Blog posts from Gareth, Imogen and Neil
At long last the leaky teabag exposure suit I've dived for the last 6ish years, which started off life as a "drysuit" has been retired. One of my diving buddies put a request out for a new drysuit that needed a new vocation - to help a chap explore crevasses on glaciers without getting his bottom half too wet - and my dear old SeaSkin kindly volunteered.
Of course this left me suitless, and potentially far wetter when diving than normal, and that's saying something. So time to take the plunge and invest in a new drysuit! :) Naturally, I wanted a well made suit; one that would be robust enough to cope with the rigours of cold water UK diving as well as penetration dives. That's not to say I intend to be dragging myself through tiny restrictions inside caves I have previous dug out with my own shovel underwater; but pointy, stabby things do tend to inadvertently move towards me whenever I least expect them too. Equally, I have started to travel quite a bit with my dive kit, so something lighter than my previous suit would be an added bonus. I get pretty cold underwater, so I wear a Santi BZ400 (400g thinsulate) undersuit year rounded in the UK. Of course being the wuss I am, it's got a bit beat up to keep me warm in the winter months in cold water; so I needed a new undersuit as well. I started saving.
Meanwhile, I had a little look around at what options were out there for me. As far as undercut I knew I wanted to stay with the Santi BZ400. Frighteningly warm, this piece of kit has been a firm favourite of mine for the last 4 years. It's the reason it's getting a little shabby. I'll keep diving the old one in the warmer months and in warmer climes, such as spring and autumn trips to the med for training or deeper summer mediterranean dives in Croatia etc; but I know it's not cutting the mustard for likes of Scapa trips.
The last time I bought a BZ400, it came courtesy of Garf (who also happened to buy one, to go with his Elite drysuit) while we were at Eurotek in 2010. Rather than ladies specific, all the BZ400s were made-to-measure, and mine fit beautifully.
Since 2010 Santi have developed their ranges further, offering a wider range of products and in March 2014 launched their Ladies First range of dive products and apparel designed specifically for women. Why if items are made-to-measure (MTM) would women prefer female specific clothing? It comes as no surprise to hear that women are a completely different shape than men. With the new range of products it is becoming increasingly common to be able to buy off the peg sizes, with a few tweaks made by Santi here and there; rather than paying the full whack of MTM from scratch. This is what I've done on both the undersuit and drysuit, and the fit is brilliant.
As far as the drysuit goes, even though my previous suit was MTM I have struggled with dumping the last bit of gas from my suit on ascents. I didn't realise just how much I have been compensating for annoying poor fit issues, until I did a try dive in the women specific Ladies First Santi Emotion drysuit.
The new BZ400 has a higher waist and the zip system is different as well. Instead of the full length zip from the waist at the back running all the way up to the neck at the front; the new version has a straightforward up and down zip neck to crotch, with a second zip that exposes your bottom for other business! The waist has a velcro waist belt and the piping comes in your chosen trim colour: grey, magenta or lime. I've gone brave with the lime!
As before you can have your name/initials embroidered onto your garments, only this time the embroidery is also done in the colour your chose for your trim.
The p-valve slots are made on which ever side you request and there is a new heating vest addition too - for the very luck among us!
That took care of the undersuit choice but I felt like I owed it to my bank balance to have a search into drysuit options. I've described what I was looking for at the start of the article; but in addition I wanted a suit made by a manufacturer who was used to creating suits designed for GUE divers. Why? It really does make a difference in the subtlety of dump valve placements; pocket location and size; integral bungees; boot style/socks on the suit etc. I didn't want to spend time having to ask for bits to be moved here and there; I wanted to buy from somewhere who just know that was what needed for my style of diving. Which left me with 4 manufacturers really: Otter; Predator; DUI and Santi.
