Blacktip Community Players Unveil “The Whaling Ship Essex” Operetta

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The Last Ballyhoo bar’s foyer will become the whaling town of Nantucket in the Blacktip Island Community Opera’s production of “The Whaling Ship Essex” Saturday night. (photo courtesy of Alison Diesel)

The Blacktip Island Community Opera launches its Fall Music Series Saturday night at the Last Ballyhoo bar with the original operetta “The Whaling Ship Essex,” written by director Doris Blenny and choreographed by her husband Jack.

The performance commemorates the 1820 sinking of a Nantucket whaling ship by a giant sperm whale. The 20-man crew spent the next 95 days in open whaleboats, eventually resorting to cannibalism before eight survivors were rescued.

“Everyone loves light opera,” Doris Blenny said. “The challenge here was to prove an operetta can make anything enjoyable. Gilbert and Sullivan would be pleased.

“Jack added modern dance flourishes, too, to draw in the younger crowd,” Blenny said. “Think ‘The Mikado’ meets ‘Stomp.’”

Much of the stomping is done by the whale, a papier-mâché behemoth with a plywood-reinforced head for ramming.

“With a costume so large, we really needed three people to make it move properly,” Jack Blenny said. “And the whale sings in a bass-baritone, so we were pulling our hair out to find someone with a singing voice so deep.

“Both problems were solved when Dermott Bottoms auditioned,” Blenny said. “He’s big enough to move the whale realistically by himself, and he’s the only person on Blacktip who sings in that range.”

“Dermott sings quite off key,” Doris Blenny added. “But when he’s searching for the right note it sounds eerily like real whalesong. It’s beautiful, really.”

Other cast members include Jerrod Ephesians as Captain George Pollard, Alison Diesel as first mate Owen Chase, Payne Hanover as Seaman Staines and Marina DeLow as Owen Coffin.

“No one wanted to play the Coffin boy,” Hanover said. “Except Lee Helm, but he’s always been a bit off. We banned him from rehearsals. He kept nibbling on the other actors.”

Musical highlights include:

  • A Whale of a Tale
  • Oh, Whatever Will Rhyme With Nantucket?
  • A Spout! A Spout, I Shout!
  • Stove by a Whale
  • Dry Bones
  • I Could Eat a Topgallant, Could You?
  • Why’s Roger, The Cabin Boy, Blue?

Cast members praised the production’s realistic special effects.

“We cut out the middle of the bar so the whale can burst up from below,” Alison Diesel said. “And there’s inflatable kiddie pools for him to crash into. Anyone in the first three rows is gonna get soaked.

“Plus, the Essex is made of sun-brittled polystyrene,” Diesel said. “When Dermot hits it, it blows all to hell and back!”

The operetta in sponsored by Starbucks and Slim Jim. All proceeds will go to the Blacktip Island Food Bank.

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Management, Labor Unite For Divemaster Rehab Center

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The Blacktip Association for Re-envisioned Futures divemaster rehabilitation center will be built on landfill wetland on the Caribbean island’s east coast. The center will provide counseling and job training for injured dive staff. (Photo courtesy of Finn Kiick)

In a rare show of unity between business leaders and labor activists, Blacktip Island resort owners have partnered with Divemasters’ Local #138 to build a rehabilitation and job-training center for incapacitated divemasters.

Groundbreaking for the Blacktip Association for Re-envisioned Futures will begin Saturday morning with island mayor Jack Cobia and other dignitaries ceremoniously blasting out the first chunk of ironshore.

“Guests don’t realize the career-ending injuries dive staff can get,” union president Finn Kiick said. “Decompression sickness isn’t even in the top five. The real monsters are blown out backs, shredded elbows and anger-control meltdowns on the boat.

“It’s even gnarlier because a ton of DMs are in their 30s when they have to retire,” Kiick said. “Some don’t know how to do anything else. It’s a bumpy transition into the adult world. This center’ll help with that.”

BARF backers outlined its rigorous rehabilitation schedule.

“They’ll get daily physical therapy and occupational training,” said Eagle Ray Cove owner and center financier Rich Skerritt. “The first few weeks they’ll learn how to wear collared shirts. Then they’ll work up to going a full day in shoes.

“Psych counseling’s big, too,” Skerritt said. “Especially for the ones who teed-off on guests. We address head-on the main question lots of these scuba hippies have: ‘if I’m not a divemaster, what am I?’”

Not all locals are sympathetic.

“It means more employment for the island, certainly, but is the expense really necessary?” said longtime resident Frank Maples. “These young people don’t need training and counseling, they simply need to grow up and get a proper job. A divemaster’s much like a municipal bond – when it turns 30 it ought to mature and earn some money.”

