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Basic gear from mid-twentieth-century France

Discussion in 'Vintage Equipment Diving' started by David Wilson, Dec 5, 2018.

  1. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    OK, on to Cavalero Champion fins. The firm's 1946 catalogue had an image of a finned spearfisherman:
    cavalero-champion-1946-page-8-jpg-53969-jpg.518927.jpg
    No fins offered for sale, though. That event came three years later, in 1949:
    ancienne-publicite-1949-plongee-accessoires-ets-jpg.516208.jpg
    Note the wetsuit worn by the finned model, most likely a Beuchat "shortie" made of foam rubber with a patent filed in January 1949, several years before Hugh Bradner brought out his neoprene version States-side:
    suitpatent-jpg.513666.jpg

    Here's another ad from 1951 publicising Champion brand spearguns, masks and fins:
    Champion_1951.jpg
    For the record, "palmes" is the French word for "swim fins". A couple of images of this early Champion fin:
    image2.jpg image3_cropped.jpg

    Some observations on this early Champion fin (below):
    ANCIENNE-PUBLICITE-1949-PLONGEE-ACCESSOIRES-ETS.jpg
    So an open-heel fin with a fixed strap and high side rails to reinforce the blade and to boost thrust. The foot pocket comes with a drain hole, which can be seen in the previous images. Cheaper than a full-foot fin, this basic, non-adjustable, open-heel spearfishing fin is typical of its time, broadly similar to the 1950s Typhoon Surfmaster (below) and destined to be classed by today's bodyboarders as a surfing fin:
    _57a-jpg.453517.jpg
     
    АлександрД likes this.
  2. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    Champion_1960_1.jpg The image above is a cutting from the first fin page in the 1960 Cavalero-Champion, which can be viewed at https://drive.google.com/open?id=0Bw7z_4bLjOOEMFA2RWhMdFZCSVk. Let's begin with the older models.

    Champion Hydromatic closed-heel fins
    Pair-Vintage-Yellow-Rubber-Flippers-Scuba-Fins-Hydromatic-_57f.jpg $_62a.JPG $_62e.JPG
    This fin was a firm favourite of female divers:
    _60a-jpg.515130.jpg
    img248.jpg
    Liberal_751224.jpg
    You already have all the "gen" about this fin on the 1960 Champion catalogue fin page, which stresses its curved reinforced blade in particular. As an owner of a pair of full-foot Hydromatics, I would just add that these fins have the softest heels I've ever experienced, so if you are looking for comfortable foot pockets, I would recommend trying a pair if you can find one on eBay as they were discontinued during the "tupperware fin" revolution four decades ago. As a diving equipment historian, I would add too that they bear more than a passing resemblance to Beuchat Competition closed-heel fins, which were also available in the early 1960s:
    ref_405_competition-png.515129.png

    René Cavalero's firm was headquartered in Marseilles, where Beuchat was also based, and the Cavalero-Champion company eventually merged with Beuchat. The foot pockets of the Hydromatic and the Competition dispensed with the toe opening popularised by Luigi Ferrraro's Cressi Rondine full-foot fin design. Toe openings were known to accommodate growing feet, to enhance comfort and to remove debris from the interior, but they were also allowed cold water to circulate freely inside the pocket, chilling the feet.
     
  3. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    champion_1960_1-jpg.519422.jpg
    Now for the "Hydro réglable", which can be seen to the right of the Hydromatic on the fin page above. The French adjective "réglable" means "adjustable".

    Cavalero-Champion Hydro réglable adjustable open-heel fins
    Hydro_Reglable.jpg
    s-l16002a.jpg
    s-l16002b.jpg
    s-l16002c.jpg
    s-l6002d.jpg
    This fin is essentially the adjustable open-heel equivalent of the Hydromatic closed-heel model. So three sizes from European 33 to 25 with sizing adjustment effected by a strap with stainless-steel buckles. Like the Hydromatic full-foot, the Hydro open-heel is reminiscent of the Beuchat Espadon model below:
    ref_400_espadonadj-png.515123.png
    That's all for today. More Champion brand fins for review in several days' time. Stay tuned!
     
  4. Popgun Pete

    Popgun Pete Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Melbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA
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    Carbon black reinforces and strengthens rubber, but you cannot use it in coloured rubber swim fins, such as yellow and blue ones which use clay type fillers instead. Coloured rubber fins usually had less antioxidants and UV inhibitors, hence they were more affected by strong sunlight and tended to have a lower durability compared with the same fins in black. Coloured fins were often compounded to be floaters, while black fins were usually sinkers. Abrasion resistance and mechanical strength are enhanced by the use of grades of carbon black and this is why automotive tyres (tires) and weather seals and engine hoses are black rubber.
     
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  5. Popgun Pete

    Popgun Pete Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Melbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA
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    The speargun being held by the little girl is this one.
    Champion short gun.jpg
     
  6. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    Thanks for the added info, Pete. I didn't know about the use of clay fillers for colouring fins during manufacture. From what I'd read about clay fillers in older diving books, I'd gathered that their presence was attributed to economics, because pure gum rubber was such an expensive commodity.

    On to more Cavalero-Champion fins. Next up is the Super Hydro, which was an open-toed version of the full-foot Hydromatic.

    Cavalero-Champion Super Hydro fins
    Champion_1960_1.jpg
    The above is from the 1960 catalogue, which states that this model is a recent addition to the range and that its rationale is to enhance comfort. Although the Hydromatic has the softest heel of any fin of the period, the foot pocket progressively increased in hardness towards the toe end, which had no opening and therefore could cause some discomfort, particularly when the fins were a tight fit lengthwise. The Super Hydro solved this problem by offering one of the comprehensively softest full foot pockets of any fin made at the time. The product description above also supports the argument for the use of booties with closed-heel fins.

