HEAD to HEAD:
CRESSI S-109 V SEEMANN SUB BLACJAC
It's an Italy v Germany encounter this time, as two new conventional BCs vie for our attention. Dig beneath the surface and there are some significant differences, as John Bantin discovers
SOME CONSUMER DURABLES DON'T CHANGE MUCH, but evolve slowly until the latest model is at once both similar to and completely different from the original. Among cars, the German Porsche 911 is a classic case in point.
The Italian Cressi-sub S-109 is the latest model of a BC I first tried some years ago, in the guise of the S-102. Until that time, Cressi had not been vigorously represented in the British marketplace, and I was agreeably surprised by its quality.
Since then we have seen gradual evolution, through S-104 and S-108, to the S-109. It's a conventional jacket-style BC with a single-tank camband but two sets of slots to suit steel or aluminium tanks.
You could add another camband or choose the position of the solitary one to suit yourself.
It has a hard backpack with a cushion and rucksack-style bearer, and a wide elasticated cummerbund with small zipped pocket. There is a 5cm elasticated webbing strap and pinch-clip buckle over, and a sternum strap.
Seemann Sub is a highly thought-of brand in Germany. That it has not had a lot of exposure in the UK is no reflection on the quality of its products.
The Seemann Sub Blacjac did as well as any other BC costing less than £300 in our last direct comparison test of BCs (Diver May 00), and I have recently been using the latest version.
Again, this is a conventional single-bag BC with two shoulder dumps, one operated by pulling on the corrugated hose and the other at the opposite shoulder operated by a toggle and cord threaded through the front shoulder facing. There is a dump valve at the lower back, too.
The wide cummerbund has a small zipped pocket and an elasticated strap and buckle over. Again there is a sternum strap.
These BCs appear to use a material of similar weight. So what are the differences?
The Blacjac has two cambands to secure it to the aqualung cylinder, and a well-padded hard backpack with six little suckers to reduce the chance of anything slipping. It also has no fewer than seven heavy-duty, stainless-steel D-rings.
The harness of the Cressi-sub S-109 is separate from the inflatable part of the BC, so you experience no torso squeeze even when fully inflated at the surface. I noted the wide, soft collar that stops the BC rubbing on your neck.
Then there are the dump valves. One is operated by pulling down on the corrugated hose; the other two, at the opposite shoulder and lower back, are simultaneously operated by pulling on a single toggle, the wires for which are neatly threaded through the front left shoulder facing. So if you are horizontal in the water, both upper and lower dump valves
For dangling accessories, Cressi-sub has eschewed the use of metal D-rings and designed its own, using a technopolymer which, I am told, is as strong but much more lightweight. I found that they proved less convenient when it came to clipping karibiners on while under water.
should function. The lower dump also has its own independent toggle.
Cressi's S-series BCs were among the first to offer trim-weight pockets at the back. These have now been given greater capacity and are held closed by velcro. Swanborough & Co 01964 532202, Cressi-sub 01484 310130
The Blacjac has similar trim-weight pockets, but closed by more secure pinch-clips. It also has a very useful pocket for a safety sausage or delayed SMB.
The Blacjac has an integrated weight system, using conventional weight packets which are secured closed and held in position in the BC by generous helpings of velcro. The release toggles have elasticated webbing to avoid weight release by inadvertent snagging.
With the Cressi S-109, the main weight pockets of the integrated-weight system have been entirely rethought. The result is the most secure integrated-weight system I have ever seen, and the most convenient to load before diving. Just unzip the pockets and drop the required amount of lead directly into them, without removing them from where they are stowed.
Instead of dropping your weights, the pre-loaded weight-packets have to be lifted out. They are still secured by a toggle and velcro-covered webbing, and you also have the security of a marine-grade press-stud, but dispensing with the idea of weights being dropped by force of gravity has made the whole process far more studied.
Lifting the weights out when the time comes to pass them up onto the tender or RIB is a natural action, but there is no longer any danger of them being dropped unintentionally.
It might be that this will make the S-109 less attractive in the dive shop than the Seemann Sub Blacjac. The trouble is, shop assistants get to know diving equipment very well. They are forever demonstrating how it works - in their shops. Alas, what seems important in a shop might be less so once you are under the sea.
So the myth of the importance of dropping the weightbelt goes on, even though it seems from recorded incidents that when divers do drop their belts this is the cause of, rather than the cure for, the incident.
Both BCs functioned eminently well. When it came to dumping air, the system worked perfectly on the S-109 and I found that I needed only to pull on the right-side shoulder toggle to dump air as I went. There was never any need to select a better position so that the air could escape - brilliant. However, I couldn't fault the dumping procedure with the Blacjac, either.
Both BCs gave adequate lift, especially for a diver using a single cylinder, either steel or aluminium. At the surface, the usable buoyancy of the Blacjac seemed to raise me slightly higher in the water than that of the S-109. There wasn't much in it but, fully inflated, the German BC did hug me a little tightly while the Italian expanded away from me on its elasticated waist-straps.
What else? I was surprised to discover that while the Blacjac used a corrugated hose that accepted the direct-feed hose neatly integrated with it, the Cressi-sub corrugated hose looked rather skinny by comparison. Its direct-feed hose was a good 15cm shorter, which might lead to equipment configuration problems for some.
Both BCs have two zipped side-pockets, not very capacious but easy to reach. The Blacjac has two reflective strips plus a strip of velcro over the right shoulder to help keep hoses tidy.
The Seemann Sub Blacjac is a worthy, functional product. It weighs around 4kg dry, employs German engineering values and is ideal for divers who want to dress in black!
The S-109 adds a shade more style and finesse, is a better-known brand, and weighs in at nearly a kilo lighter. I said that the S104 was the best conventional BC I had ever used, and I can't deny its successor this claim.
However, cost is always a factor, and though we might be used to German products costing more than Italian ones, here we see that position reversed. The Cressi-sub S-109 BC is available in sizes XS, S, M, L and XL and costs £380. The Seemann Sub Blacjac BC is available in S, M, L and XL and represents very good value at £299.