Monthly Archives: April 2016

Back Breaker Integrated Weight Tourney Comes to Blacktip Island

back breaker

One of the Back Breaker competitor’s gear, rigged with a 30-year-old brass regulator to add extra weight to his rig. (photo courtesy of Catalina Luxfer)

Blacktip Island this week will host the five-day Back Breaker 2016 Integrated Weight Throwdown, with anonymous competitors vying to maim divemasters across the small Caribbean island. The winner will be determined by the number of divemasters injured and severity of those injuries.

“It’s like a traveling Fight Club for out of shape, passive-aggressive scuba divers,” Back Breaker organizer Catalina Luxfer said. “Divemasters are always telling us to dive with less weight. It’s so judgemental.

“This is payback,” Luxfer said. “We dive with however much weight we want, and we won’t be shamed into wearing less. They hurt our feelings; we hurt their backs.”

Back Breaker contestants say strategy is simple.

“The trick’s to make the BC look light, but still pack it chock-full of lead,” competitor Virgil Cracken said. “Then you tell the DM you just had surgery, and could they please lift your gear out of the water for you.

“You should see their eyes bug out when they start the lift,” Cracken said. “I tore up three backs and two elbows in the last tourney. I use my old Dacor 900 first stage just to add another eight pounds to my gear.”

Per Throwdown rules, divemasters are not told the competition is taking place until the end of the final day. Competitors will dive one day at each resort to allow equal access to all divemasters.

Injured dive staff will be examined by physicians and given x-rays and M.R.I.s to determine extent of injuries so points can be awarded accordingly.

“You score if one of your weight pockets slips out and crushes a divemaster’s toes, too,” Luxfer said. “Eighteen to 20 pounds per pocket’s a good target. Any heavier, it’s tough to disguise the bulk.”

Contestants will be disqualified if they drop below 100 feet/30 meters of depth.

“We can’t have a repeat of last year’s cock-up in Palau,” Luxfer said. “A guy with 32 pounds had a BCD inflator valve failure. He was just, WOOSH! Straight down the wall before anyone could say ‘boo.’”

Blacktip Island dive staff, alerted to the clandestine tournament, were unconcerned.

“Honestly, these bozos’ll be hard to tell from our regular guests,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Alison Diesel said. “I mean, everybody wears 16, 18 pounds these days. Some dude last week had 22. And he was skinny, with no wetsuit.”

An award ceremony for contestants and divemasters is slated for Friday evening. Winners receive a dive flag tattoo. Injured dive staff receive free drinks, Percocet prescriptions and titanium spinal implants.

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Blacktip Islanders To Choose, Punish Community Scapegoat Saturday


Blacktip Island’s annual scapegoat will be buried chest deep on the Eagle Ray Cove beach Saturday to atone for the collective misdeeds of the island’s residents. (photo courtesy Ginger Bass)

Blacktip Island residents will celebrate William Shakespeare’s birthday Saturday with the annual Choosing of the Scapegoat festival on the Eagle Ray Cove beach.

The scapegoat, chosen for offenses against fellow residents during the past year, will be buried up to the chest, recreating the final scene in Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus,’ where Aaron is partially buried as punishment for his crimes.

“When the island was first populated, the bickering settlers about killed each other,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “‘Titus’ was a popular play at the time, and locals used the ending as a model for how to maintain social order throughout the year.

“They’d let bygones be bygones until Shakespeare’s birthday, then half-bury the biggest troublemaker and let the land crabs pick at him,” Altschul said. “The rest got a fresh start, transgression-wise. It was barbaric, but it held the community together.”

The contemporary scapegoating is nowhere near as brutal, organizers said.

“Back in the day, they left the scapegoat planted for days,” said the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians, festival chair. “Now we just leave them in a few hours, laugh at them and call all our sins absolved. And we cut out the crabs.

“We bury the ‘goat chest deep on the beach and wait for the tide to come in,” Ephesians said. “It’s kind of a time-out corner to think about what we’ve done. The ‘goat’s there for us all.”

The Choosing has become a family event on the island.

“It’s a teaching moment for the kids,” island resident Chrissy Graysby said. “It shows them what happens when you gossip and lie and cheat and steal. Now, those are the traditional island pastimes, but the Choosing gets all that negativity out of the community. It’s catharsis, you know. We’re sipping rum, but we can feel the pain.”

“No one knows who the scapegoat is until the final vote. If there’s a tie, both, or all, get buried,” resident Lee Helm said. “April on Blacktip’s a bit like, Yuletide what with everyone being overly nice to make up for the rest of the year.

“The land crabs still cause problems, but Jerrod has small children there to shoo them away,” Helm said. “For the most part. Dermott Bottoms lost an eyebrow to a crab last year, but he had it coming.”

Island youngsters are also kept busy with multiple rounds of Pin the Moustache on the Scapegoat. Other family-friendly activities include a Shakespearean sonnet contest, a Hamlet soliloquy hip-hop off, crab jugglers and stalls selling codlings, carbonadoes, cakes and ales.

As ever, there is intense unofficial wagering about who the scapegoat will be.

“My money’s on Dermott in a repeat,” Graysby said. “Though, as rough of a year as it’s been, people just might vote Jack Cobia in since he’s the mayor.”

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Psychoanalysts Hijack Blacktip Island Bird Watching Tournament

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A Blacktip Island brown booby, diagnosed with bipolar disorder by visiting mental health professionals on island for the weekend’s pro-am bird watching tournament. (Photo courtesy of Sula Beakins)

Blacktip Island’s annual bird identification tournament turned into an avian psychology exercise Friday morning when more than a dozen mental health professionals, who had misinterpreted the tournament’s name in an advertisement, stormed the registration table.

“It read, ‘Blacktip Island Pro-Am Bird ID Tournament,’” said visiting psychiatrist Carl Skinner. “The assumption was it was a tongue-in-cheek continuing education junket mocking antiquated Freudian structural analysis. You know, the old Id-Ego-Superego triumvirate.

“I spent days coming up with ways to quantify Freudian takes on tropical birds,” Skinner said. “To get here and find out I just read it wrong, well, it made me angry.”

Tournament organizers, faced with irate therapists, opted to run an impromptu avian analysis contest concurrent with the planned Pro-Am.

“Oh, the looks some of them got in their eyes when we explained the mistake,” Blacktip Island Audubon Society president Sula Beakins said. “When the third one started twitching, we told them to go ahead with their diagnosing, or whatever it is they do, and we’d come up with t-shirts for the winners.

“We agreed to sign off on their con-ed units, too,” Beakins said. “Their accrediting bodies won’t recognize us, but they’ll be off the island before they discover that.”

Tournament participants are excited to test their diagnostic skills on the island’s birds.

“Psychoanalysis supposedly only works with humans,” psychologist Anna Fromm said. “But that’s so exclusionary. People, birds, they’re subjects, each with a distinct personality.’

“We’re observing them and interacting with them like we would any other patient,” Fromm said. “And, not surprisingly, our findings jibe with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifications.”

Some therapists started early to get a jump on the competition.

“Blacktip Island’s famous for mental instability,” said pet psychologist Siggy Young. “So far the birds here have proved every bit as bat shit as the people.

“Since dawn I’ve found two bipolar boobies, three night herons talking to invisible friends, and multiple ground doves with generalized depression and panic attacks,” Young said. “There’s also a big grackle down at the Last Ballyhoo with textbook antisocial personality disorder. If we can help any of these birds live happier lives, our trip wasn’t wasted.”

Most competitors, however, are have taken a more relaxed approach after their initial shock.

“We’ll get laughed at back home,” Skinner said. “But, end of the day, it’s a free tropical vacation. And if this works out, next year we may branch out to psychoanalyze fish, too.”

The American Psychological Association refused to comment on the tournament and had not returned The Blacktip Times’ calls as of press time.

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Blacktip Island Dive Op Installs Roller Coaster Bow Seats

roller coaster

A state-of-the-art RCS-5000 roller coaster seat at Blacktip Island’s  Club Scuba Doo prior to installation on a Scuba Doo Divers dive boat’s bow. (photo courtesy of Dusso Janladde)


Blacktip Island Club Scuba Doo this week installed roller coaster seating on the bows of its dive boats so guests can safely ride there in rough seas.

“People always want to sit on the bow, even when the waves get gnarly,” Scuba Doo Divers dive manager Finn Kiick said. “And they get cranked when we make them come back.

“With these new seats, though, they can have a thrill ride going to and from the dive sites,” Kiick said. “We strap ‘em in and let ‘em scream.”

