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Monday, 31 July 2017

Monkey Wrench - Pandora Tool Review

Disclaimer: I bought and paid for this with my own money. This article is purely my own opinion. Do not attempt to service your own equipment unless you are trained/know what the hell you're doing.

So I'd seen this scuba multi tool over the last few months and found it and interesting proposition for people like me who like to be prepared for every eventuality on dives but don't want to necessarily lug around a tool box. I've tried several multi tools over the years with little satisfaction, so could this be the answer to a divers prayers?

The Pandora tool comes in a couple of options, both stainless steel and titanium with the titanium option costing twice the price of the stainless option. Me being poor, I opted for the stainless version. The stainless version comes in at 50g. and is rated for 5Nm and the titanium is 28g and rated for 12Nm. There's yet another another option to consider when ordering and that is whether you need a "type A" or "type B" tool. Type A is listed for millimetre types hoses and B for inch type hoses. Check below.

I opted for "Type A" tool even though it's designated for Scubapro, Aqualung, etc. All my regs are Apeks XTX 200s and 50s and I had no problem with the Pandora tool taking everything apart. I suspect "Type B" may be for the older AT/ATX series, but I can't confirm this until I someone brings an older set into the shop for me to experiment on.

Whats in box?

Ok, so for your money the Pandora tool comes in a sealed sleeve, clearly marked with the version you ordered along with an A4 pictorial quick reference on when you would use a specific part of the tool along with a promo flyer with a mini service flow chart on the back and a bigger flow chart for taking care of a free flowing reg. A few little typos in the text but nothing to get excited about.

The tool itself is very well made on first glances, with no sharp edges. However, one thing I noticed straight of the bat is that it is really difficult to get any purchase on the tool when using it for first stage disassembly. There's just no way to get enough leverage on such a short tool, not unless you've got the grip strength of Popeye or want to destroy your hand.

A good remedy to this I think would be for the tool to come in a metal sheath that you could attach onto the tool to allow for more leverage/better grip. This is something I'm looking at fabricating for myself and maybe something for the the company to think about for the next revision.

Another small niggle that I found is that the stainless version twisted out of shape quite easily when working on K type inflator valves, something I suspect that the titanium version would be able to handle without any problems given the stronger material and Nm rating.

If you are looking for a good all round scuba tool which can perform most tasks (with a little assistance) and can afford it, definitely go for the titanium version. Yes it is pricey but I feel it would perform better than the stainless version in a few key areas.

It sound's like I'm giving the Pandora tool a good kicking but let me put it into perspective, it's one of the best all-in-one scuba tools I've tried although it does have it's problems which I think could be easily overcome in the future revisions. The Pandora tool is something I'll be packing with me one every dive trip, but I will still be taking a set of allen keys and a small adjustable wrench as well. 

I give it a solid 6.5 out of ten for now and I look forward to seeing what happens to future revisions of this handy little tool.


-Pretty much has everything that you need to take apart 1st and 2nd stages.
-Small, light and compact tool. 
-Excellent accompanying literature.


-Stainless steel version prone to bending out of shape.
-Tool is too small with insufficient leverage for certain tasks.
-Titanium version looks the better tool but pricey.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

House of blue lights - Orca Torch D820V review

Disclaimer first. I do not work for nor am I affiliated with Orca Torch in any way. I did not pay for this product, Orca Torch were kind enough to send me a sample for testing.

Link: HERE

Ok so with that stuff out the way, lets get on with it. If you're not familiar with Orca Torch, then you should be as they have been making a splash (ho-ho!) in the diving community with their high quality, relatively inexpensive (compared to a lot of other brands out there) dive and video lights. I've used Orca dive lights before after borrowing them from other people and have been suitably impressed when comparing them to the usual suspects such as Underwater Kinetics, Princeton, Greenforce, Sealife and Kowalski, all of which I've used over the years, so I was keen to see how the this unit would perform.

Bearing in mind this a test unit for the D820V video light, so box branding, and possibly contents are yet to be finalised.

Unassuming on the outside......
Full of light emitting goodness on the inside
Arriving in a plain black box, sans branding, opening it up was like a Christmas morning, with just slightly less alcohol and fewer family arguments. The contents consisted of the video light, a 26650 4000mAh Li-ion battery, micro USB cable, wrist lanyard, spare o-rings and a mounting bracket. 

Now you're probably wondering "where's the battery charger?". Never fear my aquatic chums, for Orca Torch have a nice surprise for you. If you're like me and hate having to carry around multiple chargers, cables, etc, etc, when travelling around the globe, then you'll love this. Unscrewing the tail of the unit gives you access to the USB socket. Unscrewing the USB socket in turn gives you access to the battery compartment. Battery in, USB socket back in place and "Voila!", all you need to do for charging is unscrew the tail, plug in the USB cable and you're all set. No heavy, clunky proprietary chargers to carry around. Awesome.

