‘Nitrox Bandit’ Has Blacktip Island Authorities Baffled

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Eagle Ray Cove dive boats are under constant surveillance this week after a series of bizarre thefts at Blacktip Island resorts. (photo courtesy of Ger Latner)

A rash of stolen scuba gear this week has Blacktip Island authorities puzzled, and tourists worried, on the small Caribbean island.

“There’s dive gadgets disappearing from drying sheds, boats and resort porches all over the island,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “First a full-face mask and two Zeagle BCs went missing. Then a bunch of big dive knives and tank bangers.

“The only common thread is the missing items are all things dive staffs hate,” Marquette said. “And the thief always leaves a ‘Nitrox Diver’ mask strap behind as a calling card.”

Island officials are concerned the thief, dubbed the ‘Nitrox Bandit,’ is a threat to the island’s tourism.

“We’re trying to keep a lid on this thing so guests don’t get spooked,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “So of course everybody knows about it.

“Whether it’s for laughs or for profit, a smart ass is about to ruin Blacktip’s economy,” Cobia said. “Of course, the elephant in the drying shed is it may be some rat bastard from Tiperon Island trying to steal our guests. They’ve done it before.”

The island constable has focused on island divemasters.

“Most likely is it’s a disgruntled DM,” Marquette said. “One who’s either had it with annoying scuba gear, or trying to hide one crime amongst a lot of others. Either way, it’s classic divemaster passive aggression taken to the next step.”

The scrutiny has angered some dive staff.

“It’s not fair, Rafe pulling us aside and grilling us without a bit of evidence,’ Eagle Ray Cove divemaster Lee Helm said. “He questioned me in front of guests yesterday, and others have been detained more than once.

“It’s profiling, plain and simple,” Helm said. “The divemaster’s union will have something to say about this, I can assure you.”

Island resorts, meanwhile, have upped their security.

“We’re patrolling the drying shed and the boats ‘round the clock,” Eagle Ray Cove dive operations manager Ger Latner said. “And Finn up at Scuba Doo has webcams and motion detectors. God help the person caught with a ‘Nitrox’ slap strap on them. There’s been several ugly incident with innocent guests already.”

While many guests are troubled by the thefts, others see them as an adventure.

“It’s like vacationing in a 1950s Cary Grant crime caper film, isn’t it?” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Suzy Souccup said. “There’s a real-life cat burglar out there, eh?

“This is my best vacation ever!” Souccup said. “Sure, I lost my underwater Etch-A-Sketch, but I have the thief’s calling card on my mask now. What a souvenir!”

The police and mayor’s office have released a join plea to the island’s scuba-diving guests.

“Divers, if you have annoying, or useless, scuba gear, lock it up,” Marquette said. “Or better yet, leave it at home.”

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Local Artists Display Blacktip Island’s Pre-Raphaelite Heritage

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“The Mirror of Venus” has been reimagined to feature the Eagle Ray Cove dive staff in Marina DeLow’s “Narcissus at the Booby Pond.” The painting, and others, will be on display Saturday at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort. (photo courtesy of Yelkrokoyade)

Blacktip Island’s artistic roots will be on display this Saturday at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort for the Blacktip Arts School Society’s Neo-Pre-Raphaelite Art Show and Auction, with proceeds going to local art students.

“People don’t realize what a thriving arts scene we have on Blacktip,” show organizer Reg Gurnard said. “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood has a long, if underappreciated, influence on Blacktip.

“The Rossetti family often wintered here in the 1850s,” Gurnard said. “Dante Gabriel taught painting classes at the island school, and Christina first read her Goblin Market to our Sunday school children. Some say the tropical light and lush colors were an inspiration for the Pre-Raphaelite style.”

Fellow painter Ginger Bass concurred.

“We try to stay as true as possible to the original strictures of the PRB,” she said. “Not copying, but rather, perpetuating their style and sensibility with a modern tropical flare. That’s where the ‘neo’ comes in.

“Rather than Lady Godiva on her horse, we have a Divemaster Godiva riding nude on a dolphin,” Bass added. “With her hair flowing strategically to cover any naughty bits, of course.”

Some in the community found the artwork objectionable.

“It’s smut disguised as art,” said the Reverend Pierre Grunt. “I mean, have you seen the ‘The Lady of Sandy Bottoms’ Herring Frye did? And don’t even get me started on Cal Batten’s ‘Ophelia and the Conchs.”

