I noticed it when I hefted the Tortuga from the back of my truck and headed to the water: A soft round neck pad curls across the BC's shoulders. Looks comfortable, I thought. As it turns out, I thought right.
The neck pad was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In crafting the Tortuga, Sherwood has made one easy-riding rig. For starters, the chassis is first-class. The basic harness design is a marriage between back-inflation and wraparound designs. That means you get some lift in the forward areas near the weight pockets, but the majority of the air cell is behind the diver, billowing out and wrapping around the tank. To appreciate this feature, just hit the inflator button and don't stop. The Tortuga will swell, but it will never squeeze. There's also a self-adjusting cummerbund, one that unlike many others actually seems to work. It has a generous amount of latitude and does a good job of compensating for wetsuit squeeze as depth increases.
The Tortuga also has a sweet suspension system that is, she hauls a lot of weight with little effort. Weight integration is handled by Sherwood's newly improved CQR 2 system. The basic premise is that the weight should be supported by the backplate and harness, thus avoiding the "sagging sides" syndrome. Indeed, the Tortuga handles 10 pounds per pocket up front and has room for 10 more pounds, split between two trim pockets, in back. The "improved" part of the CQR 2 system is that the releasable weight pockets have been moved farther forward for much easier access. I found them readily accessible, and they required minimal effort to release. Also, the weight pockets are curved and naturally conform to the diver's body.
The Tortuga offers a tremendous amount of freedom of movement, and in this regard it was not noticeably different from some back-inflation BCs I dive more regularly. While diving, the air cell billows out a bit on each side of the tank and puts the diver in a very stable horizontal position that's perfect for swimming over reefs and investigating interesting nooks and crannies while staying streamlined. If you roll over on your back or swim on your side, you will notice the air shift from side to side. This shift is a bit more pronounced than some might be used to; that's due to the high lift capacity (46 pounds on the large) and air-cell shape, but it didn't hinder my maneuvering.
As I mentioned at the start, the Tortuga's appointments are awfully nice. There's a soft collar at the neck that leads to a plush and comfy backpack. There's a dump valve on the main inflator hose, one on the opposite shoulder and a third on the bottom of the air cell. There are four D-rings for accessories, and all are stainless steel. There are also two small cargo pockets, one over each weight pocket. The zippers open wide for full access, and the handles are tagged with short extensions and easy to grip. The best part about each of these items is that they're right where they're supposed to be. Close your eyes and you'll instinctively be able to find each one.
Sherwood Tortuga BC
Impressions A slick hybrid design gives the Tortuga great lift capacity and underwater stability while still providing generous freedom of movement. Comfort is king thanks to a plush backpack and excellent weight distribution. key features The CRQ 2 system makes weight pockets more accessible while supporting them from the backplate. MSRP $475 Contact www.sherwoodscuba.com