Appeared in DIVER December 2006

FULL-FACE MASK Ocean Reef Neptune Space
THERES NOTHING NICER THAN SWIMMING in the sea, with a suitable partner, in the nude, so taking my mask off while under water was never a problem for me. Not, that is, until I contracted a horrible eye infection in Indonesia.
If it hadnt been for the ministrations of fellow-diver Dr Trevor Eve and his travelling dispensary, I would have had to curtail my trip. Thanks, Dr Trevor.
Water from the tap may be drinkable but almost any water in which you dive is certainly not. They have yet to invent the pathogen-free diving lake - which brings us to the Ocean Reef full-face mask.
Developed from an Italian fire-fighters breathing mask, this has been the subject of continual research and development since its introduction, at which time I was a little scathing of one or two glaring oversights in its design.
Lawyers letters arrived, but eventually I set off to Liguria to be properly trained in the masks use. During my stay I managed to persuade Mr Gamberini, its maker, that I had a point. The result was an improved version, and it has since become better and better.
This latest Ocean Reef full-face mask represents the acme of what I would have imagined possible on day one. Evolution has to be allowed to take time.
The Ocean Reef Neptune Space Mask can be paired with your favourite regulator first stage (unless its a Poseidon) and connected to it via a medium-pressure hose, just as you might connect a drysuit or BC.
This means that you are not permanently attached to your tank while wearing the mask. How do you breathe while not connected to an air-supply You give an ambient air-supply port a twist, and breathe normally.
That deals neatly with all my original criticisms, but I was disappointed to find that once I had been breathing from the demand-valve and the mask was nicely sucked onto my face, I needed to undo the ambient air-supply knob all the way.
It was at this point that I learned that it was unrestrained. It fell off.
Luckily, there was no plink, plop damn! to follow, and I was able to pick it up and replace it.
Three sets of adjustable straps hold the mask on the head. Its important to tighten it down evenly by starting with the centre straps, then moving to the bottom and finally the top straps.
To get the mask off quickly and without fumbling, two toggles help you locate the bottom straps in a moment. Grab these, and you can rip the mask off if needs be. The straps had loads of spare on them after I fitted the mask snugly to my face, so there must be divers with bigger heads than mine.
How do you pinch your nose to clear your ears You set an adjustable pair of blocks with a Phillips screwdriver before you dive so that the mask is pushed firmly onto your face to block your nose.

THE FIRST OCEAN REEF MASK ALLOWED you to use your own regulator. Unfortunately, the increased space within the mask caused a lot of high-performance, and consequently finely balanced, second stages to free-flow. They had to be detuned, and often screwing down the breathing-resistance adjustment knob was not enough.
The next offering from Liguria came with its own regulator, including first and second stages. Sales met some resistance from divers committed to other products.
Thats why Ocean Reef now offers the mask complete only with a second stage, one designed to work without problems in this application.
An internal bib arrangement discourages your exhalations from flowing round the mask and steaming it up. The clear polycarbonate material used to make the mask discourages this anyway.
Should you flood the mask, simply hold it firmly to your face and press the purge button. The offending water is evacuated through a drain valve under the chin. The large soft skirt, pressed against your face and held there by the straps, keeps the water at bay.
Some full-face masks use a constant flow of gas. This consumes a lot of gas as it flows away freely, and can cut dives short if youre breathing from a tank.
The Neptune Space Mask is a demand mask. You use no more gas than you would with a conventional regulator.
I found the venturi plus/minus switch hard to get hold of, but the breathing-resistance adjustment knob was handily over-sized.
What can you do for a diver who is out of air You carry a conventional octopus rig. If you also carry a spare conventional mask, you have the option of using this with the octopus should any problem occur with the full-face mask.

BEFORE THE EYE INFECTION, I used to say that if you needed to wear a full-face mask you shouldnt be diving in that water. But diving for a week with one eye open and the other almost completely closed by the swelling of the lower lid changed my mind somewhat.
I havent touched on the diseases you can catch from small amounts of water ingested through aspirating in your regulator, or through small cuts around the lips, or simply through the mouth.
A medical dictionary will offer plenty of diseases that you can pick up in fresh water, but if I went into all that youd probably take up free-fall parachuting instead! Suffice to say, I felt really secure when using this mask.
The other major benefit of a full-face mask is the ability to fit a proper communications unit. You can imagine the conversation between the professional diver and his surface support:
Have you found it yet
Have you found it yet
Have you found it yet
Were in the pub.
Im coming up.
Back in Liguria, the mask on which I was trained had this facility. It was spoiled only by the fact that Mr Gamberini and his chief diver, his salesman and the captain of the boat at the surface were able to chat to each other during the dive.
It was the noisiest dive I had ever been on!
The Neptune Space Mask is a nice thing to own. It seems much more user-friendly with its clear silicone skirt than the serious-looking black versions I have used before.
Under water it does makes you feel slightly remote from the scene. Combined with a drysuit, its the next best thing to a one-man submersible.
Its easy to use, and comes in two different sizes to accommodate most heads. You may think you look cool, but of course well all just think you look like an alien from Independence Day.
The Ocean Reef Neptune Space Mask costs from 390.
  • Sea & Sea 01803 663012

  • Divernet Divernet
    + Keeps water-borne infections at bay
    + Nice to own

    - Youll look like a Martian!