Vintage SCUBA Diving anyone?

Discussion in 'The Great Outdoors' started by Matt Crunk, Jun 19, 2012.

  1. Matt Crunk

    Matt Crunk One Too Many

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    There seems to be a small but growing interest within the SCUBA diving community in collecting and using vintage SCUBA gear from the 1950s and 60s. There is at least one online Diving forum now with a section dedicated to it.

    Being naturally attracted to all things vintage, and having been a certified diver since my teens, I jumped on that bandwagon early and, thanks to eBay, soon had me a complete set of vintage SCUBA gear: oval, single-lens, single-skirt mask; US Divers/Aqualung double hose regulator; vintage steel tank, weightbelt, dive-knife and speargun. Still searching for a true vintage wetsuit that will fit me comfortably. Diving using such equipment is NOT for everyone. It's much harder (at first) and more risky than diving with modern gear. All vintage gear should be inspected, tested, and repaired by a certified professional before use. And still there are many dive parks and diveboat operators that will not allow vintage equipment dives under their watch. But if you want to stand out from the crowd, show up with some of this stuff on your next dive trip.

    I'll try to take and post pictures of my gear soon. I'm starting to get a nice collection of it.

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    Last edited: Jun 19, 2012
  2. Oldsarge

    Oldsarge One Too Many

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    Oh dear lord! Diving in general is dangerous enough. Going out and deliberately using equipment that by today's standard can only be described as 'primitive' just scares me spitless. On those rare occasions when I dive, I dive free. That guarantees I can't get so deep I can get into trouble and since I'm not competitive enough to risk SWB I think I'm relatively safe. Yes, I read the part where you are very experienced and the part where you recommended complete inspection by a trained professional. I'm sure you are a safe enough diver to live a long, healthy life. Good on yer, but I'd hate to see anyone less experienced even get excited about the idea of Vintage Diving.
     
  3. Mike K.

    Mike K. One Too Many

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    I'm in partial agreement with Oldsarge. Diving in general is not dangerous for those who are properly trained and certified, but I would prefer to collect vintage dive gear (like the Golden Era Mk.V helmet below) rather than actually dive with it.

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  4. Matt Crunk

    Matt Crunk One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,033
    Location:
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    Vintage equipment diving can be very liberating and safe if the right precautions are taken. First: Get all your vintage equipment annualed (annual certified inspection) just like you would any modern gear. Second: Limit vintage equipment to fairly shallow depths(40 or 50 ft), and open water dives where you have a clear shot to the surface should anything go wrong. Practice diving with vintage gear in a pool first. It takes some getting used to. Follow the NAVY dive tables: Plan your dive and dive your plan.

    Vintage diving is usually done without the aid of a Buoyancy Compensator (BC). Instead you wear only a weight belt to achieve neutral or slightly negative buoyancy. Then you simply swim in the direction you want to go (up, down or level) instead of having to constantly adjust your equipment for your depth. Also, the exhaust on a double-hose regulator expells from behind your head instead of from under your chin like a modern second-stage regulator, so you don't get a barrage of bubbles in your face every time you exhale. There's no octopus rigs, pony bottles, pressure gauges or dive computers to tangle or get in the way. The equipment is less cumbersome, so there's a much greater sense of freedom.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2012
  5. rocketeer

    rocketeer Call Me a Cab

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    I had an old suit just like the guy on the magazine cover but with longer legs. I was chatting to a local fisherman and said I fancied doing some snorkelling around the Cornish coast, so he said he had some old skin diving gear back in his garage. The old guy got this old wet suit out and said I could have it as he hadn't worn it for years. Then he showed me an old dry suit with a Siebe Gorman helmet similar to that above that he wore for working on constructions off shore. I could just imagine him as a John Wayne character fighting off a giant squid.
    The rubber suit was great and I remember talking to myself(in my head of course) in a Jacques Cousteau voice as I looked at all the plant and animal life amongst the rocks.
    I was a lot younger then, eventually I got a bit too fat for the suit and it sat in the garage. One day though I thought I would try it on for a laugh but looked like a fat seal in it. Took it to a car boot sale and sold it on for about £10, the guy who bought it just wanted it to get in the water during colder weather to de-barnacle his boat. I was quite surprised the rubber had not deteriorated as the suit was now at least 30 years old.
    Johnny T
     
  6. LoveMyHats2

    LoveMyHats2 I’ll Lock Up.

