Until Croatia, and the UN tour mentioned in several of the sections in this blog, my kit had been pretty much static over the 2 years of my diving up to 1993 at the close of the Tour. I had, however, splashed out on a SUUNTO Solution, a dive computer, and I loved it. Up to my purchase, (tax free through my contacts in the Finnish Battalion serving with us in Yugoslavia) I had been using BSAC Tables, also Ned Middleton had left a curiosity in the Dutch bar before leaving Yugoslavia, a PADI Recreational Dive Planner (RDP), sadly in Feet, which, as I was used to metric (Meters), was confusing on Two counts, the units had to be converted to bear any semblance to a depth I understood, and, I had no real idea how to use it….but it was intriguing and I was determined to find out how to work it….eventually! So, I had moved from tables into the digital age, and I had been exposed to 15L cylinders for the first time, having used 12L versions exclusively up until Pula. I liked the 15L cylinders, I figured you could never have too much air to breathe on a dive….. and I’d seen a couple of really odd pillar valves too, double valves but on a single cylinder, and a cylinder with a reserve wire-pull down its side, when you get to 50bar, pull the wire and you get a further 50bar reserve…… Things I hadn’t seen at any of the dive-sites in the UK, all of this got me thinking……it was time for an upgrade!
I had been considering a pony set-up after seeing several at south coast dive sites, I could see the logic, an entirely separate air-source on an independent regulator. I knew this would be a step forward in safety and I knew I wanted a better regulator, not that my R190 was not serving me well, but as I had started to dive a little deeper, a little more often, I knew there were better regs out there and after 7 months on slightly better pay, it was now or never….a trip to Aqua-leisure in Melksham was in order…..
I settled on a 3L Pony cylinder in a Beaver protective draw-string bag, which attached easily to my main cylinder, and I sat it at the Right side of my Stab Jacket, moving my weights round a little to the Left on the belt to compensate for the additional pony cylinder weight on that side. I had agonised over which reg to buy, I knew the R190 would do on the pony, if I needed the pony, chances were I was on my way back to the surface, the R190 would still do in that role, I was comfy with that…. But which reg to go for, there were a few I could afford and it took me a couple of trips, and some long conversations with divers back at TIDSAC, before I finally settled on the Spiro Arctic, an environmentally sealed reg which boasted it was good for any water temperature I was likely to come across in the UK and probably many a lot worse
I needed to take one more step too, and ditch the semi-dry-suit! I had picked up a trapped nerve in my neck whilst in Croatia, one of those freak injuries that I’d have never believed possible if someone else had described it…..I was looking under the hood of a Bedford 4T truck, standard troop transport of the day, and turned my head …..something went crack and a bolt of lightening slammed my neck ……. I have never felt pain like it, and I couldn’t move my head, it was stuck…..this was bollocks wtf was going on? It turned out to be simple, I’d trapped a nerve, it would work its way out and in typical Army style I got Two “fcuk off” tablets (Paracodol) and a “goodbye” from the medics of 24 Field Ambulance…it would take nearly another month before the Americans arrived in Pleso, by which time I was self-medicating on Heineken just to get to sleep….and it was beginning to show.
The Yanks had a look, their Medic Captain said yep….trapped nerve, it’ll free up.…. eventually… but luckily for me the “orderly” a US Army corporal held me back after his Captain had lost interest…..I can’t offer you this “officially” because its not recognised military practice, but I am a chiropractor back in the US and if you give me 5 minutes I can help….What had I got to loose? I hadn’t slept much for a month, I was constantly half-cut and still in agony so I said, go for it! He said trust me….breathe out and this will hurt….my neck was snapped to the Right and I nearly passed out, you could hear the pistol shot “crack” as my neck reached its limit………and now the other way….and you have to relax even though you know what’s coming…….Crack, a pistol shot in my Left ear……. and he smiled at me…..and told me to get up off the trolley….I did and I could have kissed the ugly bastard….. I could move my neck, I could move my head….and the pain had gone, just like that…..gone….I was elated and promised they guy any amount of beer he could drink, whenever he wanted, and it turned out he was tee-total….result! I had to go easy on the neck for a week or so, and do exercises he showed me to strengthen the area, and he warned me it could come back any time, especially if it got cold! And so it was time to buy a dry-suit, or to give up diving as, during the very first dive after I had got over the injury I could feel the nagging pain from my Neck to my shoulder….and I knew what that meant……
So now I would lose the semi-dry suit in favour of a DMS Bravo 5mm Neoprene dry-suit. Seeing as I was back from Blue-Water diving, and once again in UK temperatures the transformation went almost unnoticed, apart from by my bank manager, with the SUUNTO, the new Spiro, the 3L Pony and the DMS I was out just over a Grand….still, I was diving and that meant everything, the money would come back, eventually, and the neck injury didn’t re-surface even in 4′ water, perhaps due to the double layer of 5mm Neoprene neck seal on the suit…..bonus!