Charity Domino Brawl Sends Five To Blacktip Island Clinic

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Most of the furniture in Blacktip Island’s Heritage House was destroyed during Thursday’s drunken melee at a charity domino tournament to benefit the island’s school. (photo courtesy of Carnivalsman)

A brawl at a Blacktip Island charity domino tournament Thursday evening sent five people to the medical clinic and caused extensive damage to the island’s Heritage House, authorities said.

“James Conlee and Mr. Snapper, the schoolmaster, were trash talking before their match, and things got out of hand,” said tournament organizer Kay Valve. “One moment it was insults as usual, the next, punches were flying, tables were crashing and jerked chicken from the food stand was sailing everywhere.

“These matches are powder kegs,” Valve said. “Alcohol was factor, but we can’t ban consumption. That’s an integral part of the sport. We do tell folks to drink in moderation, but that means different things to different people. This is why we can’t have nice tournaments.”

Accounts varied about what provoked the melee.

“That damned Snapper started it,” James Conlee said. “He’s been palming tiles all tourney, you know. Slipping them out when he thinks no one’s looking. Acts all ‘it’s for the kids,’ but he’s a snake.”

Snapper disputed Conlee’s account.

“I was wearing a tank top and shorts. Where would I hide tiles?” he said. “It was James’ fault. He said my scooter was an eyesore, so I said, ‘well, so’s your wife.’ Then out of nowhere he just hit me for no reason. He’s crazy.

“This is the guy who put bird feed in my bug zapper two days ago, just to get inside my head,” Snapper said. “We were raising funds for the school. Now because of him, the kids have to pay for damages instead.”

Island authorities say the brawl escalated quickly.

“Lee Helm got too close, took an elbow to the teeth, then fell across Clete Horn and Antonio Fletcher’s game,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Clete and ‘Tonio started punching anything that moved, and next thing you know, Christina Mojarra was swinging a chair like she was batting cleanup. She laid out a half-dozen people before we could take her down.

Five players were treated for minor injuries. Lee Helm was flown to Bottoms Memorial Medical Center on Tiperon to have domino tiles removed from his nasal cavities and other orifices.

“I don’t know how Lee got hurt to badly. He wasn’t even in the tournament,” Valve said. “Wrong place, wrong time, I suppose. Of course, he’s never been well-liked on the island, so people may have used the opportunity to settle old grudges.

“Bottom line, we’ve banned multiple players for life,” Valve said. “Or until the memory fades. Probably next Thursday.”

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Newly-Discovered Flounder May Mean Hurricanes For Blacktip

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A screen grab from Casey Piper’s underwater video showing the newly-discovered yodeling flounder voicing its cry on Blacktip Island’s Water Pump Reef Wednesday. (photo courtesy of Casey Piper)

A previously-unknown species of flounder, discovered by a Blacktip Island dive guide Wednesday, has scientists intrigued and some locals worried about the discovery’s impact on the coming hurricane season.

“Divers’ve been hearing a weird wailing sound on the reef for weeks, but no one could suss out what it was,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “Then one of our divemasters got lucky. In a fish-life sort of way.”

“I heard a weird oooooo-aaaaaaa-oooooh sound, loud, right behind me, looked back and saw this big-ass flounder, with its mouth open, doing a weird flappy, break-dancey thing,” dive guide Casey Piper said. “It sounded like a slow-motion yodel. Sort of.”

Based on Piper’s video, local scientists determined the fish was a long-rumored species of yodeling flounder.

“You hear fishermen’s’ tales about flounderia yodelicus, but no one’s actually seen one,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip marine biology professor Ernesto Mojarra. “They’re the unicorns of the sea. This one seems to change pitch by fluttering its ‘wings’ and waving its top pectoral fin, like playing a theremin. You can hear it from the surface if you’re really quiet.”

Blacktip fishermen, though, say the fish and its yodeling are bad omens.

“Grandpa said that sound was the duppies warning about a bad hurricane season,” Antonio Fletcher said. “If Casey got video of it, well, I guess it’s a duppy fish, then. But storms are still coming.

“Thing is, one year Grandpa was out fishing and heard that moaning. He hooked a big-old flounder and the noise stopped,” Fletcher said. “Fed the family for days. And had no hurricanes that year. That’s no coincidence.”

Some locals see Fletcher’s story as a hint of how to ease storm season.

“Unicorn or not, I say the divers make themselves useful and spear this damn thing so we don’t have any storms,” storekeeper Peachy Bottoms said. “They do it with lionfish. What good’s a marine park if it won’t protect us from hurricanes?”

