Sea Grape Festival Kicks Off Blacktip Island Summer

Sea grape leaves, fruit, wood and liquor will take center stage at Blacktip Island’s Sea Grape Festival this weekend.

Sea grape leaves, fruit, wood and liquor will take center stage at Blacktip Island’s Sea Grape Festival this weekend.

Blacktip Islanders will welcome summer Saturday with the 43rd Annual Sea Grape Festival at Club Scuba Doo resort.

“Sea grapes were the difference between life and death in Blacktip’s early days,” island historian Smithson Altshul said. “They gave settlers food, shelter, fuel and drink. Some folks even crossed sea grapes with wild tobacco so they’d have a ready stock of cigars when supply ships didn’t come.

“The earliest settlements were campsites cut under the sea grape canopy for shelter from hurricanes,” Altschul said. “Black widow spiders were an issue under there, then as now, but safety from storms more than made up the occasional envenomation. The sea grape wine didn’t hurt, either. Still doesn’t.”

The festival kicks off with a parade past the island’s three beachfront resorts and continues with a grape-themed fashion show at Club Scuba Doo.

“The parade usually takes about 10 minutes,” Club Scuba Doo manager Polly Parrett said. “We caution our guests not to blink or they’ll miss it.

“We’ve also cautioned this year’s fashion show participants the event is a family affair,” Parrett added. “We had to disqualify Alison Diesel last year for violating community standards. Three strategically-placed grapes is not fashion. There were children and elderly there who simply didn’t need to see that.”

The children’s fashion show has been dropped after last year’s near-fatal mishap.

“Little Tabitha Bottoms was the most adorable sea grape leaf, complete with live black widows,” show organizer Doris Blenny said. “Then the wind picked up and blew her into the sea. Luckily she landed face up, and she floated, so they were able to fish her right out. But we can’t risk that happening again.”

Scheduled children’s activities include Pin the Leaf on the Adam and Eve, an Eight-Legged Race and the always popular Greased Feral Cat Chase.

The festival will conclude with the wine making competition.

“The sea grape wines that residents concoct are surprisingly drinkable,” Parrett said. “We have awards for reds, whites, sparkling greens and even fortified wines and brandies.”

“Last Fest, Antonio Fletcher’s rosé blew people away,” wine judge Cori Anders said. “Then ‘Tonio let it slip he’d cut his finger corking his back-bush Chablis. We’ve got damned-strict supervision in place this year. Oh, yeah, we do.”

“We’ve also got an unofficial over/under money line on how many people’ll go blind from the tastings,” Anders said. “For charity, of course. Right now the line’s at 17. Only a sucker’d take the under.”

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Blacktip Codex Could Be Lost Gospel

An illuminated panel from the Blacktip Codex shows Medieval Blacktip islanders netting a lionfish. The scrawled figure to the lower left is believed to be the earliest representation of the island’s legendary mersquatch.

An illuminated panel from the Blacktip Codex shows Medieval islanders netting a lionfish. The scrawled figure at the lower left is believed to be the earliest representation of the island’s legendary mersquatch.

The discovery Thursday of a 600-year-old bound and illuminated religious text, dubbed the Blacktip Codex, sent shockwaves through the Caribbean island’s religious and academic communities.

The rudimentary book, 200 pages of stacked sharkskin vellum bound on one edge, is attributed to St. Dervil of the Mead, patron saint of scuba diving and founder of the island’s Our Lady of Blacktip cathedral.

“Its folium rectum reads ‘The Gospel According to Dervil,’” Blacktip Reformed Theosophical Seminary deacon Calvin Augustine said. “The text is an account of Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ daughter Sarah fleeing to Blacktip Island, battling storms and pirates all the way. If true, it’s possible current Blacktip natives are their descendants.”

The codex was discovered after heavy rains caused a cathedral wall and part of the flooring to collapse, revealing a previously unknown storage vault containing the codex, pots of coconut mead holy water, a cot, playing cards and other religious relics.

Island historians say the book’s provenance speaks to its authenticity.

“Blacktip Island was sacked by Norse raiders blown off course on their way to Greenland,” Tiperon University-Blacktip history professor Edwin Chub said. “This codex could have been placed in the underground vault for safekeeping.

“Of course, Dervil was killed in that raid,” Chub said, “so any knowledge of the vault would have died with him.”

The island’s Ecumenical Council, however, has doubts.

“It may date back to Dervil’s time, and maybe even Dervil’s hand,” council president and former Reverend Jerrod Ephesians said. “But some mead-sotted monk’s potboiler about Jesus’s descendants in the Caribbean? That’s not history. That’s a B-grade movie.

