USS Dauntless: South Africa’s own Star Trek chapter

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This coming Friday, the 7th of June, is a good day for movie fans. It’s the day Star Trek: Into Darkness hits local theatres. JJ Abrams’ second stab at the franchise is already getting rave reviews abroad, so what kind of self-respecting moviegoer wouldn’t be excited by its arrival?

As excited as regular movie nuts are, they can’t be as excited as Owen Swart and his friends. They comprise the crew of the USS Dauntless, South Africa’s own Starship, and they’ll proudly be showing up for the very special occasion – a new Trek film – in their uniforms.

The Dauntless is part of StarFleet International (SFI), the second-largest Star Trek fan club in the world. The biggest is run by Paramount Studios, which owns the franchise, but members only receive a certificate and six editions of the Star Trek Communicator magazine. SFI, is run like an organisation. To find out more, I sat down with Owen – sorry, Commodore Swart, to use his official rank – and delved deeper into this bit of fan culture.

At a popular pizza venue in Johannesburg is where I show up. Owen mailed me, minutes earlier, to say that he’ll be sitting at a table inside. “Look for the USS Dauntless cap on the table,” he added. Most people might think it’ll be easy to spot a Trek fan – especially one who ‘dresses up’ – in public. Just look for a spotty nerd, right?. Instead, I see a normal guy in his mid 30s, sitting at a table. With his girlfriend. Internet stereotypes are so unreliable.

The conversation starts out with him explaining how things at StarFleet are different to the official Star Trek Fan Club. Owen explains that SFI’s chapters, or Starships, run social events for members, recruiting for fans who want to sign up, game evenings, and more. This is all done within the structure of StarFleet – members hold ranks, and there are organisational meetings and conference calls, and there are leadership courses for those in such positions. And those ranks are earned, not given. He’s a Commodore now, making him the commanding officer of the Dauntless, but Owen tells me that he’s aiming to be promoted to Rear Admiral in the future.

Petty Officer Soo and Commodore Swart, reporting for duty.
Petty Officer Soo and Commodore Swart, reporting for duty.

It’s sorta like the Boy Scouts, then, but way cooler and a bit less formal. Anybody can join, too – the only thing they have to share is a love for Star Trek and sci-fi. Owen says that he’s a freelance web designer and systems architect, while Soo – Petty Officer 1st Class, Communications Specialist – is a business consultant for entrepreneurs. Other members in the group include retail managers, geologists, and even a psychiatrist. Even doctors get to be geeks.

USS Dauntless is South Africa’s Starship. It launched in 2004, and Owen joined as a Chief Science Officer. He took command in 2007, and now has a crew of 51 members. Half of those are in Johannesburg, but the rest are dotted around the world. As this is a correspondence chapter things are less formal, and there is no need to meet in person officially.

When not in uniform the group get together and shoot one another
When not in uniform the group get together and shoot one another

I turn the conversation to this Friday, and the release of Into Darkness. He smiles, and says, “It’s a rare opportunity to have our uniforms on at a relevant place and time.” He has a number of uniforms, one of which is imported, while the others are locally tailored, and put together by himself. It’s also a marketing opportunity. He’d like to raise awareness of the group, should others want to join.

Instead of being laughed at, he says, people are genuinely curious, asking to take photos. He shares an amusing anecdote about a young girl once walking up to him asking, “Are you astronauts?”

Before leaving, I ask try ask the most important question of all. Laughter erupts before I finish it.

“Kirk or Picard? Eh, that’s a difficult question,” as he stops to think.

“I’ve been watching Next Generation lately, so I’d have to say that today it’s Picard. But on Friday, it’ll be Kirk.”

Star Trek Into Darkness releases this Friday, the 7th of June. The crew of the USS Dauntless will be on hand, for the 8pm show, at The Zone, in Rosebank. All are welcome to attend, take photos and ask questions.

Image sources
Owen Swart, Memory-Beta Wikia

Christo van Gemert

Christo van Gemert

Eleven years ago Christo started writing about technology for one of South Africa's (then) leading computer magazines. His first review? A Samsung LCD monitor. Hey, it was hot news, back then. Nowadays he gets more excited about photography, cars, game consoles, and faster internet connections. He's sort of an Apple fan, but will take any opportunity to remind you about his Windows-powered home theatre PC and desire to own a vanilla Android tablet.   Currently uses: Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display, Apple iPhone 5, Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000, Audiofly AF78 Earphones, Xbox 360, Nikon D50.