When the corporate video burst on to the big screen, complete with flashing lights and pounding rock soundtrack, we could have been at the launch of the latest Ford. It was a measure of just how far the BSAC has come in terms of packaging, even in the year since the last Underwater World.
Harrogate International Centre is an impressive venue - it is comfortable, the facilities function, and while its fire alarms still seem balanced on a hair trigger, it is no bad thing that safety should be high on the agenda at a BSAC get-together.
The only thing missing now is much sense that what was once the Diving Officers' Conference is any longer a "conference" - it's a series of events carefully choreographed in a style of which Peter Mandelson would approve.
With a packed agenda it is understandable that time for questions from the floor is limited, though there is a certain irony in a session on the BSAC's efforts to improve communications, chaired by Chris Allen, being followed by a brief Q&A slot in which only a handful of people had time to speak.
Members will soon get their chance, however. The Chairman took the opportunity to unveil a major opinion trawl called Thinktank, coming to 15 per cent of you soon.
Work through lunch
Those delegates willing to sacrifice a lunchtime - fewer than you might expect - did get the chance to speak out on the Sunday, when National Diving Officer Bob Boler announced proposals for doing away with the grade of Dive Leader and restructuring instructor grades altogether (see page 80).
The comparatively low-key debate that ensued hinted that such changes might not prove overly controversial.
An innovation this year was a series of well-attended seminars on the Friday afternoon, covering such subjects as expedition-planning, kit-rigging, equipment maintenance and underwater photography.
Safety Adviser Brian Cumming's Incidents Report is always well-attended. In a year of 22 diving deaths, including what he said were double-the-average number among non-BSAC members, his message was predictable: "Diving within a branch is safer than not doing so."
As ghoulishly popular as ever were Brian's examples of unusual incidents - like the up-ended diver whose buddy felt moved to vent the air from his drysuit legs with a knife, or the DCI victim whose medical record turned out to include asthma, a previous untreated bend, concussion sustained two days earlier and a possible fractured skull!
Four diving deaths in 1998 involved closed-circuit rebreathers, and the BSAC's Rebreather Working Party has urged that judgement be reserved on units like the Buddy Inspiration for now.
In a separate presentation, Dave Crockford of the working party, who had known three of the rebreather fatalities personally, raised the question: did those who died get the opportunity to fully understand rebreathers?
Closed-circuit rebreathers will "mature", said Dave who, like other BSAC notables, uses one himself. And the Club does now recognise the need to train divers in the use of semi-closed-
circuit rebreathers like the Draeger Dolphin, and its Rebreather Awareness courses start this month, to be followed by unit-specific courses.
No deco-stop diving and a maximum depth of 40m will be the Club limits.
For those who like to push the limits, Jack Ingle discussed the "jewel in the crown" of the Skill Development Courses, the new Extended Range Diver. "It's about the safest way we can carry out adventurous diving," he said. Full-face mask, nitrox mixer/ blender and diver propulsion vehicles courses are all due this year.
Saving how much?
It was reasonable for the BSAC to have a session to introduce the magazine that will be sent to members by BSAC HQ when Diver's formal ties with the Club are broken in May. It was unfortunate, however, that questionable statements were made to justify the change.
In his introduction, for instance, Chairman Chris Allen stated that the move to the new publisher would save the Club 95,000 a year.
This is, in fact, wishful thinking that depends almost entirely on the advertising revenue that the Club's new journal manages to attract!
In comparison, the tender made to the Club by Diver would have saved the Club a guaranteed minimum of £75,000 a year, rising by £5000 every time the Club puts on 1000 members.
They shoot horses
The numbers at Underwater World seemed to be down this year, but the organisers must have been gratified that so many signed up for the Saturday night dinner-dance. Revellers were perhaps encouraged by a misprint on the invitation to the effect that dancing would continue until Sunday lunch-time, suggesting something between a rave and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Those who pushed the boat out that night might have found next morning's presentation by Dr Mike Gernhardt, one of that elite whose business card says "Astronaut", tough going. Delivered at space-shuttle speed and accompanied by flowcharts of increasing complexity, it did however reward concentration for its insights into how problems of cold, fatigue and decompression in space relate to those in diving.
Gernhardt, a former diver and expert on gas bubble dynamics, is soon to undertake a series of space walks to help assemble the international space station. In this environment you can apparently get the bends without noticing, because your spacesuit is so painful anyway.
His parting memory of one shuttle mission replaced technology with haunting imagery. Effectively strapped to a wing to test the effects of cold, moving 25 times faster than the speed of sound and with no tasks to carry out for once, he described watching not only Jupiter and its moons but a hurricane passing over his old Caribbean diving haunt St Thomas. Now that's an eyeful.
Gernhardt talked technical, but he did offer fresh perspectives. By contrast, US gas and deco guru Bill Hamilton, a man with the best moustache since Wyatt Earp, disappointed an expectant but well-informed audience by delivering what was effectively an introduction to nitrox.
Similarly, US divers Kay and Gary Walten had a fascinating story to tell of their cave explorations in Mexico (see Diver December), but agreed afterwards that their show rambled where it might have rolled.
The best presentations were not necessarily in the auditorium but on the fringe. In the less-salubrious Kings Suite, for instance, another cave-diver, Gavin Newman, conveyed very directly the experience of supporting a record-breaking venture by Olivier Isler. This top caver carries a 110kg triple-redundancy rebreather and 2.5km of line, swims 3800m solo just to get to the start of his dives, and will decompress for over nine hours in 11*C water.
Gavin contrasted these feats with those less well-funded but resourceful British cave divers who used wheelie bins as deco bells and "bogozepp" scooters made from sewer pipes, Coke cans and geranium pots to make their own breakthroughs.
Nothing flashy, but it was one of the best talks of the weekend.
Kevin Gurr must be getting weary of describing his deep-diving adventures on the Britannic, as he did at Harrogate, but there's nothing like hearing about great diving exploits.
And there was nothing like hearing about great diving exploits in the keynote speech of round-the-world yachtsman Sir Chay Blyth, a man whose army discharge report described him as: "cheerful idiot, works well under supervision". He was put off diving early on after a gloomy plunge at Portsmouth.
However, he had the audience howling with well-aired seadog tales of rounding the Cape through hurricanes, dismastings and innumerable sinkings: "Everybody was seasick - it was marvellous!" For $44,000 you can join him in his next New World Challenge, if you dare.
Finally, David Doubilet is one of the world's great underwater photographers, and his Pacific-hopping slide show of strange creatures, ranging from the world's heaviest crab and the grunting pigfish to Margaret Thatcher lookalike the elephant shark, mesmerised the audience.
Much of the presentation was familiar to those with good memories, but that did nothing to dull the impact of stunning images combined with a laconic delivery.
It was one of those reminders of what makes diving great - never mind Harrogate, blow all your savings on a trip to Tasmania!
From top: David Doubilet; Sir Chay Blyth; Brian Cumming; Kay Walten; Dave Crockford; and Dr Mike Gernhardt; Jack Ingle; Bill Hamilton; and Kevin Gurr.