Island Landfill Preps For Holiday Gift Dump

Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council volunteers ready the pit for Saturday’s gift return.

Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council volunteers ready the pit for Saturday’s gift return.

Blacktip Island residents have their unwanted Christmas gifts bundled for Saturday evening’s Easter Eve gift dump at the island’s landfill. The event was introduced more than two decades ago to foster goodwill among the Caribbean Island’s small population.

“Everybody gets crap they don’t want during the holidays,” said the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians, head of the island’s Ecumenical Council. “In the real word, you can return the stuff, sell it or just throw it away. This island’s nothing like the real world, though.

“Returns aren’t an option. If you sell or re-gift, word gets around. Throw it away? People pick through that dump all the time. That’s when things go to hell.”

“Back in ’91 or so it got so bad half the island nearly killed the other half,” longtime resident Reg Gurnard said. “I didn’t go outside until May Day.”

“Started with Dermott Bottoms giving Billy Ray a pink mermaid table lamp cut from a scuba cylinder,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “God-awful thing. Billy’s wife, Lucille, chucked it. Clete Horn spied it in the dump, had seen Dermott with a lamp just like it before Christmas, and tried to sell it to Dermott, thinking Dermott’d want a matching set.

“Dermott beat the tar out of Clete for thieving, then beat the tar out of Billy for being an SOB. Then Lucille beat king hell out of Dermott. Friends and family got involved, and by the end of the week the clinic was out of bandages and sutures. Had to send the Home Guard over from Tiperon to stop the feuding.”

As a solution, the island’s Ecumenical Council instituted an Easter Eve no-questions-asked, blind gift-dump.

“We dig a big pit at the edge of the landfill,” the former-Reverend Ephesians said. “As soon as it’s full dark, people are free to throw their unwanted holiday gifts in. Then, just before first light, we have blindfolded volunteers backfill the pit with bulldozers so no one ever knows what all was buried.

“It’s done in the spirit of forgiveness and atonement,” Ephesians said. “It really binds the community together. Plus, it gives folks a four-month cooling-off period to make sure they really don’t like a gift.”

“The gift dump makes Easter morning a joyous time for everyone, whether they’re religious or not,” Reg Gurnard said. “Soon as those diesel engines crank to life and dirt starts tumbling, all the guilt and remorse of the past three months just evaporates. You feel reborn.”

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Tollbooths Installed on Island Reefs

A Marine Park ranger monitors one of Blacktip Island’s new reef tollbooths.

A Marine Park ranger monitors one of Blacktip Island’s new reef tollbooths.

The Blacktip Island Marine Park Service is installing underwater tollbooths on all the Caribbean island’s scuba dive sites this week. The move is a response to dwindling public funding and increased diver impact on the island’s reefs.

“Think of it as a graduated impact fee,” Park Service spokesperson Val Schrader said.

“Instead of charging every diver a flat marine park fee, we’ll be charging based on how much of the reef they actually see.

“The old system wasn’t fair to new divers who blow through their air and surface in twenty minutes. Or to the Type B divers who stay close to the boat looking at one coral head.”

Collection boxes fashioned as oversized conch shells have been installed at all popular coral heads and swim-throughs.

“They’re big and obvious enough that divers will know what they are,” Schrader said, “but not so outlandish they detract from the diving experience.”

Divers can buy scan cards that clip onto their BCDs, and add credits in $10 increments. Alternately, divers may carry Tiperon currency to drop into collection boxes.

Divers purchasing a Park Service Reef Pass will have their dives charged directly to their hotel room or credit card at a reduced rate.

The plan’s opponents vowed to fight the tolls.

“We’ll go in from shore, on sites where there’s no collection bins,” local resident Barry Sennett said. “These reefs don’t belong to the Park Service or the government. These reefs are your reefs, these reefs are my reefs.”

Other protestors plan to take a more active approach.

“They’ll have a hard time collecting if their precious conch shells get dropped 6,000 feet down the wall,” said a local diver who wished to remain anonymous.

“We’re installing cameras,” Schrader said. “Hidden ones. To keep an eye on things. Divers caught illegally diving will be fined and have their scuba gear confiscated.”

The Park Service has also mandated all BCDs on Blacktip Island be fitted with remote inflator valves. Scuba divers not paying the tolls will have their BCDs auto-inflate them to the surface, where a red dye will be released.

