Scuba women - Sylvia Earl - mujeres buceadoras
5 Amazing Scuba Women You Should Know
November 12, 2020
Show all

Antique Scuba: How Did We Dive in The Old Days?

Antique Scuba - principal - Buceo antiguo ppal

When we talk about antique scuba, we are referring to the way things were done years ago in recreational diving. In today’s article, we are going to review how the equipment has evolved, how we learned to dive, and, on top, we are going to tell you a lot of stories. Our antique scuba expert is Victor Cordoba, HR director of Dressel Divers, who has more than 40 years of memories to tell.

 

Antique Scuba Gear

When I started diving, there were no dive centers. There were only clubs you had to join. The equipment they had was Cousteau’s one. In other words, a bi-trachea regulator that was attached to a tri-bottle. Now that was antique scuba!

Little by little, mono-cylinders were introduced, like the ones we use today in recreational diving. We donned the tanks using nylon harnesses, which were self-locking, so the bottles moved a lot.

Without an octopus, BCD, or wetsuit, we jumped into the water, but yes, with the bi-trachea. Sharing air was an interesting experience. You had to take the regulator out of your mouth and pass it to your partner over your head. We had to move forward being on top of each other. Keep in mind, you couldn’t pass it sideways, because the tubes were around your head.  The problem was the air was coming out in a continuous flow. So, in the passing of the regulator, the air was flowing onto your dive buddy´s face. Poor thing!

Antique Scuba - Buceo antiguo

Antique Scuba: The Inconvenience of Not Having A Pressure Gauge

Another thing we didn’t have in antique scuba was a pressure gauge. There was something we called “the reserve rod”. It worked as follows:

There was an eccentric lever on the tank valve. It was pierced, and through that hole, a rod was linked to it.

The rod went down fixed to the bottle and had a ring at the end. When you noticed that it was difficult to breathe, you pulled the ring. Then, the lever on the valve turned and gave you 30-35 bar/ 435-508 psi. of pressure more. But it did not always work, and you had a problem.

Since we didn’t have a pressure gauge, we didn’t know when it was time to turn around and go back to the boat. So, we never went back diving. We had to do it on the surface.

Therefore, at that time, it was vital to carry a snorkel to swim back to the boat. Remember that we had no BDC to keep us on the surface and that we were weighted. That was an odyssey!

Antique Scuba and The First BCDs

The first BCDs were those we called “WC seat BCDs”, which were similar to those used by airmen. These were circular bladders with a hole in the middle for the head. What did they look like?

We had to inflate the first BCDs orally. After some time, BCDs you could blow up using the air from the tank came on the market. We didn’t have an octopus yet, but hey! We could inflate the BCD automatically.

What was the drawback of these BCDs? It was that you had all the air concentrated around your neck. So, there was no way you could move forward horizontally, nor control your buoyancy. The legs were always lower than the trunk of the body. It was so uncomfortable, that we only inflated the BCD on the surface. Under the water, we wore it completely empty. Thankfully, we carried the minimum calculated weight needed. Because of all this, we were like sharks. We could not stop moving, because if you stopped kicking … Boom! You went down.

The Antique Scuba and The Diving Suits

The antique scuba suits are another interesting topic. The first wetsuits were not made of neoprene, they were made of rubber. Similar to that they use to make the inner tubes of tires. These suits were very hard and barely warm.

They were so complicated to use, that in the courses, techniques to put on and take off the suit were taught. These wetsuits were pulled off over the head and the operation ended with a partner doing the pulling. It was like a free waxing.

Over time, the bi-tracheas gave way to the mono-tracheas. With them, the first octopus and manometers also appeared, and little by little diving gear began to be very similar to what we have now.

Perhaps, one of the things that has evolved the most is the diving flashlights. In antique scuba, we carried flashlights with a very low power bulb that barely illuminated. The problem was that the higher power bulbs needed a huge battery.

