Monthly Archives: December 2016

Boobiers Return The Sport Of Kings To Blacktip Island


A red-footed booby waits for the command to hunt from a Blacktip Island Boobying Society boobier at Eagle Ray Cove resort Thursday. (photo courtesy of Charles J. Sharp)

A group of boobiers – Blacktip Island history buffs who have revived the traditional art of hunting with booby birds – will demonstrate their skills Saturday afternoon at Eagle Ray Cove resort to celebrate the nearly 400 years since the Caribbean Island’s discovery.

“Its our cultural heritage, Blacktip’s sport of kings” said Sula Beakins, president of the Blacktip Island Boobying Society. “It started as a lark by a member of the island’s Society for Creative Anachronism, and took off from there.

“The boobies can be tough to train,” Beakins said. “But they already go after fish, so it’s really just a matter of tweaking their instincts.”

Expert opinion on the sport’s historical accuracy is mixed.

“Our records indicate the first governors of Blacktip Island trained the native boobies to chase down fish, much like falcons were trained to hunt in the Old World,” island historian Smithson Altschul said.

“Of course, those records are in Middle English, so the translation may be a bit off,” Altschul added. “But, oh, the sight of a booby taking a blackfin mid-flight, it sends chills down your spine!”

Boobiers emphasize the sport’s ties to falconry.

“As with falcons, we start training our boobies when they’re young,” Beakins said. “As soon as they lose their baby down, really, and can fly reasonably well.

“It takes about a year to fully train them,” Beakins said. “We get them going after snapper at first, then work up to grouper and small mahi.”

Standard booby gear consists of bark-covered gauntlets for the boobies to perch on, as well as GPS trackers so hunters can find them.

“We all wear raincoats and goggles, too,” Beakins added. “Those birds poop up a storm, usually when you least expect it.”

The highlight of Saturday’s demonstration will be the competition between the island’s red-footed boobies and brown boobies from nearby Tiperon Island.

“It’s the great argument in the boobying community – which booby is the best hunter,” boobying aficionado Gage Hoase said. “Most serious boobiers see that as a false dichotomy, though.

“It’s a speed vs. agility thing,” Hoase said. “Like a pitting a peregrine versus a gyrfalcon. The brown boobies are better at mackerelly fish, the red-footed are best with tuna family.”

The boobying is not without critics.

“It’s inhumane, capturing wild birds, torturing them until they chase down fish, then taking the fish from them,” said Blacktip’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Harry Pickett. “And then there’s all the safety mishaps boobiers cover up. It’s a dirty, dirty sport.”

Booby enthusiasts insist they’re sensitive to those concerns.

“We’re not running around grabbing wild boobies willy-nilly,” Beakins said. “The first boobies we trained were injured chicks that wouldn’t have survived in the wild. And from that pair, we’ve started a captive breeding program. No wild boobies have ever been harmed or molested.

“Safety-wise, sure, there was an incident where a booby stooped on a small child with fish-shaped barrettes in her hair,” Beakins said. “That was unfortunate, but the booby was only following its instincts. And it let her go, eventually, which speaks to the excellence of our training. It’s a blood sport. You have to expect the occasional bloody nose.”

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Blacktip Island Volunteers Mold Fruitcakes Into Coral Nursery


Blacktip Island residents are encouraged to drop off unwanted holiday fruitcakes at collection bins across the Caribbean island. Volunteers will mold the cakes into elkhorn and staghorn coral skeletons for the island’s new coral nursery. (photo courtesy of Stu Spivack)

Blacktip Island’s unwanted holiday fruitcakes will get new life in a program that repurposes them as frames for a coral nursery offshore from Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort. Volunteer scuba divers will install the first fruitcakes Saturday morning, under the direction of Marine Park personnel.

“The Jawfish Reef area’s taken a beating from loose supply barges, dump runoff and whatnot,” Marine Parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “We’d talked about building an artificial reef there, but we didn’t have the material, the money or the manpower.

“Then the Blacktip Underwater Modelers asked for a permit to turn all those nasty fruitcakes into an underwater sculpture garden, and everything just dropped into place,” Valve said.

Island officials say the plan solves multiple problems.