Others decried the paintings’ esthetic.

“This stuff was all the rage what, 150 years ago?” local artist and bartender Cori Anders said. “There’s nothing new about it. Never mind that the Pre-Raphaelites’ central tenet was to reject the commonplace and conventional.

“There’s so much contemporary art that better shows off Blacktip’s creative chops,” Anders said. “Just look at the exciting things Jerrod’s doing with flotsam and jetsam. And Dermott’s work with beer bottles? Words fail me.”

The show will feature a juried competition, and will conclude with the auction of all paintings.

“The goal’s to give back to our community,” resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “Folks get to enjoy looking at these pictures, then all the auction proceeds go to the kids. Minus expenses. Expenses can be high on Blacktip.”

The show will also feature Pre-Raphaelite-inspired poetry during an open-mike session preceding the auction, with any PRB-related works welcomed.

Victorian-era treats will also be served, including mock turtle soup, brandy snaps à la crème and fried celery.

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Blacktip Island Easter Crab Hunt Slated For Sunday

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Blacktip Island residents were busy this week collecting land crabs to dye for Sunday’s Easter Crab Hunt. (photo courtesy of B.C. Flote)

Blacktip Island’s children will crowd the Heritage House grounds Sunday afternoon for the Caribbean island’s annual Easter Crab Hunt.

“It’s a tradition from generations ago that teaches kids foraging skills,” organizer Doris Blenny said. “We dye land crabs bright Easter colors, dump them on the lawn, give them a five-minute head start, then turn the kids loose.

“Only four children live on the island, so it doesn’t have much impact on the crab population,” Blenny said. “Plus, we use water-soluble food coloring that doesn’t harm the crabs. And non-colored crabs don’t count.”

The hunt is not without its hazards.

“A kid’ll get pinched every once in a while, but that just toughens them up,” Hunt Marshal B.C. Flote said. “It’s part of the learning process. And they won’t make that same mistake twice.

“We fit the smaller kiddos out with oven mitts and baseball gloves,” Flote said. “It’s a hoot watching them run around in their Sunday-best clothes, diving willy-nilly for crabs under the sea grapes.”

Prizes will be awarded to whoever collects the most crabs and whoever finds the biggest crab.

“The biggest challenge is keeping the crabs in the Easter baskets,” Blenny said. “Last year several children lined five-gallon buckets with plastic Easter grass. No crabs got out, but afterward it was impossible to separate the crabs from the grass, and some good chocolate got ruined.”

Adult residents are looking forward to the hunt as well.

“It just isn’t Easter without it,” resident Olive Beaugregory said. “My little ones so love getting together to dye the crabs the night before. And you should hear them scream as they chase the crabs. Even before anyone gets pinched.

“They love seeing Dermott dressed as the Easter Crab, too, handing out the chocolate crabs,” Beaugregory said. “Even if Mr. Crabby does smell a bit like feet. And rum.”

As ever, island authorities cautioned residents to be on guard against crab-related vandalism.

“Every year we get folks – kids and adults – slipping painted crabs inside peoples cars and houses,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “It’s the only time of year people lock their doors and windows. Those crabs can be a messy surprise.”

The traditional Easter Crab Hunt will be followed by the traditional Easter Crab Boil.

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Seahorse Racing Brings Controversy To Blacktip Island

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Two Blacktip potbellied seahorses (blacktipius potbellius) line up in the starting gate Thursday at Blacktip Island’s new seahorse racetrack off the island’s sheltered west coast. The facility has drawn the ire of local marine life activists. (photo courtesy of Joanne Merriam)

Blacktip Island tourism officials hope a new seahorse racing facility, opened off the island’s west coast Wednesday, will draw more scuba divers to the small Caribbean island.

“It’s an up and coming sport that’s really taking off,” developer George Graysby said. “In the past year seahorse racing’s become the number one underwater spectator sport, bigger even than being a spotter for lionfish culls.

“We built an industry-standard .018-furlong hippodrome, with a three-foot-long backstretch,” Graysby said. “The track’s groomed sand and turtle grass. Those little suckers move around it pretty damn quick, once you adjust your expectations.”

The facility drew fierce opposition from People for the Ethical Treatment of the Marine Environment.

“This is a cruel sport, run by cruel people,” PETME president Harry Pickett said. “They capture young sea horses and raise them in total confinement. They pump them full of growth hormones. They shock them to make them swim faster.