Blacktip Island Marine Parks officials opposed the suggestion.

“False causality aside, the park is here to protect all marine life,” marine parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “We’re doubling up on patrols and will arrest anyone with a spear anywhere near the park.”

The scientific community backed Schrader.

“If anyone’s going to kill this flounder, it’ll be us, so we can properly study it,” Mojarra said.

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Second Constable To Help Ease Blacktip Island Traffic Woes

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A motorcycle approaches Blacktip Island’s troublesome western intersection Thursday morning. The small Caribbean island has been assigned a new police constable responsible for directing traffic in the intersection during peak times. (photo by Wendy Beaufort/Blacktip Times staff)

Blacktip Island Wednesday welcomed its second island police constable, tasked with directing traffic on the small Caribbean island.

“There’s too many close calls at the intersection,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “It’s a dangerous mix of speeding vehicles and tourists on wobbly resort bikes. Last week a drunk Lee Helm took out three Scuba Doo guests with his scooter.

“It’s worst around lunch time and when the bars open,” Cobia said. “Right before the liquor store closes, too.”

Island residents say the additional constable is past due.

“Public safety demands it,” said Helen Maples. “Yes, we’re a small island with only two roads, but that intersection is a nightmare. Just yesterday a Skerritt Construction truck ran the stop sign and nearly put me in the sea grapes.

“The constable’s not needed all day, you understand, only in the high-traffic times,” Maples said. “Club Scuba Doo donated a big beach umbrella for a shelter when he’s not on the roadway, and Sandy Bottoms’ donated a pool chair.”

The new constable has embraced her new duties.

“Over on Tiperon, you hear horror stories of the traffic on Blacktip,” Island Police Constable Catalina Luxfer said. “That’s going to stop. There’s a new sheriff in town. Motorists will respect my authority.”

The new constable is already a hit with island visitors.

“We didn’t think she was real at first,” Missy Marlin said. “I mean, a traffic cop on a tiny island? Then she moved, and nearly scared us to death. In a good way.

“It’s like the guards at Buckingham Palace,” Marlin said. “When no cars were coming, she posed in the middle of the road and let us take pictures with her.”

Not all residents were happy with the new constable.

“He can talk all he wants about safety, but Jack’s not fooling anyone,” Joey Pompano said. “It’s the first step down an ugly road. First it’s a traffic cop. Then another. The next thing you know, there’s more police than residents.

“Jack’s always been power hungry. This is just his way to take control on the sly,” Pompano said. “He wants a police state, but this is Blacktip. We self-police just fine.”

The island’s other police constable downplayed those fears.

“No one’s taking control of anything,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Hell, if someone could figure out a way to control anything on this little rock, they’d be up for a Nobel prize.”

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Blacktip Island Resort Launches Underwater Taxidermy Course

underwater taxidermy

Two rufous-spotted grouper, stuffed by underwater taxidermy students at Blacktip Island’s Eagle Ray Cove, are on display in the Caribbean island’s Last Ballyhoo bar. (photo courtesy of Jacklee)

A Blacktip Island scuba instructor launched a new underwater taxidermy specialty course this week to the delight of students and the dismay of several local civic groups.

“Sport fishermen always want to mount trophy fish, but fish are tough to stuff,” Eagle Ray Divers instructor Gage Hoase said. “You lose the colors in minutes and the skin degrades as you work it. People usually take a cast of the fish, then pour a copy in resin. Underwater taxidermy looks more real than that.

“Taxidermy underwater keeps the skin fresh and malleable,” Hoase said. “We stretch skin over a mold, cure it on the pier, then touch it up with paint. Students start on yellowtail snappers and damselfish, then work up to bigger stuff.”

Students raved about the classes.

“I couldn’t believe how realistic the parrotfish I mounted was,” said Kitty Mitchell. “There’s no comparison to a resin casting. It has a stronger smell to it, but that just lets you know it’s real. And adds to the value.

“Gage walked us through how to use the knives and curved needles and hide stretchers,” Mitchell said. “And we make the molds from washed-up turtle grass, so it helps with beach cleanup, too.”

Others noted the hazards of underwater taxidermy.

“You’d think the biggest worry would be sharks, but it’s really those swarms of little snappers. They bite chunks out of your fingers when they go after the skin you’re working,” Palometa Fischer said. “Sharks are a concern, sure, but we have spotters to keep them away. Those snappers are vicious.”

The course drew unexpected ire Thursday afternoon when two groups picketed Eagle Ray Resort, in an effort to cancel future classes.

