Thursday, 13 May 2004 00:00


By Vanessa Dillon

Recapping the success of the inaugural DiveOz Up Close And Personal 2003 (DOUCAP), this year's DOUCAP was promised to be a much bigger extravaganza, and it did not disappoint! Almost 200 divers, freedivers, and non-diving friends & spouses gathered on Saturday 3rd April at the ANZ Conservation Theatre at Taronga Zoo, Mossman, Sydney, for an evening of fun and frivolity, education and entertainment.

So what is this DiveOz thing, and what on earth is a DOUCAP? Well, log on to and check out Australia's biggest and best internet-based diver's information resource. It averages over 72,000 visitors per month and has an amazing array of information. It lists Australia-wide dive sites, shops and charter boats; water temperatures; news and product reviews; beginners guides; regular feature articles; diver photo galleries; free buy/swap/sell listings; and a find-a-buddy database, just to name a few. There is also an extremely active forum for divers to chat to other divers around the world, with separate discussion areas for beginners, photographers, travel, wreck, cave, medical and many other topics. It's also the home of Australian Extreme Underwater Ironing, a sport very dear to my heart!

Part 1

The owner of the DiveOz website, Neil Miller (AKA Webguy on the DiveOz forums) had the idea of hosting an information night for the forum members of DiveOz. The first DOUCAP, held in August 2003, began as a few divers getting together to hear a well-known Sydney dive identity give a presentation. After getting a huge response from the DiveOz members, it morphed into a sellout of 150 tickets and all monies raised from ticket sales were donated to the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

This year's DOUCAP was even bigger than the last, and all proceeds raised from the ticket sales were again donated to charity, and this year's beneficiary was the Manly Fairy Penguins Fund. Not only did a large proportion of the Sydney dive scene attend the night, but Sydney also played host to a number of visitors from Brisbane, Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Nelsons Bay, Newcastle, Canberra, Wollongong, Melbourne and Adelaide. In addition to travelling long distances for this event, most of the visitors also took the time to sample some of the delights of Sydney's diving.

The distinguished speakers taking to the stage this time were:

CPOCD Eddie Szmelter - a member of the Royal Australian Navy Clearance Diver Team 1
Dr Mark Spencer - underwater photographer and avid wreck diver
David Harasti - Conservation Manager at NSW Fisheries
Captain Trevor Jackson - MV Esperance Star's acclaimed wreck-hunter, and an accomplished commercial and technical diver
Dr Simon Mitchell - diving and hyperbaric physician and technical diver

The evening's entertainment began when the doors opened at 6pm, and we were greeted to a foyer with information stands and displays from Zeagle Australia; the Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers; and OzTek 4 (a technical diving conference to be held in Sydney in March 2005) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society as well.

The first speaker of the evening was CPOCD Eddie Szmelter, who gave a brief history of the beginnings of the RAN's Clearance Diving team. This was followed up with a short light-hearted video that delved further into the past of this elite group of divers. I tell you what, their job has a lot higher "pucker-factor" than any other I know of! I really enjoyed the Navy display in the foyer; they brought with them some really interesting (and very expensive) gear - a portable recompression chamber, portable gas mixing panel and a Mk16 Rebreather as well as underwater cutting gear and all manner of other diving gear.

The next speaker was David Harasti, from NSW Fisheries. David's work has been integral to the development of protection guidelines for many threatened marine species in NSW. His presentation covered many species, from the Great White and Grey Nurse Sharks (including an amazing piece of video footage which I think we'll all remember for years to come), Green Sawfish, Syngnathids (seadragons, seahorses, pipehorses and pipefish) and the Black Cod. The most amusing part of David's discussion was the "Darwin Award for Sharks"… complete with photos of a 4m Great White who managed to get stuck inside a small sea cave off Forster, NSW. Of course, sharks can't swim backwards, but they need to swim to breathe, so this dumb shark drowned! Dave is an excellent public speaker, and with just the right mix of comedy and gory autopsy photos, I don't think we'll ever be the same again…

Our third speaker for the evening was Mark Spencer, who spoke about some of the photography and wreck diving he's done, and discussed the ethics of removing artefacts from wrecks. We saw photos of the Catterthun (a wreck in 60m off Seal Rocks in NSW), which sank in 1895 with 10 boxes of gold sovereigns aboard. Mark gave an in-depth explanation of the recovery efforts by hard hat divers a year after her sinking, who managed to recover 7 of the 10 boxes of gold.

