I TOOK A TRIP TO MARSEILLE LAST AUTUMN. It was just after the employment riots that had marred the streets of nearly every other French town. My host boasted that no cars were set afire in Marseille. They didn't need to be. It already looked as if the rioters have been through! I went to see what was happening at the Beuchat factory. This long-established French scuba-equipment manufacturer had been in the doldrums of late, and a family firm that specialises in buying and re-invigorating such businesses had bought it out. A thrusting young son, Christophe, had been put in charge of turning the business around. I was surprised to discover that Beuchat makes nearly all its own products - no badge-engineering here. This is especially true of its regulators. They are 100% French-made. Only 18 months ago I was using its top-of-the-range VX200. I found it every bit as good as the highly thought-of Italian-made regulator alongside it. It might have looked a little old-fashioned in its second-stage dimensions but it delivered the goods, with an exhaust-T as wide as a Gallic moustache seeing all exhaust bubbles safely past my face and out of sight. Hearing that I was off the next week, to do some relatively deep air dives for a computer comparison, Christophe suggested over dinner that I took a VX200 with me. In common with most top-quality regulators, the VX200 has a venturi plus/minus control and a breathing resistance adjustment knob. I had no qualms about using it, but as I would be using independent twin tanks, the problem was to decide which regulator to set alongside it. That's when Christophe suggested I took a Beuchat VX80 too. The plate of tarte aux fraises with cream and ice cream had arrived at that moment and my judgement may have been a little clouded. I wanted to say: 'Je suis désolé mais deja j'ai un autre,' but my bouche was full and all I could do was nod.
I should explain that the VX80 is a very basic dive-school-type model. Few people would plan to take one deeper than a PADI Open Water diver would intend to go. I should explain that the VX80 is a very basic dive-school-type model. Few people would plan to take one deeper than a PADI Open Water diver would intend to go. The VX80 has a balanced-diaphragm first stage with four mp ports and one hp port on a fixed barrel. The second stage is neat and all black, unlike the dated-looking chrome trim of its more illustrious sibling, the VX200. However, it is not petite. It has a simple venturi plus/minus switch to prevent free flows when hitting the water, and a nice soft rubber front that gives easy and immediate access to the purge control. We cut from the Marseille restaurant to the wreck of the Rosalie Moller in the Red Sea, a week later. I am kneeling on the seabed at 45m, waiting for all the 12 computers I have rigged together to get well into mandatory decompression stops. On my back, I carry two 12-litre cylinders, one of nitrox 32 and one of air. I will switch from air to the nitrox once shallow enough. At this point, it occurs to me that I should have fitted the better-performing reg to the tank with air for the deeper part of the dive. I am breathing from the VX80. The error has come about because the VX80 has come supplied with a DIN fitting and the nitrox has been pumped into the tank with the international-A clamp connection. Yet I have been breathing air at depths of up to 50m from the possibly inferior regulator since I started this project, several dives ago, and haven't noticed a problem. That's because there is no problem. It breathes perfectly! I decide to compare breathing from the VX80 with the VX200 at 45m. Knowing full well that the VX200 is connected to a tank filled with nitrox 32, I intentionally take a few breaths. I'm not suffering from narcosis, nor do I get an instant oxygen hit, but I do discover that the breathing characteristics are all but identical. You might give the dearer VX200 the benefit of the doubt and decide that because nitrox 32 is thicker than air, the better performance of the VX200 has taken care of the difference. Before you write to me to tell me that I'm a lunatic breathing nitrox 32 at 45m, bear in mind that there are plenty of PADI instructors who would say I should not even have been down at 45m, let alone getting into deco-stop diving. I make such personal sacrifices to give youthe benefit of my findings. That way, you don't have to do it yourself. Where does this leave us? The French-made Beuchat VX80 regulator may be an 'entry-level' product, but it is a very good performer. A lot of divers are rightly careful about how they redistribute what Gordon Brown chooses to leave in their pay-packets, and they may find the VX80 of greater interest than the more expensive VX200. The Beuchat VX80 costs£199, the Beuchat VX200£299.