Where Zeagles Dare: “Once a UK diver, always a UK diver”

Editor’s Note: The following is part 1 of a 3-part series where we’ll be publishing UK diver and brain-injury survivor James Neal’s epic dive tome, “Where Zeagles Dare.” One reviewer called Neal’s dive masterwork “A Real Humdinger,” and we couldn’t agree more! Read on for Neal’s take on UK diving, his favorite Zeagle gear, and a play by play on some of his most harrowing dives.   

I absolutely love being a UK diver. Especially an all year-round UK diver, none of this ‘dive season’ nonsense for me. I also love the fact that I’m not quite right in the head, literally, and this helps with some of the dafter things I often find myself doing. Furthermore, I don’t think I’ve actually grown up. And given the fact that I’ve just turned 50, I guess I’m no longer obliged to!

One of the things that I particularly like about being a UK diver is the whole sense of adventure associated with it. Nothing is really easy about it, it takes effort, planning, care and sometimes a great deal of hard work and sheer bloody mindedness just to get your kit to the water’s edge! I love the whole ‘big boys/girls adventure’ thing when I go off with my mates on the latest crazy excursion!

Hodge Close and Holme Bank are two of my favourite dive sites, both are flooded mines and both are a ‘proper adventure’ just to get to, especially Hodge Close. As soon as anyone mentions either of these dive sites my eyes light up with excitement. The thought of having to get out the inflatable boat, to traverse the flooded tunnel, and the block and tackle, to lower the kit, just to get everything to the water makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up… I absolutely love it!

Having said all that, not every UK dive has to be hard work. Diving from the club RHIB off the coast tends to be relatively straightforward, likewise from a hard boat, and of course the majority of the inland sites make life a lot easier, especially when it comes to those all-important training dives.

My go-to kit for teaching new divers tends to be a single cylinder, (300 bar 12L) configuration made up of a Zeagle wing coupled with a 3mm stainless steel backplate and harness. This is married to a set of mighty Atomic Aquatics M1 regs that I have rigged in the Hogarthian long hose, hog looped. I teach my students to understand both types of configuration and ensure that they recognise the value of each and how to respond with either in an emergency.

My exquisite BARE HDC Expedition dry suit has now become synonymous with me, I can’t ‘bare’ to be without it. Sorry, couldn’t resist… I did say earlier that I hadn’t grown-up!

James Neal photo.

Seriously though, the BARE kit is simply in a class of its own. The SB base layers do an exceptional job of keeping me warm all year round and in some particularly harsh environments. Some of the mines can get bitterly cold and you don’t want to find yourself an hour away from your exit and shivering!

I do have a heated vest, just in case, but with the SB system and base layers I rarely have to turn it on, even in the coldest of waters. And I’m talking 3 – 4 degrees!

The SB system is also extremely comfortable, it fits like a glove and is very supple and unrestrictive. Combined with the BARE HDC Expedition dry suit I find that I have an enormous amount of flexibility both in and out of the water.

I also have a pair of Zeagle Recon fins, and these things are just simply ace! I never thought I’d be able to replace my Jetfins with anything else, but the truth is the Recons are even better! They’re a revolutionary fin, extremely powerful, they offer superb control and they’re very heavy. I’m pretty confident that they’re virtually indestructible!

On occasion I’m fortunate enough to get to test some of the very latest kit, recently I tried both the BARE Exowear Gloves and the Zeagle Scope Mask. I didn’t want to give either of these back. The Zeagle Scope is an extremely comfortable mask, with an impressive field of view, low profile and a wider nose pocket.

Having all the right kit for the job makes my life a whole lot easier. Whether I’m teaching in the pool, open water, pleasure diving, mine / cave, sidemount, backmount, rebreather. I have the right kit for the job!

We hope you enjoyed Part I of “Where Zeagles Dare.” Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon!