Blocks Discovered Off Blacktip Island May Be Phoenician Anchors

Phoenician anchors

Blacktip Island Historical Museum curators have already begun building a scale model of a Phoenician trading ship following the discovery of blocks believed to be ancient Phoenician anchors on an island reef. (photo courtesy of Georges Jansoone)

Scuba divers surveying new dive sites on Blacktip Island’s southeast coast Wednesday discovered what they believe to be ancient Phoenician stone anchors on a shallow reef.

“That area doesn’t get dived much because the seas are usually rough,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase said. “We’d found some sweet coral stands and were looking for a good spot for a mooring pin, when, WHAM, there were these obviously man-made somethings on the hardpan.

“They were ‘multi-holed and precisely carved,’ just like Wikipedia said Phoenician anchors were, so we’re pretty confident that’s what they are,” Hoase said. “We figure, as rough as it gets along that coast, some ancient explorers got blown off course and their ship sunk right there.”

Experts say the idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

“We know the Phoenicians were in the Canary Islands, following the same sea route Columbus used,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “It’s conceivable one or more of their ships found their way to the Caribbean. Plenty of area archeology supports that.

“There are sunken marble ruins off Bimini reminiscent of Phoenician architecture, and the Bimini Road didn’t build itself,” Altschul said. “I would need to get a hands-on look at these things before I commit any further than that, but it’s a tantalizing possibility.”

Some locals were not surprised by the find.

“Always been talk of Ancient Near East ships coming here, whether Phoenician or Cretan or Mesopotamian,” island native Antonio Fletcher said. “Folks pass that off as bar talk, but now we got something to back it up. Phoenician’s most likely, since they were the best shipbuilders and sailors of their day. That’s where Blacktippers get their seafaring skills, y’know.”

Others were more skeptical.

“Gage has two blurry pictures of crusted-over cinder blocks with rope tied to them,” long-time Blacktip resident Frank Maples said. “There’s zero indication anyone was on Blacktip Island before the Vikings raided it back in the 1500s, much less ancient Phoenicians. We need to stick to verifiable facts.”

Island officials plan to confirm the find as soon as possible.

“When the weather calms down, we’ll send out a team to document the blocks in situ, then bring them ashore for further study,” Altschul said. “Ideally, we’ll find lettering on them that will tell us their origin.

“If these anchors prove to be real, they’ll go in the island historical museum,” Altschul said. “They’ll be on display for everyone to see, alongside the Viking sword hilt and the skeleton of St. Dervil’s singing iguana.”

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Blacktip Divers To Attempt Record Underwater Phone Booth Stuffing

underwater phone booth

Diver B.C. Flote makes a preliminary safety inspection Thursday at Ma Bell Reef, the site of Saturday’s underwater phone booth stuffing contest. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Scuba divers on Blacktip Island will attempt to set the world record for underwater telephone booth stuffing Saturday on Ma Bell Reef to raise awareness of the island’s newest dive site, island chamber of commerce officials said.

“Our phone booth gathered dust for years, so we sunk it as an artificial reef,” chamber president Ledford Waite said. “We had all the booths from Tiperon sent over, too, and sunk them. It’s a one-of-a-kind site, but the problem’s getting the word out.

“We figured a 1950s stunt using 1980s technology would be perfect for drawing attention,” Waite said. “The world record’s 25 people, but that was on land and without scuba gear. We got eight divers in a booth in a practice run, and we’re hoping someone can squeeze in 11 or 12.”

Experts expect teams to use a variety of strategies.

“Official attempts have to be in a standard, upright phone booth, but that’s the only constant,” chamber treasurer and Tiperon University-Blacktip engineering chair Sally Port said. “How teams handle mass and volume is key. There’s lots of math involved in wedging the right people in the right order, and jamming their tanks in at just the right angles without dislodging any regulators.

“The ideal stuffee should on the short and skinny side, but that’s up to the load master who’ll stack divers in as he or she thinks best,” Port said. “The good thing about doing this on scuba is we don’t have to worry about the person on the bottom not being able to breathe. Or cracking ribs. That’s what killed the fad back in the 50s.”

Teams have done extensive preparation for the event.

“We punched in everyone’s height, weight and density stats, then ran a bunch of computer simulations to see who fits best where,” Marina DeLow said. “We have a good idea of who we want where, but I can’t say more than that. Other than Lee Helm goes on the bottom. Based on solely on him being a jerk.”

Contest rules allow for part of each stuffed diver to extend from the booth.

