Tag Archives: Scuba Diving

Zeagle Stiletto BCD Review

Zeagle is a brand that is well known for its high end equipment, especially the BCD’s.  Up until recently Zeagle has been known for BCD’s being exclusively back inflate, recently Zeagle has released their first vest inflation bcd the Halo.  But this review looks to evaluate one of the classics from Zeagle the Stiletto.

The Zeagle Stiletto is a back inflation BCD that has the Zeagle patented rip chord weight system.  Most people are more familiar with Zeagle’s ranger BCD and the Stiletto is a slimmed down version of the standard ranger, with a less heavy duty bladder.  The general Specs for the Stiletto are as follows:

Dry Weight: 7.4 lbs
Lift: 35lbIMG_3637
Weight capacity:
24lb Ripcord System
16lb Rear weight pockets

Like many of the Zeagle BCD lines the stiletto has interchangeable and replaceable parts including cummerbund, shoulders and back pad.  The double tank straps are moveable to accommodate shorter tanks and the rear weight pockets can be removed and replaced if deemed necessary.  I found these adjustable options on the Stiletto to allow me to customize a standard bcd to fit my personal preferences.

There are Two key features that in my opinion put the eagle line of BCD’s above others.  The first is the iconic rip chord weight system that allows for the quick release of integrated weights with a single hand pull.  Many other bcd designs use a dual pocket release system requiring the user to have both hands free to release all integrated weights.  The other unique feature for Zeagle bcd’s are the quick screw inflator with standard hose attachment.  This feature allows for the user to unscrew the bcd inflator and attach a hose in order to flush salt and grime out of the bcd bladder more easily, and replace the bcd inflator when repairs are needed.

Pros:

  • Easily adjustable parts for custom fit
  • Adequate amounts of D-rings
  • Rip chord weight systems
  • Easily replaceable inflator
  • Inflator hose attachment
  • Double tank strap
  • Removable rear weight pouches
  • Custom color options (also available for Ranger and Zena)

Cons:

  • Smaller Lift Capacity (35 lbs) Adequate for warm water diving but might not be enough for some instances of cold water diving.
  • Mesh weight Pouches (sold separately from BCD)
  • Re-lacing the weight pocket system is not intuitive
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My larges problem comes down to the mesh weight pouches not being included with the BCD.  Although they are not absolutely necessary they do come in handy with using smaller increment weights mostly 1 lb weights, especially bullet weights because they can fall through the rip chord pockets without the mesh pouch.  the pouches do come in handy when carrying weights especially if you are using the same amount of weight and transporting them often.

The weight pocket system despite being very convenient and reliable, is not very intuitive when re-lacing the rip chord system.  There have been numerous encounters with divers that unfamiliar with the system laced the rip chord system improperly making the system ineffective and dangerous to use.  But because dropping ones weights is not a common occurrence so I do not see this as a big issue as long as proper instruction is given when the BCD is purchased.

Overall this is a great mid to high quality bcd compared to those on the current market.  Retail price starts around $630.

 

 

Diving in the Dark

While night diving for some divers may seem unappealing I find diving at night to be some of the most spectacular diving there is.  The tempo of the ocean changes at night, while some fish and creatures that are very active during the day recede to safe places to rest others that are seldom seen come out to feed.  This particular shrimpnight dive was at a local spot in Monterey known as Breakwater.  For this particular video I am still using my GoPro Hero 4 silver but I do have some upgrades that make it possible to increase the quality.  I have added a flip filter frame with 2 macro filters to make up for the GoPro’s poor close up shots and a light motion sidekick 600 lumen flood light.  With these tools I am able to get some of the best night footage I have been able to get so far.

Fun in the Sun and Diving St Thomas

St ThomasAfter spending a little time in Vieques I boarded a Catamaran with my Family and we departed for Culibra for a couple days exploring the Island and relaxing on the beach.  We then made the trek to St Thomas, a nearby storm gave us a bit of a rough ride and slowed things down a bit, but we made it.  We stayed in a small cove off of the main island known as Honeymoon Cove, unfortunately the power on the island was out and there were no local businesses besides a local bar.  Although there may not have been any thing to do besides have a few drink we were fortunate enough to find out that the bartender’s St Thomas 2boyfriend ran a dive shop on the main island and gave us his number to set up a last minute set of dives before we departed the day after.

We had an amazing time on the boat, exploring Culibra and diving St Thomas with Blue Island Divers.

