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InDepth Magazine - Issue 1
- Our Story

InDepth Magazine, issue 1 editor's introduction:

InDepth Magazine was born out of Club Diver Magazine back in 2014 and over time it has evolved to become the title that it is today. There have been a few challenges and some unpleasant experiences, and individuals, along the way! But we have left them behind and they remain of no interest or consequence.

The title has gone from strength to strength and is proudly owned by InDepth Diving Ltd, international trademark UK00003573500. The title and all of its intellectual property rights are copyright.

James Neal

Publishing Editor, InDepth Magazine

InDepth Magazine Issue 1.

Sidemount - Dark Side Diving!
 

James Neal talks about diving sidemount and why so many people struggle to configure their equipment properly.

James Neal Diving Sidemount.
Hollis Katana 2 Sidemount Wing.
Hollis Katana 2 sidemount wing.
Sidemount Diving in Egypt.

James Neal has been sidemount diving for well over a decade and has amassed a wealth of knowledge, experience and training in a variety of environments.

 

What attracted him to sidemount?

“The simple answer is overhead environment diving, in particular wreck penetration and mine diving. The longer answer is somewhat more complex. I started my overhead environment training with Ian France, completing an IANTD Limited Mine Diver course and my fellow student was diving sidemount. One of the things that really appealed was the fact that the kit was so much easier to carry into and out of the mine.  By pure coincidence a good friend of mine had also just bought a sidemount set-up and he talked me into a doing a course with him. So I then found myself down at Vobster Quay with Tim Clements. At the end of that course Tim also very kindly put me in touch with a young lady that had recently won a Hollis sidemount wing that she didn’t want. I grabbed myself a bargain!”

How difficult is it to dive sidemount?

“I wouldn’t describe diving in sidemount as ‘difficult’, not at all. It’s certainly different and it does take a bit of getting used to. The long hose, hogarthian configuration, can seem a little odd to start with, and switching regs is a discipline that you need to have ingrained!”

Hollis Katana 2

Why is that so important?

“Primarily safety! Although comfort plays a small part as the balance of the rig starts to affect your trim if you’re daft and only breathe down one cylinder. 

 

I can answer the question better by asking you this... What happens if you’ve breathed down one cylinder and then the other free flows at depth? You’ve now created a potentially life-threatening problem  for yourself  just because  you’re trying to save yourself  a fiver on gas! That’s simply the wrong mindset for sidemount diving. I keep  my cylinders balanced and within 50 bar of each other at all times. 

How long does it take to configure sidemount?

“That’s not a straightforward question to answer either! It all depends on what you’ve bought. Some wings are a lot easier to adjust than others. Every diver is a different shape and so every set-up is different. One of the things I see the most is what I describe as a ‘dog’s dinner’, whereby the cylinders themselves are just a complete mess, hoses in all directions, no cylinder markings, not rigged correctly, SPGs sticking up like a pair of wing-mirrors, suicide clips all over the place and then when they’re clipped on they’re at 45 degrees to the torso, essentially configured and hanging off the diver like a  stage cylinder would on a back-mounted set-up. I’ve seen that time and time again!”

 

To configure a complete sidemount rig properly usually takes me about a day, sometimes two. I  like to spend at least a morning with the student getting everything adjusted correctly and set-up as near as damn it and then we go and dive and tweak, dive and tweak, sometimes we need a second day’s diving to finesse. The desired outcome is horizontal cylinders, neat hose routing, easy access to all the dumps. The cylinders should hang down and not be hoiked up under your armpits! On land it looks cumbersome, in the water, it’s just sublime to dive!”

 

So how do you set it up correctly?

“The first thing you need to do is get in your drysuit and arm yourself with a tape measure! You need to know the distance from your armpit to your hip. This gives you the starting point for the cylinder bands. Then you need to position your clips at either 90 or 45 degrees to the valves, depending on body shape, you should have both left-handed and right handed valves. I prefer to have my first stages pointed upwards so that they don’t get knocked and bashed. The long hose should be on the right hand side, not the left!! And flat bottomed euro 12s are my preference for the cylinders. From this point I then have the student lie on 

a table with their wing on and we position the cylinders alongside them and clip to the rear D-rings and then adjust the length of the bungee, leaving excess just in case we need it longer. I configure the rig so that the only thing that holds the front of the cylinders in place is the bungee and the tension counter-rotates the cylinder against the rear clips in order to get them level. I also attach a small loop of 4mm bungee around the neck of each cylinder and I always carry a spare double-ended clip... just in case a bungee breaks, you simply connect the double-ended clip to the bungee loop and the top D-ring.”

