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Original Full Face Snorkel Mask 1938

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popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
Diving pioneer Commandant Yves Le Prieur patented a full face mask for snorkelling at the surface and shooting fish below with his rollerspear. Le Prieur was also involved with air supplied deep diving using commercial equipment of his devising, but this mask is not designed for submerging and the multiple snorkels have no water shut-off valves, although there are flow directing valves inside the mask. So even back then attention was paid to having large snorkel bores, something that modern designers seem to have forgotten. Few would want to dive with this monster on your head, but one has to remember when this was designed there was nothing else except modified firefighters' anti-smoke goggles and Alexandre Kramarenko’s patented mono-goggle.
Le Prieur face mask with snorkels.jpg
This is the roller spear patent which was the reason for creating the mask. Le Prieur had already developed a form of scuba full face mask for using his Nautilus speargun which was initially cartridge powered and later converted to expellable gas with its own pressure cylinder. That weapon was more than was needed for most fish and tended to blow its victims to pieces. Note the full face mask seen above is in use.
Le Prieur roller spear.jpg

Here the diagram is slightly modified to show how the grip handle hooks onto the polespear before you want to shoot.
Le Prieur rollerspear close-up.jpg
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Le Prieur designed this mask as a form of underwater observation chamber for swimmers, in fact he made the comment that the air capacity of the mask could support the head of the swimmer in the manner of a salvage buoy (!), so the mask was not for diving down. It is a variation on the ideas for his free flow air supplied scuba or scaphandre mask. The snorkels have one-way valves where they enter the mask (clapets 11) which only allow air in, not out. Exhaust air was via the lift off of the flexible side flanges of the mask skirt, a method borrowed from his scuba mask, or via a separate valve 16 in the side of the mask. Any water that seeped into the mask was pumped out via a small bulb operated hand pump 13 that would be at the low point of a mask looking downwards.

In the years that it was produced some changes were made including some snorkels being used for outlet and not as inlet, rather than a separate exhaust valve in the side of the mask. Because the mask was said to aid swimmers even in disturbed sea conditions it appears a valve has been added at the termination of the snorkels, their number reduced to four from six and still being grouped together at their terminal ends.

Commandant Le Prieur was an experienced diver, so his mask had been well thought out, but it had been designed from the viewpoint of his professional equipment and would have been an expensive item both to produce and purchase. In a sense the swimmer had his own portable observation window as Captain Nemo had in his Nautilus sub and that no doubt inspired its name. Le Prieur thought that even inexperienced swimmers could benefit from the security offered by his mask and could plough through any surface conditions, within limits of course in deciding to go swimming in the first place.
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Although Le Prieur had speared fish while submerged on scuba with his Nautilus gun, he seemed to think that the spearing of fish could also be a surface based activity with powerful guns that had the necessary reach to skewer victims swimming below. You can see this thinking in his 1938 band gun which has a large ebonite mousse float attached to the underside of the stock. https://forums.deeperblue.com/threads/commander-yves-le-prieur-band-gun-1938.114092

However spearfishermen were going to find more worthy specimens in the depths, so the float was removable and in any case the spring gun which was originally the weapon of choice was a sinker in all its forms. Many early spearfishermen wielded polespears and some did not think very highly of the use of mechanical spearguns. Guy Gilpatric of “Compleat Goggler” fame expressed with dismay the view that people would soon be spearing fish without getting the back of their head wet!
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