A Day in Vieques

Vieques is a small island south east of Puerto Rico, it is one of those islands that truly has a small island feel.  There are an abundance of horses and dogs roaming the streets freely and the locals are kind and helpful making me feel as a tourist to be less of a burden not Vieques Rayknowing were I was goings exactly.  With there very little time that I was able to spend on the island a couple helpful lessons were learned for future trips, be aware of off season in the Caribbean.  Much to my surprise shops in Vieques and other islands in the Spanish & US Virgin Islands have a slow season usually in September and October where people will take their vacations and dive shops and other shops will be closed for the entire month.  Luckily I had planned enough ahead and was fortunate enough to have arranged my dives with the one open shop on the island purely by luck.  For the single day i had to spend on Vieques I went diving with my sister and Blackbeard Sports, they had a smaller boat that could accommodate a max of 6 divers, dive master and captain.  There were only 4 in our group which gave us a little more space on the small boat and provided a more personable feel to the experience.  The diving was average, after a full day of flying being underwater anywhere was nice, but there was an abundance of soft corals, lots of varieties of fish and a fair amount of rays and a turtle, as well as Vieques Net 2the infamous Lion Fish.  Visibility was probably around 30ft and there was a definite green tinge to the water on the second dive.  It was relatively shallow diving no deeper than 50ft and minimal amounts of reef structure.  At the end of the second dive we came across an abandoned fishing net that in doing our part as divers carefully removed it from the reef and brought it back to shore to despise of it properly.

Here is a video of the dives that I have put together I hope everyone enjoys.

Benefits of El Nino

With the unusual persistence of warm water currents moving by California there is no doubt that we are experiencing the effects of an oncoming El Nino.  While common conditions for the summer months along the central California coast are filled with algal blooms and poor visibility we have been fortunate enough to see one of the best summers for diving in many years.  Along with calm swells the algal bloom as almost been non existent, providing divers that venture into the unknown to be pleasantly surprised with the above average visibility of dives and abundance of life found in the area.  Large numbers of humpback whales have been spotted and some fish that are normally found in southern California such as the Sheepshead have been seen venturing north.  So if you are in the Central or Southern California area now is the time to get in the water because great things are beginning to happen.

Limited Access: Diving at Point Lobos

Point Lobos is one of the most coveted dive locations in Central California.  Formerly an area used for whaling and harvesting Abalone it is now one of the best maintained reserves in California.  The access for divers is limited to two main areas Bluefish Cove and Whalers Cove, the rest of Point Lobos is off limits for divers.  Besides the limited sites Point lobos is also limited in number of divers per day.  Current regulations limit 15 buddy teams per day, with a buddy team being considered 2 divers (They will make an exception for a group of 3 occasionally).  With the limited number of divers per day weekends require reservations usually a month in advance, while most weekdays it is possible to drop in without a reservation.  It Is usually a good idea to check the Point Lobos website to see if there are still available spots regardless of when you are trying to dive there.

The topography of Point Lobos is amazing lots of rock structure, and the classic California Kelp forrest.  The two diving areas each have their own charm, Bluefish Cove has very exaggerated rock formations with canyons and pinnacles all over with access to the deeper water for those who like to like to feel the nitrogen.  Whalers is generally a little shallower still with the canyons and pinnacles but not as large.  Bluefish Cove is a little more difficult to access without a boat, kayak or DPV.  Most divers diving off the shore stay within Whalers Cove because thats where the water access is.   Both of these sites perfectly embody what California Diving is all about and for anyone that is interested in cold water diving Point lobos should be at the top of your list.

Vision of the Channel Islands

This years trip was a wonderful one visiting San Clemente Island and Santa Cruz Island for 3 days of diving aboard the Vision with Truth Aquatics.  San Clemente Island provided us with amazing visibility but relatively little kelp, while Santa Cruz Island had even less kelp and visibility there were plenty of little critters to keep us amused.

Tank You for Asking

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Blue Tanks are LP Steel 72’s, Yellow tanks are AL 80’s 50’s & 65’s

Scuba tanks while a very important piece of equipment are often under appreciated.  While many divers are taught about tanks in their open water certification the role of a tank is left as the container of air.  But in many cases the choice of tank can be as important as choice of BCD or fins.  For most divers tanks are something that they might not normally think about, you travel to your destination and the shop provides tanks for you.  Some divers might be surprised to find out that there is as much variety in tanks as most other pieces of scuba equipment.

