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My Favourite Dive Kit

It’s 13 years since Diver Magazine published Monty Halls’ first article, about a dive-site near Plymouth ferryport. He had recently left the Royal Marines to study as a marine biologist. Since then, Monty has dived the world over and over, initially with his ground-breaking Full Circle expeditions, which caught the eye of the TV producers. He has made many television programmes, including the Great Ocean Adventures series, discovered  a lost city off India, written several books and won not only Channel 4’s Superhuman title but a Scientific Exploration Society award for services to exploration. Watch out in July for his third BBC series, Monty Hall’s Great Irish Escape – in which he lives and works in Connemara with the Irish Whale & Dolphin Conservation Group – and, in 2012, a major new BBC series called Reef. But what, you ask, about his kit?



I’ve got an old Oceanic silicone mask. I’ve had it a long long time – it’s at that stage when the silicone is no longer see-through at all. Masks are all so good nowadays, but this one is low-volume, fits my face well and is tried and tested. I always think you should never change a mask when you’ve found a good one. God only knows how it’s still working – I’ve sat on it, chucked kit on it and left it rolling around in the bottom of the boat.



I’m a big Force Fin man. They take a little while to get used to, and you look an absolute imbecile when you walk around in them. There’s an awful lot of hype about revolutionary new fin designs, but I think Force Fins are that bit different, and they also use different muscle groups. There is that apocryphal story about the diver swimming and thinking: “These fins are rubbish, they’re not working,” and then his buddy comes up and says slow down a bit. I’ve had that happen to me! For photography, or presenting to camera, there’s an awful lot of small manoeuvres needed to get into the right position, and Force Fins are fabulous for that. You can even swim backwards and all that kind of stuff, so I’m a big, big fan.



I use a Suunto D6 I’ve had for ages. I had a D9, but being a bit of a Luddite I found it difficult in terms of coordinating it with the sensor and all that sort of thing. It’s like your laptop – you use about 10% of the capability. I also found it a bit big to walk around with on my wrist – “check out the size of my watch!” – so I switched to the D6.



I’ve just been sent the new Apeks Flight and I’ve only used it a couple of times, but it’s just fantastic. There’s a huge movement towards compactness and lightness, but Apeks has always made great regulators. I’m told it has a few limitations, in cold water or when you’re putting a workload on it, but you sacrifice those things for the lightness and convenience of it, and in 99% of situations it’s fine. If temperature was the main consideration, OK, but otherwise I think it works as well as any regulator. I don’t use the Flight on the programmes, but I use pretty much everything else.



I’ve got a Custom Divers wing. One of the things I really like about Custom Divers is that you can go and chat to them and they’ll manufacture a set-up for you. You tell them what you’re doing and they’ll say: “You need this harness and this back plate, this wing – and try bolting that on as well.” I made the jump to twin-sets a wee while back, and if you tell Custom Divers you’re relatively new to twin-sets they’ll just build a system for you, so that it’s all balanced and everything.



I’ve just done the Poseidon Discovery rebreather course, and that’s an interesting bit of kit. There have been many products that people have said will revolutionise diving, but I really think this has the potential to bridge the recreational-rebreather gap. I hesitate to use the word “idiot-proof”, because as someone memorably said to me the other day, the moment you build something idiot-proof, someone just builds a bigger idiot! That’s so true, but as a slightly nervous rebreather diver, what I love about the Discovery is that if there’s a snag it just locks you out. It goes to open circuit, and that’s the end of your dive. You go back and figure out what the problem is and let it sort itself out. I like that fall-back, you’re not doing the diagnosis while you’re down there. It’s like diving with a very, very paranoid maiden aunt! So I’m enjoying using it. I can see the limitations, see the criticisms that the machine is utterly flying itself, and that if you get locked out that’s your dive over, but I prefer that. There’s always another dive. I think I’ll use it on the programmes, but one snag is that you lose the CE-rating the moment you put a full-face mask with it, because of CO2 build-up and so on, so you can’t use it and talk at the same time. But I’ve had a chat with the Beeb about it and they say: “Well it is a very James Bond bit of kit, and you can creep up on animals with it on.” And let’s face it, voice over can be just as nice as a bit of sync.



I know there are lots of great suits out there, but I really rate O’Three suits. I’ve had mine for a long time, and it’s like changing your car mechanic when you find a good one – you just never do it. The suits are really comfortable, the after-service is as good as everyone says it is, it’s never leaked and I just enjoy wearing it. I use the O’Three under suit, too, but I do also wear Fourth Element.



One of the great things Fourth Element has done is that it’s becomes one of the brands that has made diving quite trendy for non-divers. It’s a young, dynamic company, the marketing’s really slick – it’s almost the equivalent of a surf brand in diving, and there aren’t many like that. British divers especially tend to go for rugged, hairy-bummed kit, and the one word that doesn’t spring to mind when you look at it is “sexy”, but Fourth Element has that. I wear a Proteus.



I got my torch from Custom Divers, a massive slab of metal presumably made from an anvil, and it’s pretty much indestructible. But it’s worth mentioning that I had an Oceanic torch for years and years. It went round the world with me five times and I knocked seven bells out of it, but it was inexpensive and never let me down. I was very impressed with it, and I’ve still got it at home. It gave up the ghost after years of abuse. I’d flooded it a few times, but I’d wash it out with fresh water and it would work again. It was amazing. But now it’s had a Viking burial in my office drawer, and will never be thrown away.



I have a Nikon D300 but – and I talk about this with real missionary zeal – it’s in a Hugyfot housing. Touch wood, it’s pretty much impossible to flood because of the pressure sensor in it. For someone who is a habitual flooder of cameras – and I’ve flooded cameras that are “impossible” to flood, like Subals – it gives such peace of mind. I also like the ergonomics of it. You have genuine one-handed operation of the camera with the trigger. I’ve loved using it from the moment I got it about two years ago. Speaking as an underwater photographer of questionable ability, I’ve always struggled with the same thing as everyone else, which is the balance of light and getting genuine TTL with digital. INON strobes, which I’m sure everyone is talking about, are just very light and compact. I think the combination of these strobes with the Hugyfot have revolutionised my underwater photography. Once you have your camera safely housed and are confident you’re not going to flood it, and exposure is kind of taken care of by the strobes, those are two of your fundamental problems sorted out. Istill have fundamental problems but hey!



Because I’m a Beeb man, I have to pay for everything, even though it’s at trade or cost prices because I’m in the industry, so this isn’t about sponsorship, but my RIB is a Humber Ocean Pro and I’ve been very impressed with it, and with Humber and the guys who set it up for me. There’s been a quantum leap in outboard engines. They’re a lot more environmentally friendly now that they’re four-strokes. I have a couple of Evinrude E-TECs on the Humber, and in terms of emissions they’re among the most environmentally friendly engines. The days of belching fumes coming from your club RIB should be over.



It’s a little Oceanic pen-knife that I tuck into a pouch. It’s one-handed operation, you just flick it open.



I use a yellow McMurdo EPIRB about the size of a tiny mobile phone, in a Custom Divers black canister that can go down to 90m. Think of all the things you might spend £250 on for diving, but that little EPIRB, on land or under water, will give your location to within a quarter of a mile anywhere on Planet Earth – forever. I got my EPIRB at LIDS last year and I have it with me when I dive anywhere now, tucked away into the kit. We’ve just filmed Reef out in the Coral Sea with the BBC Natural History Unit, which was properly remote, with big currents, and it’s so reassuring to know that you’ve got this little thing if you look like ending up large-scale chumming! Push the button, and an instant alert is sent out. Monty Halls was talking to Steve Weinman