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    Location:
    Michigan
    Wow, nice posts here about a very interesting topic. I have been a diver since my days in the U.S. Navy, and the items you call "vintage" are what I still would use on a dive. As many of the new equipment and improvements seem to be "fathered" by the need of the U.S. Navy Divers and S.E.A.L.s, there has always been some behind the doors debates is new better than old? Now in just my own personal opinion, most of the new equipment is digital, automatic controls that when working right, is just fine. But when if you are on a dive, and are down say, 350 feet, the last thing I want going on is for a battery operated digital wrist computer to "drop out" and leave me in the dark as to what I may need information wise, to continue my dive...so I prefer old school and the use of what is commonly called (by us that have used them) a "whiz wheel", it requires no batteries and is always dead-on accurate. I also will always prefer the US Divers old school tanks over any of the new high tech items out there. Simple design tends to have less that can malfunction, again just my personal opinion and history in diving. I have met young divers that do not even have a clue that the mixtures needed to do a deep dive can be mixed/charged into the older tanks, and have expressed shock and disbelief that it can be done with anything other than the newer more complex breathing systems.

    The old fashion "hard hat" diving helm, for the most part had that "Jules Verne" look to it, and yes they are colorful when shined up, but they also have a good track record if being maintained and in use properly.
     
  7. TomS

    TomS One Too Many

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    I'm with you. I've done a fair amount of diving, and would NOT go with vintage stuff. I collect vintage watches, and even the *good* ones stop working once in a while. I shudder at a regulator that suffered the same fate.
     
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  8. Lexybeast

    Lexybeast A-List Customer

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  9. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec One Too Many

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    At daylight we leave the Calypso and go down. The water in this area is very wet and a perfect place for ... fish.

    One of the few lines I (sort of) remember from 1970s SNL.

    A few years ago I had the opportunity to go down (barely) in a helmet and dress ... the old fashioned diving helmet and weighted boots and all. Very claustrophobic and freaky. The guy who had the stuff let me walk around for half an hour in water about ten feet deep. After a while I learned not to focus on the inside of the helmet and it became a more interesting experience. You adjust a helmet valve for buoyancy, the air pump fills the suit to go up, let more air out of the suit and you go down or get 'heavier' ... that's important for work, turning a wrench or using a crowbar.

    The whole rig weighs well over two hundred pounds but all you have to do is stand there until they lower you into the water. You step into the suit and they jerk the big neck hole up your body. You soap your hands and wrists and force your hands through the sleeves. Then this big collar bolts to the suit and the helmet, with an interrupted thread (I think, it was quite awhile ago) locks on. You are already in weighted boots and your legs are laced or wrapped so that air can't get down in them ... if you get upside down with air in your legs you can't get right side up and likely you'll drown because the suit leaks or picks up water somehow. I couldn't tell because you can feel the water through the suit. Most divers wear a LOT of long underwear to keep even tropical waters from leaching their body heat away but I didn't because I was only going down for a brief and shallow dive. There are some controls you can use you chin on, a spit cock to suck in seawater and spit the inside of your face plate clean (again, if I remember correctly). Outside there is the main valve. There's a chest weight too. You can't waltz, that's for sure ... except under water.

    Wild and horrible stories. Divers killed, their whole body crushed into their helmet by the pressure, jump too high under water (you sort of moon walk anyway) and the increasing buoyancy in the suit as the pressure lessens sucks you to the surface, helpless, a struggling beach ball. Old pumps were hand cranked, very hard to do when the diver is way down. Pumps are water cooled and have to have the water jacket refilled often. Divers came up fast to save their mates who were doing the cranking. If they got bent they'd get back into the suit, go back down and "hang off" decompressing more slowly.