The seats are amusement-park grade RCS-5000s, standard on most modern high-speed rides, with padded lap-bar restraints to keep riders in place.

“These jobs will take a three-meter wave at 15 knots – about four and a half gees of force – and stay latched,” Club Scuba Doo general manager Polly Parrett said. “Basically, a wave could smack you unconscious and you wouldn’t come out of the chair.

“We do charge extra for bow seating,” Parrett said. “But guests are happy to pay. There’s even occasional fisticuffs over who gets those few choice spots.”

Some industry experts, however, worry the seating may have a negative long-term impact.

“Those things are a disaster waiting to happen,” said scuba watchdog Wade Soote. “One broken neck or one drowning, and Blacktip’s tourism product will have a permanent black eye.

“Last week a guest had to spend the night on the bow when Finn lost the key to the lap bar,” Soote said. “And what happens after a few salt-water drenchings and a rusty latch fails?”

Scuba Doo touted the chairs’ reliability.

“On the mondo-wave days, we make people wear full scuba,” Kiick said. “Folks usually opt for that on their own, so it’s not a huge deal. And we have an awesome cutting torch of the bar ever gets stuck again.”

The bow seats have also received an unexpected endorsement from the International Coaster Enthusiasts roller coaster club.

“It’s a different ride every time, what with the seas always changing,” ICE president Busch Matterhorn said. “You don’t get that kind of unpredictability on a static metal tube ‘coaster. We had seasoned old timers squealing like little girls today.”

The resort offers new Bow Rider Diver specialty courses via most certifying agencies.

“It’s a pretty straightforward course,” Kiick said. “We blast you through a quick class, then do mask clears and out-of-air drills in the chair at full throttle. NAUI divers have to do the skills with only a mask and snorkel. PADI divers just pay double.”

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Blacktip Island Resort Launches Virtual Reality Scuba Diving

virtual reality

A virtual hawksbill turtle swims across the virtual Blacktip Island hardpan during an Eagle Ray Divers virtual reality scuba dive on Thursday. (Photo courtesy Leah Shore)


Blacktip Island’s Eagle Ray Cove resort this week unveiled a new virtual reality scuba program for guests who are unable to swim or are afraid of the water.

“We stick them in a V.R. suit, strap them in a harness and hang them in the conference room on bungee cords,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “They can kick and flail and bounce around just like our regular divers.

“We pipe in sounds of regulators, bubbles, pistol shrimp and boat propellers to add to the realism,” Latner said. “We have a divemaster to tell bad jokes between dives, too, and give virtual fire coral and jellyfish stings when needed.”

Local underwater videographers have been hired to provide a variety of reef scenes.

“What each diver sees totally depends on what they do while they’re hanging,” said local cameraperson Leah Shore. “We’re shooting non-stop so there’s as many options as possible.

“Anything you’d run into on a real dive, you get in the V.R. room,” Shore said. “A current could kick up, a shark could chase you, the viz could go to hell, you name it. A guest freaked yesterday when she hit a downwelling and dropped 50 feet down the wall.”

Critics object to the program’s pricing as well as its secondary use as punishment for scuba divers who damage the reef with poor diving practices.

“They’re hanging folks on rubber bands and charging them the same as if they were on a boat,” dive tour organizer Kelly Cottonwick said. “That’s not right. Neither is making divers dangle in a cubicle if they bump the coral a few times.”

Eagle Ray Divers defended both practices.

“Those V.R. suits aren’t cheap,” Latner said. “And we have staffing costs to cover. Bottom line, we’re not forcing anyone to do anything. Except coral-crashing yahoos.

“Reef conservation’s a bonus,” Latner said. “Blacktip Island’s reefs are so healthy because we protect them. Reef trashers get two warnings, then they hang in the conference room and think about what they’ve done. It’s in the waiver they sign.

“If they can demonstrate improved buoyancy, they’re welcome back on the dive boat,” Latner said. “We’ve been selling buoyancy classes like crazy this week.”

Guests, meanwhile, rave about the experience’s authenticity.

“There was a ton of virtual surge today,” virtual diver Buddy Brunnez said. “The divemaster had to bring buckets for a couple of us to barf in. And a guy yesterday was complaining about decompression sickness.”

Latner said the resort will soon offer virtual reality specialty courses in night diving, navigation and nitrox.

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