Luis and I were talking the other day and he brought up that VDH had been going for more than a decade now a thought it might be nice to share some of the highlights for all the new double hose divers out there who have not been around since day one. My plan is to cover a few things at a time and post them on the message forum so those with a better memory than mine can share some insight and give some other interesting bits of information.
I wrote pretty extensively about The Phoenix First Stage earlier in the blog so to save time you can click on the link and I’ll try and share some of the behind the scenes stuff as best I can remember.
Before I go any further let me cover this…. I met Luis at a Vintage Scuba Supply even at Lake Wazee Wisconsin in 2005. For those who don’t know him personally let me share a little as he is way too modest to ever do so.
In my mind I envision that Luis looks at things and sees them kinda like The Terminator in the first movie. Everything his eyes see are in three dimensions with materials specifications, functionability, feasibility, options, assembly procedures, structural drawings, failure point and all sorts of math equations running like a ticker at the bottom of his field of vision…….When Luis talks to you about certain subjects I’m sure he has to dumb it down a bit so the rest of us can keep up.
All the while he is one of the nicest and most thoughtful people you will ever meet. It has been my distinct pleasure of working with him for a decade now and even though we try each others patience from time to time we have always been friends first.
Setting around a campfire one night at Lake Wazee, Luis starts talking about how he can modify a first stage similar to a Conshelf and get it to work on a two stage USD or Voit regulator. I am very intrigued by the idea as it would skip the banjo fitting and allow use of modern attachments to the double hose that everyone was clamoring for…...Not always because we wanted to use them but since the big upsweep of divers using a double hose again there was a lot of pushback from resorts and dive boat operators about using “That Old Junk” to dive with. Well Luis set out to conquer that and ended up doing it in spades.
A few months and a million phone calls and E-mails later he had come up with a rudimentary first stage with high pressure ports. At this point he only concerned himself with the ability to use all the ancillary parts that were on the shelf at Aqua Lung that we could implement right away. It saved on design time and materials cost and most of all it used proven parts that were industry standards and were reliable to a fault. Clear through the Argonaut he has stuck to this idea and you will find most parts I produce are compatible with 90% of the original regulators.
He refined it a bit and figured out how to add low pressure ports and had a couple made up in a machine shop local to him. Testing was easy…..It worked flawlessly and when coupled with the new silicone diaphragm made a regulator that breathed exceptionally well.
I started looking for a machine shop that would make a few production first stages….At this point it had no name, it was just the thing we were working on…….
As I earlier referenced, NEVER tell a manufacturer you are building SCUBA gear…...I provided drawings and asked only that they be built to plans and that was it.
Now came the hard part……. I had the $$$ for tooling and brass but could not cover the cost of doing enough first stages to use up the minimum quantity of brass I had to buy.…..So I went to a couple friends that I knew could keep the project on the QT and with hat in hand told them Luis and I had prototypes that worked fantastic but we needed to make a few more just to be sure they were as good as we thought. Asked if they could front me a little cash in return for one of the new first stages and then give us some honest feedback on them. All of them said, “ Hell Yes we want in”
Every project started at VDH has been with My Capitol FIrst. I have never asked friends or customers to front me cash for an unproven and untested idea that may or not fly. If I don’t have a working and tested product that I can backup 110% I won’t ask you to buy into it.…
I got the samples built in naval brass and then turned them over to a friend outside of Chicago that ran a chrome plating business for motorcycle parts that I had known for years and I trusted would get them done right. At this point I felt like I was working with Faberge Eggs! Later he got shut down by the EPA for dumping stuff down the drains that he shouldn’t have :(
At the same time I was working with my main source to acquire all the parts from Aqua Lung for the internals of the new first stage. There was no way come hell or high water that they would have sold me anything directly….And if not for my source….You know who you are….This new project would have never gotten off the ground like it did.
I hope I get this part right…..The first finished parts went to, Rob, Ryan, Tom, James, and Joe…..Please someone E-mail me if I'm wrong on this.
The results of testing on the first few went just like Luis and I thought it would and I geared up to make the first run of 50 first stages….Out of this we also came up with the idea to use nylon washers for the high pressure sealing area as you could stack a couple of them and torque the first stage into place in various ways so the ports would align where you wanted them to ….You guys refer to it as Clocking….
The Achilles heel in the whole plan was being reliant on inventory at Aqua Lung specifically yokes and screws.
The name Phoenix was one of a few we were thinking of using….Spider was another one since it kinda looked like one when you hooked up all the hoses to it but in the end I decided on Phoenix since it was helping the double hose rise from the ashes.
Side Note: Luis cares nothing or very little as far as names, colors, advertising, promotion, graphics, packaging, distribution etc…..It could be called X and come in a used milk carton and as long as it was to his specifications and performed as he designed it everything else is just fluff. Most of the time he prefers not to be bothered with this stuff and leaves it up to me. BUT, he is always very cognizant of how it performs in the field and takes great pains to analyze feedback and information we get from other divers.
After the first run of 50 Phoenix first stages Luis made a revision and was able to shorten the height a bit and improve clearance. At the same time he did some changes to improve airflow through it. Info Covered in THIS Blog Post
At one point I had dozens sold and NO YOKES OR SCREWS to send them out with…..For those who don’t know me I can assure you that this causes me an immense amount of panic and stress. I HATE…..HATE…..having an order from a customer and not being able to deliver it right away but I was at the mercy of AL and you can’t get what they don’t have…..
Bernie Campoli and several other friends came to my rescue once again and went to their dive lockers and shops and dug up all the new and used Conshelf yokes they could find and sent them to me with the understanding that I would send the loaners back once I got resupplied with the new ones. Their hard work and friendship allowed me to get out an entire run of Phoenix first stages that would have otherwise been delayed for two months!!!
My friends and customers have been vital in building the double hose community and I will forever be in their debt.
Since 2006 I have changed machine shops and plating companies several times. Not by choice by due to economic shifts and changes in attitudes. Several of the shops I worked with were small and luckily for them they grew and the business of making 50 parts at time became no longer feasible or if it was, they were charging me a much higher price for their service. With these changes have been many failures in production and quality control. The picture below is what I like to call my BOX OF FAIL…...and my recycling bin is much larger !
When the Argonaut came out last year I had decided to stop producing the Phoenix first stage as I thought the volume would not equal the capitol I had to tie up producing them.
Boy was I wrong….I’m used to getting hate mail, it comes with the territory but the outrage from the community made me feel like Frankenstein in the village….I could feel the flames of the torches through the computer.
With over 500 Phoenix's out in the diving world it has taken on it’s own cult following. There are even divers with Argonauts that still cling to their Phoenix like Linus does his blanket.
There is no need to change the Phoenix nor does it need to evolve. It stands solidly on it’s own. I predict that someday it will be revered in the same light as the Conshelf or Scubapro MK5 with the same adamant supporters still in use decades after it was introduced.