I have a fair amount of diving experience. I earned my PADI card when I was 17. I’m also a military trained diver and served in dive billets for nine years. But I don’t have diving gear anymore and I think I made my last dive about 2003. I just snorkel now. But I always think about options….
It seemed to me it would be useful if I had a way to clean the bottom of the Far Reach without having to do it free diving. I’m still in pretty good shape and I’m comfortable in the water but cleaning the bottom of a 36’ full keel boat, especially one rolling around in an anchaorage is very “fatiguing”…that’s civilian speak for it’s an ass kicker. Or what if I dropped something valuable over the side and just could not reach it free diving. The right kind of system might be useful.
For about a year I have been reading up on the benifits of a hookah diving system. A hookah is slang for a surface supplied air breathing system—the source of the air you breath under water remains on the surface. There are all kinds of systems from a simple 12v electric compressor to a multi tank cascade systems. But, they are all expensive. And they require a lot of “stuff” to make them fully self contained for use on your boat. And I don’t like “lots of stuff.”
After considerable research and thinking about the pros and cons of the various options I decided to go with a basic system that takes up the least space. My set up is just a 1st stage (which connects to the tank), connected to 50’ air hose, connected to the 2nd stage regulator. That’s it. It does requires the use of a SCUBA tank which I don’t carry aboard the Far Reach. I plan to rent a tank when I need one. Here in the USVI a fully charged 80 CUFT tank is $8 a day.
Scotty, the owner of Hi-Tech Dive Center in St Thomas Put the hookah together. He saidhe has built dozens of them over the years. The cost was $190. That included a rebuilt Sherwood regulator and a 1st stage. It also included $50 worth of special fittings and the 50’ air hose. My brother sent me an extra pressure gauge he had on hand…so that was free.
The way it works is the SCUBA tank stays on the surface, e.g. on the Far Reach—but, I could also put it in our dinghy Sweet Pea. Then, the hose goes in the water. I go in the water with the regulator. That’s it
There is no end to the ways you can over complicate this or throw money at it. Those that know me know my approach is to keep it simple but also keep it safe. The one thing I did not do was purchase an air hose that stamped “approved for SCUBA.” But, I did a lot of reading and research and also checked the hose carefully. Scotty also gave it his blessing. There is no internal rubber sleeve which could be poisonous under pressure. So anyone that’s wants to make one of these will have to sort that out on their own. You can get an air hose approved for SCUBA for about $200. I make my decisions and you make yours….
I purchased an extra fitting in case I want to add another 50’ hose for a total of 100’. I thought I might need a longer air hose if my anchor got stuck in some bad way in deep water. Just thinking about the possibilities. For most of the way I think I will use it, 50’ will be more than enough.
I used the hookah for the first time a few weeks ago while we were anchored in Great Harbor, JVD. It worked very well. The bottom paint was 19 months old. The hull only had a few barnacles but a fair amount of algae. It took 45 min of scraping with a yellow plastic West epoxy squeegee—I don’t use metal scrapers though I do carry and occasionally scrub with a small square of indoor/outdoor carpet when I need a little more than the scraper. My philosophy is to keep the paint on the bottom of the boat. I left the SCUBA bottle on the boat and dangled the air pressure gauge over the side so I could monitor it from the water. Gayle served as support and tender from topside.
The whole event was uncomplicated. I wore my swim trucks, fins, gloves, mask, a UPF 50 long sleeve shirt, and my weight belt with my dive knife and 4 lbs of weight. No BC. No back pack. No octopus rig. No dive computer. So I was clean and streamlined.
When I set up the hookah, I attached snap link on the air hose and lashed a brass ring on my weight belt. By snapping the air hose to the weight belt the air hose pulled on the belt and not on the regulator in my mouth. As a diver, I’d like my knife separate from my weight belt. So I am on the lookout for a way that can accomplish that without adding more gear. Also, it would be best if the airhose was connected to something besides the weight belt. The way it is set up now, if I had to release the weight belt I have to remember to unsnap the airhose first. So, I need to refine the set up a bit more. But so far, we are off to a good start.