“Blacktip’s famous for its marine park, for protecting its marine life, and now Gage is teaching a class on how to skin fish and stick them on the wall?” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president and treasurer Harry Pickett said. “People come here to swim with live fish, not make grotesques. This runs counter to the island’s ethos, and we’ll be protesting roadside until it stops.”

A second group of picketers launched a separate protest nearby.

“Gage and them’re solving a problem that doesn’t exist,” said protest organizer Dermott Bottoms. “Blacktip don’t need taxis, you know. Don’t have a car, or your bike breaks, someone’ll give you a ride. Taxis’ll destroy Blacktip. What’s next after that, buses? Trolley cars?”

Hoase was quick to defend the course.

“Sport fishing is just as much a part of Blacktip as scuba diving,” he said. “We only stuff fish caught outside the marine park. And we do the taxidermy outside it, too.

“Harry’s fine with drinking a beer under the mounted marlins at the Ballyhoo, but he’s protesting how those marlins get made? That’s hypocrisy. And as for Dermott, I have no idea what he’s talking about. But that’s nothing new.”

Hoase also addressed the students’ safety concerns.

“We’re working on building a walled-off taxidermy pool by the dock that keeps other fish out,” he said. “We tried protective netting, but a couple of barracuda managed to get through the mush and things got ugly.”

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Blacktip Island Resort Offers Mime Dive Briefings

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Blacktip Haven divemaster Peachy Bottoms takes a break Thursday before briefing a group of resort guests about an upcoming dive on a Blacktip Island reef. (photo courtesy of Christopher Brown)

A Blacktip Island scuba resort began offering silent, mime dive briefings this week to accommodate as diverse an array of divers as possible in the Caribbean island’s competitive scuba market.

“We want to be totally inclusive,” Blacktip Haven owner Elena Havens said. “We already offer briefings in Spanish, French, German and American Signing so it’s really just a matter of adding one more language to serve our growing number of mime divers. Plus, it calms some non-mime guests who aren’t comfortable with spoken briefings or eye contact.

Dive staff say the briefings have proved popular.

“You get the guests’ complete attention when you mime all the fish they’ll see. And all the coral,” Blacktip Haven dive guide Rusty Goby said. “They love it when you do the ‘walking against the current’ bit. And when the invisible box of dive time gets smaller and smaller around us.”

“You don’t need the striped shirt and beret, but they help,” Goby added. “Quinn Blenny has a striped wetsuit that totally rocks. And when he smears white sunscreen all over his face, you’d swear you were on a Parisian street corner. In a good way.”

The briefings are not without their critics.

“Some non-mime guests love the briefings, but others have zero tolerance,” divemaster Peachy Bottoms said. “And, boy, do they take it out on us. We had to put in new safety rules. There’s no dive knives allowed on board now. Or spears. Or pointed sticks.

“Staffing can be tricky, too,” Bottoms said. “Some DMs flat-out refuse to work on a mime boat. It’s . . . well . . . we’ve had a lot of turnover this week.”

Other Blacktip resorts applauded Blacktip Haven’s decision.

“I think it’s a great thing Elena’s doing,” said Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt. “ERC’s chock-a-block full right now with Haven guests getting as far away as they can from those damned mimes.

“That kind of thing may play well up there, but the folks we attract won’t stand for it,” Skerritt said. “We’re pushing The Cove as a ‘mime-free zone’ on our website, and the bookings are already piling in.”

Havens shrugged off the criticism, saying she’ll promote the new service aggressively.

“We heard all the jokes and all the scoffing, and we asked ourselves, ‘what would Marcel Marceau say?’” she said. “Long story short, we’re doubling down. We’ll have the best briefing options on the island.

“We’ll have staff offering evening mime classes for guests as well,” Havens added. “We even have two of our scuba instructors working up a Mime Diver specialty course, complete with confined water exercises for practice.”

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Blacktip Divemasters To Hone Ring-Finding Skills In Weekend Contest

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Blacktip Island resident Kay Valve shows off her wedding band, one of the rings found during last year’s inaugural Blacktip Island Lord of the Rings underwater wedding ring-finding contest. (photo courtesy of Steve and Jem Copley)

Local dive staff will compete this weekend in the second annual Blacktip Island Lord of the Rings underwater wedding ring-finding contest to hone their scuba search and recovery skills.

“People losing wedding or engagement rings on dives happens more often than you’d think,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “This competition’ll provide real-world training for that and keep everyone’s skills sharp.

