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Project 1: The Rouquayrol Denayrouze regulator

As explained in the ‘1860 Rouquayrol Denayrouze’ chapter, in 2002 I had been lucky to find an original 19th century Denayrouze helmet in an antique shop in the south of France. Shortly thereafter I asked my friends if any of them knew of a regulator to go with the helmet. The only one who wrote back was Philip Nathansen of the Danish HDS. He sent me a picture of an original regulator made of steel and asked me if that was what I was looking for. It was, but the apparatus was property of the Danish Navy and not for sale. So the only option I had to get a working Rouquayrol Denayrouze (R&D) regulator appeared to build one. Philip again came to the rescue and arranged for my friend Rob Krul and I to come to Copenhagen in 2003 and inspect and measure the steel regulator. Once we had gathered all the measurements we required Rob proceeded to built the regulator with my assistance.

The first dive we made was in Holland on  April 4, 2004. Rob and I dragged his two cylinder Draeger pump to the canal across the street in front of his workshop. Rob dressed in a drysuit and we strapped the regulator on his back. With his wife Sonja and myself at the pump, Rob descended a few meters and stayed down for about ten minutes. When he surfaced he had a big smile on his face and told us that this regulator was the smoothest breather he had ever dived.

Rob and I decided to construct a small series of six of these regulators and in the months after the first test dive, we finished the other five units. Later that year we made an appointment with Philip Nathansen to return to Copenhagen with a regulator to allow the Danes to dive with it too. On October 11, 2004 we prepared to dive at the Holmen Navy Base in Copenhagen. Philip had brought an old two cylinder pump made by the German company of Friedrich Flohr and Rob and I brought our regulator apparatus. Along with "divers of duty" of the Danish Navy and the commander of the dive school, we dived one by one to approximately seven meters, where we still had a good visibility due to the cold water temperature and the sunny weather. It was absolutely great to dive this old machine and both navy diver Schultz and HDS member Gunnar Broge took photos underwater.

After the diving we enjoyed lunch in the mess hall at the navy base and were also allowed to take a look in the store room of the dive school where we discovered an Ali Baba’s cave of old diving equipment. There were piles of antique diving gear, including helmets, pumps, rebreathers, the R&D back pack, an original Denayrouze pig snout mask ('groin') and a genuine French two cylinder pump with the names Rouquayrol Denayrouze cast in the base-plate. Rob became very enthusiastic about the Denayrouze 'snout' mask and told me he had wanted to build one for a long time. Again the Danes were very cooperative and allowed Rob to take an hour to take all the measurements of the mask, plus lots of photographs of it. Read more about the snout mask in chapter ‘PROJECT 2 RD Snout Mask’

In 2005 I was asked by Gilbert Jean, who operates www.pieds-lourds.com web site, and Jean Patrick Paszula, if I was available to make a dive with the regulator for a short film being made by the Italian television producer Luca Coltri. The film was to be made in the south of France. I liked the idea because I had promised some underwater footage to Dr. Joe Bauer, who had purchased a regulator for the museum in Islamorada, Florida. This time it would be difficult to dive with a hand pump as I had a lot of other equipment to take with me to France and an extra pump would not fit in my car. So I decided to use a scuba tank with a reducer instead. The reducer would be provided by me and the French would arrange the tanks with compressed air.

I had tested the set in my own workshop at home in Holland and everything seemed all right, but I had no time to arrange to actually dive it in water. Two weeks later in France I dressed up in my old Admiralty AVON suit, strapped the regulator on my back, set the pressure to one atmosphere over ambient pressure (we dived in shallow water of 5 to 8 meters, just for the pictures ) and in I went. Cameras were all around me, but something was wrong. As soon as I descended the regulator started to breath with great difficulty and also it made a buzzing sound each time I tried to inhale.  I returned to the surface and asked for a little more pressure on the air hose. I descended again, but the problem was not solved. I kept descending, and started acting for the cameras but felt like I was drowning because I had to fight for each sip of air from the regulator. The Italians did not seem to notice and they happily filmed three types of diving apparatus that were there, The first was mine, the 'aerophora' as they called my regulator, then two standard dress divers and a French Navy combat diver with an oxygen rebreather. They were very pleased with the results.