In order to carry a powerful flashlight, you had to carry a heavy suitcase, but without BCD.

antique scuba - retro - buceo antiguo
antique scuba - retro - buceo antiguo

The Antique Scuba and The Diving Suits

The antique scuba suits are another interesting topic. The first wetsuits were not made of neoprene, they were made of rubber. Similar to that they use to make the inner tubes of tires. These suits were very hard and barely warm. They were so complicated to use, that in the courses, techniques to put on and take off the suit were taught. These wetsuits were pulled off over the head and the operation ended with a partner doing the pulling. It was like a free waxing.

Over time, the bi-tracheas gave way to the mono-tracheas. With them, the first octopus and manometers also appeared, and little by little diving gear began to be very similar to what we have now.

Perhaps, one of the things that has evolved the most is the diving flashlights. In antique scuba, we carried flashlights with a very low power bulb that barely illuminated. The problem was that the higher power bulbs needed a huge battery. In order to carry a powerful flashlight, you had to carry a heavy suitcase, but without BCD.

Antique Scuba: How Did We Learn to Dive in The Old Days?

In antique scuba, the courses were done in the clubs and, mainly, they were given by military instructors. They were the first ones who started diving and the ones who could teach others. The military people had their own training methods: army methods.

I remember that you had to pass an entrance exam in order to do the course. The test consisted of swimming 400 m/ 1312ft, then free-diving at 4.70 m/ 15.42 ft. and there picking up a 2kl/4 lb. weight; ascending, and after that, floating with the weight above the water for at least one minute. Then, you had to do 2 apneas for 20 seconds with an interval of 10 seconds between them.  If you did not make it, you could not do the course. Can you imagine if we currently did this kind of test at Dressel Divers?

Antique scuba 2 - Buceo antiguo

The advanced students of one course became the instructors of the previous course. To teach you scuba skills, the instructors did several things.

– To teach you how to empty your mask, they would take it off while you were underwater.

–  Instructors closed your tank to teach you how to share air.

– To teach you how to adapt to the environment, they would steal a fin.

The first time they closed my bottle, I had opposite me one of the few woman instructor of that time. When I ran out of the air, I gave her the signal, and she passed me the bi-trachea regulator. So, I could keep breathing. Suddenly she signaled me to ascend, and already on the surface, she told me:

– You’ve done very well, very calmly, you’ve asked for air in the best way, but… remember that I breathe too. – It was a bi-trachea regulator, not an octopus. I took her breath away!

In antique scuba, the course lasted a month. There were only two levels of divers: either you were a diver or an instructor. There was no Advanced, no specialties, no other courses. All of them came later.

Antique Scuba: The Way We Dove in The Old Days 

In the old days, nobody wanted to dive with the newbies. Keep in mind that we did not stop kicking nor did we wear a wetsuit. The rookie diver would consume his/her air much too soon, and it was very annoying.

Once on a dive to 30 m./ 98 ft. when I was still a novel diver, I indicated to my group that I was in reserve (in antique scuba this was indicated by a fist). The instructor answered me with the OK signal and moved his hand to say goodbye. I ascended 30 m. 98ft with 30 bars/ 435 psi. and when I reached the surface, the boat was far away. So, I had to swim to it on my own.

How did I know it was 30 m/ 98ft depth? Because we did have a depth gauge. In antique diving, depth gauges were a small plastic tube with a round shape that you wore on your wrist. The tube had a cap on one end and the other end was penetrated by the water.

As we know, every 10 m./33ft pressure increases twice, so the volume of air decreases by half. The water was halfway up the tube at 10 m. /33 ft depth. When it reached half of what was left, you were at 20 m. 66ft depth. And so on. In this way, we calibrated the tube. To calculate the times of the dive tables (which were not the current ones, but those of the American Navy), we were helped by the depth gauge and a submersible watch.

As we didn’t have a computer, the ascent speed was the one that you could manage moving your fins. Remember that we didn’t wear a vest and if you stopped finning you would descend again.

These are just some of the anecdotes that can be told about diving in the old days and how we used to dive.  Now it’s your turn. Do you have any old diving stories? Do you remember how you started diving? Share it with us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *