Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, it saves the day! It was a long fast drive through the night across France, but Steve and I shared the chore while our partners slept soundly in the back seats. We finally made it to Porquerolles before breakfast, where we planned to preface our time in France with a dive on the wreck of the Donator. We'd had the foresight to rig our gear before we set off. My Inspiration CCR was ready to go and the others needed only to twin up pairs of cylinders before we put on our suits. Everything was going swingingly to plan. Then my missus put her fingers through one latex wrist seal of her Hydrotech drysuit, rendering it useless. Well, we weren't delayed for long. She's tough, and managed, slightly wet and cold, in an ill-fitting borrowed semi-dry. But how much more convenient it would have been if we'd been using the new DUI suits with instantly replaceable ZipSeals. Why did no-one think of this simple idea before? DUI is one of my favourite brands of drysuits. Why? Because they keep me dry, that's why! They are, however, incredibly expensive. DUI made its name in the UK with an extremely hard-wearing suit of neoprene that was atmospherically crushed after the suit was made. This tightened up all the stitching and made for an almost indestructible membrane-style suit. However, as these suits are made far away in California, CEO and founder of DUI Dick Long (guess his e-mail address!) found that they could not compete on price with the burgeoning UK-made products. An original crushed-neoprene DUI suit will give you little change from two grand. So the company went about providing the original suit design in a range of less costly materials. The TLS350 is still a top-price product but is made from a lightweight sandwich of butyl rubber between two layers of hard-wearing nylon cloth. I guess it's aimed at lookers rather than wreckers, though I am assured that the material is incredibly durable. The suit has the same long conical wrist and neck seals that can be cut to length to provide a perfect watertight fit. It has the same over-long torso, enabling easy donning through a diagonal-entry front zip concealed and protected behind a covering of nylon material, which itself is closed by a secondary plastic zip. The torso has a tuck at the midriff, and internal braces combined with a jock-strap and pinch-clip keeps everything in place. The diagonal cross-chest zip is fitted in such a way that this suit can be self-donned completely, with no outside help needed to close the last couple of inches of zip. It's a pity the nylon material is so slippery that it's hard to get a grip on it to pull the legs on easily. I have the usual gripe about black braces being hard to see in the dark recesses of dark suits, especially on a sunny day with deep shadows. Why not make them is some contrasting colour so that we don't get our knickers in a twist? The TLS350 has the same Apeks low-profile auto-dump with the DUI logo, perfectly sited at the shoulder, and it has a similarly DUI-branded Apeks-type rotating inflation valve at the centre of the chest. It also has that other unique feature of legs finished with sealed neoprene sock-ends. This allows the user to wear tough DUI Rock Boots which will put up with a lot of the challenges to the integrity of drysuit boots along a shoreline. On a previous occasion on a liveaboard in a wintry Red Sea, I found that the sock-ends worked as well with ordinary neoprene wetsuit boots of an appropriately large size worn over them. The TLS 350 allowed me to swim as easily as if I was in a wetsuit. That's because drysuits with heavier-weight material need to be flexed with every fin-stroke, and that takes energy. Is that why this is the choice of drysuit of the Secret Service agents assigned to protect George Bush when he goes swimming? So what of the ZipSeals? I love the instructions that come with the suit, obviously aimed at the American market. After explaining how to fit the neck ZipSeal by turning the suit inside out, they remind the reader to turn the suit right-side-out before diving. You'd have a job closing the dryzip any other way! Â?Â?Â?Â? Often copied, DUI drysuits still seem to lead the field when it comes to putting innovative ideas into practice. The ZipSeals are the latest such ideas. Both suit and seal are provided with flexible plastic rings which interlock, not unlike those of a double ZipLok bag, only much heavier. Press them together until they make a distinctive clunk. Naturally, you should check that they are properly interlocked before every dive. A problem arose when I tried to remove the ZipSeal at the neck. After much struggling, I remained unable to separate it from the suit. It might as well have been welded on. So much for a quick seal change at Porquerolles. You can't fit a new seal if you can't get the old one off. Â?Â?Â?Â? Then I spotted the secret. A macro-photo is needed in the manual to show where it splits. I had no success with my fingernail, as per the instructions, and ended up doing the job with a blunt-ended screwdriver, with the risk of damage had it slipped. Â?Â?Â?Â? As it was, I had taken the precaution of asking DUI to send me a spare neck seal just in case, no doubt confirming the idea that journalists are thick when it comes to following manuals. I did, however, remember to turn the suit right-side-out before diving. The moment came to put it all back together. DUI suggests soapy water to help lubricate everything. I used Polar Bears Suit Gloop (330ml for £3.95) to lubricate opposing surfaces and soon had the neck seal back where it belonged, crunching it into place. The neck seal is much easier to reinstall than to uninstall, but isn't that always the case? Â?Â?Â?Â? In fact the opposite seemed to be true of the wrist seals. To fit them I needed to bend the wrist-ending into an oval shape and fight the ZipSeal into it. It worked in the end. DUI also took the opportunity, second time round, of asking if I'd like the ZipGloves too. Would I? Brrrr! These fit on instead of the cuff seals to afford a perfect dry-glove effect, with woolly liner glove included. Thankfully they pull off a lot more easily than the neck seal, otherwise I'd still be at Stoney Cove shouting: 'Will someone get me out of this?' Â?Â?Â?Â? In fact I cheated. I fitted a ZipGlove to one hand, and a ZipSeal to the other. In that wayI could check how both systems worked. My left hand stayed warm and snug while my right enjoyed the dexterity of a neoprene wet glove - until it went numb. So back to France, and the observation that had my wife brought with her a DUI suit with ZipSeals rather than the conventionally equipped Hydrotech suit, she might have been better off. Unfair to pillory Hydrotech, you might say - it could have happened with any suit with latex wrist seals. But, fittingly, Hydrotech has become the British distributor of DUI suits, so I'm sure the guys there won't mind the mention. The DUI TLS 350 with ZipSeals costs around £1500. Zip Gloves cost £117.
Hydrotech 01455 274106, www.hydrotech.co.uk
+ Incredibly well made + Fun to use + For those who want the best
- Incredibly expensive - Only for those who can afford the best