“We’re definitely using shame as a deterrent,” Schrader said. “Sometimes a stiff fine just won’t do the trick.”

Snorkelers will be charged at reduced rates. Free divers will be charged according to the number of dives they do as well as the depth of each dive. Blind divers will be allowed to dive free of charge.

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Resort Owners Erect Beachfront Staff Housing

A staff housing unit nears completion on Blacktip Island’s west coast.

A staff housing unit nears completion on Blacktip Island’s west coast.

In response to Blacktip Island’s growing housing shortage, local businesses have launched an affordable housing program benefiting the Caribbean island’s scuba, housekeeping and maintenance staffs.

“Housing’s scarce on the Blacktip,” Eagle Ray Cove divemaster Lee Helm said. “And damned expensive. We’re sleeping two and three people in a one-bedroom place. Playing rock-paper-scissors for who gets the couch.”

“It’s embarrassing, our staff having to live on top of each other like that,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms, Jr. said. “Resort guests are put off when they hear of it. It reflects badly on us.”

“We’re building lodging for every worker on the island,” Club Scuba Doo owner Nelson Pilchard said. “No one should have to share a couch. Unless they want to.”

The initiative is not without critics, though.

“It’s not about providing housing,” community activist Jerrod Ephesians said. “It’s about collecting more rent from more people. Instead of renting one place to four people, they’re now renting four places.

“The Sandy Bottoms of the island are building these places from junk,” Ephesians said. “It’s a company store-type scam, charging their own employees for glorified camping.”

“Are we building deluxe accommodations? No,” Bottoms said. “But these are dive hippies we’re talking about. Here for the adventure. They love it.”

“We’re experimenting with sustainable building materials,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt added. “Driftwood, bamboo, palm thatching, it’s all natural. And what’s more picturesque than a thatched hut on the beach?”

“My place is nice,” Club Scuba Doo staffer Joey Pompano said. “So long as the weather’s nice, anyway.”

“These places allow our folks to save money,” Scuba Doo’s Pilchard said. “There’s no utility bills, no phone or internet fees, no overheard after rent. I should be so fortunate.”

Other locals are concerned about potential public health issues.

“These places have no garbage pickup, no sewage or septic,” island doctor Lance Tang said. “Any rain will wash their waste into the ground water. And the first big storm surge will push that waste into our back gardens.”

“What everyone’s overlooking is these places are on prime real estate – right on the water, right at the dive sites,” Sandy Bottoms said. “Dive staff can roll out of their hammocks and go straight to work. It saves them commute time and the expense of a vehicle.”

“If this works as well as we think,” Eagle Ray Cove’s Skerritt said, “we have plans for a rustic dive-in, dive-out resort built on this model.”

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Taste of Blacktip Moves to Avoid Escalating Violence

Traditional Caribbean favorites ginger-fried land crab, four happiness iguana and turtle egg drop soup will highlight the 19th annual Taste of Blacktip food festival.

Traditional Caribbean favorites ginger-fried land crab, four happiness iguana and turtle egg drop soup will highlight the 19th annual Taste of Blacktip food festival.

Saturday’s 19th annual Taste of Blacktip food festival has been relocated to the public pier at Diddley’s Landing in response to the cuisine-divided melee that marred last year’s event.

“The fight between the island’s two foodie factions about destroyed Sandy Bottoms Resort,” event organizer Jay Valve said. “We can’t let that happen again.”

Chefs from all the island’s resorts will prepare their versions of traditional Caribbean favorites, capped off, as ever, by the Jiangsu-vs-Sichuan Throwdown.

“People here take their food seriously,” Valve said. “The Jiangsu-Sichuan feud has divided the island for centuries, going back to the island’s first settlers. It’s ruined friendships, destroyed marriages, torn apart families.

“Last year’s brawl started when some Cantonese partisan slipped a plate of dim sum onto the tasting table,” Valve said. “Each side blamed the other, and next thing we knew noodles and hot mustard were flying everywhere.”

“It’s a shame the two sides can’t get along,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens said. “There’s a vibrancy to the island’s culinary scene, with local chefs transforming locally-sourced ingredients into world-class dishes.”

