Appeared in DIVER June 2006

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DRYSUIT Spartan Pro Dive
The North-east of England has always had a powerful interest in ships. First it was building them; now its looking at them on the seabed.
It was a hardy lot of men who drove those white-hot rivets in, and its a similarly hardy lot who like to hammer the bolt-ends off and rescue the non-ferrous metal. They dont like things fancy. They like things straightforward, often in a black-and-white-striped football shirt.
In some ways they remind me of the old times, when traditional BSAC divers were straight out of the non-commissioned ranks, and liked things run the way - they had been in the armed forces. SMB reels were home-made from heavy-duty plywood, regulators had twin hoses and wetsuits were manufactured by Tony Tillbrook.
I did my PADI Instructor Development Course with an outfit from Newcastle. PADI was new and I was one of only a couple of southerners on the course.
We decided not to go to the after-exam party, guessing what the entertainment was likely to be - get those soft Southern bar stewards!
I had put all this long behind me until recently when the phone rang and the distinctly Geordie tones of Carl Holford sounded in my ear. They initially struck terror. I thought the Holford family had tracked me down at last for cheating my way to a PADI instructor badge.
But it wasnt that. He wanted me to try a drysuit he had had made to his specification. I was equally surprised when the suit arrived from Spartan Wetsuits with a note signed by one John Tillbrook. He was clearly the son of Tony, so I had two blasts from the past in quick succession.

Occupying office floor
I was not surprised to discover that the Spartan Pro Dive was a traditional neoprene drysuit with a cross-shoulder zip and a simple wrist-mounted dump-valve.
I was equally unsurprised to notice that it was constructed like a Tyneside ship - not fancy, but built to last.
It was finished with tough but flexible additional reinforcing on shoulder/upper arm, seat and knee/side calf in the form of a tough nylon facing to the material.
The zip was of the heaviest weight and the neoprene neck seal was sufficiently long for me to be able to turn it in on itself (like a reversed polo neck) and still have it reach right under my chin. The neoprene wrist seals also looked plenty long enough. Comfy Gates neoprene boots were included.
The suit was still occupying most of my office floor when Carl came back on the phone to ask if it fitted. I jumped into it quickly and was agreeably surprised to find that not only was it exactly my size but it seemed to be very comfortable. I put this last down to the flexibility of the 5.5mm neoprene used.
The fit was so snug that there was room only for a minimal base layer rather than a full undersuit, but the advantage of neoprene in a drysuit is that it insulates you from the cold water as well as keeping you dry.

Working with one hand
Whats the disadvantage Neoprene tends to compress at depth, losing you both buoyancy and insulation, so you might find yourself putting air into your BC as well as your suit to maintain neutral buoyancy even when using a single tank. I suppose you might get cold sooner than in a membrane suit with a suitably efficient insulating undersuit, but its hard to compare dive to dive.
The Spartan Pro Dive comes with a rotating Apeks inflation valve at the centre of the chest. It also has a wrist-mounted dump-valve, and these benefit from their simplicity and can be seen working.
The disadvantage is that they reduce you to working with only the other hand. The moment you lift your left hand to do something, you start dumping air. As a photographer, often lifting a camera to use it, I wouldnt give one house-room. My wife, on the other hand, took a lot of persuading to change to an auto-dump, because she had trained with a wrist-dump.
Those who know tell me that wrist-mounted dump-valves are more commonly ordered in the North, whereas softy Southerners like constant-volume automatic dump valves of the type commonly mounted on the shoulder. The shoulder-mounted auto-dump is an optional extra.
The manufacturer holds a full range of stock sizes for men and women, plus the facility to offer short and long fittings and some additional tailoring if necessary.
The success of this suit depends on whether it fits you well or not. Those with sinewy wrists and scrawny necks will always suffer a little dampness within.
I am rapidly reaching the conclusion that the only drysuits that will keep me completely dry have long conical latex wrist seals. Divers with a little more flesh may not have this problem.
Spartan makes its drysuits in the UK and offers a full repair facility. A Spartan drysuit costs £545.
  • Spartan Wetsuits 0191 2327983, www.spartan.uk.com


  • Divernet Divernet
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    + Tough
    + Not too expensive


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    - Neoprene suits are not for everyone