“And if one of them has a bad race, or breaks a tail, they euthanize it strait away,” Pickett added. “It’s animal cruelty at its basest. And for what? Entertainment?”

Racing enthusiasts brushed aside those concerns.

“Harry needs to climb down off is high horse, loosen up and have some fun,” local race fan Rocky Shore said. “I mean, they don’t call it the most exciting five to six minutes in underwater sports for no reason.”

Island officials worry the track may bring a surge in crime on the island.

“We’re alert for any on-track or off-track gambling,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Anyone bets on a race, odds are they’ll be caught. That goes for placing bets on who gets caught betting as well.

“We’ve also taken steps to keep mob influence off the island,” Marquette said. “Organized crime ruined the seahorse racing industry on Aruba last year.”

Surprisingly, the racecourse found unexpected allies among island naturalists.

“Nudibranchs are the jockeys, you see, and a mount finishing sans-jockey is disqualified,” said Pelagic Society member Piers Planck. “We’ve had quite the uptick in inquiries about seahorses and nudibranchs. If this derby racing gets people interested in marine conservation, we’re all for it.

“Some species do make better jockeys,” Planck said. “The sea goddess family – the chromodoris – are usually best. They have the strongest grip. But we also had a sargassum nudibrach – scyllaea pelagica – that you couldn’t dislodge with a stick. We tried. Quite vigorously. Though not for gambling purposes.”

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Book Burning Raises Funds For Blacktip Island Library

library fundraiser

The Blacktip Island Bibliophile Society hopes a book burning and bar-b-q event this weekend will raise enough money to rebuild and stock a new library on the small Caribbean island. (photo courtesy of Herring Frye/BIBS)

The Blacktip Island Community Bibliophile Society will host a Fahrenheit 451-themed “It Was A Pleasure To Burn” book-burning ceremony and bar-b-q cookout Saturday evening to raise funds to rebuild the Caribbean island’s lending library, destroyed by fire last year.

“We can’t be a proper library without a building. And books,” Society chair Herring Frye said. “We tried literary readings and bake sales, but no one came. We had to do something flashy to get folks’ attention.

“We finally thought since fire destroyed the old library, maybe it could help build the new one, Frye said. “Then we hit on the idea of us dressing up as Fahrenheit 451 firemen, and got all kinds of attention. The book lovers are howling, and we already have a big pile of books people dropped off for us to burn.”

Society members concurred.

“We’re not torching great literature,” co-chair Elena Havnes said. “It’s mostly out of date scuba manuals and old phone books. And a disturbing number of Justin Bieber biographies. Several people suggested burning science books, too, since they’re so little-used these days, but we drew a line in the sand at that.

“We’re asking people to leave a monetary donation when they drop off unwanted books,” Havens said. “They’ll get one lottery ticket for every dollar they donate, and at the end of the night we’ll draw a ticket at random. The winner will have the new study carrel named after them.”

Critics decried the event.

“Sure, it’s for a good cause, but it trivializes book burnings,” resident Harry Wrasse said. “This sends a horrific message to our children, too, that burning books is a legitimate action. The end doesn’t justify these means.

“If they light any books, we’ll be there with water buckets to put an end to it,” Wrasse said.

Others questioned the need for a library.

“This is the 21st Century,” resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “We don’t need books. We have the internet. If Herring and Elena want to raise money, they should do it for an ad campaign to get more people to Blacktip Island.”

Society members were quick to defend the library and the event.

“The library’s about more than books,” Havens said. “Every great community has a library at its heart. That was the one place on Blacktip where people could gather that wasn’t a bar or restaurant. It was our public space. Our piazza, if you will. Regaining that’s worth losing a few unwanted books. We’re not the bad guys here.”

Admission is $4.51. For an additional $20, attendees may toss a book on the burn pile. Donations of diesel fuel are greatly appreciated.

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Hostage Crisis Has Blacktip Island Resort On Edge

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The calm around the Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort pool Thursday afternoon belied the tense overnight standoff between Blacktip Island police and a man who took hostage the resort’s manager. (photo by Wendy Beaufort /Blacktip Times Staff)

A dispute between two Blacktip Island residents turned ugly Thursday evening when a man took a resort manager hostage and refused to release her until questions about his bar tab had been resolved.

Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette identified the man as Dermott Bottoms and the hostage as Kay Valve, Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort’s manager.