    One old guy I talked to in the Broome, Western Australia area had never been obviously bent ... no pains or numbness. But many years later he'd had to have both shoulders and one knee replaced. I guess nitrogen bubbles had eaten away the joints until they were like tissue paper. hard to believe but it seems this is done by the FRICTION of the nitrogen bubbles. That's a LOT of bubbles!

    Pearl divers walked with the tide and the boat drifted above them. You have to be careful not to have too much line and air hose out. If it gets hooked on a rock or something the weight of the boat can pull you off your feet (so you're helpless - you can't swim in a helmet and dress) and yank you back around the rock. Your only hope is to run back or jump to release yourself.

    Hard hat diving killed or maimed a lot of men. Diving communities, Japanese pearl divers, Greek sponge divers, have a love/hate relationship with the suit. Free diving was safe-ish but you couldn't make a lot of money, suit diving killed so many ways but you could stay down to harvest a lot of oysters or sponge.

    Ten feet was enough for me. A great experience I don't need to repeat. SCUBA work has little bearing on helmet and dress diving. Old SCUBA seems scary to me but I'm not certified nor am I likely to be.

    There are a lot of phony helmets out there ... seems like a silly thing to counterfeit because even a phony takes a lot of work but that seems to be the case.

    Sorry to write a novel but this is a cool old-time experience I've actually had.
     
    Edward likes this.
  10. Burton

    Burton One of the Regulars

    A very interesting topic and I would not want to be critical of anyone who wished to participate in utilizing vintage scuba gear. After some thought, personally I would have to agree with an earlier poster who thought it wiser to collect such rather than actually use it. I am not sure what one would gain in the pursuit of utilizing scuba gear which is now obsolete and possibly dangerous technology. I thought of the possible analogies with things like vintage cars and aircraft and can see the attraction of speeding around in old cars and planes but utilizing vintage scuba gear seems more like utilizing vintage parachutes which really I would rather not do. To each his own though
     
  11. rocketeer

    rocketeer Call Me a Cab

    Messages:
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    Brilliant post. I can almost imagine an old movie with John Wayne, Bruce Cabot, stick Maureen O'Hara and Claudette Colbert in for a bit of love interest and some long lost Spanish treasure. All guarded by a Giant squid of course.
    I REALLY never realised there were so many dangers involved(not counting the squid and clams, all giant naturally). There is a film with Robert Deniro about modern(ish) navy diving using these suits I think but it's title escapes me.>
     
  12. Bugguy

    Bugguy A-List Customer

    Messages:
    446
    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    I knew if I looked deep enough I'd find a vintage SCUBA thread...

    I was certified in 1966, the soonest a kid could take a class. I trained on a double-hose and bought an early single-hose Dacor Dart, tank, BC, etc. I still have the receipt for all of $263.00 - complete set less wetsuit - all new! I've since traded it off to a vintage collector, but still have my completely refurbished and checked-out dbl. hose Aqua-Lung (1959).

    I've been thinking about pitching one of the local dive shops to see if they'd trade some pool time for a chance to have their students see or try the double hose. I suspect there's an excellent chance their instructors have never tried one...

    Here are a couple of pictures of my Aqua-Lung (think Lloyd Bridges a.k.a. Mike Nelson and Sea Hunt):

    DSC_0001 copy.jpg

    DSC_0002 copy.jpg

    DSC_0003 copy.JPG

    Now the best salvage yard find...

    I picked up this old mask from a Habitat-like salvage yard for $3.00. Cleaned it up and sold it on a vintage diving forum for my cost X 40. Turns out it was one of the first diving masks manufactured in the US for commercial sale in 1950. Prior to these, one company made them in Japan and anyone else just made their own.

    DSC_0001_2.jpg

    DSC_0002_2.jpg

    All good fun and as noted two years ago, safe if you've been trained on the gear.

    As for what happens when they stop working... my old Dacor literally froze in 110' at the bottom of Lake Superior (a shallow spot). My buddy (my future wife) watched as I calmly and with considerable disgust tossed it aside and resumed the dive with my octopus (safety spare attached to the tank). Its all in the training.
     
  13. Bugguy

    Bugguy A-List Customer

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    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    To keep the thread alive (is this the definition of "bump"?)... Here is the package I bought circa 1967. You can barely buy fins for that now.

