FINSMares Volo Power
Recently I found myself swimming once again through the gap at Coral Caverns near Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, Bahamas. My most vivid recollection of the site was of a gentle current that pushed the other way. Its nothing to write home about usually, but my first visit there had seen me diving with Chris Boardman and using a then-new design of fin, the pivoting-blade Mares Volo.
     After that dive, Chris observed that he thought I was the least fit person he had ever met. You can be a bit smug when youve won an Olympic gold medal and have Blue Riband records for cycling that have never been broken. Why did he say that Because I had made such a meal of getting through the gap against the flow.
     The fact was that the Volos were very floppy, and I was going nowhere with them. I was quite grumpy about it, but my protests about useless fins must have sounded as feeble as deep-diver Mark Andrews protesting about the quality of his plimsolls in the finals of TVs Superhuman.
     Normally Italians become very emotional when I write something they dont like, but the folks at Mares kept strangely quiet about my report on the Volos. Between you and me, I think they went away and quietly changed the mix of thermoplastics that they injected into the Volo moulds, because later examples exhibited no such floppiness (see Tests Extra, January 2004).
     My recent visit to Coral Caverns put that particular ghost to rest, and if Mares did indeed change its thermoplastics recipe, it certainly improved dramatically the ability of Volos to have an effect on the water. Now it has introduced a Power version which promises to be even more effective, though it does require more muscle.
     This brings us back to my own athletic prowess. It doesnt matter how good my running shoes are, in a marathon Id break down in tears at least 20 miles before Paula Radcliffe. So any test of fins has to be comparative. I can only tell you how Mares Volo Power fins compare with the most effective fins I have used to date, the all-rubber Apollo Biofin XTs.
     Just looking at Volo Power fins tells you that Mares is trying hard. The Apollos have that no-nonsense, hard-wearing look, where the Volos appear comparatively complicated, even flimsy.
     The fin blades are a mass of different convex and concave channels and flutes, the result of complex interweaving of two different technopolymers. The pivoting action previously sold to us as so effective is consigned to an area that only really affects the extremities of the fin width.
     The immediately apparent effect of this is that the wearer can stand comfortably on the deck of a boat with a fin blade that otherwise wants to dip sharply away from the line of the sole of the foot.
     Disappointingly, the foot-pocket does not encompass the length of my foot, as on my good old Mares Plana Avanti Quattros. Its a good 2cm shorter on the heel.
     The fin straps come with ABS. Thats nothing to do with stopping quickly, its Mares patented Advanced Buckle System, which makes it possible to slip a fin on and tighten the strap by cantilevering it shut with the heel of the other foot à handy on a crowded boat.
     People complain to me that they have trouble undoing the locking catch of the ABS, but I dont have a problem with that. Call me a slob, but I rarely find the need to lock it shut.
     These buckles look a little flimsy, yet I have never experienced a failure. What I do know is that if you break a strap you need to replace it with a complete unit, because no-one is going to wait while you try to thread up another through the existing buckles. So take spares.
     If I owned a pair of Volo Power fins, I would probably replace the straps with no-nonsense stainless-steel spring-straps, such as those supplied as options with the Apollos. Anything to avoid that embarrassing moment when youre surrounded by divers on a bouncing RIB and feebly holding up a short end of rubber.
     I took an underwater speedometer with me to Wraysbury Lake west of London. The instrument gives an objective result as long as you can duplicate the conditions on each test.
     In the past I have compared fins while wearing a sleek wetsuit and minimal diving kit. This time I was wearing the full nine yards, including a drysuit, so my speeds were rather less than those I have recorded in the past.
     I made a number of short sprints close to the lake bottom at about 6m deep, alternating between the two sets of fins. With the Mares Volos, I saw 2.6km/hr come up before I felt my calf muscles start to tighten. But the Apollos still rule, with 3.3km/hr this time.
     So do I dismiss the Mares Volo Power fins Not at all, because they work. Their very lightweight nature allowed me to overcome inertia more easily and get up to full finning speed straight away, which meant that I accelerated to my best speed with less delay than I did with the heavier Apollos.
     The Apollos performed better with a rapid flutter-kick, but the Volo Powers were better with my loping gait, which may be less efficient but is far more comfortable for someone long-legged.
     Whats good for me may not be right for you. My conclusion Ive decided not to decide! But the Volo Power fins are certainly among the front runners when it comes to the best fin for scuba-diving, and they weigh far less in my dive bag than the Apollos.
Mares supplies these Volo Power fins in sizes S, Regular and XL. There is no truth in the rumour that the company has stopped marking the Regulars as size R because too many divers complained later that they had two right fins and no left! They cost £110 per pair.
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