“Now, Dermott Bottoms did walk on water that time James Conlee chucked the snake in his boat,” Ephesians said. “And Antonio Fletcher’s been known to cast out demons in Ballyhoo parking lot Saturday nights. But that’s hardly proof of divine genealogy.”

Historians are also intrigued by the codex’s detailed illuminated panels. In addition to gold-leaf images of Mary and Sarah, the codex also shows island settlers nettling lionfish.

“It’s the earliest known depiction of lionfish culling in the Caribbean,” Chub said. “Of necessity, Blacktip’s first settlers were fishers of lions, not fishers of men: a hastily-scribbled margin note reads, ‘Lord, save us from the devil, the Turk and the marinu leonus.’”

Island merchants, meanwhile, are already capitalizing on the find.

“With our resort being next to the church, we set up a roadside Blacktip Codex reading tent and gift shop,” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “We’ve got Codex Mead, Codex caps and t-shirts and even Codex soap-on-a-rope that smells like a hurricane shelter.”

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Reenactors Stage Sea Battle To Aid Blacktip’s Seamen

Blacktip Island fishing boats converted into makeshift 5th Century B.C.E. Persian triremes sit ready for Saturday’s battle of Salamis reenactment at Diddley’s Landing.

Blacktip Island fishing boats converted into makeshift 5th Century B.C.E. Persian triremes sit ready for Saturday’s Battle of Salamis Reenactment at Diddley’s Landing.

Blacktip Island history buffs will take to the sea Saturday for the 23rd Annual Battle of Salamis Reenactment benefiting the Tiperon Island Retired Seaman’s Guild.

The event celebrates the pivotal Greek naval victory over the Persian fleet in 480 B.C.E. The battle will be staged off Diddley’s Landing public pier to facilitate viewing and crowd control.

“People get excited about this one,” event organizer Jay Valve said. “They work all year on their boats, their uniforms and their spoken Greek and Persian. It really draws the community together.”

Participants recreate trireme warships from whatever materials they can find onshore or in the dump. Winners are named Honorary Seamen for the coming year.

“We try to keep things as accurate as a small island allows,” Valve said. “We allow water cannons, water balloons and the like,” Valve said. “Last year the Persian team used giant slings to fling land crabs at the Greeks. For close combat, brooms and hand bags are still the weapons of choice.”

The reenactment is personal for many participants.

“We’re a seafaring nation, you know,” Persian partisan Dermott Bottoms said. “This’s not just a drunken free-for-all. Granddaddy was a seaman. So was Daddy. This’s my way to honor them.”

Though the Greeks won the original battle, the reenactment’s outcome can go either way.

“Won the last three years in a row,” Persian captain James Conlee said. “One crab broadside, and they’ll all jump in the sea again.”

Greek reenactors, however, like their chances.

“We got Lee Helm with an underwater auger bit,” Bottoms said. “They can’t hit us with crabs if all their boats sink. And worst case, I still get to whack James upside the head with a broom.”

Island authorities, meanwhile, are bracing for on-shore rowdiness.

“The crowd really gets behind their teams,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “It’s rare when the sea battle doesn’t spill over into the stands.

“We put up barricades to separate the two sides last year, but they just broke the partitions and used the wood as shields and swords,” Marquette said. “I’m expecting a full jail again: hoplites in one cell, zhayedan in the other.”

Organizers insist the money earned for pensioners more than offsets any hooliganism.

“The funds we raise are crucial to the former sailors in our community struggling to make ends meet,” Valve said. “We care deeply about our seamen. We’re all seamen at heart.”

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Blacktip Divemaster Creates Island Superhero Team

Backstabb battles Dr. Speedo’s evil Pee Men in the premier issue of The Adventures of The Slacker Defenders. (courtesy of Paul Gustavson)

Backstabb battles Dr. Speedo’s evil Pee Men in the premier issue of The Adventures of The Slacker Defenders. (courtesy of Paul Gustavson)

Blacktip Island divemaster and amateur cartoonist Finn Kiick has published a serialized graphic novelette featuring a team of costumed crusaders on a small Caribbean resort island.

Kiick said the The Adventures of The Slacker Defenders’ heroes and villains are modeled on people he has known in his years on Blacktip Island.

“This’s a new breed of superheroes – pure Blacktip personalities,” Kiick said. “In most comics, a dude get mutated by some scientific snafu, right? Well, the Slacker Defenders’ve been torqued by living on a little island too long.

“This place’ll do that,” Kiick said. “Island life takes who you are and jacks it up, for good or evil.’

Kiick’s superhero lineup features Scuttlebutt, Captain Barstool, The Mooch, STD, Backstabb and Mr. Brown Knows.

