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The Hogarthian Gear Configurationby Jarrod Jablonski
Cave diving has undergone some significant changes during the last roughly 50 years of its evolution, yet few aspects of the sport remain more hotly contested than gear configuration. Dozens of styles have been marched out to center stage and purported to be the most effective, the safest, the easiest, the cheapest, or lately even the most "technical". Some people have casually recommended one style over another, others have adamantly insisted upon their configuration while still others recommend that one just do what feels good. How can one sport support such a variety of opinions and perhaps more importantly how is a diver to dim the clamor of opinions and make a sound and reasonable decision.
The most sensible way to make any educated decision is to gather information and evaluate which of the available options most satisfies your particular needs. Many or more specifically nearly all styles allow the average diver to access a cave. Even many an open water diver has returned unscathed from a poorly chosen venture into the depths of our cave systems, yet despite their safe return consensus opinion holds that a certain minimum of equipment is necessary to penetrate into the overhead environment. It is how one should configure that equipment and in many cases what equipment to use that garnishes the lion's share of the sometimes bitter debate over equipment configuration.
Different Styles The vast majority of equipment styles are most easily discussed in relation to one's placement of the long hose. Many different styles of equipment configuration exist and the members of each variation differ in their specific solution to the many details of equipment placement. The following two styles are the most popular divisions of hose placement. While many differences may exist within each group, the separation of the two primary groups largely pertains to one's belief as to whether the regulator donated to an out of air diver should come from one's mouth or from one's retaining device.
The Bungie StyleThe most common style places the long hose in some type of surgical tubing or restrictive band. This band may be placed on the side of the tanks, near the manifold, on the back plate or nearly anywhere that suits one's fancy. Proponents of this style vary in their dedication to the refinement of their equipment placement, with many divers generally lacking a focus on reduction and cleanliness. However, a few divers practicing this style do begin to approach the Minimalism concept so obvious in the Hogarthian style.
The Hogarthian StyleThe Hogarthian Style has many minor variations, yet its focus asserts a policy of minimalism. In other words if it is not needed it is a potential liability. The Hogarthian style strives to eliminate the unnecessary while configuring the necessary in the most streamlined manner possible. Named for its founding father, William Hogarth Main, the Hogarthian style is constantly being improved and refined. Bill Main himself is constantly showing up to local dive sites with modifications, despite nearly 25 years of cave diving and much can be learned from his dedication.
Certainly many minor variations exist within the Hogarthian diving community, yet one will find the strictest of its practitioners to be remarkably similar. The true Hogarthian diver breathes their long hose and donates this hose to the out of air diver while retrieving his secondary from around the neck. Regardless of an individuals preference for which hose to donate to the out of air diver much can be learned from the dedication of this style and the practices of its proponents, which continue to execute the most demanding cave dives ever done.
Many divers appreciate that certain extraordinary dives may require a degree of refinement simply unnecessary for the average diver. Yet in much the same way space travel is merely a distant dream for the majority, the advances gained from this pursuit are abundant. Yet how much of this refinement is reasonable or more importantly helpful? One's attention to detail should at least be proportional to the type of dives done, but that strict attention to detail couldn't hurt. If all your dives focus on the main line and your penetrations are modest, perhaps your idea of strict attention would be different. If your dives begin to incorporate stage diving and longer penetration then undoubtedly you should exercise a complimentary form of attention.
In general always be aware that you should look at the entire package as it functions together. Your equipment should be a cohesive unit that facilitates your dives and not a haphazard collection of available items. Remember that even the simplest problem may prove insurmountable in at the wrong time in the wrong place. Divers that regularly dive in demanding situations all agree that most major problems arise from a minor irritation which continues to blossom out of control. Indeed, most fatalities result from a combination of events that eventually spiraled beyond the divers ability to manage. Certainly no configuration can prevent all problems, but the goal remains to reduce the likelihood of a problem and to remain configured in a manner consistent with a rapid resolution. Regardless of the type of diving one pursues simplicity and refinement will always serve to support comfort and safety.
Breathing The Long HoseDespite its growing popularity, many divers remain opposed to donating the regulator the regulator from their mouth. The following discussion reviews the most common resistance to donating the long hose from the mouth. This system stresses your dive buddies longevity and your ability to manage your equipment with complete independence.
It does not seem especially reasonable to venture into stressful overhead situations until one is comfortable with a regulator, a mask, or a light. In the training process all cave diver are or should be subjected to numerous fatalistic situations during which they should become comfortable with losing any piece of their equipment. One's ability to remain calm and collected in these situations will determine the likelihood of their survival in real emergency situations. If a diver is uncomfortable with losing the primary regulator than this skill needs to be developed regardless of the chosen method for managing an air failure.
