Well it would seem a bit odd to be reviewing a DrySuit as a piece of kit to be used for underwater photography now wouldn’t it?
But bear with me on this one.
And in the winter months in the Northern Red Sea it can get quite chilly in the water. Ok, ok I know that those of you that dive in the UK will consider me soft, and suggest that I need to man up, and that 20C is a perfectly comfortable water temperature for diving.
Its simple biology and physics at work. Your body temperature is supposed to be 37degC, and submersing it in water at a significantly lower temperature than this will quickly chill it, as you lose heat in water much faster than in air.
Combine that with underwater photography being a sedate occupation, and spending up to and sometimes even longer than an hour submerged, and you can easily reach borderline hyperthermic levels. More worryingly this is insidious, and yes you may well be able to stand the cold, but that’s not the point.
If you are verging on hyperthermic you are not in full control of your critical faculties, and thus are potentially hazardous buddy material.
A friend of mine recently suffered a bend in what they thought was warm water at just over 20degC, when being checked out for a non existent PFO the conclusion was that cold had initiated the bend.
So it was a pleasant surprise to see that this message of keeping warm as being a sensible thing and not a sign of weakness has at last started to permeate the ranks of UK divers abroad. On my recent trip on MV Whirlwind for a Take It Easy onboard workshop. Three other of my fellow aquanauts, all big burly men, one of them ex military to boot, were all there alongside yours truly wearing dry suits.
Now you can be adequately equipped in a wet suit in these sort of water temperatures, a semi-dry 5mm with a thermal under suit, and hooded vest will be fine. This set up though will take an age to don, and then you may well suffer a prolonged and chilly rib ride in surprisingly bitter winds, back to the mother ship.
You then have to put it back on, potentially another three times that day, and there is a special kind of displeasure in pulling on a cold damp wet suit with chilled fingers.
Often enough to make you sit out a dive or two, because no one wants to be uncomfortable.
When living out in Sharm I got my self a neoprene drysuit from Othree made to measure for my lanky frame, and I love it I still do, but its not the easiest thing to travel with, its bombproof construction makes it very heavy, and with the rest of the photo and dive kit on top I usually run out of luggage allowance.
So winter trips these past few years have been suffered cold and wet.
So Dean Martin from Apeks/Aqualung sprang to my aid for this trip, by offering to lend me a Whites Dry Suit to try out.
This is a new type of suit altogether, in that it combines the strength and fit of a tailored neoprene suit, with the light weight of a membrane suit.
It is essentially an oversized membrane suit, with a clever form fitting and very stretchy neoprene detachable outer. This outer cover can be bought in a variety of thicknesses and durabilities to suit a wide variety of end user.
All the way from leisure divers in good conditions to HazMat and Military Special Forces scenarios.
I was at first sceptical, and having never used a membrane style suit with latex seals, I had a bit to learn.
Luckily there is a good video on the Whites website to assist in donning, and after a practice at home the night before travel I felt confident there would be no mishaps.
You sort of have to turn it almost inside out finding the correct leg holes, and then put the braces on pulling it snug. Then your arms go in and never having used a latex seal, I found this real easy not needing any talc or jollop to ease the passage.
Once your arms are in and comfortable you pull your head through the neck seal. And as long as you are a little more flexible than me, the front scooped zip which runs from right shoulder to left is a doddle to do your self. To be fair I managed with a bit of stretching myself, without any of the crews assistance to pull the zips all the way. Zips plural, as there is a second covering zip which is not a seal which tidies up the whole affair and ties the neoprene outer to the rest of the suit.
How was it to dive?
Well when you take away the numpty factor, i.e. me. Then its a dream to dive in. How did I go wrong?
Firstly I woefully underestimated how much insulation I would need under it. I had brought along my usual thin thermal long johns and vest. This after only ten minutes in the water was clearly not enough.
Luckily I had brought along a Fourth Element farmer john Thermocline, and this just about gave me enough insulation.
In hindsight I should have used a proper insulated under suit it would have been a lot more comfortable.
I also have size 13 plates so although the membrane feet were adequately sized, the excess fabric was a tight fit under my wet suit bootees. A friend of mine had suggested I buy a pair of Converse canvas boots, which may well have worked better. Or a pair of more traditional rock boots of course.
So whats the verdict? well the main reason I wanted to try this suit was the weight saving and comfort factor, and weighing in at around the same as a traditional 5mm wet suit, I couldn’t complain.
It was a dream to dive in,no buoyancy issues in fact all the normal issues with using a drysuit, floaty legs, and air distribution were never an issue.
In fact it is so easy to get on and off and so versatile I could see me using one all year round with the relevant under suit. Yep even in the tropics.
One suit for all seasons. So if that was possible, and not having to regularly buy new wetsuits, then even its expense, which is its only downside, would be cancelled out by the economy of not having to lash out for new suits.
It seems very durable and hard wearing so you would get many years of practical use out of it I imagine.
If you are serious about your underwater photography and dive in all sorts of situations then this could well be the last suit you buy.
And when I can afford one I will get one.