Others, though, were enthusiastic about the center’s plan for long-term divemaster care.

“One wing will be housing for dive staff who are . . . well . . . a bit longer in the tooth than is ideal,” counselor Peachy Bottoms said. “Some have been divemasters so long, they’ll never be able to integrate back into in the real world. And there’s no way we can, in conscience, turn them loose on an unsuspecting population.

“Most divemasters take it quite hard when they realize it’s time to hang it up,” Bottoms said. “For some it’s when joints hurt too much. Or when the hangovers get unbearable. Or when the younger dive guests start treating them like a pervy uncle.”

BARF officials touted the center’s long-term residency program.

“It’s rare for a divemaster to save much money. Any money, really,” Skerritt said. “We can’t have a bunch of bums wandering the island. If they’re here, we can keep an eye on them. And we’ll keep them here with housing, meals and a generous bar tab at subsidized rates. The Divemasters’ Union’s picking up the tab.

“We’ll have the usual retiree activities,” Skerritt said. “Shuffleboard, movie nights, drinking contests, the whole shebang.”

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Blacktip Island Author Releases New Humor Novel

Blacktip Island cover

Tim W. Jackson’s humor novel, Blacktip Island, was released Saturday.

Local award-winning author Tim W. Jackson Saturday released his second novel, Blacktip Island, via all major book distributors and his personal website.

Blacktip Island follows a bumbling embezzler who runs off to the Caribbean, a step ahead of the Feds and desperate to start life over as an anonymous divemaster in a tropical paradise. On Blacktip Island, though, he quickly discovers ‘tropics’ doesn’t mean ‘paradise,’ and rookie boat hands stick out like a reef at low tide.

“It’s a rollicking comedy for anyone who’s ever dreamed of trading the rat race for an exotic tropical locale,” Jackson said. “If Margaritaville and Northern Exposure had a love child, they’d call it Blacktip Island.

Early reviewers praised the novel.

The San Francisco Book Review said, “Five Stars. Blacktip Island’s storyline gets readers hooked, and the characters take this book to another level.” The Portland Book Review called Blacktip Island, “fun and funny, its characters vivid. Take your time and dive into this adventurous story.” IndieReader said, “Jackson has a strong voice that makes for an entertaining read from beginning to end.”

The novel’s first chapter is available as a free download below The Blacktip Times’ “World News” section and on the author’s website.

Blacktip Island is available for purchase at:

Amazon

iBooks

Smashwords

timwjackson.com

A portion of all proceeds from Blacktip Island go to the Nature Conservancy’s Coral Reef Preservation Fund.

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Tiperon University-Blacktip Fields First NCAA Football Team

fightin-mantis

A Blacktip mantis shrimp, (Odontodactylus blacktipius) on a Blacktip Island reef. The fearsome underwater predator is the namesake of Tiperon University-Blacktip’s resurrected athletics program. (photo courtesy of Alexander Vasenin)

Tiperon University-Blacktip kicked off football season Thursday at Skerritt-Bottoms Stadium when its inaugural American-style football team, the Fightin’ Mantis Shrimp, faced their arch rivals Slippery Reef Medical College’s Surgeonfish. The team competes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division IV.

“It’s a boost to island pride, having a varsity sports team again,” said TU-B’s athletic director Goby Graysby. “It was devastating when we had to ditch our water polo program, but we couldn’t go on after all those horses drowned.

“When the Mantis took the field in their turquoise-and-coral, it was magical,” Graysby said. “And how great was to hear the old TU-B fight song –‘Mantis! Mantis! Eyestalks high! We’re the shrimp from B-T-I!’ – echoing from the bluff again?”

Some in the community questioned the university’s motives.

“It’s a money grab, plain and simple,” said longtime resident Billy Ray. “Ol’ Goby’s eyeing the TV money an NCAA team draws. And he’ll get the lion’s share of the Tiperon Islands TV market share. Not to mention t-shirt and jersey sales.

“But if he thinks locals are gonna bankroll a new stadium, he’s nuts,” Ray said. “We got better things to spend our money on. And the ‘Mantis?’ Really? Not the ‘Sharks’ or the ‘Barracuda’ or the ‘Ciguatera?’”

Fans, though, were quick to defend the name.

“Mantis shrimp are deadly predators, despite their small size,” said Mantis supporter Marina DeLow. “Their claws move so quick they break the sound barrier. Even if they miss, the shock wave still kills their prey.

