John Bantin has been a full-time professional diving writer and underwater photographer since 1990. He makes around 300 dives each year testing diving equipment.
DPV APOLLO SVX
WOULD YOU BUY A YELLOW CAR? Everyone knows that black is the right colour for a serious motor, unless it's an Italian supercar with a prancing horse on its badge. Apollo scooters have an enviable reputation for reliability among those who rent such things to divers, and the last one I tried, the Apollo AV-2, was a pretty impressive performer. That said, I've always felt that it was not seen as a proper Diver Propulsion Vehicle (DPV) by serious technical divers, simply because Apollo makes its scooters using ABS in a bright yellow. Well, the latest version, the Apollo SVX, is finished in serious black (that's a colour, not a character from a Harry Potter novel!). Strangely enough, although DPV enthusiasts are vociferously loyal to their chosen brand, most use the same back-end as provided by the Oceanic Mako. I would guess that this Apollo is no exception, although I can't be sure. The SVX has a terrific range, said to be three hours and 40 minutes. That would give it a cruising range of around 10 miles. It has two entirely separate and massive 22Ah 24V ni-mh batteries, and a state-of-charge indicator that changes from green to red during use. You change from one power supply to the other by means of a large switch on top of the unit. Of course, this extreme range was of little consequence to me, as I intended to try the DPV out within the confines of Wraysbury Lake. You might think that in consequence my trial would be a little perfunctory, but I intended to check out what it could do, armed with an underwater speedometer.
THE OUTSIDE AIR TEMPERATURE gauge of my car pinged on at 4°C as a warning about driving conditions soon after I left my home. It was a February morning. Soon it pinged again, to tell me that it was I?C less. By the time I arrived, the pinging had got repetitive and the outside air temperature was hovering above zero. A thick fog hung over the countryside. 'At least we won't be deafened by the aircraft taking off from Heathrow today,' I thought. The SVX is rated to 70m depth, which should be enough for most leisure dives. I undid the four cam-catches that held the two halves of the unit together and pulled it open. I needed to do this to reconnect the two battery terminals, which are disabled for safety during transport. The unit is protected from leaks by double O-rings. I wasn't sure which of three pitch settings to use for the prop, so chose the middle one. Changing the pitch alters the torque, or pulling power. I got my chirpy fireman friend Nigel Wade to help me with this test. I knew that I could rely on him to turn up, whatever the weather! The SVX weighs 20kg out of the water, and two lads who turned up with an Ainscough Crane Hire truck fell for the old line about being good at heavy lifts, and were kind enough to carry it up to the little jetty for us. I was hoping the SVX would be neutrally buoyant, but it sank quickly into the mud below when I let go of it. The brushless motor was virtually silent. Squatting over the saddle and grasping for the extension to the speed control, I was instantly off. Riding its saddle gives the advantage of a hands-free ride and no arm-ache. You can of course grip the handles and use this DPV in a conventional way, but I found that the speed-controller provided by the remote control included with the saddle gave me the opportunity to be quite precise about the speed I wanted, and it would hold it there when I let go. However, you do need to learn how to steer by twisting your body at the waist, and to be able to locate the speed control instantly should you need to shut off the power. I learnt the hard way, and came careering back towards the jetty before I managed to kill the propulsion.
I WAS WEARING A DRYSUIT with a thick layer of undergarments as a barrier against the chill, and needed 11kg of lead. With a 15-litre cylinder, that's a lot to shove through the water, but with the saddle firmly between my thighs and the speedometer held out in front with two hands, I recorded a cruising speed of 3.7kmph. That may not seem very fast, and certainly many divers with the right fins can swim faster, but could they keep that up for long periods? I think not! Also, there are wings that fold out to allow other divers to clip on and get towed too. There certainly seemed to be sufficient torque available for that. The Apollo SVX was a lot of fun. In fact, it's probably the most fun you can have in Wraysbury Lake in February. I enjoyed using this DPV although the experience was slightly marred by the fact that I couldn't have afforded to let go of it had I been in deeper water, as it would have sunk without trace! It needs a neoprene sleeve to give it some lift, and a buoyancy jacket that you can inflate once you want it recovered from the surface. Both are available for the shorter but otherwise similarly shaped AV-2, so I guess they would work with the SVX. Of course, divers will find it to be less negatively buoyant in the sea.
OTHER DPVS TO CONSIDER: DiveXtras X-Scooter Sierra US $3890 Gavin HDPE $3500 Silent Submersion N19 $3950
SPECS APOLLO SVX DPV PRICE POA BODY Shock-resistant ABS resin MOTOR DC brushless, water-cooled DIMENSIONS 72 x 34cm WEIGHT WITH BATTERY 20kg BATTERY nickel-metal hydride CONTACT www.bluesports.co.uk DIVER GUIDE