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DRYSUIT Pro SBX 400
BMWs are defined by their model series number and engine size. I can make sense of a 520i - its the series 5 saloon with a 2.0 litre injected engine. But I get confused by the model designations of Gates drysuits. Why couldnt it give them names
     Gates model numbers seem completely arbitrary. And why does the manufacturer persevere with the idea of adding the word Pro to all its suit designations The new Pro SBX 400 is squarely aimed at leisure-divers.
     It looks very much like the Pro CBX 450 already reviewed in these pages, and it has all the features I liked about that suit, including a latex neck seal and long conical latex wrist seals that really do keep the water out, whatever I do under water.
     However, while the CBX offers a more flexible version of the almost bullet-proof Pro VSN 1100, one of my favourite suits of all time, this new SBX suit comes in a more lightweight polyester material for those who dont want to lash out quite so much cash, and for whom light weight is more important than total longevity.
     That said, dont confuse this with some other drysuits available that seem to be made from the weight of material normally reserved for plastic macs. This stuff looks tough.
     I was invited to dive around a small Italian island in mid-June. Images of lazy summer days and water lying limpidly blue were tempered for me by the knowledge that the Med has not begun to warm up so early in the year, and that at depths of more than a mere 15m it could be chilly enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.
     So I welcomed the timely arrival of this suit just as I was packing to go. European baggage allowances meant that its overall light weight would be helpful, and I was happy to use any suit so long as it was able to keep my warm undersuit dry.
     The use of a polyester material has given Gates the opportunity to print a design pattern on parts of the suit, thereby making it prettier. Now the idea of a stylish drysuit is an odd one. Id go as far as to say it was an oxymoron. Certainly Dumfries is not well known in the glossy world of Vogue or Harpers as a centre of style, but if French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier can wear a kilt, why not let the Scots have a go at putting a bit of pizzazz into what must be the most unglamorous of sportswear
     Anyway, surrounded by Italian divers in their colourful wetsuits, I felt less than dowdy. The blue watery pattern of my Gates suit co-ordinated nicely with the colour of their noses once we surfaced after a long dive.
     I stayed nice and dry thanks to those long wrist seals. Wrists are always a problem for me because I need to hold my camera up to my eye. This causes air to migrate to the wrists, and the resulting sinewy arms can break the adhesion of a more modest seal.
     My feet stayed warm and dry too, in the neoprene-lined boots provided. Gates should know about boots, because it makes the famous Hunter wellies so beloved of royalty and others equipped with a Range Rover and two golden retrievers.
     However, the royal shooting party never finds itself under water trying to maintain an equilibrium. The boots proved very buoyant, so I believe most users will find themselves using ankle weights to keep their legs down. I certainly needed them.
     Another small criticism I found was that, in competition with my sleekly wetsuit-dressed Italian buddies, I was very much less than aquadynamic. They were darting about all over the place, whereas it was all I could do to trudge along behind. That probably goes for all membrane drysuits.
     As on all other Gates suits, the seams are vulcanised on the inside, using the same ovens as for the Hunters. Goodness knows how they do it without melting the whole thing. Anyway, leaks at the seams should never be a problem. Internal braces help with dressing and there is a heavy-duty cross-shoulder zip.
     Finally, a rotating inlet valve on the centre of the chest and a constant volume auto dump at the upper arm, both bearing the Gates name but looking very familiar to anyone from Blackburn, Lancashire, completes the deal.
     Gates suits can be bought through most dive shops, but can also be bought direct from Innovation Drysuit Supplies, a company associated with Gates.
The Pro SBX 400 costs £435, or £410 in all-black.
  • IDS 01387 240890, www.hunter-diving.com


  • Divernet
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    + Lighter weight but not a plastic mac


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    - Less tough than other Gates suits