“The Mooch can finagle anything from anyone,” Kiick said. “Scuttlebutt, she’s a mind reader and the team’s intel wizard. STD’s the femme fatale who can give bad guys the clap from across the room.”

The first issue pits the team against its nemesis, the evil Dr. Speedo and his Pee Men.

“It’s art copying life, really,” Blacktip Times book critic Paloma Fairlead said. “Dr. Speedo is a guy named Georgie from Passaic who morphs into the ultimate scuba diving evil whenever he steps into a dive boat’s head.

“The Pee Men, meanwhile, look like ordinary scuba guests. They congregate at bars and destroy evenings with deadly-boring dive stories,” Fairlead said. “In the inaugural issue they’re tasked with chasing off all the tourists so Dr. Speedo can drill for oil offshore.”

Some readers have taken offense with Dr. Speedo, a pot-bellied villain who wears only the skimpiest of swimming attire.

“I was shocked to find my young son with a comic showing a pasty fat man wearing nothing but a red banana hammock,” island visitor Philomena Porgy said. “Children don’t need to see that. And it bore an uncanny resemblance to the boy’s father.”

Others locals objected to what they see as the comic’s subversive subtext.

“This Dr. Speedo’s set up as the bad guy for wanting to replace a weak revenue stream with a stronger one,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “That’s anti-progress. It gets folks riled at local businesses. We can’t have that.

“I talked to Nelson Pilchard down at Scuba Doo about terminating Finn,” Skerritt said. “And to Jack Wrasse at Immigration about having him deported.”

Kiick is unfazed by the criticism.

“The next issue’s gonna have the Pee Men snagging all the grouper from the reef so Dr. Speedo can open a sandwich stand,” Kiick said. “Then the Slacker Defenders’ll swing into action in a big-ass way.”

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Blacktip Island Dive Operators Welcome Emotional Support Animals

Blacktip Island scuba resorts now allow emotional support animals, such as these sandwich terns, to dive with their people.

Blacktip Island scuba resorts now allow emotional support animals, such as these sandwich terns, to dive with their people.

With the growing popularity of emotional support animals, dive operations on Blacktip Island are refitting their dive boats to accommodate scuba diving guests’ companion animals.

“Places have been allowing emotional support dogs and cats for years,” said Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms. “After a bunch of guest complaints, we decided to try that with diving.

“We rigged our Titan Eos with special seats and lavatory facilities to see how it’d go,” Bottoms said. “It worked so well, we rigged the Titan Ganymede and Titan Uranus too. Nothing’s too good for our emotionally unstable guests.”

Other island resorts quickly followed suit.

“So long as the diver has proper documentation for their support animal, they’re welcome on our boats,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “We also rent water-tight Plexiglas crates with pony bottles for folks who want to take their animals on the dive with them. I mean, underwater’s where a lot of our guests need the most emotional support.

“We can accommodate anything up to and including a small pot-bellied pig,” Latner said. “Any bigger, the crate’s buoyancy gets to be an issue.”

Blacktip Island’s divers welcomed the change.

“It’s wonderful to take Frumpy with me and not leave him in the room by himself half the day,” scuba diver Suzy Souccup said, stroking her 12-foot Burmese python. “He and I are both calmer during the dives, though several guests were put off when he decided to explore the boat on his own during our surface interval.”

The island’s dive staffs are not as enthusiastic.

“Underwater’s not the best place for topside animals,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Marina DeLow said. “We had a badger go ballistic on a dive last week. Things were fine until we hit 30 feet, then all hell broke loose.

“We had to evac the badger to the surface without a safety stop, then spent an hour getting it calmed down enough for us to open its crate,” DeLow said. “We ended up having to cut back on air until it passed out.”

Other resorts are offering training to avoid underwater mishaps.

“We’ve started NAUI and PADI Emotional Support Animal specialty courses,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Haven said. “At a minimum, we require support animals to do an orientation dive in our pool before boarding our boat.”

Experts emphasized the need for good judgment in choosing an animal to dive with.

“We had a woman with an emotional support squirrelfish yesterday,” DeLow said. “It wasn’t two minutes into the dive a Nassau grouper hit it, bam, duck on a June bug. A doc onboard guessed it set her therapy back six years.”

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Blacktip Island Divemaster Invents Spray-On Wetsuit

Blacktip Island divemaster Alison Diesel’s Can-O-Prene wetsuit substitute has divided the small Caribbean island’s scuba diving community.

Blacktip Island divemaster Alison Diesel’s Can-O-Prene wetsuit substitute has divided the small Caribbean island’s scuba diving community.

A spray-on neoprene substitute invented by a Blacktip Island divemaster has many in the dive industry questioning the future of rubber-based wetsuits.

