IT WAS IRONIC that almost immediately after I had written a piece for this magazine about how to deploy a surface-marker buoy safely, I found myself rocketing to the surface while trying to unjam a reel.
Of course, I should simply have let it go, but knowing that we were on a strong current going one way and that the surface wind was blowing forcefully the other encouraged me to make the wrong decision. It was a classic case of insufficient redundancy. We should have had a spare reel and buoy between the two of us.
I reached the surface from 25m quicker than a missile deployed from a submarine, and shot back down my buddy’s bubble-stream to where I should have been within a minute of the initial cock-up. It’s not something I would recommend anyone to try.
In the event, God’s will took precedence over received wisdom regarding decompression theory, and after an extended series of deco stops and an hour on the oxygen after finally surfacing, I seem to have got away with it.
It was my own fault, naturally. I had taken the precaution of practising with the reel I was using on no-stop dives the previous day, but I should still have been more familiar with it.
The reel in question was the Kent Tooling Narrow Ratchet model. I’ve had it in my possession for some time, but I repeatedly avoided packing it for diving trips because of its weight.
Manufactured to Brunel standards of engineering, it is a mighty strong item, but weighs in at more than 1kg.
I marvelled at the precision of its stainless-steel construction and the care with which it was made, and enjoyed playing with its lockable ratchet mechanism.
The main handle is big enough for a man’s gloved hand, and the handle of the reel itself seems to be of ideal proportions.
It comes complete with a piston-clip for attaching it to a D-ring. The whole thing looks thoughtfully designed.
Pressing down with the thumb on the ratchet lever disengages the ratchet completely, and allows the drum or reel of line to spin freely.
A concentric spring within the ratchet-lever knob allows it to spring back into a prepared hole on the main frame.
Once the deployed buoy has reached the surface, the knob is pulled out to disengage it, and the line can be wound in on the reel, the ratchet clicking into place so that the diver is free to hang beneath the buoy without the line unreeling. It makes a long hang quite comfortable, without risk of the ratchet coming disengaged.
The reel is set within a guard that prevents the line from slipping between reel and main frame. So what made it jam I have deployed so many DSMBs that I feel I could do it with my eyes closed. Familiarity breeds contempt, so perhaps I should have treated this operation with more respect.
I filled the buoy with my exhaled gas and expected it to head off as the reel spun free – but it didn’t. I was pressing the ratchet release, but the reel didn’t spin.
Could some foreign body have got stuck in the mechanism while I was at the bottom
Whatever the reason, I was hoist with my own petard!
The reel certainly did what I expected it to do the second time on that dive, and every time since, but to this day we haven’t managed to get the reel to jam solid in the way it did, despite repeated re-enactments of the scenario.
The Kent Tooling Narrow Ratchet Reel will last a lifetime, but if you change to this reel from another with which you are more familiar, practise with it from safe depths, and be prepared to let it go if you have to. Don’t do what I did – you may not be so lucky.
The more you practise, the luckier you’ll get.

Hollis Pathfinder 800, £135
Manta Junior, £105
McMahon Large, £40

WEIGHT 1.14kg
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