Fire Destroys Blacktip Island Library

A security camera still of unidentified witnesses watching the Blacktip Island library burn.

A security camera still of unidentified witnesses watching the Blacktip Island library burn.

The Blacktip Island Public Library burned Thursday night in what authorities are calling suspicious circumstances. The library, housed in a shed on property next to Eagle Ray Cove scuba resort, contained one of the Caribbean’s largest collection of scuba diving manuals, some in Latin and Koine Greek dating back to the Second Century C.E.

“There was plenty of fuel, what with all that parchment and papyrus,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “But there was nothing there to spark a flame. I would term that ‘suspicious.’

“There’s also security camera footage showing people watching the place burn. That’s suspicious as well.”

“It’s a tragedy,” librarian Edwin Chub said. “This was one of the few places folks from all walks of life could gather without having to buy a drink or stink of cigarettes. To think this was intentional really burns me up.”

“Whether an accident or vandalism, the place burned quickly,” IPC Marquette said. “It was done before Dermott could get two buckets of water on it, and the folks on video only had time for one beer.”

Local opinion differed on the fire’s cause.

“Business owners have eyed that land for years,” long-time resident Frank Maples said. “There were plans to put a clothing boutique there. I’m not pointing fingers, but there are people who benefited from this.”

Eagle Ray Cove Resort owner Rich Skerritt bristled at talk of arson.

“The bookworms can’t keep a fire extinguisher handy, it’s not my fault,” Skerritt said. “The real tragedy is some of those books hadn’t been colored in yet. One of those yahoos sitting around drinking beer probably flicked a cigarette butt in the wrong direction.”

Other locals remained unconvinced.

“The historic house that used to be on that property blew up in the middle of the night a few months back,” resident Reg Gurnard said. “The fire department said it was a gas leak, but there’s no natural gas on the island. Plus, Dermott pretty much is the fire department, and he’s half sauced most nights, so there’s no telling what happened, then or now.”

“We, as a community, will come together to make this better,” Eagle Ray Cove’s Skerritt said. “We can’t replace those old books, but we can give Chub and his library a fair price for the property, get him some nice, new books and set him up in a newish shed across the island.”

“We encourage anyone with information about the fire to contact us,” IPC Marquette said. “The security footage is so grainy, we’re having a hard time identifying bystanders. I’d like to say we’ll catch the arsonist, but I wouldn’t make book on it.”

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Blacktip Island Conch Racers Face Stiff Competition

Racing conchs battle for position in Thursday’s qualification round.

Racing conchs battle for position in Thursday’s qualification round.

Blacktip Island’s fastest conchs will go head-to-head Friday in the Caribbean island’s 13th Annual Conch Races at Diddley’s Landing public pier.

“It’s an island tradition started generations ago by young men trying to get young women down to the beach at night,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Next thing you know, someone cooked up an actual race to give the story a veneer of truth. Things took off from there.”

As ever, the races will feature a four-heat, single-elimination format, with the winner of each heat advancing to the championship race.

“This isn’t your father’s conch racing,” conch aficionado Wendy Beaufort said. “Large or small, these conchs are specially groomed for speed. And the competition’s gotten really cutthroat.

“Two years ago someone nicked a conch’s foot with a dive knife pre-race. The poor thing could only limp in a circle. Then last year’s winner tested positive for Viagra.”

The conchs will race on the island’s sand conch course 20 yards offshore from the pier.

“Underwater space for kneeling’ll be available for folks who want to watch first-hand,” race organizer B.C. Flote said. “Most watch via webcam in topside bars, though. They can have a beer there and not worry about their air supply. As hard as these conchs go, they still move at a snail’s pace. A race can take an hour or more.

“This year we’ve also glued GPS trackers on the shells so fans can follow along on their smart phones or tablets. We color code each conch to keep them straight. We thought about naming them, but that seemed silly. Only land crabbers name their racers.”

The event will climax in a cook off featuring conch fritters, chowder, ceviche and burgers.

“Visitors are horrified that we eat the winner,” B.C. Flote said. “But we don’t play favorites. We eat all these suckers. What else would you do them?

“The winner does get its shell spray painted gold and set in the racing club’s trophy case, though. What more could a conch ask for?”

“This is always an exciting time on the island,” resident Alison Diesel said. “Nothing beats a good conch race.”

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Radiation Closes Blacktip Island Dive Site

Reactor Reef was one of Blacktip’s most popular night dive spots before the Caribbean island’s authorities closed the site.