By donating the long hose regulator form the mouth in an one guarantees that the person most in need of a clean fully functioning regulator is going to get it. If you pass any other regulator to an out of air diver it is quite possible that the regulator received may contain contaminants that will be impossible for the stressed diver to manage. In essence what you will have done is to place the last straw on the camel's back, only this camel may be the last problem your dive buddy can manage. The advantage of donating your primary is that you are always ready for this very real possibility. You are in essence always prepared for any eventuality rather than maintaining a fixed picture of how things must operate. Emergencies have an annoying habit of not going as planned and the Hogarthian diver is more prepared to manage a variety of out of air scenarios.
Yet, the buddy system seems to fall apart before it even has a chance to work if one is willing to maintain so limited a responsibility for their dive buddy. Personally I am unwilling to dive in any really demanding situations with individuals that consider my loss of air to be more my problem than theirs. It is not unnatural to function in a "me first" mode, but be aware that the dissolution of any good system starts at the foundation. Certainly this level of commitment is not mandatory, but if exceptions are to be made to this system all participants need to be informed. Just as it is unacceptable to violate your thirds while your dive buddy maintains an emergency volume for you, it is unfair not to inform a buddy that you are limited in your desire to provide assistance. The day I embark upon a dive with an individual that I am unwilling to religiously protect is the day I stop diving within the buddy system. There is a term for people unwilling to make the life of their dive buddy a top priority - they are called solo divers.
The System Approach- No review of the Hogarthian style is complete without a discussion of the system itself. It is not merely the streamlined nature of their equipment nor the use of the long hose that sets the Hogarthian diver apart it is the way the pieces are carefully arranged to create a harmonious system. Your equipment must function cohesively and be configured so as to provide you with the greatest support- it is after all life support equipment. For example, let's assume that you have made the commitment to breathing the long hose. That decision, in and of itself must not be the end to your deliberation. In fact, it is really only a logical beginning. Where and how you store the balance of this length of hose and indeed how long it is are at least as crucial as your decision to use it as a primary. Most divers following this style have opted for the 7' length (nine is ridiculous and dangerous in most situations and 5' is precariously short in restrictive passage) and then run it under a hip mounted light canister across the chest and one half a loop around the neck into the mouth. This system is ideal in that it allows nearly five feet of house to instantly be available and the remaining two to be deployed with a quick flick of the hand.
The long hose must not be wrapped around your neck multiple times (this may be quite dangerous) as its deployment will be time consuming and awkward. The hip mounted canister provides an ideal location for storage of one's hose while allowing for easy removal in the event of entanglement, visual verification (I prefer clear housings) to assure it is not a water cooled version, a shorter cord to deal with, and assurance of general stability. In addition, the lack of a light swinging from the bottom of your tanks provides ample room to store reels, lift bags, tools and extra scooters while providing an ideal place to tow a stranded diver during an aborted scooter dive. The hip mounted version is also easier to remove and replace and reduces the number of times you set your 100+ pound tanks on top of it. Of course if you choose to dive your light elsewhere that is your option but requires that you expend some energy and ascertain the most efficient system for your philosophy. Regardless of your chosen system, here are some general issues you need to consider.
Reduce, Reduce, and ReduceToo many divers today seem under the impression that more is always better. In cave diving what is needed is better; what is not needed is a detriment. Equipment choice like most things is a cost vs. benefit analysis in which one must weigh the potential risk against the perceived benefit. The difficult part and in fact the thing that really defines a safe and effective diver is to their ability to accurately evaluate the benefit while candidly weighing the acceptable risk.
- Lights are an essential portion of your equipment yet more is again not always better. One primary and two backup lights should be fine for most situations. Unless you intentionally dive faulty equipment or ignore common maintenance the likelihood of a triple light failure is statistically insignificant. Yet if you carry six lights you are likely to encounter many other unnecessary problems. Not only are you less likely to care for these lights but they will cause you numerous entanglement hazards that will far outweigh the perceived benefit. Three good lights- one strong dependable primary with two small back-up lights is sufficient for most dives. If light failures are common on your dives you should reevaluate your equipment and/or your technique.
We have discussed the placement of the primary light canister and the advantages of hip mounted operation but how about one's reserve lights. These lights could be stored in several places and many people the on the tank to be favorable. This system can appear fairly clean, but the lights may come on unbeknown to the user or may pull free in smaller cave and tangle in the line. In addition tank mounted lights cannot be turned on while still attached to your rigging a serious disadvantage in stressful situations. When placed on one's harness below the arms they tuck neatly out of the way and are essentially snag free.
The primary light is an integral part of any divers equipment. Your light must provide ample illumination, be reliable, and allow flexible use. The test tube style light satisfies all these requirements and more. The light beam has excellent illumination properties, is simple to operate, has tremendous flexibility and when connected to a canister style light will provide stalwart reliability. The Goodman style that rests atop your hand allows for further flexibility as it provides the unencumbered use of both hands, allows easy light signals and a better visual field. A Goodman style handle allows just as much flexibility as the helmet mounted light yet does not blind your dive buddies and allows the diver more flexibility.