“Fruitcakes have been stacking up on Blacktip for years,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “No one actually eats those things. Except little Shelly Bottoms, but she eats drywall, too. And smoked oysters.

“We used to have a fruitcake-flinging contest, where people built catapults to see who could launch one the farthest,” Cobia said. “But that was causing too much damage, and endangering the thrill seekers who’d try to catch them. This way, we’re getting rid of the cakes and helping the environment, too.”

Some environmentalists worry a fruitcake reef may do more harm than good.

“The dump won’t take them because they’re classified as biohazards,” said local activist Harry Pickett. “They’re indestructible. People in war zones use them to stop bullets. Who knows what’s going to leach out of them and onto the reef?

“Secondly, what happens if reef fish develop a taste for them?” Pickett said. “No only would we lose coral, we’d also have a bunch of dead fish. Or diabetic fish, at the very least.”

Local scientists, though, are optimistic about the plan.

“We haven’t identified any ingredients that are too toxic,” Tiperon University-Blacktip marine science professor Goby Graysby said. “And in our studies, no fish would go near them. Not even the yellowtail snappers. No, those cakes are durable enough to give coral polyps a good, solid anchor to take root on.

“The island needs green initiatives like this,” Graysby said. “Literally green, with some of those older cakes that’ve been passed down untouched for generations.”

Marine Parks has placed fruitcake collection bins at the Heritage House, at all island resorts, and also placed a fruitcake dumpster at Diddley’s Landing public pier.

“Hopefully this’ll work and spread to other islands,” Valve said. “With luck, we could have more coral and rid the world of fruitcakes within a few years. Now wouldn’t that make for a merry Christmas?”

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Erotica Reading Fest Returns To Blacktip Island


Entries in this year’s Blacktip Island Holiday Erotica Reading Festival are checked for appropriateness before being admitted to the festival’s reading schedule. (photo courtesy of Doris Blenny)

The Blacktip Island Heritage House will host the third annual Holiday Erotica Reading Festival Saturday evening, with proceeds going to the Blacktip Island Adult Literacy Council.

“Some people just aren’t Christmas people,” festival organizer Kay Valve said. “It started as a support group of sorts: a few of us with the holiday blues got together, one of us had a steamy romance and decided to read a passage out loud and, well, peoples’ spirits perked right up.

“Word got out, and next year, no one had a room big enough to hold all the participants,” Valve said. “That’s when the Heritage House volunteered to host.”

Any original work of steamy romance or erotica is welcome, so long as it’s not degrading or exploitative, festival organizers said.

“The works do need to have literary merit,” Heritage House curator Doris Blenny said, “Blatant pornography is not allowed. And we’re open to all genres, so long as it’s themed to one of the season’s holidays, be that Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Kwanza, New Year, Mōdraniht or what have you.

“We look for work that aspires to high art,” Blenny said. “Or as close to high art as we can get on Blacktip. Last year we had everything from mysteries to magical realism to science fiction.”

The festival is gaining popularity among island residents.

“These public readings do keep you hot on a warm tropical night,” said Elena Havens, last year’s runner up. “I had holiday cheer running up and down my spine last time when Lee Helm, with his beautiful speaking voice, read his, ‘Up The Chimney He Rose’ on stage.”

Festival winners are chosen by the audience and receive the coveted Coral Yule Log trophy.

“Last season, Peachy Bottoms’ reading ‘Mrs. Santa and the Christmas Surprise’ about blew everyone away,” said attendee Antonio Fletcher. “When Peachy started out, ‘Muffin was a lusty elf . . .’ we knew we were hearing something special.

“Nativity sets, mistletoe, dreidels, dashikis, they’ve all featured prominently in recent readings,” Valve said. “It’s all about the delivery, the emotion you put into your voice.”

However, not all Blacktip residents are happy with the festival.

“Shouting perverted stories across a crowd at Christmas is just wrong,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “Christmas’s a time for classic literature. Dickens. Evelyn Waugh. Anaïs Nin. And children’s books. Those little books of cute sayings you put on the back of your toilet, too.”

Valve dismissed such criticism.

“This is uplifting holiday fun for the whole community,” she said. “And nothing fills our literacy classes quite like tales of yuletide ribaldry.”