“There’s been a spike in the number of lost rings lately, which makes these skills even more important,” Latner said. “The speculation’s some rings are getting lost on purpose, but I couldn’t speak to that. Some divers are happier than others to get their rings back, though.”

The two-day, double-elimination contest will take place in multiple rounds on a variety of underwater terrains, including a patch reef, hardpan, bare sand and turtle grass flats.

“To jack up the stakes, we use a real wedding rings, too,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “We pull names out of a hat to see whose ring gets chucked overboard. Last year, Kay Valve about had kittens for hours until Lee Helm finally found her ring in the third round.

“If there’s a tie, the two finalists’ll be tied together at one ankle, like in a three-legged race, and dropped on Alligator Reef at night,” Kiick said. “That’s some gnarly topography, and if you can find a wedding band there, you’re the mac daddy of S&R diving.”

The contest has few rules.

“You have to find the actual ring that’s tossed in,” said Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens. “You can’t just take a fake ring down with you to faux-find.

“There’s also no metal detectors allowed,” Havens said. “The idea’s to simulate an actual ring being lost on an actual dive, and none of our boats have metal detectors. Using one, well, would defeat the purpose.”

Island dive staff are eager to start the competition.

“It’s a rush, sure, but being able to find an actual wedding ring is a critical professional skill,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase said. “Someone loses a ring, it ruins their vacation, and unhappy guests leave unhappy tips.

“The flip side’s if you can find the ring, your grats jump through the roof,” Hoase said. “That’s job security right there.”

As with any island contest, authorities warned anti-gambling ordinances will be strictly enforced.

“These things get cutthroat, and the urge to wager goes hand-in-glove with that,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Anyone placing bets this weekend, even informally, will face the full measure of the law.

“Alison Diesel and Marina DeLow have the sharpest eyes on the island, so we’ll be watching their friends closely,” Marquette said. “If gambling was legal, I’d have $100 on Marina. Theoretically.”

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Blacktip Island Braces For Visiting Proctologist

Manas Medical Clinic reopens after $15,000 in upgrades made

The Blacktip Island medical clinic will host a proctologist next week as part of the small Caribbean island’s visiting physician program. (photo courtesy Nathan Bevier)

Blacktip Island residents are busy cataloguing their medical woes this week in anticipation of the arrival of the Caribbean island’s first visiting physician of the year.

“There’s not enough people on Blacktip for us to have a full-time doctor,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “The good news is there’s a regular circuit of traveling docs willing to swap a few days in the island clinic for free lodging and diving.

“We get about three itinerant doctors a year,” Cobia said. “Last year we had a cardiologist, a GP and a dentist. We had a chiropractor, too, but we only covered half her lodging, and none of her diving. Next week, we get our first proctologist.”

Community leaders were busy spreading the word about the upcoming visit.

“A proctologist might seem a bit offbeat, but it’s an M.D. willing to come here, so we can’t be choosy,” longtime resident Frank Maples said. “Truth be told, we’ve actually quite the need for a proctologist. You wouldn’t believe the issues we have with a-holes.”

The doctor was equally upbeat about his visit.

“I can’t wait to probe into the islanders’ medical issues,” Dr. Buddy Pucker said. “A tropical island that small and that isolated, there’s no telling what I’ll root out. That’s the draw. With luck, I’ll discover something previously unknown that they’ll name after me.”

Not all residents were happy with the physician’s visit.

“Don’t need some stranger poking and prodding us,” resident Antonio Fletcher said. “Blacktip folks self-medicate just fine.

“We’re naturally healthy, you know,” Fletcher said. “If we get sick, or hurt, well, we just suck it up. And apply the appropriate alcohol, externally and internally.”

Others were more antagonistic.

“So-called Western medicine leaves a lot to be desired,” said Clete Horn. “Daddy went to see a visiting doctor once. Died ten years later. There’s a lesson there.

“People wanna see some off-island quack, that’s their business,” Horn said. “But you can get better results just drinking pond water. And ‘Tonio’s home brew’ll cure most ailments, without him chucking pills at you.”

Dr. Pucker will have clinic hours Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, weather dependent.

“If the seas lay down and the vis is good, I may have to cancel an afternoon here and there,” he said. “But I’ll make it up with Tuesday and Friday office hours. By appointment. Or teleconference. If possible.”

The island council released a tentative schedule of future visiting doctors.

“Between now and Christmas we’ll also have a hepatologist, cardiologist and, with luck, a psychiatrist,” Cobia said. “That covers the Big Four of Blacktip Island demons.”

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