“Staging the cook off on the pier will make crowd control easier,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “There’s water on three sides, and we’ll cordon off the fourth.

“If any rioting does occur, clean up will be a snap. We have bulldozers and fire hoses standing by.”

Blacktip Island’s chefs are eager for the competition to begin.

“We’ll hit them with lionfish-head meatballs with land crab roe,” said Gordon Kerr, Jiangsu practitioner and executive chef at the Michelin-starred Tail Spinner Lounge. “Then follow up with sweet and salty wahoo and a Nanjing iguana tripe crusted with heavy bread.

“The Sichuan lot need to get a clue,” Kerr said. “Subtle flavors are not signs of weakness.”

The Sichuan camp remained undaunted.

“At least we have flavors, subtle or otherwise,” said Blacktip Haven chef Jessie Catahoula. “And ‘mushy’ is not a texture. Not a good one, anyway.

“Our spicy-fried turtle will bring them to their knees,” Catahoula said. “We’ll finish them off with Kung Pao conch.”

The event will also feature food pairings with locally-crafted beer, rum, mead and boxed wine.

“We been blending sea grape wine with coconut hooch,” island vintner/construction worker Dermott Bottoms said. “Come up with a nice huangjiu port. Glass or two of that, you don’t care who wins.”

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Blacktip Islanders Catapult Culled Lionfish For Charity

Freshly-speared lionfish ready to be catapulted into Blacktip Island’s community garden.

Freshly-speared lionfish ready to be catapulted into Blacktip Island’s community garden.

As part of the fight against invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish devastating Caribbean reefs, the Blacktip Island Agricultural Society will stage its inaugural Spring Fling Lionfish-Tossing Tournament Saturday, with proceeds going to the island’s chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

The event is part of broader lionfish control efforts throughout the Caribbean.

“Our reefs are under siege from lionfish,” event organizer Buddy Brunnez said. “It made sense to combine the cull with a Medieval siege engine-building contest. Community groups raise money for their team, hand-craft a catapult from supplies found on-island, then launch their catch into the community vegetable garden.”

Team members on scuba will have one hour to spear as many lionfish as possible. They will then report to the garden site for weigh-in, counting and flinging.

“It’s absolute genius,” Eagle Ray Cove general manager Mickey Smarr said. “We’re culling so many the damn things, we’re up to our ears in lionfish. We’re sick of eating them. So are the tourists. The restaurants are glutted. Using them for fertilizer is the perfect solution.”

“It’s spring, the time of rebirth and renewal,” Agriculture Society president Marcia Seagroves said. “These lionfish will bind us all, via the vegetables we eat, to that ancient cycle of life and death. We’ll plow them into pulp to make sure they’re fully integrated in that cycle.”

“Any pre-gunpowder era flinging device is acceptable,” Brunnez said. “Most teams are going with simple onager-style catapults. Trebuchets are the top of the line, for payload, accuracy and old-fashioned esthetics. But they take a bit of know-how to get right.”

“We had to scrap our trebuchet,” said Val Schrader, Sandy Bottoms Resort team captain. “It generated so much force the lionfish were pretty much vaporized when we released the counterweight. It was beautiful from a distance, but the folks manning the sling weren’t too happy.”

“We’ve built a bamboo ballista based on an image from the Bayeux Tapestry,” said Blacktip Haven team member and island SCA president Jessie Catahoula. “Going for accuracy on multiple shots instead of putting all our fish in one sling, so to speak.”

The contest is not without its hazards, however.

“We’re making doubly-sure we clear the garden area of spectators after little Jimmy Cottonwick got impaled during a trial fling yesterday,” Brunnez said. “He was pulling weeds and took three lionfish to the back and one to the thigh. They’re still picking spines out of him.”

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Pirate Festival Revelers Burn Supply Barge

The remains of Blacktip Island’s supply barge rests on shore of the Caribbean island.

The remains of Blacktip Island’s supply barge rests on shore of the Caribbean island.

Blacktip Island’s Pirate Festival celebrations turned ugly Wednesday when festival-goers accidentally burned the island’s only supply barge.

“One minute we’re drinking rum and shooting flare guns at each other,” resident Dermott Bottoms said. “The next, KABOOM!”