    Slide4 copy.JPG

    Here is my first regulator - a Dacor Dart with a "J" valve reserve on the first stage so you were never without.

    Slide21 copy.JPG

    And finally, where we came from before the sport leaped the gender gap. Only real men SCUBA dived; the era of the gorilla diver.

    Slide11 copy.JPG

    Slide16 copy.JPG

    Now the thread can die. RIP
     
  14. I'm a relative newbie having started recreational diving less than 30 years ago. I like the look and feel of the old stuff, but I'm cursed with an abundance of caution when it comes to diving. The vintage stuff looks great on display, but I'm not diving with it. Just me.

    I'd love to acquire a vintage/genuine copper or brass diver's helmet as a piece of art.
     
  15. Bugguy

    Bugguy A-List Customer

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    All things considered, vintage equipment maintained or fully checked out with the rubber components replaced by a knowledgable tech (for the brand) are as safe as new. The designs are simpler and may not flow as easy, but for recreational use they should be fine. The basic mechanics of dropping air from 3000 psi to 100, then to a demand flow haven't changed all that much. Sometimes simple is good. In my opinion, many of the changes in gear have been driven by liability concerns, marketing considerations, and efforts to soften the look to bring more people into the sport. You can buy a $700 wrist dive computer, but you still need to learn how to read a decompression table and plan your dive so you stay out of trouble. The computer is a crutch - like reading a map vs. listening to Garmin. What I find interesting is how the equipment manufacturers, certifying organizations, and dive organizers have "colluded" (my term) to make certain equipment mandatory, like dive computers when a watch and an analog depth gauge or bottom timer are quite adequate for a dive to 30-50 ft.

    Problem is, those of us that were factory-certified to maintain/repair this vintage equipment back when it was state-of-the-art are dying off and NOS parts are getting harder to find. They'll still be around during my lifetime, but not much longer. If you want functional, vintage equipment, I'd look for it now and not wait too long.

    As for diver's helmets, I'd love to own one. They are big, bulky and heavy... but oh so neat! Be careful; there are lots of nice, realistic, aged reproductions out there. If it seems inexpensive, its probably fake. Personally, I don't do repo's.
     
  16. Cooper A-2

    Cooper A-2 Practically Family

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    Location:
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    Love the vintage but also actual diving watches...
    Brands like Seiko, Tudor, Omega,Doxa, Zodiac and of course Blancpain and Rolex.
     
  17. scottyrocks

    scottyrocks I'll Lock Up

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    Bugguy likes this.
  18. Charlie Noble

    Charlie Noble New in Town

    Messages:
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    Location:
    United States
    Hi guys, I came across this thread searching the web. I used to be a member here, posted little and lurked a lot. I’m guessing that something happened with the forum, and that all of the older content was lost. For some reason, I can’t find my old posts.

    Anyway, I’m not here to advertise, but I own a diving suit company that was originally established in 1950. Part of our product line is a reproduction suit that we produced in the 1950s. We recently had a photo shoot out in California, and I thought y’all might like to check out some of the images from that shoot.

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    Every piece of that diving rig is period correct to 1959, and it does have it’s challenges. Just like any specialized aspect of diving, like cave, technical, rebreather, black water...vintage diving is safe if you have the training and practice. US Divers and Voit regulators are easily rebuilt with newly available parts, and a couple of companies make retrofit 1st stage regulators so that modern safety components, like a pressure gauge, a back-up/reserve reg, and power inflator for a BC can be used.

    Aside from a period correct 1959 rig, which is better suited for a living history type event, my “every day” rig is more retro that repro. All of the safety and convenience of a modern system, but purely classic at the same time.

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  19. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec One Too Many

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    None of those images posted but I, for one, would love to see them and to know the name of your company. I'm always interested in people making retro style products!
     
  20. Charlie Noble

    Charlie Noble New in Town

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    Location:
    United States
    Mike, that’s interesting that you can’t see the photos. I can see them perfectly from my side. Maybe an admin can help. They’re pretty cool pics, so hopefully it can be figured out.

    My company is Aquala Diving, and the site is Aquala.com. Let me know what you think.
     

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