How do you go from being a scuba diver on a single tank with BCD to a scuba diver on a wing with a twin set ?
What is scuba diving on a twin set ? Well, quite simply it's diving with two cylinders instead of one. This is generally done for redundancy and extending your bottom time on a dive.
Twin set diving isn't something reserved for the special forces or the most hardcore of divers. Almost anyone can dive on a twinset although you do need to have a decent number of dives under your belt along with the confidence to take on a new challenge. First up, you've gotta have some spare cash. It costs a fair amount and is an investment in your safety and your diving future. Quite simply if you are diving on a twin set it's pretty much twice your costs. If you are progressing to this stage of your diving you are likely committed and have completely caught the bug (like me). If you are just teetering over the edge of this I might be able to give you a few pointers on what worked for me.
First up, whoever teaches you will likely tell you that their kit is perfect and the best setup you can have. Take your time with this, use your own judgement and work out what's right for you and don't necessarily go with what suits someone else. They might be right, but give it some thought.
Why ? Well, regardless of whatever they do in the water, you are responsible for yourself and staying alive.
For me, my kit does happen to be very close to that of one of my regular buddies, but it's been researched and discussed at length with him and others before I went diving in to buying the kit. Let's get the kit out of the way. For me I use 2x12L 300 bar Faber cylinders (it is heavy stuff). I use a Custom Divers TDB wing (after having spent a LOT of time at dive shows checking it out). I dive with Poseidon Cyklon 5000 regulators even though a lot of my experience before these was with Mares regulators. I tried them and personally found they suited me perfectly. I use the yellow reg as my primary and keep the black reg on a bungee cord around my neck (Google for 'Hogarthian setup' if you must as there are some similarities).
My reasons for twin set diving ? Quite simply, I wanted more time in the water. I could have gone down the rebreather route but it still holds some concerns for me (mainly through ignorance I admit). I like diving on Nitrox as I feel better after a dive, so it had to be appropriate kit. I'm a big lad (6 foot tall and not exactly skinny), so the tanks were more than suitable for me. Even for me, I find the tanks very heavy. This needs some serious consideration before making this move. Personally I CAN climb out of the water up a ladder in fins with these tanks on my back. When you go to somewhere like Chepstow National Dive Centre that's really the only way out of the water, but at somewhere like Capernwray you can walk out.
So, first stages are also Poseidon with a regulator, Suunto pressure gauge and inflator hose (suit or wing) on each. I need a second bladder in the wing at some point too when funds allow. The slob knob is too long (but good for comedy value) so a shorter one is to be sourced. The bands are Custom Divers and the manifold is MDE. Each first stage has a regulator and a hose for either the inflator or my dry suit, plus a pressure gauge. Both tanks are joined together and using the slob knob I can shut down one side or the other if needs be.
I started buying kit a few months back as funds allowed. I bought the twin set first on the illusion that I would get everything else quickly (getting the wife pregnant again seemed to stop me spending money on dive gear - I wonder why ?)
So the twin set sat under the stairs for some time. Eventually I bought the rest bit by bit. I always think it's best to add kit a piece at a time so you only have 1 new problem to solve. Moving to a twin set sends you back a bit in terms of buoyancy control so don't throw everything in together as you will likely hate it.
The wing came next. I thought it would be easy going from a BCD to a wing. I was wrong. It was complete amateur hour for the first 2 dives. I had to re-learn the feel and control. Don't just swap and jump in as you will struggle. So...some nice and easy diving followed while I got used to it.
Next I introduced the regs. These (for me) were a massive difference from hire kit. I absolutely love them.
When I finally made the set complete it took a couple of hours to set the kit up correctly on the back plate and get it right. We positioned the back plate of the wing at roughly what we thought was right. Weight wise we used a lead frog which is a slightly unusual approach, but makes perfect sense. House bricks in the UK quite often tend to have what we call frogs which is an indentation in the side that is hidden when a wall gets built. The shape of this is perfect for melting lead into (think of a Toblerone chocolate bar with the bits filled in). The piece you get out sits perfectly between the two tanks and the back plate. I put some more lead in a weight belt to make me slightly over for the first dive (this was deliberate as it was only shallow and it would give me slightly better control)
Off we went to the dive centre. I kitted up and got ready. You won't find many other divers appreciative of lifting 2x300 bar tanks, so be prepared to do the heavy work yourself.
At the dive site (Chepstow NDC in this instance) the only way to enter the water is with a giant stride. OK, no problems, done that lots. Erm...hang on....I don't know about my weight or buoyancy. Do the maths first and it takes a lot of the worry away. Get your buddy/instructor in the water first before making the leap. Oh and don't forget your regs.
I inflated the wing and stepped in. Buoyancy was no problem. I floated to the surface.
We did a lot of mucking about testing things and getting used to the changes. Again, it was back to basics with dreadful control. The tanks were too high (so we adjusted things). They weren't straight on my back, so it flipped me over (a lot). I ended up removing the weight belt and used some ankle weights (yep, stabilisers for me) and generally farted about getting used to the feel of things. The first dive was a learning experience. Anyone watching would have thought I'd never been before (in my mind that's what I looked like).
The second dive started to make sense. By the end of the second dive it was coming together. It clicked. I felt a lot more comfortable and at one stage had nailed the buoyancy so I was floating perfectly and was very comfortable. I will admit here that in trying to figure things out I was fighting the kit too much and ended up getting wet with the dry suit seal on my neck moving around. Still, at 17c it's a lot warmer than when I normally dive here in the UK.
All in all a tough days diving, albeit close to the exit and surface, but a superb learning experience which I know I will master. Getting hooked all over again with something you love is awesome.
I finished the day with some very welcome beers and really good curry and promptly fell asleep in front of the telly.