 

“This method allows you to keep your D-rings clutter free!” I also have a set method for how I attach my clips. My permanent clips are facing inwards and my temporary clips always face outwards. This allows me to distinguish which is which by touch. So I don’t unclip the wrong thing in error when I’m trying to get my torch.”

 

Are there any downsides to diving sidemount?

“Personally I would argue that that is the wrong question to ask. I would instead ask; ‘Are there any limitations to diving sidemount?’ And my answer to that would be, depends on your point of view. I’m not being pedantic here, it’s a personal preference. For me, I find sidemount has its limitations when it comes to diving off a RHIB if the conditions are a bit lumpy. If it’s flat calm then no worries at all, but if the boat’s dancing about a bit then it can become a real headache trying to kit up. Equally, I find it hard work diving to more extreme depths in sidemount, with say five or six cylinders of gas. I end up with two either side and then trail the richest mixes behind me, whilst there’s all that empty real estate on my back! So yes, sidemount can and does, in my opinion, have its limitations at certain times. Let’s not forget that sidemount was born out of cave diving and that’s where it excels, in the overhead environment.”

Could someone easily try sidemount, without all that fiddling about?

“Yes. I find that I’m often doing sidemount try dives for curious divers. It helps that I have a number of wings and cylinders already set-up and ready to dive. So usually all I need to do are a few adjustments to the harness and the cylinder bands and more often than not it’s close enough to be able to dive and give someone a very good feel for sidemount diving. Having said that, if they then want to go on and do more it does become necessary to spend a bit more time to get it all absolutely spot-on.”

What kit would someone need?

“All too often I have students turn up with kit that they’ve cobbled together. Which ends up creating more problems than anything else. You need the right kit for the job. A good example of this would be the first stages, they really do need to have a rotating turret in order to allow you to stow the hoses correctly and to be able to safely deploy the long hose to an out of gas diver. You also need to have a sidemount specific wing. In addition to that there are a number of clips, retainers, insulation and gaffa tape  along with various thicknesses of  bungee and sailing rope.”

 

Do you need any formal training or qualification?

“Technically speaking no you don’t require any additional training, but you’d be daft not to... and there are plenty of daft divers out there! I’ve completed a few courses and then dived sidemount a lot and learnt a load of stuff over the years by diving sidemount a lot and with other sidemount divers.”

“The problem is that a great deal of the setting up process is counter-intuitive, I’ve spent hours upon hours scratching my head and getting very frustrated trying to set-up some sidemount wings. I now offer ‘set-up days’ to help save others from this trauma! Formal training also helps provide the diver with the necessary confidence, through skills practice, to deal with a number of possible situations. So I would certainly recommend formal certification.”

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Egypt
 

The Red Sea is a mecca for divers of all levels.

Anenome Fish in the wreck of the SS Ulysses, Red Sea Egypt.
Lifeboat from the Salem Express. Red Sea, Egypt.
Scuba Divers on the Thistlegorm Stern Gun
Divers Decompressing on the shot after diving the Thistlegorm Wreck.

For those of you that have yet to visit the Red Sea and all that she has to offer, wonders await you. And for those that have already dived within her warm, clear blue waters, many times... there remains so much more yet to explore and experience.

 

There are so many ways to visit and so many adventures that you can embark upon. If diving is your passion then arguably a liveaboard is the best option. But if you want to mix things up a bit with some sight-seeing then a resort based trip may suit your needs better.

 

Many of the resorts will have a dive centre either on site or nearby and most of them will also offer day boat excursions that will take you to some of the dive sites that are a little further afield. Elphinstone and the SS Thistlegorm can both be reached from a shore based trip. So you could dive the SS Thistlegorm one day and perhaps visit the Valley of the Kings the next day!

 

Alternatively, you could really embark on something extra special and take part in a chartered trip with a bespoke itinerary. A trip that only dives the very best sites and only goes where the trip organisers have instructed. We did such a trip recently with 26 divers on board the M.Y. Nimar.

 

It’s sensible and best practice to have a shakedown/check dive but once that’s done and any kit niggles are sorted then what better way to start your diving holiday than on the wreck of the M.V. Giannis D... we then followed our pre-arranged route and dived some of the finest wrecks in the Red Sea.

 

The S.S. Thistlegorm followed by the S.S. Rosalie Moller, and then we steamed north to dive the M.V. Million Hope and snorkel around the Loullia. We also dived the S.S. Carnatic, the Ulysses, the S.S. Kingston, the Dunraven and then spent the final day on the incredible M.V. Salem Express.

 

Such trips are a lot of work to organise but they reward you with epic diving! Why not join our next charter trip? Check out of club UK Trips and Overseas Holidays.

BACK TO InDepth MAGAZINE >>

Diverse Travel Agency.
Petra Camal.
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“THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD.”

— Edward Bulwer-Lytton

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