“If their torso’s in, we’ll call it good,” Waite said. “It’s OK to have arms and leg sticking out, so long as most of the body’s in the booth. And we’ll have safety divers on hand in case anyone does get their reg yanked out, what with arms and legs getting shoved every which way.”

Photos of the winners will be sent to Guinness Book of World Records.

“Technically, no one’s tried to do this before, so any number will be the record,” safety diver B.C. Flote said. “But we’ll be maxing it out to make sure the Guinness people take us seriously.

“This event’s already drawing the community together, young and old,” Flote said. “It proves doing pointless, dangerous things is ageless and universal.”

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Underwater Marco Polo Proves Popular On Blacktip Island Reefs

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An underwater Marco Polo player (right) spins to avoid being tagged by the ‘it’ player Thursday beneath an Eagle Ray Divers dive boat on Blacktip Island. (photo courtesy of davidhv22)

In an effort to attract more non-divers to scuba, the Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce this week started underwater sessions of the popular children’s pool game Marco Polo for adults on the Caribbean island’s reefs.

“The inspiration was seeing kids in the pool playing Marco Polo with masks and snorkels,” chamber president Kay Valve said. “There’s lots of non-diving spouses and significant others who don’t dive because they think it’s boring.

“This is the next logical step, and shows people there’s more to do on the dives than just look at fish,” Valve said. “Whoever’s ‘it’ wears a blacked-out mask and shouts ‘Marco’ through their regulator, then all the others shout ‘Polo’ back. You can hear quite clearly underwater.”

Island dive operations have noted an uptick in certification requests.

“We’re slammed certifying people so they can play reef-tag,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “I don’t get it, but the guests are goofy for it and come back smiling, so it’s all good.”

Participants agreed.

“If I’d known how fun this would be, I’d’ve gotten certified years ago,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Earnestine Bass said. “It’s like being a kid again, but not cooped up in some backyard pool.”

Organizers have also created a surface-based version for snorkelers.

“Kids under 10 and anyone else who just doesn’t want to scuba can still have a great time,” Valve said. “We also modified the basic rules for underwater and surface players.

“For divers, there’s a ‘fish out of water’ rule for anyone who climbs on a boat’s swim platform to avoid being tagged,” Valve said. “For snorkelers we added a ‘fish underwater’ rule for players who dive down to escape.”

Some diving guests, however, were not pleased with the new activity.

“I come here to chill and look at fish, not watch a bunch of idiots charge across the reef,” Marlin Bleu said. “All their hollering scares the fish away. And you can hear them two, three dive sites off.

“Worse, I got grabbed twice today by a couple of these jokers,” Bleu said. “I have a dive knife, a big one, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Dive operators say it’s impossible to completely separate players from other divers.

“We ask players to be respectful, but it’s not practical to take them to different sites,” Eagle Ray Divers dive operations manager Ger Latner said. “Marco Polo players want to go to the most popular dive sites too, and they’re paying the same rates as everyone else.

“In the meantime, our dive boats are full and we’re selling courses like crazy,” Latner said. “And snorkel and scuba gear is flying off the shelves.”

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Drinking Advocates Stage Blacktip Island-Wide Drunk Driving Race

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Both Blacktip Island’s roads will be cleared of non-essential traffic Saturday for the inaugural Rat-Faced Road Rally drunk driving race around the Caribbean island’s coastal road. (photo courtesy of Rosie Blenny/DAMM)

The Blacktip Island Chapter of the drinking-advocacy group Drunks Against Mad Mothers will sponsor the inaugural Rat-Faced Road Rally impaired driving contest Saturday to raise money for multiple community organizations.

“People get drunk and drive no matter what, so why not let them get it out of their systems in a controlled manner?” DAMM president Jack Cobia said. “This makes sure it’s properly supervised, it serves as a cautionary demonstration and raises money for charity at the same time.

“We’ll block both roads to non-participants,” Cobia said. “The only people out there’ll be the drivers, and they’ll be swaddled in bubble wrap. We’ll also have beaters to make sure the roads are clear of iguanas and other wildlife. And spectators.”

Organizers say money raised will go to the island’s Salvation Army and Alcoholics Anonymous.

“People pledge a dollar amount for each mile a driver completes without wrecking their car,” DAMM treasurer Rosie Blenny said. “Off-road mileage, intentional or otherwise, won’t count.

“The winner’ll be the one who completes the most laps around the island and stays conscious,” Blenny said. “There’s also degree-of-difficulty points assigned to each driver, based on estimated alcohol tolerance. Dermott doesn’t even feel his first three beers, and a half case for Gage Hoase is like a six pack for anyone else.”