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Aluminum Tanks, AL50, AL65, AL70, AL 80

Many divers are unaware of the effects of tank choice has on our diving especially buoyancy and time.  Tanks come in a variety of sizes, the size of the take is determined by the volume of air that it is able to hold.  A common tank size is 80 cubic feet, but these sizes can vary from as small as 6 cubic feet for a backup pony bottle to as large as 149 cubic foot high pressure tank.  It is pretty obvious that the larger tanks will hold more air than the smaller if they are filled to the same pressure, but with the use of different metals and high and low pressure tanks this can also vary.  For the most part Aluminum tanks despite the size will be filled to 3000psi, steel tanks on the other hand have a fair amount of variance.  Low pressure steel tanks are exactly what they sound like they are rated for a lower pressure, depending on the tank it can range from 1800psi to 2600psi.  High pressure tanks (commonly using a DIN valve) fill on average to 3445psi, which is higher than the standard 3000psi of aluminum tanks.  What this means is that tanks that fill to higher pressure have more air packed into them than tanks that are the same size that till to a lower pressure.  So by choosing tanks that are larger and fill to a higher pressure (my favorite is HP80) you can increase your dive time compared to a smaller tank.

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High Pressure tanks with DIN valves, left to right HP 65 (with Yoke Insert), HP 80, HP 100

While size of tank might be an obvious way to increase dive time, tanks also greatly influence our buoyancy underwater.  With different choices of metal aluminum being a weaker metal and steel being a stronger metal these weights contribute to our buoyancy underwater.  Although aluminum is a lighter metal because it is weaker the walls of the tanks are much thicker.  This does usually give tanks a greater overall weight when full, when the tank is emptied the is a drastic swing in its buoyancy characteristics.  Aluminum tanks while they may vary slightly from manufacturer generally are about 4 lbs positively buoyant when empty or near empty.  This means you will be lighter at the end of the dive making it more difficult to complete a safety stop.  On the other hand while steel tanks are a stronger metal they don’t require as thick of walls and on average may be 1 lb positively buoyant to 2 lbs negatively buoyant depending on the manufacturer.  This means with a steel tank that might be 3 to 4 pounds less lead you will have to add to your weights.  The high pressure steel tanks can even be up to 4 lbs negatively buoyant when empty.

So weather or not you are buying a tank or renting a tank it is important to know how it is going to affect your dive, weather its is going to affect the duration or your buoyancy.  Be prepared to make adjustments as necessary.  If your unsure talk to the dive professionals to find out the buoyancy characteristics, and don’t forget to record in your logbook, your weights with each type of tank you use so you never have to second guess again.

No Gloves & No Knives: Welcome to Cozumel

April 4th through 12th I was lucky enough to spend in the beautiful Cozumel Mexico.

IMG_0172Now Cozumel is one of those dive destinations that almost all divers have heard of, if is famous for its walls that reach extreme depths down to 6000 ft, and of course the drift diving.  For those that are not familiar with Cozumel it is an island off the coast of Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, it is well known for the stronger than average currents that whist divers gently over the reef.  Cozumel has an abundance of fish and creatures to see and on this particular trip there were no shortage of turtles, a common favorite among divers.  The crystal blue water makes it deceptively simple to wonder a little farther from your group and need to play catch up.  Truly a divers paradise.

IMG_0181The Highs: For me being a cold water diver the temperatures in Cozumel were a breath of fresh air, fairly consistently 79 degrees Fahrenheit.  The currents made it possible to average hour long dives full of reef structures teaming with life from the smallest corals to some of the most massive groupers.  We were fortunate enough as a group to have guides that did their best to ensure we were not in the hoard of cruz ship divers.  The walls that seemed to reach into the depths of the earth along the walls provided a ever deepening blue.

The Lows: In reality these tend to get a little nit picky because the trip was amazing, but some of this will help prepare divers for going to Cozumel in the future.  First of all Cozumel made up of primarily marine protected area, this means that there are strict guidelines on diving.  Some of these strict rules include no gloves or knives.  The concept of no gloves is relatively common and is used as a deterrent from touching the reef, but the no knives was new to me and i could’t quite understand why.  Cruz ships are also a common sight while in Cozumel, and we were told by some of the instructors that during the busy season there can be up to 12 cruz ships in a day.  what this means is there is an overcrowding of the reefs, manny divers and also the possibility of less skilled divers affecting the visibility through poor buoyancy control.  This large number of divers also makes it difficult at times to keep track of your group during the IMG_0190dive.

Overall Cozumel is a phenomenal destination for diving that all divers should have on there list of must visit locations.  Not only is there amazing visibility, cool swim throughs, walls, and a variety of aquatic life to see.  There is drift diving which can be a game changer, bottom time is increased because of the reduction of effort to move through the water and hour long dives can be easily achieved for those who have good air consumption.