“Those suckers’ll blast apart any crab or clam shell out there,” DeLow said. “There’s a reason fishermen call them ‘thumbsplitters.’ Put one in an aquarium, it’ll break the glass and go for your throat.”

Most locals, though, focused on the team’s disappointing 64-0 loss to the Surgeonfish.

“We’re a work in progress, using what talent we’ve got,” said coach Rocky Shore. “None of these guys can throw. None of them can catch. But they can all run like scalded rats when someone’s chasing them.

“We lost pretty bad, but there was lots of positive stuff we can build on,” Shore said. “All our players showed up sober. Mostly. Our goal this week is to get ‘em to cut down on the drinking and smoking so they can run more than five yards without throwing up.”

University officials remained upbeat despite the loss.

“Logowear sales are through the roof,” Graysby said. “With that, plus the alcohol sales, plus the Bottoms Up Distillery sponsorship, we’ll be able to afford a domed stadium in no time.”

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Blacktip Island Health Officials Launch Dump Eco-Tours

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Blacktip Island’s Department of Public Health has made it’s newly-created reflecting pool the centerpiece of it’s wildlife eco-tours through the small Caribbean island’s garbage dump.

Blacktip Island’s cash-strapped Department of Public Health began offering guided tours of the island’s dump Thursday to showcase the site’s biodiversity and value to the community.

“Locals’ve been coming here for years for spare parts and what have you,” DPH chief Clete Horn said. “We noticed more and more tourists stopping by for a look, too. That was our ‘a-ha moment.’”

“Folks come to Blacktip from all over the world, and spend thousand to look at fish,” Horn said. “Well, there’s just as many critters above the water, especially at the dump. Our safaris’ll spotlight that, and the fees’ll cover payroll and dump upkeep.”

Local wildlife experts say the idea isn’t as outlandish as it sounds.

“There is a great deal of biodiversity at the landfill,” Island Wildlife Research Center chief Goby Graysby said. “That’s where the food and water is, so that’s where the wildlife is.

“People laugh about glowing dump chickens, but the place is home to rats, feral cats, land crabs, even iguanas,” Graysby said. “That’s the Big Five, and the way those DPH guys know the terrain, they’ll get you and your Nikon right in the feeding frenzy. It’s brilliant, really.”

Safari guests will tour in the health department’s refuse collection vehicles.

“End of the day, we hose the trucks out real good, put plywood viewing platform in the back and take folks through all the honey holes,” Horn said. “It adds realism. Plus, the critters here are used to the trucks, so they don’t run.

“The highlight’s the reflecting pool,” Horn said. “There’s nothing quite like coming around those scrap-metal mountains, seeing the sunset across the water and the feral cats and chickens drinking together in peace. You should hear all the ‘ooh’s and ‘ah’s and ‘Oh, it’s just like in The Jungle Book.’

Some Blacktip residents, though, worry the tours are changing the island.

“Used to be, we could make a day of a dump trip. It was family time,” said resident Paloma Fairlead. “We’d bring a picnic, let the kids play hide-and-seek and chase the chickens. And the little ones so loved to pick out some castaway treasure for themselves.

“Now we have to pay for admission, and you can’t take anything without paying,” Fairlead said. “And once you’re in, you can’t get out without going through the gift shop. I never thought Blacktip would turn so crass and commercial.”

Others, though, have embraced the eco tours.

“This shows the dump’s not just good for the community, it’s good for the environment,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “The dump is the future, the new island order. And these ‘Blacktip Island Dump Safari’ t-shirts are so comfortable.”

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Tensions High For Blacktip Island’s Coral Bonsai Show

coral bonsai

Blacktip Island Coraliculture Society president Rupert Basslet’s staghorn coral bonsai is one of the favorites to win this year’s Coral Bonsai Show Saturday at Blacktip Island’s Pinnacle Reef. (photo courtesy of Nick Hobgood)

Security is tight above and below the water at Pinnacle Reef this week for Saturday’s Blacktip Island Coraliculture Society’s quinquennial Coral Bonsai Show.

“Last time around there was all sorts of skullduggery to make competitors’ bonsais look bad for the judging,” society president Rupert Basslet said. “Rascals silted the coral, toppled sculptures, and there was one instance of an underwater heater being placed next to a bonsai to make it bleach the day before the show.

“The coral bonsai world can be incredibly vicious,” Basslet said. “We put our collective foot down this year. We have divers with spears patrolling underwater, and spotters on shore to make sure no one slips in unnoticed.”

The show is staged every five years to allow the coral sculptures to regrow after pruning.

