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BCSea Quest Pro XLT

THE SEA QUEST SURELOCK INTEGRATED WEIGHT SYSTEM is one of the most secure and capacious you will find in any dive shop. However, when I first picked up the Sea Quest Pro XLT, I thought it had been supplied with weights already loaded.
     At 4.4kg, its no lightweight. The XLT stands for Extra Lift, not Extra Light.
     Last time I went to Manado in Indonesia, back at the turn of this century, I took a Sea Quest Pro Unlimited, an early precursor of this BC. I did not relate it directly at the time to the£600 excess-baggage charge I incurred on the way there, but the wounds of that encounter with check-in staff have yet to heal.
     So I was doubly conscious of the weights of individual items as I packed my bag this time, including the Pro XLT.
     This BC is the sort of kit used by marines entering the water from low-flying helicopters or speeding Gemini craft. The moment I put it on, I felt like one of Philip Pullmans armoured bears - it seemed that robust.
     The design also follows the modern philosophy that more is more. It has every conceivable modern feature, other than dispensing with the corrugated hose for the connection to the direct-feed, an idea that does not seem to have taken off.
     We divers are an unadventurous lot and still want our corrugated hoses, even though they are now the equivalent of a cars starting-handle.
     Being US-designed, the Pro XLT has a lot of patented features with clever marketing designations. Ill risk the boss of Sea Quest phoning me up from America and shouting at me by ignoring these. Instead, Ill tell you what this BC does.
     The hard backpack is designed to take a single tank with its solitary camband. A cushion sits between you and it, with a thicker piece of padding at the lower end so that when walking with your tank on your back, it sits nicely on top of your hips.
     The waistband is threaded through the backpack and buoyancy cell such that there is no torso squeeze when the BC is fully inflated. It inflates away from you instead.
     The front shoulder straps have swivelling buckles that enable the straps to take the easiest route, usually the most comfortable one. A conventional sternum strap prevents the shoulder strap slipping off those with slim shoulders.
     Any one of the six stainless-steel D-rings proved fine for clipping off a current hook. No doubt some divers will find other things to dangle from them, but I find that these danglies often turn into floating nuisances under water.
     There is no need to dangle kit, because the Pro XLT has two large zipped pockets, and the left one will drop down to double its size, should you need more capacity. The pocket is less of a saddlebag than before, and stows neatly away thanks to a large helping of Velcro.
     Besides pulling on the corrugated hose to operate the dump valve at the top, my favourite way to dump air was via the toggle on the right shoulder facing, which operates a separate dump valve above it. Some say that these valves dump all your air in one go. I say use it like the inflator. A quick squirt out is all you need.
     If youre inverted or horizontal head-down, there is also a dump-valve at the lower back, operated by a dangling toggle. This was easy to locate during quick descents from the boat to a fast-passing reef in a strong current.
     The efficacy of these dump valves enabled me to stow away neatly the direct-feed and corrugated hose through the sternum strap, though it was only just long enough to do this.
     How often we see pictures of divers with their corrugated hoses floating up where they will not find them easily. Thats because many instructors still teach methods that evolved for use with now-obsolete equipment.
     I could squirt in air when I chose, and even pull on the hose to operate the built-in pull-dump at the left shoulder if I wished. I always knew where the inflator control was.
     Hidden away between the buoyancy cell and the back of the harness are two trim-weight pockets. Theyre so well-hidden that a lot of people who own Sea Quest BCs never discover that they have them. When reviewing a Sea Quest BC once before, I forgot to mention these pockets. My transatlantic phone line was soon burning!
    
     Satisfying rip
     Trim-weights are used to counteract the floaty effect of an empty aluminium cylinder, or to add weight when the main integrated-weight pockets are full. The pockets can handle a couple of kilos each.
     The main integrated-weight pockets each have a pouch held by a (patented) quick-release buckle system. This pouch has two sets of pockets, which allow you a bit of strategy in how you position your weights. The instructions insist that you put most of the weight at the lowest point, but you might prefer to experiment to find what suits you best.
     The pockets are big enough to take as much lead as almost anyone could need. They slot in and out easily enough, but if you let boat crew do this for you, double-check that the buckle is located properly. They ripped away in a satisfying manner when the time came to hand them onto the boat.
     At what attitude does this BC put you in the water Air rises to the highest point, so if you are swimming horizontally the small amount of buoyancy-compensating air will be behind the top of your back - level, say, with your tank valve. This is true whether using a wing or conventional BC, like this one.
     The buoyancy cell of the Pro XLT is shaped such that as you put more air in, it fills further down the back. It has an expanding gusset, so that when it is fully inflated, the biggest volume is low under the arms, giving the wearer an upright stance. The effect is most convenient at the surface. So youre horizontal during normal diving and upright at the surface. What more do you want
     The Pro XLT positions very little of the air within it above the surface. Its nearly all used to keep you afloat at this time. So the size ML that I used offers a genuine 20kg of lift, and all of that is viable. I waited at the surface in armchair comfort.
     Full marks - but then it all went wrong. After two and a half weeks of three dives a day, I found myself in the remote Pacific islands of Raja Ampat. I descended to find that the direct-feed control had parted from its corrugated hose, and was held only by the cord threaded through it, which operated the dump valve at its top.
     I tried unsuccessfully to put it together under water. I couldnt even inflate the BC by blowing into it by mouth. Because all the air is held low down in the buoyancy chamber, it continually siphoned back out through the short length of corrugated hose. Weighted for neutral buoyancy, I could easily swim back to the surface, but once there I floated with my head just below it.
     What was worse was that when I finned hard to get my head above the surface, all I got was a glimpse of our dive boat heading off behind an island to drop off snorkellers.
     It was a matter of either dropping my weights towards the unsuspecting divers below me or swimming to a nearby shore. I was not in danger of drowning, because I had a full tank that would have lasted forever at a depth of a few inches. However, losing the air-tightness of your BC is just as bad if the direct-feed control has come off as it is if the buoyancy cell is ruptured.
     My diver extending surface flag went up, and the boat finally came back to it. Five minutes with a replacement cable-tie solved the problem, but it had been significant.
The Sea Quest Pro XLT is available in sizes XS, S, M, ML, L and XL and, at£410, is a top-price BC.

  • Aqua Lung UK 0116 212 4200, www.aqualung.co.uk




  • Divernet Divernet
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    + Every feature you could want in a conventional BC
    + Masses of usable surface buoyancy


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    - Heavy to pack
    - Expensive to buy