Once I returned to Holland I concentrated on what had gone wrong with the regulator and the problem was discovered some weeks after the dive. It appeared that we had made a mistake when constructing the main valve in the regulator. The valve unit inside the original regulator of the Danish Navy had been stuck in the units tank. This was because the entire regulator had been painted with black tar, inside and outside, and since it had been like that for at least 100 years we were afraid we would damage the apparatus if we took it apart. Instead of disassembling the original unit, we used old illustrations and drawings to figure out how it was to function inside. The main valve we had used was based on a hexagonal bolt instead of a round one like the original one had. This, we believed would provide an easier flow of air than the original round one, and Rob said it was easier to manufacture. And indeed it was quite easy to breathe when diving at Rob's place with the Draeger pump and in Copenhagen with the old Flohr pump. Then it had been quite comfortable. But when I decided to use compressed air I apparently had a steadier pressure and probably a slightly higher pressure then what was achieved with the old hand pumps. As a result the valve would open when I demanded air but closed directly after because the 'shot' of air passing through the valve would lift the diaphragm and close the valve immediately. This happened several times per second resulting in a vibration of the valve opening and closing very fast (the buzzing noise I heard underwater) and a very hard breathing. When I went up to ask for more pressure I only made things worse. It was the worst dive of my life and I had done it in front of cameras! The film however was presented at the underwater film festival of Ventimiglia, Italy later that year and was well received.

What we did to solve the problem with the valve in our regulator back pack was also possible because of another amazing discovery. During our struggle with the valve two Danish divers had each found parts of old German diving equipment in the wreck of the Undine, a German warship sunk in 1915 near the coast of Denmark. One diver found a mint 3 bolt helmet made by Franz Clouth of Koeln, the other diver also found a Franz Clouth helmet but in worse condition. With the helmets was a large wooden chest with almost all of the rest of the diving equipment. In the chest were parts of the regulator backpack.

Above, the genuine Rouquayrol Denayrouze regulator which is property of the Royal Navy of Denmark. Photographs David L.Dekker

Photo above: 2 regulators ‘made in Holland’ A mistake I made was to paint the regulator I dive with Green, which I did because the paint was once given to me by an aunt and the 1/2 gallon of paint dated from before the second world war which seemed appropriate to use it on a historical diving apparatus. The paint is the best paint I ever had: after years of diving with it it still looks ‘new’ but US historical diving friends who first saw the pictures of me diving with it asked me why I had a ‘John Deere grass seeder on my back’... Photograph David L.Dekker

2004. Test diving in Kopenhagen

Above, Rob Krul assist Gunnar Broge of the Danish Historical Diving Society with the regulator back pack. Photograph David L.Dekker

Above, after the ‘divers of duty’ of the Navy Diving School in Holmen, Kopenhagen had dived the regulator it was my turn. The bottom was muddy but the water was clear due to the cold. Photograph Gunnar Broge

Myself up to my knees in the mud, the walking was difficult and stirred up the mud. Photograph Gunnar Broge

2005. Diving the regulator in France.

After a few minutes in the water I came up to ask if I could get some more pressure on the umbilical because I did not have enough air. What I did not know was that I had an overpressure on the umbilical which made breathing difficult. Photo Adriano Penco

Fighting for some air I walked around acting of everything was ok, the italian cameramen were happy with the results. Photo Adriano Penco

A meeting at the bottom with my friend Jacques Abdoun who is diving with an equipment manufactured by Joseph Scauda of Marseille. Photo Adriano Penco

The underwater film festival in Ventimiglia, a mall town at the Italian side of the border with France. Photograph David L.Dekker