“Coral grows so slow you have to wait ages post-prune to see the full effect,” said show chair Chuck DelKorn. “We tried to have the show annually, but the results were not esthetically pleasing. Lots of bare limestone where the coral polyps hadn’t grown back over.

“It takes decades to get one looking right,” DelKorn said. “Most of these bonsais have been passed down from generation to generation.”

Each bonsai master has their own idiosyncratic mix of preferred tools for coral sculpting.

“Coral’s fragile. Keeping a bonsai small and trim, one tiny slip can be irreparable,” Basslet said. “I use a child’s tack hammer and set of jeweler’s screwdrivers. All it takes is a tap here, a chip there. And sometimes years go by without my doing anything to my bonsai.

“Any hard coral is eligible, but the branching species seem to catch the judges’ eyes,” Basslet said. “Though Alison Diesel won the last show with her miniature pillar coral. I think it was the extended polyps waving in the current that put her over the top.”

On shore, local businesses are bracing for the influx of coral bonsai enthusiasts the event brings to Blacktip Island.

“These fans are hard core, and the reef’s cordoned off during the judging,” said Christina Mojarra, manger of the Tail Spinner Lounge, overlooking Pinnacle Reef. “We installed underwater video cameras and doubled our number of TVs so fans can watch at the bar. Parking’s tight, so we’ll have valet parking, and a shuttle van for guests at the island’s resorts.

“They award the Golden Polyp trophy here in the dining room,” Mojarra said. “So we’re letting Dermott Bottoms and James Conlee drink free in exchange for to maintaining order. Last bonsai show the runners-up caused such a ruckus, it was a week before we could reopen.”

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Blacktip Island Physicists Discover Blacktip Boson

Blacktip boson

Particle physicists Ginny Wrasse, left, and Leah Shore inspect the sensor housing at the Blacktip Island Gravitational Laser Interferometer Detection array outside the CrabbiLab laboratory Thursday. Laboratory physicists claim to have discovered a subatomic particle capable of generating short-lived, localized gravitational fields. (Photo courtesy of Tila Monto)

In a paper published Thursday in the international science journal Creation, Blacktip Island scientists claim to have discovered a subatomic particle dubbed, ‘the Blacktip boson,’ that can create an extremely localized gravity well for a split second.

“People’ve noticed the phenomena for years,” lead author and particle physicist Barry Bottoms said. “Locals call them ‘gravity storms,’ where a person or object will fall for no apparent reason, with nearby objects not affected.

“You’d see it late Friday and Saturday nights, usually in bars, though, so it got passed off as alcohol induced,” Bottoms said. “Then we noticed it happening to tourists on bikes in the middle of the day, and that got us wondering.”

Bottoms and his colleagues at the Caribbean island’s Crabbilab Accelerator Laboratory built a device to isolate the phenomenon.

“We spring-boarded off Caltech’s gravity wave research to make an array to detect gravitational anomalies,” said article co-author Leah Shore. “It’s a small island with limited resources, but we were able to find some cement conduit, and we scrounged an old laser interferometer fom the dump.

“We’d barely activated the sensors when we got confirmation,” Shore said. “There was a massive gamma radiation spike, then – BAM! – Barry toppled over. With no alcohol involved – we tested his blood.”

The scientists were cautious in assessing the discovery’s importance.

“All we can say for certain is we detected a boson that, under the right conditions, can exert a massless spin-2 field – the Blacktip Field – to create micro-instants of increased gravity,” Bottoms said. “Could that blow the doors open on string theory? Sure. But we have more pressing concerns.

“What triggers the field and why is it so prevalent here?” Bottoms said. “Our theory is Blacktip Fields are the result of interplay between Blacktip’s unique combination solar radiation, booby pond fumes and the numerous ley lines crossing the island.”

Local reaction the discovery was less reserved.

“This tells the world Blacktip’s not such a backwater,” mayor Jack Cobia said. “Visitors joke about Blacktip being the island of sloppy drunks. Now, to find out it’s a sub-atomic whaddyacallit, well, Barry and his gang deserve a medal.”

Others echoed Cobia’s sentiment.

“Science-wise, it’s great to finally smack down St. Kitts and Nevis,” resident Antonio Fletcher said. “Those punks’ve been rubbing our noses in it ever since they found that wobble in Uranus’ orbit. Plus, my Daddy was a bosun’s mate, so I’m doubly proud.”

Other locals were eager to put the Blacktip Field to use.

“They keep saying there’s no practical application for this thing,” the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians said. “But how great would it be to harness it, to give extra mass to stuff that needs it? Like the mixed drinks at the Last Ballyhoo.”

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