- Cages tend to be somewhat controversial topics. First, let me say that I dislike cages. I am not against the thing they purport to accomplish but I am against their apparent success. First let us look at your propensity for contacting the ceiling. If you hit the ceiling on a regular basis and conclude that a cage is the correct solution I would argue your logic is flawed or at least questionable. If you hit the ceiling a lot don't look for substitutions to becoming a better cave diver just work on your technique. OK so everyone hits the ceiling on occasion but how hard? If you are swimming I think you are being a bit reactionary and should really reconsider your risk.
If you are scootering then you have a somewhat legitimate concern. You may choose one of the large dome style cages that appear to be solid protection but are also have an annoying habit of wedging their owner in small places. Given the likelihood of a manifold failure I would much rather go cageless and remain flexible in smaller areas. If you use the smaller more streamlined version of the cage which substitutes curved metal guards above your regulators then I think you are fooling yourself. I have witnessed two people break their din regulators off at the manifold despite the presence of these protective devices. If, in fact, these devices are limited in their ability to accomplish what they were designed for than their large line catching profile is far more a risk than a benefit.
- Manifolds are, in general, the best method to manage your air supply. The only exceptions are in my opinion solo diving and side mount. If you are not pursuing either of these options then you should not configure as if you are. I caution you to be wary both about using independent valves and about diving with those that dive independent. It requires great care and superior gas management capabilities to effectively monitor independent cylinders and experience has shown that most people are not capable of proper management. Given the likelihood of a manifold failure I will remain an ardent supporter of manifolds for nearly all diving environments.
- Isolators are nifty little inventions that responded to our desire for the cake after it was eaten. They are in theory excellent ideas and in practice probably pretty good. As long as one maintains an awareness of their strengths and weaknesses they may remain effective pieces of equipment. They are, however, not necessarily the saving grace everyone has you believe. Be aware that due to the nature of their construction failure of your isolator will only allow one cylinder to be isolated protecting only a finite amount of your available gas. Furthermore, one must always guard against the common occurrence of valves that are inadvertently turned off during filling or safety drills. If the diver remains aware of these problems and also angles the isolator forward toward the head (to protect it from impact) then it should provide the redundancy desired without the disadvantages.
- Knobs on your valves should consume at least some of your thought process. Rubber knobs are my personal favorite. They are durable, shock absorbent, shatter proof, and easy to turn. Their only downfall is that if you have a manifold that has one post shut down upon contact with the ceiling then you must be concerned with the ease with which these valves turn. Personally, were I diving a manifold where this was a problem I would still use rubber knobs and just be more cautious. Plastic knobs are dangerous because they can shatter, leaving you with nothing to turn on or off. The metal knobs attempt to solve this and the auto shut off problem yet fall a little short because they can bend upon impact and be rendered useless.
- Tanks come in a variety of flavors and I will spend very little time on them. My preference is for the larger volume lower pressure steel cylinders. Tank size should depend on your size, your needs and your available funds. Do the cave and yourself a favor and really evaluate your needs. Don't just buy the most expensive tanks your wallet can handle. 95's are often the best overall buy but you should evaluate your personal needs. For divers in dry suits the additional weight of Press Steel 104's are an advantage and they may find these tanks an excellent option.
- Gauges are necessary pieces of equipment but people often succumb to the more is better philosophy. Two timing devices should be more than sufficient for any body's needs. The gauges should be wrist mounted so as to avoid bulky consoles and the resulting dredging effect they create. A single pressure gauge avoids all the drag and snagging risk associated with consoles.
-The Complete System may have small variations but the true Hogarthian configuration maintains a remarkable degree of similarity. The following is a synopsis of the most salient issues. For purposes of illustration direction will be given assuming the diver is facing a set of doubles prior to donning them.
Regulator Configuration-Many Hogarthian divers still use a Scuba Pro yolk style manifold which places one regulator tucked below the manifold. The valve is in the same area that newer manifolds have isolator valves while the left post is still in the conventional position. Several Hogarthian divers also dive DIN manifolds often with isolators. Most divers seem to consider DIN a far superior system and in some ways this is accurate. As a pressure fitting DIN is a recognized improvement, yet appears to offer little if any real advantage in resistance to impact. Several DIN regulators have broken upon contact with the cave, calling into question the resiliency of the connection tube. In addition, one must be aware that all these regulators have a right post that rolls off upon contact with the ceiling. This issue should not prevent a serious problem to the experienced diver yet it requires awareness.
