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Techy tech


Paulo Vincenzo Toomer

Well, it’s been a while since I have written for “Tanked Up” and I have to say I’m thrilled to be back in these hallowed pages again.

Young Charlotte really threw me a curve ball this time round when we discussed what I should try and entertain you with in this issue. It dawned on us that for many technical divers, using your new equipment, skills and exploring new dive sites abroad, may be as exciting as hell but can also be fraught with issues. Because technical diving is still not mainstream globally, we face issues and complications that have been addressed by operators when we go recreational diving in the same destinations.

There are so many wonderful destinations for technical divers globally. We all sit in the pub discussing those wrecks and caves that we would sacrifice a kidney to dive. Since technical diving is a mature sport in the UK and we regularly participate in extended range dives it’s only fair that the desire to see what the rest of the diving world has to offer is very enticing.

I love travelling and I have been to some fantastic places. I have been relatively ‘local’ as far as travelling is concerned and dived on technical liveaboards in the Red Sea, I have wreck dived in Malta, Portugal and Sicily and I’ve dived caves in Sardinia. I have also gone a little more ‘exotic’, diving in the Cenotes in Mexico, diving with sharks in Galapagos, Ice diving in Russia, and my most remote, diving the wonderful wrecks of Bikini Atoll.

So let’s have a look at the problems and how we can solve them.

Once you’ve researched your destination the next of course is the airline. Some are magnificent and some are just awful. Airlines (and airports) are a world unto themselves. I find it utterly amazing that in 2015 when air travel relies on the most advanced technology and yet they can’t lift a bag of more than 32 kilos, heck, some airlines can’t even lift more than 23 kilos. I won’t even get started on the fact that I weigh an average amount and I can still only have as much luggage as the bloke sitting next to me who is heavier than Saturn.

But we get it, there is no way around this, or is there? Well certain airlines actually give a dive bag to travel for free (Air Malta, South African Airways...) just do your research. Most, even Easy Jet, allow an extra bag at an acceptable price. Others have no policy and I’ve been quoted £750.00 for my rebreather before.

Once you have determined your travel allowance and worked out how to shoehorn all your tech kit into the required number of bags, you will then need to think very carefully about where you are travelling to and what is in your bag. My advice, leave all your big fat knives at home and wherever possible any cylinders. Some tech divers like to take their offboard inflation cylinders with them, if you are doing this, take the valve off; otherwise you are in for some serious rubber glove treatment.

Lights are also an issue; make sure that your batteries are disconnected. I can tell you that travelling through Japan will cause a huge stir if your lights are not

fully insulated and separated from the batteries. If you are struggling with weight, you can try a few old tricks. Buy one of those photographers’ waistcoats with all the little pockets. Pull your regulators apart and put the first stages in the pockets, also your dive computers and any other small heavy items. Rest assured, customs will be an event you’ll not forget. Do remember though that on certain flights to far-flung destinations, the only way in is via light aircraft so they will weigh you and your bags together, (I call this “fat man revenge”) so you will be scuppered no matter what you do.

If you dive rebreather, a good way to get the weight down is to put the rebreather head in your carry on. Very few airlines will argue if they weigh your hand luggage and it’s over. The mere mention of life support has them running every time. Customs however is about as entertaining as it must be for an Al Qaeda terrorist with a TNT undercoat.

Next is finding that dive centre that is rebreather/ twinset/sidemount friendly. This is not just a case of do they have sofnalime, CCR cylinders, twinsets, sidemounts and stages, but can they actually service you? Do they want you there? Although most of us believe that recreational divers and techies can dive in perfect harmony together, some operators do not. And in some ways they must be forgiven. Hanging around waiting for a tech team to complete a 3-hour dive can really impact on the service they provide to the recreational divers and can also affect them financially. Some operators just think deco is for lunatics and helium is a balloon gas.

If you do find a good operator, try and make life easy for the operator. Just because we are technical divers does not mean we don’t talk to the recreational guys, heck, we were recreational divers and in some ways we still are. Technical diving is actually just extended range recreational diving. Also, try not to take up the whole boat with all your crap. When a tech diver opens their dive bag, quite frequently it’s like it becomes the epicentre of a nuclear equipment bomb. Every surface has some random bit of kit on it. If a recreational diver can work out of a crate, then so can you.

The easiest, by far, method of diving extended range in virtually any destination, as long as you don’t need trimix, is sidemount. With this discipline you can take regular recreational cylinders and convert them to sidemount cylinders. Most good sidemount divers are not fazed about left and right valves. Also, most recreational dive centres pump nitrox so decompression gas is easy to get.

When it comes to rebreather, twinset or helium diving then you need to do some serious research.

For rebreathers it’s not actually as hard as you would imagine. You need onboard cylinders and most 3 litre cylinders can be adapted to work on a rebreather. You do however need to be wary of the Oxygen cylinder. Having some cowboy rent you a dirty cylinder and this could be a very explosive start to your diving holiday. Sofnalime can be a problem for sure but it’s actually a lot easier to find than you would imagine. Whenever I travel somewhere with my team and we can’t get sofnalime, we just club in and pay for a tub or two to be added to our luggage allowance. A word of advice, although sofnalime causes no hazards during air travel, many airlines have issues with taking it on board so rip all the labels off it and you’ll probably be fine. Safest way is to make sure it’s pre-booked onto the plane.

Twinsets are obviously very difficult as they have steel bands, manifolds and left/right valves. They either have them or they don’t, simple as that.

Stage or decompression cylinders are generally easy because most centres fill nitrox so their cylinders can accept high oxygen contents and with a simple stage kit they can be easily adapted.

Helium, the big one! This is one heck of an expensive gas and it’s also relatively expensive for an operator to setup, especially in remote locations. Much like the twinset, they either have it or they don’t. I guess if they don't you will be either Nitrox diving or using that filthy ‘air’ stuff.

The wonderful news is that world is becoming tech savvy and operators globally are realising that we are nowhere near the pain in the ass that we appear to be. All we want to do is stay in the water longer.

This means that most equipment is available and some operators will offer you a deal on a dive pack, cylinder rental, stage rental and sometimes even decompression regulators to help lighten your travel load. There are many operators that even have

rebreathers for rent, so the good news is that life is getting easier for us techies.

As with all my articles, these are just my opinions based on my experience in the diving field. These opinions are not necessarily those of the Tanked Up editor. But the airport thing probably is. Ha ha!

I love my sport and I want everyone to enjoy it, I hope you found this article informative. Have a great trip.

Paul Toomer is the Training Director and co-owner of the RAID Diver Training agency.

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