The decision process for the drysuit went sort of like this. DUI - lovely suits, but expensive and unreliable. Get a good one and you'll love it more a decade or more and go into a semi-permenant state of grieving when it needs to retire due to semi-permability. But get one that lives up to its tongue in cheek name, "dry until immersed" and it'll seem like an awfully expensive purchase. The TLS is a beautiful suit; and DUI's ZipSeal dry glove solution is certainly the most comfortable and flexible on the market, but I just felt like I couldn't take the chance. At around £100 for a set of dry gloves, and the not great customer service record I shook my head and moved along.
Up next was Otter. Otter make what looks like a great suit in the Brittanic Mk2. With add ons in the way of P-valve, MTM fit and antares dry glove system fitting etc you're looking at around £1500-1600. I have heard the service is good, build quality is excellent, but essentially it looks like a Santi Elite at not much less price in fairness. The same thing could be said for the suit made with a whole lot of love by Dennis at Predator. His Expedition Extreme was designed with input from Garf and me, and is a cracking suit no doubt. It's fairly and squarely based on both DUI and Santi suits and he makes no bones about this. What I do love about Dennis's suits are they are made from scratch specifically for you. Truly MTM. He makes a new set of templates for each individual and cuts material to your individual pattern. So your suit really is MTM. And the price is good too. Just over a £1000 for a very very good suit. He puts all his energy and love into each suit; but because of this his lead time is often slow. You can't fault the quality of work; but I wasn't sure I'd get it when I wanted it.
So there I am left to look at the Santi. I love the Elite. Gary and Neil both have one and we have passed many of our students onto John Kendall at Amphibian Productions for an Elite. They are solid, study and get huge kudos for living up to being battered by Garf for the last 4 years. However, it is a little clunky and still pretty heavy due to that virtually indestructible Cordura material. As a narrow build woman, I also have discovered a problem with the left shoulder to right waist zip set up. The dump valve placement on the left shoulder slightly askew as a result of a cluster of material in this area. Santi so far seem to be the only manufacturer to have addressed this with one simple fix - move the zip to right shoulder-left waist. Does it make a difference? Hell, yes. This is the major change on the Ladies First range of drysuits and at present is only available on the Emotion range. Fine by me. The suit is lighter and even more flexible as a consequence. True the trade if is that it needs a little more care; but fortunately as Mrs Garf, I tend to be a little more precious on the surface with my kit anyway. Equally, here's hoping that Cave 1 training helps me avoid all the sharp shabby stuff underwater!
It's not cheap. But it is awesome. And if my leaky teabag lasted 6 years, I'm pretty sure I can get a good few dives out of this one. Finally, I figured if your want a Santi, just buy a damn Santi. In my experience the customer service has always been outstanding and problems are solved pretty simply with a chat to John. So my mind was made up. I saved and saved and at Eurotek this year I placed my order. I was relieved to be able to save a few extra quid by having an adjusted off the peg suit versus the MTM; and the fit is perfect. Then rather painfully I sat and waited. John advised me there was a 6 week lead time - and exactly at the start of the 6th week my parcel arrived!
Santi have now mastered the marketing nice touch in my opinion. I order a Santi Emotion Dry suit with Antares dry glove system and P-valve fitted. What I got in my parcel was: a huge kit bag in black and the chosen trim colour (lime green here), which fits my dry suit and undersuit; a 7mm neoprene hood (with chosen trim colours); a very cool grinned blue beanie hat; all the gubbens for my Antares dry gloves; silicone zip lube; all care manuals for p-valve, dump valve, inflate valves etc; mask strap (with chosen trim colour) and a couple of oxygen and 21m MOD stage cylinder stickers. Awesome.
The suit is of course of excellent build quality and fits like a dream. As with the undersuit, your name is embroidered in the trim colour as is the stitching over the suit and neck seal. The material is light and incredibly flexible - I almost can't wait to do my next valve drill!
There is only one sad thing in all of this so far - I haven't yet had a chance to get wet in this - although getting wet is something I'm really hoping doesn't happen to me!
If the in water performance is anything like my experience so far I'll be happy beyond words. As for worth the money - every penny. :)
So here it is on dry land...the Santi Emotion, or as it's affectionately known in our house: the "Im-motion". I'll be writing an in water review soon so watch this space.