The brainchild of Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Alison Diesel, Can-O-Prene is applied in layers immediately before a dive.

“Guests always ask how thick a wetsuit they need,” Diesel said. “We can’t tell them. Some people get cold easier than others. With Can-O-Prene, though, they can tweak their thermal protection. The more layers you spray on, the toastier you stay. Then at the end of the day, you just peel it off.

“Plus, we ditched all the polymers and acetylene and metal oxides,” Diesel said. “It’s made from soy and seaweed, so it’s enviro-friendly.”

Diesel teamed up with island entrepreneur Piers “Doc” Plank, owner of the Bamboo You line of scuba gear, to manufacture and market Can-O-Prene.

“Alison had the vision and the biochemical know how,” Plank said. “When she approached us about handling the business end of things, we jumped at the chance. This could revolutionize the dive industry.

“Not only is it all natural, it also takes up minimal space in luggage,” Plank said. “Instead of hauling down a heavy wetsuit, imagine tossing a can of air freshener in your bag. That’s all the room Can-O-Prene takes, and one can’ll get you through a week of Caribbean diving.”

Scuba divers who tested the product were impressed.

“It’s like getting a custom drysuit without the custom price,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase said. “I mean, it’s just fwoosh and I got a 5/3 suit in minutes.”

Critics, however, questioned Can-O-Prene’s environmental soundness.

“If it comes out of a can, it’s not all natural,” local activist Harry Pickett said. “We have no idea what makes that goop foam like that, or what sort of toxins it’s releasing onto the reef.”

Medical experts worried the product’s potential health risks.

“Without knowing its exact chemical makeup, we don’t know what agents are leaching into divers’ skin,” said island doctor Azul Tang. “At least with vulcanized polychloroprene we know what we’re dealing with.”

Plank and Diesel were quick to allay those concerns.

“Is Can-O-Prene perfect? No,” Plank said. “Frankly, you smell kind of like a dried herring after the third or fourth dive day. We’re working on that. But it’s better than wrapping yourself in fake rubber.”

“It’s biodegradable, latex free, gluten free and dolphin safe,” Diesel added. “You could eat it after you peel it off. Unless you’re one of those grotty divers who to pee in their wetsuit.”

Neither Diesel nor Plank would comment on rumors Can-O-Prene will also be sold in adult novelty stores.


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Blacktip Island Domino Players Form Regional Think Tank

Blacktip Island’s domino aficionados have created a nonpartisan policy institute to address important issues impacting the region.

Blacktip Island’s domino aficionados have created a nonpartisan policy institute to address important issues impacting the region.

A group of Blacktip Island’s domino enthusiasts have filed articles of incorporation to become the Tiperon Islands’ first nonprofit, nongovernmental policy institute.

The Council for Regional Atmospheric Policy draws on a cross section of Blacktip Island society and will focus on economics, energy, social policy and fashion.

“Folks think we just sit around drinking beer and playing dominoes, you know” Council co-founder Antonio Fletcher said. “But we talk about the news of the day, too. We figure we come up with answers for most every crisis in the Caribbean since 2004. Maybe even 2003.

“It’s really a formality,” Fletcher said. “We already solve the world’s problems each day. This gets us legal recognition, though. And funding.”

The Council is financed by Sandy Bottoms Liquor Store and proceeds from local domino tournaments. Members meet daily in a storage unit behind the liquor store.

Island leaders praised the group’s effectiveness.

“They’ve addressed Blacktip’s sustainability in terms of water conservation, green electricity production and repurposing items from the dump,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “They also had the idea to put the big recycling barrel next to their domino table for all the bottle and cans.

“Now, we haven’t implemented any of their plans, except the recycling bin, but the results have been impressive,” Cobia said.

The Council’s critics were less enthusiastic.

“A bunch of drunks talking out their backsides isn’t a think tank,” Club Scuba Doo owner Nelson Pilchard said. “By that logic, the Last Ballyhoo bar’s a policy institute, too. And nonprofit? They make out like bandits with free beer.”

Council members were quick to defend the organization.

“I guarantee we don’t turn a profit,” Council member Dermott Bottoms said. “I mean, just look at us.”

“Sandy’s folks do provide the beer,” Fletcher said. “They deliver the cans right out to us, but that’s mostly so we don’t wander in and scare off customers. Couple of members aren’t allowed within 100 yards of the store, too.”

Fletcher said the Council is currently focused on immigration reform and its effects on regional culture, a study he says is facilitated by the dominoes themselves.

“You slap dominoes down long enough, ideas jump up at you,” Fletcher said. “We’ve had some of our best brainstorms at the end of playing all day and half the night. Right before you pass out, things fall into place like, well, like dominoes.”

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