So I stuffed it into my bag and went off to Egypt for a week’s diving aboard Blue Planet’s Blue Pearl.
Although we are constantly told to dive with kit with which we are familiar, for the purposes of my job I often find myself about to take the plunge grateful that at least my mask is familiar. Very occasionally, I come unstuck.
I intended to use a couple of standard 80cu ft aluminium tanks and dive in a 3mm wetsuit. Side-mounted tanks can be a pleasure used in that way, leaving you feeling unrestricted yet with plenty of gas at your disposal.
I had packed my Buddy tank-bands, so left the heavier stainless-steel Dive System ones behind.
At this point, I should have studied the whole thing more closely before setting off.

The Rig
The set-up comes with what looks like a one-piece harness that is in fact made from several sections of webbing. It’s very important to adjust everything so that the fit is perfect and the tanks ride in exactly the right place for you.
A central spine of webbing runs between two 316 stainless-steel plates. The first thing to do is adjust the webbing length to suit the wearer. It’s encased in a wrap-around of stretchy material that acts as a cushion.
There are shoulder-straps that pass between the two plates and form a waist-strap that threads through a crotch strap. The waist-strap has a stainless-steel buckle.
The webbing bears big D-rings on moveable H-clips that allow you to hang the tanks from their neck-straps by double-ended piston-clips, and their bodies from cambands equipped with similar double-enders.
There are six of these D-rings, plus two additional ones on each end of the crotch-strap.
Again, it’s very important to position these so that they are exactly where they are needed.
There is also a length of stretchy bungee that is fed through the loop in the upper part of the spine-strap webbing, via guides attached to the bladder, and clips by single-ended piston-clips to the upper D-rings on the shoulder-harness.
This is used either side to catch the tank-valves and pull the tanks close in to the body.
So basically it’s a lot of webbing terminated at top and bottom by two stainless-steel plates.
Attached to this is the triangular-shaped buoyancy cell, which appears to give about
13kg of lift when fully inflated.
The outer corners of this single-bladder cell have eyes and loops of stretchy bungee. With a single-ended piston-clip attached, they are fed through the forward D-ring on the crotch-strap to pull the bladder close to the body.
The corrugated direct-feed hose is interchangeable with the two dump-valves, each equipped with a short length of pull-cord.
For open-ocean diving, I moved the corrugated hose to one of the two upper positions on the buoyancy cell. It’s what Dive System calls the “Beginner Configuration”.
That suits me. The “Expert Configuration” positions the exit for the corrugated hose low down, and suits those who ascend in a horizontal position, as in a cave.
The corrugated hose also has a piston-clip to enable it to be clipped out of the way.
If all this sounds complicated, it is.
The bladder is attached to the upper stainless-steel plate by a single nut and bolt. It is attached at the lower end by a short length of webbing threaded through one half of a pinch-clip. The other half of this is attached to the upper part of the crotch-strap at the back.

Preparing to Dive
I spent some time, as you can imagine, adjusting everything so that it fitted me exactly as I would like. The 80cu ft aluminium tanks proved quite bulky, like a roll of carpet under each arm. This had repercussions when it came to using my big camera. I would have been happier using a couple of 7-litre cylinders.
I didn’t use a specific side-mount regulator rig, but improvised with one conventional regulator on a long hose from the left-side tank that I passed under my left arm and behind my head.
I bundled the other regulator with a conventional-length hose under some elastic webbing that I fixed around the right-side tank (Dive System supplied some rather nice tank-garters for this purpose), deploying it and turning the tank on again fully when I needed to switch to it.
That’s the joy of side-mounting on a sea dive. You have total control of your tank-valves, turning them on (or off) as needed.
Super-flexible Miflex hoses made the routeing comfortable, and a similarly flexible Miflex hose provided a direct-feed connection to the corrugated hose.
A pair of Suunto D6i computers with transmitters supplied tank pressure information as well as giving redundancy in the deco department. I wore the one for the right-side tank on my right wrist and the other on my left.

In the Water
I didn’t use the length of bungee that was intended to hook the tank valves, because in pulling the tanks closely to me, it tended to impede my ability to use my camera rig freely once in the water. My first dive proved quite comfortable once I had made that decision.
Hooking the bungee round each of the tank-valves also tended to put pressure on the top
of my shoulders behind my neck, in the way of a milkmaid’s yoke. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I’d been wearing a thicker suit.
I also hooked the bottom clips of the tanks further back than a side-mount purist would have done, but this put the tanks back away from where they would otherwise interfere with my ability to position my camera where I wanted.
It was slightly odd, in that the elastic properties of the bungee cord that held the corners of the buoyancy cell close to me when out of the water also allowed the cell to pull away from me once it was buoyant.
It didn’t look good, but it worked.
Two of the D-rings on the waist-strap were moveable, so I could alter the trim of the tanks as they emptied and became more buoyant.
So far, so good.

The Problem
I made one vital mistake. I omitted to examine the rig fully when it first arrived at the DIVER offices, and I wrongly assumed that it had been assembled ready for use.
Alas, the bottom part of the buoyancy cell had not been threaded efficiently onto its half of the pinch-clip that retained it.
The next dive meant travelling by inflatable to the site and, unbeknown to me, this short bit of webbing had pulled through the pinch-clip so that the buoyancy cell was no longer attached at the bottom.
I clipped the tanks on and flipped over the side of the RIB into the water, descending quickly to 30m, where I put the brakes on.
The air that I fed into the buoyancy cell migrated to the highest point, positioning the inverted bladder like a Montgolfier balloon on its elastic bungee cords over my head.
The problem was that we were diving on a sheer wall, and my hands were full of £8000-worth of camera kit. I needed two hands to get hold of the wayward bladder, to pull it down to get hold of a dump valve if I was to ascend with safety. At one point I even contemplated ditching the camera to do this!
Now where was my buddy, you might ask Oops! This is one of the problems of being
a self-sufficient diver.
I had to recruit a buddy in a hurry. It meant swimming after a group of divers and getting the attention of the tail-ender to take hold of my camera while I got sorted. Otherwise, I’d have been on my way to an uncontrolled and ever-accelerating ascent to the surface.
Once that crisis was over, I headed back to the boat without any gas in the buoyancy cell for a post-mortem on the kit, thankfully, rather than one on me. It’s lucky that I tend to dive with the minimum amount of lead, so the ascent had been easy.
Back on the boat, I quickly spotted the offending loose webbing and rethreaded it,
this time effectively, onto its half of the pinch-clip. The bladder was now secured.

I made three further dives with this rig. It doesn’t have a beaver-tail with rails or erect D-rings like some side-mount kits, and I missed the opportunity to re-hitch the bottom end of my tanks to a better point once they were carrying less gas and had therefore become more floaty.
On one dive I made do with a single tank.
An aluminium tank does not make you feel lopsided, as it reflects little weight once submerged. But I never felt that the bladder was snug to my body. Whenever I put any air into it, however little, it lifted away from me.
It didn’t feel right and, I was told by Nina Eschner, our dive-guide, that it didn’t look
right either.
Finally the solitary bolt departed from the top fixing at some time during my fifth dive, at which point I decided that enough was enough.
The manufacturer claims that this is the most comfortable side-mount rig in existence.
I beg to differ. You might find it otherwise..

Hollis SMS 50, £582
Dive Rite Nomad, £510

PRICE £540
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