Reactor Reef was one of Blacktip’s most popular night dive spots before the Caribbean island’s authorities closed the site.

Scuba diving on Blacktip Island’s Reactor Reef was banned Thursday after researchers discovered one of the coral heads there is an ancient meteorite emitting significant levels of radiation.

“We’ve always known the fish around that reef were odd – three eyes, two heads sorts of stuff,” marine parks chief Val Schrader said. “We named it as a joke. Turns out to be case of truth said in jest.”

Scientists from Tiperon University-Blacktip discovered the radiation while doing unrelated research at the dive site.

“We were tagging lionfish at the site with these new radium-226 trackers,” said TU-B professor Ernesto Mojarra. “Mild radiation, you understand. When we flipped on the Geiger counter to test the tags, wham-bam! the needle just pegged out.”

Samples date the meteor to approximately 65 million years ago, about the same time as the Cretaceous-Paleogene meteor strike in the western Caribbean that caused the dinosaur extinction.

“There’s an excellent chance this is a remnant of that extinction event,” Mojarra said.

Vacationing scuba divers, meanwhile, are upset the island’s most popular night dive site is closed indefinitely.

“It was wonderful diving there, what with the fish lighting up the reef,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Suzy Souccup said. “And the water was so warm you never needed a wetsuit.”

Local authorities reassured island residents the meteorite poses no threat to those not diving around it.

“Closing the site’s just a safety precaution. Folks have been diving there for years with no ill effects,” Department of Public Health spokesman Ferris Skerritt said. “Now, divemasters who lead dives there a lot are a sickly bunch, but who’s to say that’s radiation sickness and not just your bog-standard hangover.”

One local business owner is taking advantage of the meteorite’s proximity to his property.

“We’re gonna power the resort with that thing,” Eagle Ray Cove’s Rich Skerritt said. “It’s here and we can’t get rid of it, so we might as well use it. Lemons-to-lemonade, even if it does make your eyebrows fall out.

“With it so close offshore, I’ll get a couple of divemasters to run cables out and, voila, we have free electricity.”

NAUI, SSI and YMCA have advised recreational divers to avoid Blacktip Island’s west coast.

PADI announced it is adding ‘Meteorite Diver’ and ‘Radiation First Responder’ to its course offerings.

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Blacktip Island Shipwreck May Be Legendary Pirate Galleon

The wreck discovered by lost scuba tourists off Blacktip Island could be the Caribbean’s legendary Santo Mojito pirate ship.

The wreck discovered by lost scuba tourists off Blacktip Island could be the Caribbean’s legendary Santo Mojito pirate ship.

Tiperon Islands authorities announced Thursday the discovery of a previously-unknown shipwreck off Blacktip Island’s west coast. The wreck, possibly dating to the early 18th Century, was discovered by scuba diving tourists.

“Couple of knuckleheads got lost and stumbled across it,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “They came up on the wrong boat, hell-and-gone from where they started, with no idea where they were or where they’d been. Took us three days of swimming grid patterns to find the damn thing.”

“It’s too early to tell for sure what we’re dealing with,” said government spokesperson Doc Plank, “but it’s definitely a galleon-type vessel, and there’s not many of those unaccounted for in this part of the Caribbean.”

Local maritime experts speculate the ship is the legendary Santo Mojito, which terrorized the Spanish Main under three famous pirate captains. The ship was lost in the Great Hurricane of 1723.

“Redbeard absconded with the ship, crew and all, from the docks in Cartagena in, oh, 1712,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Blackbeard commandeered it from him in 1718, then lost it to Fauxbeard in what the records famously call ‘a gamme of pokker’ in 1721.

“Historians are in consensus that Fauxbeard was the nom de guerre of pirate Mary Read after she faked her death in Jamaica the year before,” Altshul said.

“The Santo Mojto was refitted as a casino cruise ship, the first of its kind in the Caribbean,” Altschul said. “She left Panama in mid-September. A week later the hurricane whacked the central Caribbean. The Santo Mojito was never heard from again.”

“If this is the S-M, it’s a priceless piece of Caribbean history,” Blacktip Island Historic Association chair Wade Soote said. “So’s all the gold she carried. Especially the gold.”

The government is flying in experts from the United State and Europe to confirm their findings. In the meantime, authorities are focused on preserving the wreck and its contents.

“We’ve cordoned off the area with fishing skiffs until we can positively identify the wreck and inventory its contents,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said.