    Here are some pictures for a closer look at the Super Hydro:
    $_57a.JPG $_57b.JPG $_57b.JPG $_57d.JPG The French words "flottant" and "petite" embossed on the arch mean "floating" and "small" respectively. Note "made in Italy". It would appear that Cavalero outsourced its production to an unnamed Italian plant at a later stage. We tend to think that outsourcing meant transferring manufacturing from the Western hemisphere to the Far East, but the reality is that in the case of basic diving equipment, the change began much earlier in Europe. Italy was a common outsourcing destination for masks and fins in the 1970s, while the Italian Cressi and Mares diving equipment companies sent their own fin moulds in turn to Brasil and Turkey respectively in later decades.

    Super Hydro fins must have been best sellers because they survived the 1960s to appear alongside the closed-toe Hydromatic in the 1977 US Cavalero catalogue States-side:
    USCavalero_1977_p12b.jpg
    Just in black, though, while the Super Hydros were launched in Europe with the option of blue as well as black.
     
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  7. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    The second Cavalero-Champion fin for review today is the Navy fin.

    Cavalero-Champion Navy fins
    Champion_1960_3.jpg
    One of the lessons learnt when investigating the history of fin production is that certain manufacturers would offer two different ranges: recreational and professional. Although there was plenty of money to be made serving the public at leisure during the heyday of underwater swimming, industrialists were always aware that this market was both seasonal - a summer pursuit - and liable to decline when another fad came along and absorbed the fickle price-conscious consumer. Hence the need for a professional range to attract the aspirational, discerning and committed client blessed with deeper pockets and a willingness to pay more for better made and designed products. I presume this is why the Cavalero company came up with the classic and tough Navy fin, which they submitted for testing by the sea arm of the French defence forces. The principal advantage of these heavy, robust fins is their fitness for endurance swimming purposes. Endurance is the forgotten benefit of swimming fins. We seem to have forgotten too that Louis de Corlieu, himself a naval officer concerned about shipwrecked sailors, invented the first modern version of the swimming fin for water rescue purposes where survival matters more than speed. Incidentally, here's the Sommap Alcyon combat swimmer's fin made by the only French manufacturer left in the business:
    s-l1600.jpg
    Not so different from the Cavalero Navy fin, which itself survived to appear in the 1977 US Cavalero catalogue over the Pond:
    USCavalero_1977_p11b.jpg

    USCavalero_1977_p11_Navy_adjustable.jpg
    That's all for today. I'll conclude my review of Cavalero-Champion fins next time with the remaining two models.
     
  8. Popgun Pete

    Popgun Pete Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Melbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA
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    There is a deep shoe fitting of the Navy fin with a longitudinally ribbed top to the foot pocket that will accommodate a standard dress diving boot. I saw a pair on display in a dive shop, but I doubt that they were ever sold.
     
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  9. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    USCavalero_1977_p11.jpg
    Thanks for the additional information about the Navy fin, Pete. I'll focus today on the two fins remaining for review, the Navy full-foot and the Hydrojet. Both models appeared on the first fin page (above) in the 1977 US Cavalero catalogue but they were absent from the Cavalero-Champion 1960 catalogue, suggesting they are newer, 1970s vintage.

    US Cavalero Navy fin (full foot)
    USCavalero_1977_p11_Navy_fullfoot.jpg
    This model is the closed-heel version of the adjustable open-heel Navy fin reviewed a few days ago. It is an usual offering because most military fins in the western world have open heels by convention, and probably also out of necessity, because they are seldom worn barefoot but donned over bulky drysuit boots. This full-foot Navy fin only came in two largish sizes for the American market and probably targeted Cavalero loyalists who wanted comfortable foot pockets to complement powerful blades.
     
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  10. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    The second fin to be considered today is the Hydrojet, which was US Cavalero's response to the Beuchat Jetfin and the Scubapro Jet Fin.

    US Cavalero Hydrojet fins
    USCavalero_1977_p11_Hydrojet.jpg
    USCavalero_1977_p11_caption.jpg
    So "a superb, vented fin, designed to make diving easy. Special compounds are tapered ribs provide an unequalled thrust with minimum effort. Comfortable foot pocket and adjustable strap combine to provide that 'perfect fit.'" Looks like there was just one size, so I suppose a case of "one size fits all". The jury is out when it comes to how this worked out in practice.

    Here are some "real-life" examples of Hydrojets:
    s-l1600a.jpg
    s-l1600b.jpg
    Let's take a closer look at the words embossed on the Hydrojets. First the top and the bottom of a Hydrojet made in France:
    s-l16001e.jpg
    s-l16001f.jpg
    The country of manufacture appears twice, while the size range and the boot-wearing instructions are printed in both French and English.

    And, by way of contrast, here is a fin made by an OEM manufacturer in Malaysia, which is a tropical country in the Far East with well-developed rubber plantations and with a nascent rubber goods industry during the 1970s:
    s-l1600e.jpg s-l1600d.jpg In this case, the country of manufacture is embossed more discreetly on the sole, while the message "Fits all sizes" replaces the EU43/48 and US9/13 sizing on the French-made fin. The fin above is an exemplar of the early OEM manufacturing of fins in Malaysia using western companies' designs and moulds. Later OEM fin manufacture in Malyaysia concentrated on a limited range of designs, which were branded with the logos of the commissioning western importers and distributors but were otherwise indistinguishable from one another.

    OK, that's it for the moment and for the Cavalero diving equipment company. I'm minded to move on at the weekend to the mid-20c products of the French diving gear manufacturer Sporasub.
     
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