I know I’m not supposed to say so, but I think travel is a pain in the butt. I find it very annoying that the entire range of diving conditions and all of my underwater cronies aren’t within, say, a ten-minute drive of my house. I don’t like airports, airplanes, customs, passport control or unintelligible road signage.
The world, from my point of view, is badly designed. Why must everything be all spread out like this ? There it is, though, and I devoutly take it as it is rather than delude myself that it’s as I wish it were.
So I travel. I fly. I recently had a charming letter from my favorite airline congratulating me on making their Million Mile Club and granting me lifetime elite flyer status. This means I get some upgrades to first class, little dishes of microwaved mixed nuts, and cool tags for my luggage.
None of this means a thing to me, for I am still faced with the harsh reality of all Flying Freedivers: there is no such thing as the perfect gear bag. Only a lunatic would check his dive gear and risk sitting on his hands at his destination for one ? two ? three days ? THE ENTIRE STAY ? ….while the airline breaks hourly promises to find the luggage and deliver it. No, the dive gear is carry-on, and there’s and end on it. Non-negotiable.
Carry on in what, though ? We have all these awkward objects. Long blade fins, wet suits, masks, computers, snorkels, ropes…. what not ?
Most have opted for the familiar blue bag, the only one, really, on the market that is at all adequate. For me it was love at first sight. It was such a vast improvement over everything that preceded it, namely, nothing, that vows were exchanged at once and we were wedded. The blue bag ( less blue now, thanks to the sun’s mighty rays) was with me for most of those million miles. It served me well.
So did my record player, but to everything there is a time and a purpose.
Everybody knows the blue bag’s shortcomings.
It zips open at one end, which means packing it is like making sausage, or muzzle-loading an old-style cannon. The blades neatly fill the space, but everything else takes pot luck and, as they say, objects do shift in flight.
Unpacking it is, not to put too fine a point on it, an exercise only a proctologist could love. It involves blindly reaching into this dark, malodorous cavity and fishing around for slimy things. They’ve been in the ocean, right ? Maybe they got perfectly rinsed before you made your flight, but then again, maybe not.
My blue bag and I have been through a lot together. Neither of us is perfect. The blue bag’s era is coming to an end, though, whereas I fully intend to be around for quite some time to come.
I think I’ll have my blue bag cast in Lucite.
I won’t be needing it anymore. There’s a new kid on the block.
World Champion Martin Stepanek is a multi-talented fellow, and a compassionate one. He has listened to my whining, and that of everybody else, and finally got so sick and tired of it he sat down and designed the perfect travel bag for freedivers.
A prototype, fabricated by a hand-picked factory in a certain East Asian country, is in my custody.
Simply put, Martin has corrected every single one of the blue bag’s faults. This is the future.
The dimensions are approximately the same as the blue bag’s – and so, like the blue bag, it fits nicely in most airline overhead bins.
Ah, but the zipper. The Stepanek bag opens along its entire length, end-to-end. In go the blades, in goes the carefully swaddled neoprene. Internal pockets with Velcro closures secure things like weights and masks, and keep them from having close encounters of the worst kind in transit. The bottom of the bag has a couple of mesh panels, so the interior breathes. Breathes, my friends, which means you won’t need a stiff drink before unpacking after a trip. Your stuff won’t stink.
Oh, and the carrying straps. Blue bag: short straps, you carry it like a briefcase. Nice if you have three or four hands. Stepanek Sack – adjustable straps. Carry it like a briefcase, or configure it as a backpack.
Materials are an improvement over the blue bag, too, with respect to durability and protecting your gear from the savaging of your seat-mate’s overstuffed rolley, the one "sharing" the overhead bin with your gear.
The prototype I’ve got is a dream come true, but I’ve learned the design has gone through a round of improvements and the factory has shipped a second-generation version.
Know what ? When this hits the market, later this fall, I may actually learn to like travel again. Needless to say, it will be available to one and to all through Deeper Blue. Nobel Prize buzz has begun already – physics, they say.