“Yahoos’ve tried to sneak in on underwater DPVs, but their scuba bubbles gave them away,” Marquette said. “Our big concern is looters using rebreathers that leave no tell-tail bubble trail. We’ve installed nets made of 200-pound monofilament around the wreck to discourage that. Divers can’t see the monofil, but it tangles them up in a heartbeat. Then we just haul them to the surface.”

The Caribbean Salvage and Exploration Association is protesting the government’s efforts to protect the wreck, as well as the netting of several of its members.

“It’s a pirate ship filled with pirate treasure,” said CSEA commandant Jack Snapper. “Its rightful place is with pirates, not some government warehouse.”

“If this island’s authorities aren’t pirates, I don’t know who is,” Doc Plank said. “Any treasure found on this wreck will used for the public good. Mostly.”

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Blacktip Island Braces For Palindrome Slam

The winner of Saturday’s palindrome slam will name one of the Caribbean island’s new scuba dive sites.

The winner of Saturday’s palindrome slam will name one of the Caribbean island’s new scuba dive sites.

Saturday brings Blacktip Island’s third annual Palindrome Festival to Blacktip Haven resort, celebrating words and phrases spelled the same backwards and forwards.

“It’s a celebration of our cultural heritage,” event organizer Emma Lamme said. “Blacktip has been at the forefront of international palindroming for generations. People think of Blacktip Islanders as a bunch of beer-swilling scuba bums and fishermen. This event shows we’re so much more than that.”

The island’s top palindrome artists are expected to compete in Saturday evening’s palindrome slam.

“Show up with something weak like ‘racecar’ or ‘do geese see God,’ you’re going down hard,” contestant Lee Helm said. “Last year I threw down ‘go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog’ and finished dead last.”

“There’s several dyslexic locals who are absolute wizards at palindromes,” Emma Lamme said. “We wanted to disallow them this year, but we got the ballots reversed.”

In a break with precedent, the composer of this year’s winning palindrome will get to name one of the island’s new dive sites.

“Years past we let them name a site after the winning whaddya-call-it,” marine parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “That’s how we ended up with Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas reef and wall. We’re not having a repeat of that nonsense.”

Last year’s runners up included:

  • Tarzan raised Desi Arnaz’ rat
  • Eliot nixes sex in toilet
  • Kay, a red nude, peeped under a yak
  • Lisa Bonet ate no basil
  • Eros? Sidney, my end is sore

“Payne Hanover won an honorable mention for ‘rum, rum, I murmur,’ but I don’t think he knew he was competing,” Lamme said. “Frankly, I’m not sure he was fully conscious.”

Island authorities are prepared for unruly crowds after last year’s brawl between rival palindromers spilled into the street, sending six festival-goers to the island clinic.

“It was a question mark that caused the ruckus,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Alison Diesel rattled off, ‘Golf? No sir, prefer prison flog,’ Jessie Catahoula wanted it disqualified because the punctuation didn’t work in reverse, then all hell broke loose.”

The festival will also feature palindrome-related music and film.

“We’ll be playing ABBA and Emily’s Sassy Lime all weekend,” Lamme said. “We’ll also be showing select movies in forward and reverse. Most people don’t realize Oklahoma! played backwards is Paint Your Wagon. You just have to squint. And pinch your ears.

“After midnight there’ll be a reverse beer drinking contest out back, too,” Lamme added, “but that’s not an officially-sanctioned part of the festival.”

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Government Chains Blacktip Island to Sea Floor

The chains holding Blacktip Island to the seabed were forged on site and installed by Public Safety Department scuba divers.

The chains holding Blacktip Island to the seabed were forged on site and installed by Public Safety Department scuba divers.

In an effort to keep Blacktip Island in place should it break free from its foundation, the Tiperon Islands Public Safety Department has installed chains to hold the Caribbean island to the seabed.

“Given the advanced stage of erosion under the island, we were concerned Blacktip might come loose and float away,” public safety spokesperson Rocky Shore said. “The last thing we want to be is a navigational hazard.”

“The bigger worry was if Blacktip drifted into someone else’s territorial waters,” added acting-mayor Jack Cobia. “I mean, a good south wind and we’d be part of Cuba in a day, day-and-a-half, tops. And I don’t speak a lick of Spanish.”

The island’s tourism professionals fully back the measure.

“This has been a huge worry among our scuba diving guests,” said Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens. “They ask all the time if the island goes all the way to the bottom. Now we can take them down and show them the safeguards we have in place.”

