This was one of those ‘dude, I just gotta do this!’
Time for some hardhat diving! These NEDEG guys were having their rally at Dutch (the info I got thanks to my DiveBuddy) so I wanted to try the original Mark V diving rig. The guys are great, they have a solid brass Mk V and the newer Chinese version and a SuperLite helmet and some super freaky-looking Soviet outfits and I don’t know what else but, man, they’re loaded with heavy stuff.
I mean, that’s diving history right there, way before scuba, Mark V helmet is a classic, has been around since 1916 and still in use! I remember reading books about the old-school diving as a kid (had a little hardhat diver blowing bubbles in my fish tank too) but I couldn’t even imagine myself hardhat diving. I’ve worn construction hardhats for years but now I get to try the real thing, the hardest (and probably the heaviest) hat out there.
Donning the Mark V gear (with the drysuit) and taking it off took longer than the dive itself. It normally takes two guys to help you get in, you’re mostly just chillin’ there, the brass rig is a little on the bulky side to participate in donning and securing it in a meaningful way. (Before I got in I helped other Mark V divers with suiting up and stuff, but I’d still rather have a pro make sure it’s done right). The brass breastplate goes on after the drysuit and then the chafing gear. 12 nuts get tightened in a specific sequence on the studs all around the breastplate. One of them is actually called a bastard stud, it’s slightly longer. That’s where the whip gets attached (my air control valve).
Now, the crotch strap is the tricky bit (for a guy anyway), it has to be pretty snug so they tighten it until your voice starts getting higher (well, almost). Next to the crotch hangs this mini-machete of a dive knife screwed into its brass sheath. Mark V divers don’t mess around with them sissy BC knives.
The helmet screws onto the threaded ring of the breastplate, about 45 degree turn does the job. The front faceplate swings open on a hinge (it probably makes sense to keep it closed underwater), the other 3 view ports with grills don’t open. I got air and phone goosenecks at the back of the helmet. There’s even a petcock called spitcock on the left bottom side (umm, I did not try to use that).
The brass shoes go on and the mother-of-all weight belts… I’m told the whole getup weighs 190 pounds. (I’m not the skinniest dude out there but that would be heavier than me.) When I stood up and walked to the water, it did feel a tad heavy (maybe not as heavy as 190, though).
Obviously you have a bit of a tunnel vision thing going on in this helmet and you can’t look down too good so you wanna walk real careful while topside. Also, you don’t wanna get the umbilical caught on anything, which consists of 3 lines connecting you to the surface – an air hose, a com line and a load-bearing rope (lifeline). But once I sunk beneath the surface, it was pure fun. I tried jumping and running, it really kinda felt like an astronaut on the moon, the same slow motion effect happening.
Being able to talk to the surface through a helmet-installed phone (on the left top side) was way cool. The constant hiss of airflow in the helmet makes it noticeably noisier than scuba but I could hear the transceiver real clear and respond without any problem. If it wasn’t for the phone we’d have to communicate by yanking on the lifeline; it felt awesome to dive having voice communication. I didn’t have a dive computer on me but there was a depth gauge… on the surface. And the surface guy kept track of my bottom time too.
Equalizing was easier than usual, I just had to swallow and that’s it. Although there was a thingy in the helmet to stick your nose in to equalize, I tried it but didn’t really need it. I had control of my air flow; the valve is clipped to the breastplate. There’s also a manually adjusted exhaust valve on the right side, it helps control buoyancy. And there was a button I could push with my chin to override the exhaust valve if the suit gets over inflated.
Largemouth bass were swimming up close to my faceplate with an interested look. (“Hey, look, we got us a round aquarium with some dude’s head inside, cool!”) That was my first dive without a buddy in the water. Your buddy in this set-up is the dude up top, tending to your umbilical and the com box.
I go out all the way to the end of the line and I wish I could go farther but that’s not scuba for ya. Even though the air is unlimited, at some point I decide it’s time to go back up. I tell the guy on the surface so he starts reeling the line in. I’m happy having tried diving in this whole new (and very old at the same time) way.
I think if snorkeling is kind of like riding a bicycle (both require only basic skills), and scuba is like riding a motorcycle (both require certification/license), then diving Mark V is like ridin’ a mean vintage HD chopper. That’s the sweet feeling I got, anyway.