Back in the 1950s and 1960s, a young man called Pepe Escaño ran a fishing fleet off Spain’s Cantabrian coastline. It was competitive, tough, and financially unrewarding. Suddenly news began to travel that Frenchmen Jacques Cousteau and Émile Gagnan had invented the first open- circuit self-contained underwater breathing apparatus – the Aqua-Lung – and serial inventor Pepe was inspired to hatch an alternative money-making scheme.
Agar-agar, a jelly-like substance obtained from algae, was big business in France for the food and cosmetics industries, but the dried seaweed scoured from the beach was poor quality. If you could harvest it fresh from the seabed, it had far greater value. So Pepe loaded a vessel with a compressor and tanks and fed air to his workers via tubes to allow them to ‘vacuum clean’ the algae from the floor of the ocean. (Pepe’s son José jokes that he became a marine biologist to help clean up his father’s mess.) Eventually he did away with the additional vessel and devised a tank that floated independently, allowing his divers to move further and more freely.
By the 1990s, now living in Mallorca with his Danish wife and José just a child, Pepe invented something similar so that his slender son could dive without a tank. Other parents watched on with interest and asked if their children could have a go. The just-for-fun idea seemed to have legs. Meanwhile, 6,000 miles away in California, a diver was inventing snorkel-scuba hybrid Snuba. In the absence of Google (established 1998 FYI) Pepe had no idea of this converging evolution and continued to tinker with his creation before starting business proper with his now-grown-up son in 2013.
Pepe always liked to name his inventions and came up with ‘ombrigus’ (‘umbilical’) as it connected a diver to his air. Thankfully, after a professional brainstorming exercise, this was poo-pooed in favour of PETER. Pronounceable for many nationalities, this name humanised the system into a diving buddy. A diving buddy that has now been used by thousands of certified PETER Divers. This week I joined their ranks.
For someone who has lived on one Spanish costa or another for 15 years, I am a rather rare breed. I only donned my first snorkel and mask a mere five years ago, largely because I preferred not to get my hair wet and inhale a lungful of saltwater. Naturally, this means that I have also spent my life successfully avoiding scuba like the plague – who’d want to add ‘getting the bends’ to the ugly equation? For this reason, it seemed unfair on poor PETER for me to test out the system with no prior experience for comparison, so I (willingly) dragged along BSAC-qualified Sports Diver husb-to-be for a more educated appraisal.
Also available in Sagres on the Algarve, the Canary Islands, Mexico, the Maldives and Girona in Catalunya, the Mallorca PETER Diving experience is at your disposal in Actionsport Port Pollensa and at the H10 Punta Negra Hotel near Portals Nous. Being a soft southerner we opted for the latter and met PETER Guide Mario poolside.
Genuinely affable and partially dreadlocked, Mario guided us through a safety briefing (only five things to remember: never hold your breath, never remove the regulator from your mouth, pinch your nose and blow to equalise any aeroplane-style pressure in the head, stay together, and respect the sea life and the environment) before coaxing us into a wetsuit, weight belt, fins and mask – slinging a hose and regulator over our shoulders. Down by the beach Mario connected us up to the ergonomic, hydrodynamic, naval architect-designed PETER raft loaded with a steel air tank. This would keep all of us going for 45 to 50 minutes dive time.
Momentary oh-my-god-I-have-no-idea-how-to-breathe-through-my-mouth-underwater episode aside, PETER and I quickly became friends. Who knew that the water off Punta Negra (and, incidentally, under 85.5 metre Oceanco superyacht Sunrays which was gently anchored offshore) was so rich with flora and fauna. We spotted dozens of starfish, a big squelchy pulpo minding his own business and shoals of colourful fish. Bright light bounced off the constant pop pop pop of bubbles that escaped from our regulators, illuminating the clear waters. It was a real treat. Mario kept his beady eye on me whilst husb-to-be explored confidently, (imitation) GoPro in hand, enjoying this liberating gear-free scuba alternative.
As a sun-and-beach holiday add-on for tourists, a PETER dive can’t be faulted and attracts rave TripAdvisor reviews. Most importantly, PETER is safe. The raft is unsinkable, the hoses act as a depth limiter with the maximum attainable depth at six metres with no risk of decompression sickness, an alarm gives advance warning when tank air pressure is low, and the weight belt has a quick-release function. PETER Diving’s worldwide accident record is zero, even after thousands of dives. It’s also accessible for everyone over the age of eight who can swim a bit (including the elderly, disabled and underwater backward such as myself) with no expensive time-consuming scuba dive training required. Finally it’s low-weight and low-volume which makes it a far more user-friendly proposition than conventional diving. Instead of carrying your own 30kg tank on your back, the raft carries it on the surface and an entire PETER set for three people will fit in the same size bag as scuba gear for one.
This brings us to its second application – superyachts. Easy to stow and teach, PETER is a fabulous on-board entertainment tool as well as being handy for hull inspections and emergency duties such as retrieving the owner’s lost Rolex from the seabed. Meeting international certification requirements and with a specialised training program recently published by Scuba Schools International, even the charter guests are covered by the yacht’s own insurance. We should have floated up to Sunrays and offered the captain a demo.
PETER’s final application, something José is more than passionate about, is social responsibility. “We want to introduce the submarine world to as many people as possible, to get them interested in the sea. You have to know it to love it and respect it,” says José. “One per cent of our annual profits go to the TRITON Project which is devoted to caring for the oceans and each PETER Point across our network is contractually committed to at least one voluntary action per year such as a beach clean-up, education programme for youngsters, or lending a hand to a marine monitoring programme. We also offer PETER systems free of charge to organisations working in marine conservation who can make use of our concept. We must look after our oceans – if we don’t we will face an ecological, social and economic crisis of inconceivable proportions.”
If you want to try a PETER dive in Mallorca, it’s 65 euros per adult and 55 euros a child, with the whole experience lasting around two hours. Large groups can be catered for. Visit www.peterdiving.com/try-peter-diving-system.
If you fancy your very own PETER Diving kit for your yacht, complete with super-lightweight carbon fibre tank, contact Guy on firstname.lastname@example.org.