Part 2

The rumours that there are still 3 boxes of gold sovereigns on the wreck set many hearts aflutter! He then talked about the AE2 submarine, an Australian submarine sunk in the Sea of Marmora in Turkey, just days after the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli, and immortalised in the book "Stoker's Submarine" published in 2003. There are talks of raising the submarine for its historical significance; but monetary restraints and the practical inabilities of preserving the metal against corrosion once it reaches the surface, mean the AE2 is likely to remain on the sea floor until it corrodes entirely away.

Just prior to intermission, we had a very special photo/music presentation, dedicated to the life of the late John Bennett. John died on March 15 while diving in Korea. He was an accomplished technical diver, the first scuba diver to dive beyond 1000ft, and had many friends and fans in the audience.

After a short break with complimentary refreshments, we resumed the second half of the night with the distribution of prizes donated by sponsors, and there were some excellent prizes on offer! Given to three lucky audience members were: a snorkel, mask and a mouse pad autographed by Jean-Michel Cousteau; a pair of Dacor Tiger fins; and a Zeagle Envoy 1st and 2nd stage regulator set (voted by Rodale's as Best Regulator of the Year 2003). I only wish I'd been one of the lucky winners! *sigh* Oh well, there is always next year!!! :-)

Then, the announcement we'd all been waiting for… the winners of the DiveOz Digital Cyber Shootout! This digital photo competition had been run for 6 months, with monthly prizewinners, but at DOUCAP we got to see the finalist's entries in each category and the overall winners of the competition. After a great slideshow where we got to 'ooh' and 'aah' over all the fabulous finalists photos, the prizes were handed out and the 3 lucky winners walked off with a Sony P8 digital camera, a Poseidon Xstream Regulator and a Tusa HRS Drysuit respectively! Congratulations go to David Harasti, for winning First Place, and also the People's Choice Award, with an amazing photo of a Leafy Seadragon. The question on everyone's lips, was how on earth did he manage to get that Leafy to stay still long enough to nail it to the piece of black cardboard that we're all sure he used as a background???

Next up we had a short presentation by Robert Humphries from the Manly Fairy Penguins Fund, who spoke about the work they're doing to protect the penguin colony at Manly. The final donation amount for the fund was a whopping $1740, a definite success in fundraising for these cute little fellas, and that donation will make a big difference for the colony.

Our fourth speaker for the evening was Captain Trevor Jackson who drove down just for the night from Brisbane. Trev gave a hilarious talk, based on some of his more notable rescue efforts… the "rescue" of brass artefacts from the wreck of the Kaptjain Neilsen; the rescue of a diver after a diving incident off his charter boat; and the rescue of a cod entangled in fishing trace line. Word has it that Trev is now auditioning for a job with International Rescue, and the Esperance Star will be renamed once he's a fully qualified Thunderbird!

And last but definitely not least, was the always entertaining Dr Simon Mitchell who flew in from New Zealand for the weekend, who spoke on hyperbaric medicine and discussed some new research findings which have the potential to reduce the incidence of DCI in the future. I think my favourite image of his presentation was the X-ray of a skull with a spear shaft embedded in it! This is the second year that Dr Mitchell has presented at DOUCAP and for that we are most grateful.

Thanks go to our MC on the night, back for an encore performance, Daryl Waters (aka Oxyboy on the DiveOz forums) from DiveTek in Brisbane. Special thanks also to Brett Tyler and his team of audio engineers, who again provided the audiovisual setup for the evening and without whose technical expertise the night would not have been possible.

A huge thanks must go to all the sponsors of the evening: Cape Byron Imports, Zeagle Australia and Dacor Australia. Also a huge thanks to the sponsors of the DiveOz Digital Cyber Shootout: Esperance Star Dive Charters, Sony, Poseidon and Tusa.

Due to the success of the second DOUCAP, Neil is planning another event in 2005. A fabulous night out, some awesome prizes and the opportunity to support marine-based charities, and all this for the bargain basement price of $15 per person. Keep tuned to the DiveOz website for further information, and be sure to get your tickets early as I'm sure they will sell out quickly.