“Dermott did shoot a squib, didn’t quite clear that barge,” Bottoms’ friend Jesse Conlee said. “No idea they hadn’t offloaded all that gasoline.”

No one was injured in the blast.

“It does put us in a bind,” local businessman Rich Skerritt said. “That’s the only boat that hauls essential supplies like food, fuel and beer.”

The Tiperon Heritage Society, sponsors of the Pirate Festival, has mobilized a grassroots provisioning effort and is using the accident as a teaching opportunity.

“We’re demonstrating all the old crafts we used back before there was a supply barge,” Heritage Society president Doris Blenny said. “We’ve transformed the area around the wreckage into a hands-on teaching exhibit, showing folks how to braid rope, weave cloth and hijack passing ships.

“The Tiperons, and Blacktip in particular, have a rich history of piracy. We’re simply shifting the Festival’s emphasis from pretend-piracy to real-life piracy. This isn’t some ‘Captain Philips’ Hollywood show. No, no. This is authentic, parrot-on-your-shoulder stuff.

“There’s boats out as we speak, raiding relief convoys bound for Haiti,” Blenny said. “Sure, it’d be easier to just fly stuff in, but this lets us reconnect with our roots. And it’s way more fun.”

“We got the Youth Scouts involved,” Scout leader Samson Post said. “They’re fearless in their little sailboats. And with their cutlasses. They can get right up close to a supply ship without anyone getting too worried – they’re just kids dressed up like pirates, after all.

“They’re slated to make a raid tomorrow, give them the chance to earn merit badges in Sailing, Cannoneering, Cursing and Scallywagging.”

In related news, officials are asking for volunteer scuba divers to help recover any undamaged goods from the barge that may have sunk due to the explosion.

“There’s probably 50 cases of beer got blown all over the reef,” salvage coordinator Ger Latner said. “We’re hauling up lots of bottles. Problem is, after being in salt water, those bottle caps are all rusting off. We’re having to drink the beer quick as we can before it goes flat. We need volunteers for that, too.”

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Island Startup Launches Line of Bamboo Scuba Gear

Bamboo logs slated to become Bamboo You scuba fins.

Bamboo logs slated to become Bamboo You scuba fins.

Blacktip Island entrepreneur Piers “Doc” Plank has launched Bamboo You, an island-based manufacturer of scuba equipment made completely of bamboo.

“Bamboo’s the ultimate renewable resource,” Plank said. “We’re as green as it gets. And when your kit wears out, send it back for recycling and a discount on new kit.

“Our materials are all locally sourced. The stuff washes up on shore by the ton. Our supply chain’s a combination of beach cleanup and power walking.”

“Snorkels were the obvious starting point,” said Bamboo You sales manager Christina Mojarra. “Then fins and slates. But we quickly expanded our line to include bamboo mask frames, regulator housings and BCDs woven from bamboo fiber.

“We’ve also patented Bambooprene wetsuits, made from thin layers of cross-cut young bamboo,” Mojarra said. “It insulates better than neoprene, and it’s not nearly as buoyant. We’re beta-testing our Big Bamboo dive knife, as well. Our goal is to outfit divers completely in bamboo, from hood to fin tips.”

“First stage regulators have been a challenge,” Plank said. “The trick is getting the stuff to stand up to 3000 psi. The 150-psi IP in the second stages is a cakewalk, but we’re still picking splinters of our first-stage prototype out of the walls. And Christina’s eyebrows.”

“Bamboo You’s a shot in the arm for the local economy,” Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce president Sandy Bottoms said. “Ol’ Doc’s created jobs where there weren’t any, splinters be damned. I don’t know what half the stuff he makes does, but, by God, folks are buying it.”

“Our experience is the more useless the gizmo, the better it sells,” Plank said. “That’s the guiding principle behind our bamboo tank bangers, octo holders and clip-on D-rings.

“Our pièces de résistance, though, are the bamboo weights. Anti-weights, really. They come in quarter-pound increments and can be positioned anywhere on your body to trim you out perfectly. They’re stupid. Maybe the stupidest thing we’ve come up with. But we can’t keep them in stock – there’s two months of back-orders right now.”

“Satisfaction’s guaranteed,” Mojarra said. “Any problem with a Bamboo You product, return it and we’ll send your money back. No questions asked. We don’t want our customers feeling bamboozled.”

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