The right post regulator is connected to the pressure gauge, which is clipped off to the belt. This allows the chest to remain free of clutter allowing more efficient stage bottle use and no dredging in low areas. In addition the pressure gauge running from this post allows the diver to become rapidly aware of an accidentally shutdown of the right post. The secondary (short hose) regulator runs from the right post and hangs at the neck in a neck strap. Some people maintain that the right post regulator should be the one off which one breathes thus providing more immediate information that an accidental shutdown has occurred. Interestingly enough these are often the same people that argue a diver should not donate the regulator from the mouth as it will place the diver in an out of air situation. To be sure, the diver must guard against the potential for accidental air shut-down but this should be done through awareness not risk. Following a low area where valve contact has occurred one must habitually check this valve. In addition, the pressure gauge and low pressure inflator attached to the regulator provide ample warning of an accidental shut-down. Configuring otherwise may cut off air to the out of air diver in a emergency situation. Were this to occur in a bad or zero visibility situation the out of air diver would almost certainly drown.
The left post contains the long hose and a low pressure inflator. Hogarthian divers may vary in which of these two low pressure inflator control dry suit or buoyancy but they must run from different regulators to provide redundancy in the event of a regulator failure. The long hose should come from this left post (facing the tanks) so as to remain clean while providing the maximum hose available.
Backplate and Buoyancy Systems-Aluminum or stainless steel backplates with a one piece harness and single wing style buoyancy compensator are generally the best option a diver has. The newer plastic backplates seem resilient enough but really offer few if any advantages. The claim that they reduce webbing erosion is eclipsed by the risk of their cracking and leaving the diver with loose or missing back tanks. This situation may well be unlikely but it would probably be fatal in most situations. Certainly the warranty will be little consolation were this to occur at the wrong time.
Most manufactures of harnesses have not only gone to the plastic backplate but have made the even more unfortunate transition to harnesses with numerous failure points. Remember, a quick release is just that and it is quite conceivable that plastic buckle will break and again leave the diver engaging in a forced ballistic ascent as the tanks plummet to the depths bellow. Worse yet, most new harnesses also contain brass rings sewn into a harness for no apparent purpose. these rings are attached with thin 1" pieces sewn into the harness. Many distributors make claims about the great tenacity of their webbing while overlooking the weakest link reality. A one piece harness has no reel points of failure, yet unfortunately most divers have traded this simple reliable system for one with up to six separate points of failure. Another unfortunate development is the tendency for manufacturers to release harness systems that have multiple (one count found 14!) D rings in unnecessary locations that are sewn so as to prevent the diver from customizing their configuration. These systems make it challenging to effectively hip mount a light canister, hamper the efficient use of multiple stage bottles (due to a looser fit and small triangular d-rings), increase drag and decrease overall life (thread and fabric will never outlive metal).
Many divers pursue the dual B.C. option to gain some redundancy. Regrettably all these systems are poorly styled increasing drag and complexity. If one were to desire redundant buoyancy, two bladders in one case is a bit cleaner. However, most of the available systems place the diver with two 80 lb. bladders which is not only entirely unnecessary but further increases drag. Most Hogarthian divers maintain the use of a dry suit for redundant lift.
Primary Light-A trademark of the Hogarthian style is a hip mounted canister light. The canister light is favored for its smaller size, clear housing, superior pressure resistance, and simplistic design. The light is hip mounted on the left side (again assuming the diver is facing the cylinders prior to donning) allowing a convenient place to store the long hose. The Goodman style handle light allows hands-free use without the superfluous use of a helmet. This design offers the best of all options in that it allows the diver to illuminate any area while maintaining maximum flexibility.
The Body is the central component to any effective diving locker and no discussion of equipment would be complete without giving it a mention. Many debates have revolved around the necessity of fitness in diving and no doubt these debates will continue for years to come. It seems that the most reasonable course would be to evaluate the type of diving to be done and adjust your level of fitness accordingly. The average diver should be seeking good cardiovascular fitness with aerobic activity- at least three days a week for a minimum of 20 minutes. However, good fitness can serve you in life as well as diving and a thorough fitness routine will leave you more prepared for the rigors diving can produce.
A person winded by a flight of stairs can certainly dive but their ability to manage stressful, air critical situations is limited by their physical response to elevated exertion. This may seem inconsequential in a leisurely dive but in an emergency it can make all the difference. Certainly excessive exercise could be a potential liability as scar tissue accumulation at the joints could reduce circulation. However, too much exercise is indeed a rare commodity.
Jarrod Jablonski is an active cave explorer, CEO of Gobal Underwater Explorers (www.GUE.com), CEO of Extreme Explorers, cave instructor, and cave researcher working and diving predominately in the North Florida region. As an avid explorer and instructor and Jarrod spends hundreds of hours a year in caves around the world. These dives frequently include dives below 300' and at distances beyond 18,000'.
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