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Blacktip Island Holiday Light Display Gets New Life

(Editor’s note: After overindulgence at the Blacktip Times newsroom Christmas party, the entire news staff has been jailed and was unable to complete the coverage of the Blacktip Island Holiday Erotica Readings by press time. In the spirit of the season, the Blacktip Times is republishing a story that brought the community together for Christmas in 2013.)
Blacktip Island’s holiday lights shine bright again at Diddley’s Landing public pier after a compromise among the small Caribbean island’s religious factions. (photo courtesy of Jerrod Ephesians)

Blacktip Island’s religious factions have put aside their quarrels in time to resurrect the community’s traditional holiday light display.

“We’ve been working on a compromise for months, but the devil’s been in the details,” said the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians, head of the island’s Interfaith Committee.

The display historically has been a source of friction among the Caribbean island’s diverse religious groups. Formerly referred to as Christmas lights, the name was changed in hopes of avoiding a repeat of 2012’s holiday riots, Ephesians said.

“Last year the Raëlians set the tree on fire the second night it was up,” Ephesians said. “When the Catholic Defense League retaliated, things went to hell right quick.

“This year, in the spirit of ecumenical good will, we’ve done away with the physical tree completely. But we all agreed the lights by themselves were quite lovely, so we kept those.”

In the absence of a tree, the light strands have been suspended from a small remote-controlled helicopter, donated by island scuba operators, at Diddley’s Landing public pier.

“We’ll light one strand at a time, an additional strand each night, during Hanukkah, after which people will be free to view them as non-denominational Christmas lights,” Ephesians said.

The display will also serve as site of the Winter Solstice celebration December 21 and Kwanzaa December 26 through January 1.

“Atheists are welcome to view the lights however they see fit, or to ignore them altogether,” Ephesians said.

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Divers Scour Blacktip Island Reefs To Save Lead Weights


Some of the lead scuba diving weights retrieved Friday from Blacktip Island’s Pinnacle Reef by volunteer cleanup divers. (photo courtesy of Finn Kiick)

Blacktip Island environmentalists Friday launched a schedule for weekly volunteer reef cleanups aimed at ridding the Caribbean island’s dive sites of lead scuba weights.

“December starts high season for dropped weights,” cleanup organizer Ham Pilchard said. “Resort divers tend to be heavy anyway, and when the water temps dip, they squeeze into their thick wetsuits and grab a ton of weights.

“There’s lead dropping all over the reef, crashing coral and leeching poison into everything down there,” Pilchard said. “Integrated weight pockets? Try ‘weight dispensing units.’ We get divers whacked by falling lead at least once a week.”

The initiative given a boost by island dive operations complaining about a shortage of weights for their guests.

“Coral gets damaged, sure, but it got to the point where we didn’t have enough lead to get all our divers underwater,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “People can’t dive, we have to refund their money.

“The Marine Parks folks couldn’t keep up with all those sunken weights,” Latner said. “Then Ham had the idea of making a game of it and things really took off.”

Blacktip Island dive operations let weight collectors dive free on their dive boats.

“We give ‘em a mesh sack and a lift bag and let ‘em go to town,” Club Scuba Doo dive chief Finn Kiick said. “We can count it as a Search and Recovery dive for an Advanced or specialty card, too. Plus, we pay a 10-cent-per-pound bounty.

“The hot dive sites are the most target rich,” Kiick said. “You find other stuff, too. Cameras. Knives. Wedding rings. Gold teeth. Glass eyes. We return what we can to the owners. What they can’t return gets sold at resort gift shops. Or online.”

The cleanups’ profit motive has drawn sharp criticism from some.

“Put all the lipstick on it you want, these people are scavengers,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Buddy Brunnez said. “They’re selling stuff that isn’t theirs after, at best, a half-assed search for the owners. How hard do you really think they’re looking for who lost a gold ring?”

Industry professionals were quick to defend the sales.

“Ten cents a pound doesn’t really turn many heads,” Latner said. “But add the incentive of being able to make some real money through an online auction? Our boats are full, and so are our weight bins. Is that legal? That’s the divers’ concern – we get our weights back.

“We have one of our instructors working up a Weight Retrieval Diver distinctive specialty course, too,” Latner said. “Four dives, and bring back at least 50 pounds of lead, and the card’s yours. People are lining up to take it.”

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