USB cap unscrewed, battery cavity at the ready
USB cap in place and ready to charge.
There's also a handy LED indicator to let you know when the unit is charging and when it's good to go, so no guess work needed here.

Red for charging, green for "set lights to stun, Mr Sulu!"

Initial impressions of the unit are excellent, with high quality machine milled aircraft grade aluminium parts, clean threading and all sections come apart and go together easily with no sticking or grinding. Weight wise it comes in at 243 grams without the battery and 341 grams with the battery. For comparison, you're looking at 178 grams for a fully loaded UK mini Q40 LED. Length comes in at just under 15.5cm and the head unit being the widest part at 4.5cm and fits nice and snugly in the hand should you choose to carry it.

Just to give you an idea of size, I compared it to the aforementioned UK mini Q40 LED and an L&M Sola video 3000, just so you've got an idea of the size as you can see below. So it's not the smallest video light but it certainly isn't a porker either and will easily fit into a BC pocket if required.

D820V, UK mini Q40 LED and SOLA 3000
 I chose to use the supplied ball joint mount bracket to perch it on the camera port for my macro configuration, but you can mount it wherever your own setup and fancies take you.

Ready for super macro action
 Output on high power is quoted at 1200 lumens with a nice white even beam. There is a low power setting which is 400 lumens. But that's not all folks as the D820V has yet some more surprises in store. Take a look below and tell me what you see. I'll wait here..........

Can you see it?
Yep, in addition to the white CREE LEDs, you have a pair of red LEDs on top and a pair of UV LEDs below so you get all the colours of the rainbow in one neat convenient package. Again, I don't have the figures for the red and UV output but they were more than up to the challenge during night diving. Having used UV lights by L&M and UK, it was refreshing to have them packed into one unit as this negates having to carry around multiple lights as it really is a pain swapping from one to another when you want to use UV for picking out the colour at night or the red for making sure you don't scare away the critters.

The single switch on top of the head unit controls everything with a press turning the unit on at full power, a second press switching to low power, a third press for off. Holding the switch brings on the UV and a second press the red. Simple and easy to use. 

Press here to start........

You can get some idea from the shots I took with the light against the wall. A nice, even consistent spread in every case.

Let there be light!
"So enough waffle, how did it perform in the real world?" I hear you say. Well I can say that it acquitted itself admirably. I was very pleased with the performance in the water providing plenty of light during bright sunny conditions to allow me to more easily distinguish potential  subjects in the water and to allow the lens to achieve a lock with minimal hunting. For the shots below, I turned my strobes off and was using just the D820V as a light source.

 I left the light on full power for the duration of the dive which was just over 2 hours, and it lasted just fine. This is more than enough juice for the average user and something that would last over a couple or three of average dives before recharging would be necessary. The only thing I would liked to have seen is a wet connect for charging, negating the need to open up the unit but that's just a very minor niggle on my part. Maybe I'm just lazy or old or both.

In summary, this is a really nice video light, with the additional benefit of having the red and UV LED built in to a compact, very well made chassis with convenient to use USB charging capabilities. You can easily use this as a regular dive light at a pinch if you don't want to go nuts and buy multiple lights, this one would pretty much do it all for you. This is definitely recommended for photographers and videographer/action cam users out there, and if the price at release is in line with the rest of the Orca range, then this light would be very competitive against the "established" names out there. 

It easily earns itself a well deserved 8.5 out of 10 rating.

On a final note, if you're looking for a light, give the Orca Torch website a look as they have quite a varied selection and I don't think you'll be disappointed if you got one. Or two.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

They might be giants

Hello there, it's been a while since my last entry. I know I haven't been around much, work, diving, holidays, writing and all that sort of stuff. Anyway lets get on with it, shall we?

The Revillagigedo Islands (also Revillagigedo Archipelago or Islas Revillagigedo) are a group of four volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, known for their unique ecosystem and are sometimes called Mexico's "little Galapagos", and with very good reason. We had the pleasure of staying aboard the Belle Amie, which is the largest boat of the Nautilus fleet.

With spacious cabins, large dive decks, dedicated camera tables and several (very excellent) freshly prepared meals each day to make up for the calories that'll easily be burned off during the multiple dives a day.

After an initial short boat ride out of San Jose del Cabo, we started our adventures at Los Islotes with several dives to the sea lion colony there. As you prepare to roll off the RIB, the barking of the sea lions calling to one another is deafening and something you can hear quite clearly once under the water. It wasn't long before we were joined by our pinniped friends, speeding past us in a blur like a guided torpedo, getting a feel for us and what we were up to. 