“Mr. Bottoms was at the bar complaining he hadn’t been credited for paying last month’s bill,” Marquette said. “Mrs. Valve tried to reason with him, things escalated and Dermott barricaded them both in her office, demanding a month of free drinks and a helicopter ride off the island.

“We initiated hostage negotiations, but Dermott broke that off abruptly when we said ‘no’ to the helicopter,” Marquette said. “At this point we’re waiting him out.”

The passive response angered some close to the situation.

“Rafe yelled, ‘Dermott, you give yourself up,’ then Dermott yelled, ‘No,’ and Rafe yelled, ‘Well, all right, then,’” Kay Valve’s husband, Jay Valve, said. “That’s not a negotiation, that’s molly-coddling.

“Rafe needs to do something,” Valve said. “My wife’s locked in a room with a three-sheets-to-the-wind Dermott. No telling what’s going on in there.”

The constable stressed Kay Valve was not in any danger.

“Dermott’s harmless, essentially, unless you get physical with him,” Marquette said. “He does this kind of thing all the time. I could bust in there, sure, but someone’d get hurt unnecessarily. Probably me.

“Our current protocol is to set beer and a pack of cigarettes outside the door, get out of sight and wait for him to come out,” Marquette said. “When he does, we’ll pop him with a tranquilizer dart from across the lobby.”

The resort’s owner backed the plan.

“You got a cat up a tree, you set out a can of tuna and let nature take its course,” Sandy Bottoms said. “Same thing’ll work with Dermott. Not that he’s a cat. A cat’s much smarter.

“I phoned in to Dermott, told him there’s goodies outside the door,” Bottoms said. “He knows to behave himself. I talked to Kay, too, and she didn’t sound worried. Said she’d walk on out if Dermott passed out, which it looked like he was about to do.”

Bottoms added resolving the situation by voiding Dermott’s tab was not an option.

“It’s Dermott we’re talking about,” he said. “It’s not an insubstantial sum. Plus, we let him off once, we’ll be doing this every month.”

Bottoms would neither confirm nor deny accusations his resort routinely double-bills bar tabs.

The standoff was still ongoing at press time.

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West Coast Developments May Capsize Blacktip Island

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Blacktip Island’s world-renowned west coast beaches may be lost forever if the island flips over due to too much development on its west side, a recent study suggests. (photo courtesy of Ferris Skerritt/Skerritt Construction)

A study released Thursday by a Blacktip Island construction firm revealed the Caribbean island may be in danger of flipping upside down due to the concentration of resorts and other infrastructure on the island’s west coast.

“All that cement, the vehicles, the staff, the pool water and whatnot, it puts a lot of strain on the island’s base,” Skerritt Construction owner Ferris Skerritt said. “We’ve been keeping an eye on it for years. It’s a ticking time bomb.

“At this point, a big influx of tourists to those resorts could cause the island to snap off,” Skerritt said. “I mean, have you seen the size of some of those folks? At that point, Blacktip’d capsize and drown us all. We need to get this island balanced. Pronto.”

Local business owners urged development on the sparsely-developed east coast as a solution.

“We got the Spring Break crowds coming, then the summer crowds,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “For the good of the island and everyone on it, we need more development over on the east side.

“Problem is, building over there’s always been cost-prohibitive, what with that being the weather coast and so far from the airfield,” Rich Skerritt said. “But with some public funds to offset the construction costs, there may still be time to save our island.”

Others business owners concurred.

“I always wanted a resort on the east coast, just couldn’t justify the cost,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “I don’t like taking public money, but if it’s for the good of the island, I’ll make the sacrifice.”

Some experts, though, disputed the study’s findings.

“The island’s not going to break loose or flip over,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip geology department chair Ernesto Mojarra. “That’s physically, scientifically impossible. People need to use their noggins.

“Rich and Sandy are just trying to scare people into subsidizing new resorts,” Mojarra said. “And Rich’s brother just wants the construction contracts.”

Some locals remained worried, despite Mojarra’s assurances.

“It’s scary, these experts saying opposite things, especially when it concerns our safety,” Sand Spit bartender Cori Anders said. “With so much controversy, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution.

“They say something like this happened near Fiji a few years back,” Anders said. “Stuff like this happens all the time. You just don’t hear about it.”

Other island entrepreneurs are unconcerned.

“If Ernesto’s right, we’re fine,” said Blacktip Haven resort own Elena Havens. “And if Blacktip does turn turtle, well, we’ve already waterproofed the Haven’s rooms so we can be the first full-service underwater resort in the Caribbean.”

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