Participants are eager to compete.

“Celebrates a long-standing Blacktip Island tradition’s what it does,” James Conlee said. “Daddy did it. Granddaddy did it. Great-Granddaddy did on horseback. Now I’m gonna win it.

“I been practicing drinking and driving for weeks now, polishing my skills,” Conlee said. “A little proficiency driving never hurt anyone, you know. Tore up a fender or two, and maybe a tree, but never hurt anyone.”

Island officials say the event will also serve as a public safety demonstration.

“Folks see one of these yahoos slam into a tree, they’ll think twice about drink-driving,” Department of Public Works chief Stoney MacAdam said. “And the money raised will more than offset any damage they do.

“There’ll also be DPW-administered betting grids for how much alcohol each driver consumes versus how much distance they cover,” MacAdam said. “Proceeds from that are earmarked for driving safety courses and reflective road signage.”

Some, however, worry the event sends the wrong message.

“Making light of drunk driving doesn’t help, no matter what lessons are taught or what sort of funds are raised,” island nurse Marissa Bass said. “It encourages it, really. I have a couple of Cessna owners on standby to airlift idiots off island when they drive into ditches or each other.

“I also have $25 on Dermott, but that’s just common sense,” Bass said. “I’m safety conscious, not stupid.”

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Christian-Pagan Brawl Forces Blacktip Island Easter Parade Underwater

UW Easter parade

Kay Valve of the Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council marks the route of Sunday’s underwater Easter parade on Jawfish Reef Thursday. Parade organizers hope staging the event underwater will reduce sectarian violence that has marred recent Easter parades. (photo courtesy of Rosie Blenny/BIEC)

The Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council announced Wednesday the Caribbean island’s annual Easter parade will take place underwater after sectarian violence marred last year’s parade along the island’s resort strip.

“Staging the parade underwater’s a Hail Mary, but it was that or cancel it completely,” BIEC chair, the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians said. “There’ll be fewer people underwater, and it makes crowd control a whole lot easier.

“Last year’s fights between the Christians in the parade and the yahoos hijacking it for Ostara’s spring fertility festival blind sided us,” Ephesians said. “It started with insults, then thrown beer bottles, then an all-out melee the length of the parade route. We had to do something to preserve the event.”

Island authorities confirmed last year’s parade brawl set new records for damage.

“Vehicles were burned. Businesses were vandalized. The clinic was chock-a-block with injured participants from both sides,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “If Jerrod and his council hadn’t come up with this alternative, the parade was history.”

Organizers noted security measures will be in place for this year’s parade.

“We’ve tailored the event to maintain a high degree of safety while being as inclusive as possible,” BIEC sergeant-at-arms Kay Valve said. “Safety divers will keep the various factions separated and peaceful. And prevent drownings.

“Participants can be Christian, pagan or anything else,” Valve said. “They don’t even have to be religious. We do ask that everyone be sober, though. And anyone starting trouble will be immediately power-inflatored to the surface, regardless of religious affiliation.

Parade participants praised the changes.

“It will be lovely seeing everyone kitted out in their best wetsuits, BCs and masks,” Blacktip Island Junior League president Marcia Seagroves said. “And we’ve all gussied our neoprene hoods into the most wonderful bonnets. It’s different, certainly, but promises to have its own sort of dignity. Nevertheless, all League members will wear dive knives, just in case.”

Not all locals were pleased with the parade’s new format.

“It’s a mockery, celebrating Holy Week with an underwater game of follow-the-leader,” Father Poppy Bottoms of Our Lady Of Blacktip Cathedral said. “So’s Jerrod organizing it – he’s the one who set the spark to the tinder last year by running through the parade wearing nothing but a white bathrobe and yelling he was the archangel Gabriel.”

BIEC officials remained upbeat.

“We’ve encouraged underwater spectators to bring video cameras so we can stream the parade live to the BIEC website for non-divers,” Valve said. “There will also be prizes for best bonnet and most inappropriate wetsuit. And afterwards we’ll have a sea turtle egg hunt for the kiddos.”

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Tiperon University-Blacktip Offers Free Continuing Education Courses

TU con-ed

Wine making and adult literacy are two of the continuing education courses offered in Tiperon University-Blacktip’s new adult education program. (photo illustration by Clete Horn/BT staff)

In its continuing effort to serve the Blacktip Island community, Tiperon University-Blacktip officials announced Thursday the university will offer free adult education courses for island residents.

“We take a lot of heat for being hoity-toity ivory tower,” TU-B chancellor Donna Requin said. “This program’s aimed at showing TU-B is relevant to everyone. The university’s donating the space and our instructors are donating their time to make this happen. We’re not some elitist bastion. We’re here for the hoi polloi, too.