Stay shallow, wait and be patient and they will come to you. Once they were comfortable with our presence, they were more than happy to come and play with us, performing barrel rolls and loops around us and chasing each other. A game of hide and seek was consistently their favourite, sneaking up behind us to tug on a fin or a camera strobe. it's always an great experience to dive with these curious critters, but this was just a little warm up before the main event.

After travelling 235 nautical miles South, we arrived at San Benedicto and our first stop, The Boiler. This site is comprised of two undersea pinnacles, one large and one small separated from each other by 150 feet or so with multiple strong currents seemingly coming in from all angles. As soon as we rolled in the water, we could hear the dolphins chatting and laughing around us but unfortunately they chose to stay just out of camera range in the blue. 

 At a round 60ft there's a few balconies where you'll see white tip sharks dogpiled on top of each other, curiously watching you as you go past with the occasional giant moray undulating up the rock face, looking for its next meal. The tension was palpable. "Would we see mantas? How many? Where are they?" As we made the passage between the pinnacles being pushed every which way, it wasn't long before the big boys turned up to join the party. I was so busy keeping an eye out in the distance that it took a few seconds to register a massive shadow soaring directly overhead by a matter of inches. Mantas a-hoy!

First one quickly joined by another, they were taking it in turns to glide around us and play in the stream of exhaled bubbles in an exquisitely choreographed ballet. It was a magical sight and we delighted in watching the swoops, turns and rolls as they displayed more grace and poise that us clumsy divers could ever hope to have. 

Our extremely large friends seemed to revel in having people to perform in front of, seemingly trying to outdo each other in how close they could get to us and the increasingly elaborate tricks they could pull off. We could have stayed down all day if we could but unfortunately those pesky no deco limits keep getting the in way......... :-)

If you are lucky, there's also an option (if weather and time allows) to do a night snorkel with silky sharks. The conditions weren't the best at this point but I wasn't going to miss this unique opportunity. The sharks are drawn to the floodlights of the boat and you catch sight of one or two cruising around you, then before you know it there's over twenty darting around you here and there, curious and cautious about you at the same time. It's pretty exhilarating to be in amongst so many sharks at the surface at one time and I've never quite had a shark encounter like that over the years. Certainly a very rare experience and one you would no want to miss out on.

The real highlight of the trip for most divers is Roca Partida. As it's part of Mexico's military zone, we needed to get permits from the naval base in the area first before we anchored up. Roca Partida (or Split Rock) is about 300 ft long and rises into two peaks above the water line where seagulls and boobies make their home (and their bathroom) but we where here for the action below the water. 

Originally we were scheduled to stay for two days and move on elsewhere. But after the first few dives here, it was clear that this was the place to be. The Captain had never seen as many mantas and sharks here before on any of his previous trips and it was a unanimous vote to stay here for the remainder of the itinerary.

There are some serious currents in the water here and it's not somewhere where you dive lightly but the rewards are spectacular with multiple shelves for white tips to cluster on and large schools of Galapagos sharks and hammerheads regularly passing by. 

On top of this, you have huge shoals of jacks and tunas cruising around which you can quite happily lose yourself in amongst but don't be surprised if the occasional shark sometimes comes gliding through the fish, seemingly out of nowhere, to check you out before cruising off again, the fish parting and closing in around it like a shroud of silk.

Once again our very large pelagic friends came out to play with us, sometimes in singles or occasionally in pairs, doing their best acrobatic routines to amaze and delight us. They must have known that we had cameras on them as they were always more than eager to perform for us. 

Each manta has unique markings and there was a catalogue on board of all known mantas seen in the area to identify them. One particular manta called Mathilda always seemed to come and find us in the water. She just seemed to like hanging out with Jill and myself for some reason.

Recent research has shown that mantas have the highest brain to body mass ratio of any fish and the level of intelligence they can display is quite stunning and the cephalic fins either side of the head are not only for funnelling plankton into their mouth but scientists believe that they are also used for communication. I would loved to have known what Mathilda was thinking as she always looked at us with those big deep eyes and her fins curling and twitching. 

On the last dive of the last day she came up to me on two separate occasions to extend a wing for some extra special attention and a high five. Not everyone can say they made a new friend with one of the gentlest giants in the ocean. Would I recommend Socorro? Absolutely and without reservation. It should be on everyone's bucket list if not for the mantas then at least for the hot chocolate and cold beer that's waiting for you on the dive deck when you get back on board.

And for good measure, if you haven't already watched it, here's 10 hours of video footage condensed into 15 minutes of epic diving. Embedded or you can use the Youtube link HERE