrade path.
In summary, the Zeos appears simple, as a harness back plate and wing, but the attention to detail in its design means that it performs brilliantly and, as a sport diving BCD, it is very rugged. I also think it is a great BCD for new divers - forget the jacket and go straight to the benefits of a tec-style BCD.
Finally, we saw crested horn sharks, Port Jackson sharks and Wobbegong's but no grey nurses. They were enjoyable dives nonetheless because of the gear I was using.
The Ghost a light weight travel BCD from xDEEP. Unlike other travel BCDs it provides the comfort and all the benefits of a technical backplate and wing system and yet weighs only a fraction of the weight, coming in at only 2.3kg. I could write about specifications or the outstanding build quality, but you can read all about that on our web site; what’s most important is how easy the Ghost is to travel with and how it performs as a BCD. We’ve had our Ghost BCDs for over a year now, so this blog is a summary of our experience with what has become a favourite BCD, especially when travelling.
Gizo jetty, Solomon Islands
When packing to travel, the Ghost doesn’t take much space. Not only does the backplate look fantastic but it and the tank adapter have a low profile which makes the unit easier to pack as it packs very flat, unlike jacket BCDs. The back pads are ultra slim, yet amazingly comfortable, the wing collapses flat, and we remove the tank bands so the BCDs are even flatter in the bag. The Ghost may not roll up into a ball but it is much less bulky than travelling with typical jacket BCD. When we arrive and unpack we just need to rethread the tank bands, and for the Ghost this is an incredibly simple task, and we’re ready to go.
With airlines getting stricter on weight limits, and excess baggage charges going up, the Ghost has helped us stay under limits on several trips (allowing for more for camera equipment!).
Threading the tank
band is easy!
Our first dive was literally one of surprise – that’s not an exaggeration. When diving with the Ghost, half of the time you can forget that you’re wearing a BCD. We can only put this down to the combined effects of comfort and streamlining. Comfort is a result of the backplate and its pads; there are no pressure points from the tank and the tank is very secure, unlike what you might experience with a ‘foldable’ travel BCD. The pads are slim and provide just enough cushioning in just the right places without adding to buoyancy. Freedom of movement also comes from the Ghost’s next generation harness, which looks a bit different with a double crotch strap but it is very comfortable.
Another comfort factor comes from using droppable weight pockets that connect directly to the backplate. These are soft pouches made from tough cordura fabric, so they fold down flat. When it comes to travel, these pockets add very little weight (without lead of course) and the added comfort of avoiding a weight belt running across the small of the back is well worth it.
Lunch stop, Palau
The positioning of the weight pockets quite centrally on the backplate also makes it easy to attain an excellent horizontal trim position and significantly improve streamlining (admittedly, we do tend to adopt a more horizontal position than many other divers that we meet). The wing design is also streamlined and even though it can wrap up around the tank the clever shape ensures that it balances the air evenly and air can be dumped easily. These features are in addition to the general characteristics of harness and backplate systems, which are streamlined by simply minimising bulk. All of these benefits add up to create a very streamlined unit and almost effortless movement underwater.
Aside from the optional weight pockets, we’ve added D-rings to the Ghost's tri-glides on both of the rear crotch strap sections - we use these for attaching a SMB and spool as most of our Ghost-diving is in open water off boats.
A final advantage that we noticed for travel is that, unlike jacket BCDs with lots of ‘layers’ of fabric, the Ghost dries out fast, which means we’re not carrying water weight on the way home … now if only our dive boots would dry out as fast!
Caverns in the Solomon Islands
So, where has the Ghost been in the last 12 months? The Ghost has travelled to: Palau (Micronesia), Kavieng (Papua New Guinea), Eua (Tonga) & Uepi (Solomon Islands). In the next 12 months the Ghost will travel to the Philippines and Tonga (again) and very likely another destination in Asia, but that’s yet to be decided. There is no doubt it is an awesome travel BCD – the best I have ever had and I plan to continue using it.
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!!
Stealth 2.0 Single Sidemount Diving
The Stealth is the perfect harness for technical sidemount diving and you can also benefit when diving with a single tank. This is great if you want to switch between technical and recreational diving ‘modes’ on holidays, and the change only takes as long as it does to swap a regulator – sidemount for all occasions!
Weight and balance
The first question most people ask about single-tank sidemount is “aren’t you unbalanced?” It may look that way but when set up correctly it certainly doesn’t feel that way. You just need to consider the buoyancy characteristics of the cylinder and how it effects balance.