“We pulled out the stops to offer something for everyone,” Requin said. “We have courses in driftwood arranging, flotsam bottle collecting, basic literacy I and II, wine making, arithmancy and intro to psychological self-therapy.”

Many residents praised the new program.

“Anything that gives people something to do after work besides sitting around and drinking is great,” Rusty Goby said. “Theses courses are a great way to grow personally, regardless of your background.

“I covered the bases by signing up for wine making and self-therapy,” Goby said. “I figure if one doesn’t work out, the other one will.”

Not all residents agreed.

“Slap in the face is what it is,” Dermott Bottoms said. “Donna and them’re still looking down their noses at everybody. Saying I should better myself? That’s saying something’s wrong with me.

“They’re dissing us all, and I won’t stand for it,” Bottoms said. “Got half a mind to go to a class, then just sit there and not learn anything. Or teach my own class, maybe, in the parking lot. Or at the Ballyhoo.”

Some TU-B faculty also were critical of the new program.

“If by ‘donating time’ you mean ‘working extra hours without pay so the university doesn’t lose government funding and grant money,’ then sure,” archeology professor Catalina Luxfer said. “Put all the lipstick on it you want, this pig’s still just a revenue ploy. At the faculty’s expense. Like I know anything about collecting washed-up bottles.”

Others pointed out the program’s long-term benefits.

“You really can’t get more egalitarian than free university,” TU-B engineering chair and arithmancy instructor Sally Port said. “These are accredited university courses. They count toward a degree in Island Liberal Arts.

“It’s a plus for everyone,” Port said. “Whoever wants a class can have one, and the university can keep its doors open. A rising tide lifts all boats.”

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Self-Styled ‘Sand Flea’ Superhero Terrorizes Blacktip Island

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The Spider Bight beach, where the anonymous, self-styled Sand Flea claims he was bitten by mutant no-see-ums that gave him super powers. (photo by Wendy Beaufort/Times staff)

Blacktip Island authorities this week are searching for a man dressed in an insect-themed costume-and-cape, claiming to be a super hero, who has bitten at least 13 island residents since last Friday evening.

“The guy’s got a yellow Jack LaLanne-style romper, a blue mask and cape and sort-of antennas,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “He sent out a half-page manifesto, calling himself the ‘Sand Flea.’ Says he got super powers from getting bit by mutant no-see-ums and is out to punish wrongdoers. Our guess is that’s where the biting comes in.”

“It’s not always a full-fledged chomp,” Marquette said. “Sometimes it’s just a little nip. But it’s assault, all the same. And he will be charged. As soon as we apprehend him. Or knock him out with bug spray.

Residents say the Sand Flea strikes without warning.

“I was at the Ballyhoo, arguing about my bar tab, when this whacko flew in through the window, bit my hand and flew out again,” Gage Hoase said. “I tore out after him, but he was gone.

“I had to have five stitches,” Hoase said. “If I find him, we’ll see how super he is. Rafe can arrest whatever’s left after I’m done.”

Island officials say the Sand Flea’s identity, abilities and motives are uncertain.

“Despite reports, there’s no indication this joker can fly,” mayor Jack Cobia said. “We tried to identify from dental records, but no one on Blacktip’s been to a dentist in ages, so that was a wash.

“It’s not clear what he considers ‘wrongdoing,’ either,” Cobia said. “So far he’s bit people for drunk driving, public cursing, loud music and peeing in the bushes behind the Tail Spinner. For all we know, it’s just someone with a fetish using any excuse.

The situation has many island residents on edge.

“There’s no telling when or where he’ll strike. Or why,” Ginger Bass said. “The clinic’s running out of antibiotics and sutures. What if he has rabies? Or worse?

“This could be the start of a real-life zombie apocalypse,” Bass said. “Are we gonna have people running around gnawing on each other? I’m keeping the kiddos inside, especially around sundown.”

Others laughed the matter off.

“It’s probably just Jerrod in yellow jammies, doing one of his provocative artsy things,” bartender Cori Anders said. “I mean, no one’s ever seen the two of them together, have they? And he hasn’t been bitten. Plus he’s always had that weird oral fixation.”

Jerrod Ephesians denied the accusation.

“You’ve never seen Dermott or Lee Helm or Cori in the same place as the Sand Flea, either. Let that sink in,” he said. “There’s lots of people on Blacktip without bite marks. And you can’t rule out self-inflicted bites as red herrings.”

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