“There’s no chance divers will surface and finding our island’s gone,” Club Scuba Doo manager Polly Parrett said. “That’s happened other places in the Caribbean, you just don’t hear about it. Tourism departments hush that sort of thing up.”

Government engineers teamed up with the island’s scientific community to design the mooring system.

“Every computer simulation we’ve run shows this is the best way to safeguard the island,” Tiperon University-Blacktip professor Ernest Mojarra said. “It’s not the easiest solution, or the cheapest, but these chains’ll hold up to a Cat Five hurricane without missing a beat.”

The chains are forged from a titanium alloy formulated to reduce corrosion and wear-related weakening. Individual links were manufactured on site due to their size and weight.

“It took every tree on the island to keep the forges hot, but that couldn’t be helped,” the government’s Shore said. “It was deforestation or public safety.

“We left plenty of slack to allow for tides and storms, so Blacktip’ll drift a bit,” Shore added, “but we’re only talking maybe a 100-meter total swing, max. Divers using landmarks on shore may have a little trouble finding dive sites, but not much.”

Environmental groups, while decrying the topside damage, are pleased with the shelter the chains will offer aquatic life.

“These big links going down, down, down from the surface will provide wonderful new habitat for species throughout the water column,” said Ginger Bass, Foundation for Ichthyologic Species Habitat president. “We couldn’t be happier about that.”

Scuba resorts are already pitching the mooring system as unique dive sites.

“It’ll be lovely once there’s some sponge and coral growth on the links,” Club Scuba Doo’s Parrett said. “Our chains will be one of the Caribbean’s premier dives in a few years.”

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Divemaster Strike Closes Blacktip Island Reefs

Protesters have blocked the Blacktip Island airstrip, preventing resort owners from flying in replacement divemasters. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

Protesters have blocked the Blacktip Island airstrip, preventing resort owners from flying in replacement divemasters. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

In a move sending shock waves through the Caribbean scuba diving community, dive staff at all Blacktip Island’s resorts have gone on strike demanding better compensation.

“We tried talking to the resort owners rationally,” Divemaster’s Local #138 president Finn Kiick said. “They turned a deaf ear. Now we’re playing hardball, shutting down the dive sites. We’re the ones who built up these dive operations and keep them running every day while the owners sip champagne.

“They’re exploiting us, and their greed perpetuates the economic gulf in the island’s society.”

“Exploiting, hell,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “We give these people jobs, pay their wages. They want a scapegoat for their personal failings and lit on us.”

“What proper society isn’t greedy?” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “Greed transformed this island from mass subsistence to mass prosperity. Left to their own devices, these damn scuba hippies wouldn’t know enough to come in out of the rain.”

At the heart of the strike is the divemasters’ pay and benefits.

“We get whacked in the face with peed-in wetsuits,” union president Kiick said. “We get weight belts and scuba tanks dropped on our feet. We laugh at the same stupid jokes week-in and week-out. All without complaint.

“We’re simply asking for a livable wage. And health insurance that includes mental health coverage,” Kiick said. “Mental stability’s a huge issue on this island.”

“They need to stop the drug and alcohol testing, as well,” said union member Lee Helm. “That’s pure systemic repression, that is.”

The strike has left island dive guests furious.

“I save up money all year to come diving, and these yahoos shut down the dive sites?” a Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest said. “Hell, I’d do their job for free!”

“We tried letting guests act as divemasters and boat captains,” Blacktip Haven owner Elena Havens said. “We lost a group of eight divers the first morning and had to drag our boat off the reef. We’ve had our guests watching old Sea Hunt episodes in full scuba gear ever since.”

“We’re flying in replacement staff from the big island,” Eagle Ray Cove’s Skerritt said. “For every union-boy, there’s a hundred divemasters begging to take their place. We’ve cut off our dive staff’s bar privileges, too.”

Union organizers have responded by blocking the island’s lone airstrip.

“We have picketers lined up three deep across the runway,” Kiick said. “They can’t bring in scabs if they can’t land an airplane. We have picketers on scuba at all the dive sites, too, in case guests get the notion to shore dive.”

In the interim, resort owners have hired local residents to fill in as dive staff.

“I usually drive the garbage truck,” island resident James Conlee said. “Hauling tourists can’t be that different.”

“I’ll lead dives myself before I knuckle under to these Bolsheviks,” Skerritt said. “They’ll be begging to shovel iguana crap by the time I’m done with them!”

“If guests understood the issues, they’d back us 100 percent,” picketer Helm said. “Plus, if football players making £5 million to work half a year can go on strike, why can’t we?”

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