In front of the building where the festival was organized a large aquarium was placed where diving demonstrations were made in italian ‘Galeazzi’ diving equipment. Photograph David L.Dekker

This particular Galeazzi helmet is the ‘Gran Luz’ version, a helmet with an extra large face plate. Photographs David L.Dekker

The underwater film festival of Ventimiglia

The underwater film festival in Ventimiglia, a mall town at the Italian side of the border with France, was only organized once I believe, but the film which was made by Luca Coltri was presented there and well received. There seems to be a youtube version of this film, I don’t have the address but when someone knows it then please send me a link. Thanks.

The wreck of the Undine

The treasure box from the Undine which contained an almost complete diving equipment manufactured by Franz Clouth of Köln-Nippes, Germany. Photograph David L.Dekker

The Clouth helmets and regulators found in the wreck of the Undine were the mechanical treasure trove Rob and I were hoping for. Off we went to Copenhagen again to take a close look at all the goodies the divers had brought up. Amazingly we discovered a rubber suit which had been salvaged and was in good condition. There were also brass boxes with spare parts like rubber cuffs, joints, gaskets, which were all soft and pliable. There was a brass box with tools to assemble the regulator and the rest of the equipment. A mint condition screw knife was complete with a leather inner pouch in the scabbard to protection of the blade. Most importantly for us there was a complete single valve for the regulator backpack, and it was now easy to examine the valve. It was clear that the main bolt of the valve was round and had tiny grooves all over its length, and apparently these grooves were just large enough to allow the air to pass smoothly. We were kindly allowed to take home the valve with us for 6 months, plus several other parts of the regulator backpack which were found. With the help of these parts we could first manufacture good valves for our steel Rouquayrol Denayrouze backpacks but it also made us decide to manufacture a small series of brass regulator backpacks as manufactured in Germany for their imperial navy. More about this german equipment in chapter ‘Project 3 The German Regulator’ Photograph David L.Dekker

The regulator backpack ‘in the news’ ...

Above: An Article by Wolgang Freihen in the German Magazine ‘Tauchen’. On the Cover of the Australian magzine ‘Classic Diver’. An article in the russian magazine ‘Kalashnikov’. An article in ‘Die Rhein Pfalz’. On the cover of the American magazine ‘The Journal of Diving History’. And here below: last but not least a 4 x 5 metres photograph in the Russian State Army Museum in St.Petersburg.

In a time where lots of money are made by selling ‘imitation’ items it is important to avoid misunderstandings. The difference between a ‘replica’ item and a ‘fake’ item is mainly the intention of the maker / seller. A replica is made with the intention to treat and possibly sell it as a replica of a genuine item which is impossible to obtain.  An imitation ( fake ) item is made to ‘fool’ people with: an item which is made to look like an item which is hard to obtain due to its price and then sold as the real thing often cheaper then the real thing, sometimes even at the same price as the real thing. All our projects concern items which we treat, promote and sell as replica’s. Also we search publicity to explain we are building these items as replica’s, we even mark our projects with stampings and serial numbers to be able to identify them as replica’s for in case one of our clients would decide to drop one off at Christies saying he found it at his granddads attic. 

First of all: The difference between a ‘Replica’ and a ‘Fake’

Click here to go to the next chapter: The Rouquayrol Denayrouze SNOUT MASK2004_K%26D_Project_2_the_RD_Snout_Mask.html

2004. Krul & Dekker

2004. Krul & Dekker

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1832. Hugh Morton

1983. Jan van Leest1983_Jan_van_Leest.html
1836. Deane1836_Deane.html
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1839. Augustus Siebe (2)1839_Augustus_Siebe_2.html
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1841. Bikkers Rotterdam1841_Bikkers_Rotterdam.html
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1860. Rouquayrol Denayrouze (2)1860_Rouquayrol_Denayrouze_2.html
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1890. Friedrich Flohr1890_Friedrich_Flohr.html
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