If diving with a standard aluminium cylinder, which becomes ‘positively buoyant’ late in the dive, you may not need to adjust any weights at all. Actually, aluminium cylinders combined with a first stage regulator are usually just negative at the end of a dive, and for many people the weight difference is not significant. However, a 2lb (1kg) counterweight (on the opposite side of your body from the cylinder) can improve balance earlier in the dive. Either a trim weight in a pocket or a threaded weight will work. Any heavy accessories (e.g. a large torch) may also work as a counterweight when located on your opposite side from the cylinder.
If you’re a photographer and spend time stationary (and not on the bottom) the effect of the cylinder’s weight on your balance will be more noticeable and you may want a moveable counterweight. When the cylinder is on the left side the counterweight starts on the right side and is relocated closer to the centre later in the dive. A 2lb (1kg) weight in a moveable trim pocket or simply bungeed onto the Stealth’s waistband can work well enough.
Importantly, counterweights are not additional weight, they are your existing weights repositioned – there is no benefit to over-weighting.
With steel cylinders there is no choice but to use a counterweight. The amount of weight depends on the cylinder and where the counterweight is located; the further to the right (e.g. on the hip) then less lead may be needed. For example, a typical 10.5 litre 232 bar steel cylinder can be balanced by about 6lbs (3kg) of counterweight in a trim pocket sitting low on the Stealth’s shoulder strap. We (my wife does this too) have found this to be a good place for the trim pocket because we don’t need to reconfigure anything when changing between single and twin cylinders – the trim pocket just stays there. We use ingot style rectangular weights and we can just squeeze 6lbs (3kg) into the small xDeep trim pockets (note: the trim pockets are not ‘specified’ for this weight but they are so well made that we have never had a problem); however, the larger trim pocket would probably be more suitable.
Before diving single-sidemount with a steel cylinder, we recommend that you find out more about its buoyancy characteristics. A good place to look is the manufacturer’s website, which often list full and empty buoyancy characteristics. Allow a bit more negative buoyancy for the first stage regulator and decide on the counterweight you need. Then go for a dive or three - any excuse for a dive is a good one!
Single Sidemount Regulators and Cylinders
First stage regulators with a swivel turret are great for twin cylinders. Changing to a single cylinder simply means adding another second stage regulator to the left side first stage (ie, the one with the BCD inflator hose). However, divers new to sidemount may want to use their existing, recreational regulators. There are many different regulators available, but in this case I’ll refer to the Apeks XTX200 – regulators that I’ve dived with for a few years with both backmount twins and singles.
The first stage has four LP ports, two on each side in roughly parallel positions. For a standard back-mount single configuration, one change is essential. With the cylinder on the left of the body and a standard right-feed regulator hose passing behind the neck, a standard regulator hose is too short. There are two simple options to fix this (and not have the hose looped in front of your face). First is to use the alternate air source on its longer hose if the ease of breathing is similar to your primary regulator, but this leaves the primary regulator on a shorter hose if you need to share air. I prefer a second option, which is to fit a 90 degree swivel to the primary second stage regulator, the same as I use on the left regulator for regular sidemount (Karen, my wife, prefers a 360 degree swivel).
Using cylinder valves with an extension post (opposite side from the hand wheel / valve knob) is ideal with a loop bungee as the bungee rotates and pulls the cylinder into the diver’s side. For cylinder valves without an extension post the bungee may have to loop under the valve and connect to a D-ring with a bolt snap. For this method the bungee does not pull the same way, and the lower cylinder bolt snap should be repositioned in-line with the valve opening. Of course, you could have the cylinder valve face away from you and loop the bungee around the hand wheel – many options are possible.
When positioning the regulator on the cylinder valve, and using standard length hoses, I prefer to rotate the first stage so that the both regulator hoses point up and the inflator hose, dry suit hose (when using a dry suit) and SPG hose point down the cylinder. The inflator and dry suit hoses are held under hose retaining bands (or bungee again!) and are turned in towards the diver’s body. From there they can be pulled out and connected onto the BCD inflator and dry suit QR posts. The dry suit hose is usually longer than the BCD inflator hose, but for the Stealth I swap these around because the BCD inflator needs the longer hose.
The regulator and SPG hoses are held on the cylinder and looped away from the inflator hoses. The first hose being the SPG hose which I loop down and back up so that the SPG is in an easy to read position. Next the alternate air source hose, initially pointing up from the cylinder, is looped down the side of the cylinder, under the retaining bands, and back up so that the second stage regulator rests near the top of the cylinder. In this position the SPG is easy to read and the alternate air source is easy to donate if needed. The hose for the primary regulator is usually too short to loop under the retaining bands, so I wrap a bungee necklace around the first stage regulator to keep it neat when carrying the cylinder. Now it’s ready to be put on whether you are in a boat, on shore, or already in the water.