VIA BIRMINGHAM TO BERMUDA - that's the route which, with a bit of luck, you could be taking before too long. Visit Dive 2002, the diving event of the year at the NEC, and you will automatically be entered in a Free Draw to win a holiday in a diver's wonderland of reefs and some 400 wrecks.
Wealthy Bermuda is the closest coral island to Britain, and this £2600-plus holiday for two has been arranged by Snooba Travel in association with Bermuda Tourism. Fly out with BA and spend the first five nights at the clifftop Surf Side Beach Club, with spectacular ocean views, before moving onto the five-star Fairmont Hamilton Princess Resort for another five upmarket nights.
You are also covered for up to 10 free dives each by Fantasea Bermuda, which says it has more than 30 dive sites within a short boat ride of its jetty.
Last year a record 16,142 people attended the Dive Show at the NEC. On that basis, if you and your diving partner both attend this year's show, your chances of winning the competition would be 8,071 to 1 - not at all bad odds, compared with the National Lottery and considering that our draw is free to enter!
But your chances of being a winner are actually far higher than that. Many other draws and competitions will be held in the main hall by the 260-plus exhibitors, with prizes ranging from dive gear to diving holidays.
And Diver Group and liveaboard specialist Tony Backhurst Scuba Travel are offering another 10 free diving holidays, worth £8500 altogether, to visitors who bulk-book in advance.
Order 10 or more tickets ahead, and you stand to win a great week's diving in the northern Red Sea with your best buddies. At the same time you'll benefit from a 28% discount on the entry fee, paying only £7 a head instead of £9.50 on the door.
The winning group will holiday aboard Cyclone, the latest addition to the Backhurst roster of Red Sea liveaboards. You'll luxuriate in air-conditioned twin cabins with private bathrooms. Everything you need is on board - nitrox, twin inflatables, bar, TV/video, computer, E6 processing and, we're told, an excellent chef.
And here's a tip - last year 118 people booked Show tickets on behalf of 10 or more people in advance. How good do those odds look now?
see you there!
So that's another multitude of compelling reasons for visiting the NEC over the weekend of 12/13 October, and we haven't even mentioned things like the Try-Dive Pool and the fact that you'll bump into all your old diving chums. Odds on, it's going to be another great Show!
gear and guests
DIVE 2002 isn't all about free holidays, of course. If you'd rather not leave your next dive trip to chance, you'll find exhibitors representing almost every part of the world, and it's a great chance to compare prices and what's on offer.
Then there is the mouth-watering range of dive gear on display, including a number of products making their Show debuts. You can eye it, you can try it and, if you want to leave Birmingham kitted up, you can buy it.
What about the speakers lined up for DIVE 2002? Even at this early stage, we've confirmed some treats in store.
If you haven't heard of Bob Marx, that's probably because he has always spent more time under water than promoting himself. To say that this 65-year-old American treasure-hunter and underwater archaeologist has a tale to tell is putting it mildly.
Bob has dived some 3000 wrecks dating to the 18th century or earlier, in more than 60 countries. He has survived five plane crashes, nine shipwrecks, two shark attacks (one mako, one hammerhead) and been blasted out of the water by explosives five times. Now that's what we call survival!
Recently he has been investigating wrecks off the Falklands, including the only existing ship from the California Gold Rush, and Spanish wrecks off Argentina and Chile. At the NEC he takes us through his fascinating life story, and focuses on his work tracking down the early ships which traded out of the Philippines to the Americas, in his presentation Spain's Manilla Galleons.
Two leading British technical divers appear together for the first time at Birmingham - Christina Campbell and Leigh Bishop. They and the rest of the Starfish Enterprise team have carried out a succession of revealing deep wreck dives in the English Channel and elsewhere, including the Lusitania, Britannic, and Affray.
As the group celebrates its 10th anniversary, the duo will review its spectacular history and update you on this year's activity, with some never-before-seen deep video footage edited specially for the Show and including the first images of recently discovered Jutland wrecks as well as the deep treasure ship the Egypt.
Meanwhile two of the world's leading free-divers plan to appear at the NEC - though not on the same podium. Veteran Francisco "Pipin" Ferreras makes his Show debut while Tanya Streeter (left) pays us a welcome return visit.
World records are often disputed in the world of free-diving - it all depends on which governing body you follow.
However, no one denies that Pipin, from Cuba, has carried out a No Limits dive on one breath to 162m, deeper than anyone else, while Tanya has just broken the women's and men's No Limits record in August with a 160m dive.
Tanya's ambition was to outdo the men and become the first woman to hold the overall No Limits record. She appears on the Sunday only, but whether you're into free-diving or not, make sure to catch one or both of these two titans.
Britain's home-grown free-divers had spent a lot of time in the shallows until movie stuntman Steve Truglia emerged from nowhere to set a British No Limits record of 76m in May. Now, supported by Pipin and that other No Limits record-holder Loic Leferme, he aims to become the first Brit to pass 100m. Steve could talk for Britain, too, as you'll find out in his own presentation at DIVE 2002!
Back to technical diving, and leading exponent Kevin Gurr will be at DIVE 2002 to talk about some specially authorised dives taking place this month on the historic wreck USS Monitor, which lies in about 75m off North Carolina.
For the first time two steam-powered ironclad warships engaged in combat when the Monitor met the Confederate Virginia at Hampton Roads in 1862.
The Civil War battle changed the way warships were built and naval battles fought - and the Monitor scored another first when it became the USA's first National Marine Sanctuary.
A number of speakers are also lined up for seminars, including Gary Adkison of Walkers Cay in the Bahamas, talking about the shark-diving, and Terry Dwyer, who will cover a destination with a difference, Nova Scotia.
Meanwhile Stefan Jennefalk of Poseidon is likely to attract some attention with his talk on Regulator Technology for the 21st Century.