Monthly Archives: April 2017

‘Nitrox Bandit’ Has Blacktip Island Authorities Baffled

bizarre thefts

Eagle Ray Cove dive boats are under constant surveillance this week after a series of bizarre thefts at Blacktip Island resorts. (photo courtesy of Ger Latner)

A rash of stolen scuba gear this week has Blacktip Island authorities puzzled, and tourists worried, on the small Caribbean island.

“There’s dive gadgets disappearing from drying sheds, boats and resort porches all over the island,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “First a full-face mask and two Zeagle BCs went missing. Then a bunch of big dive knives and tank bangers.

“The only common thread is the missing items are all things dive staffs hate,” Marquette said. “And the thief always leaves a ‘Nitrox Diver’ mask strap behind as a calling card.”

Island officials are concerned the thief, dubbed the ‘Nitrox Bandit,’ is a threat to the island’s tourism.

“We’re trying to keep a lid on this thing so guests don’t get spooked,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “So of course everybody knows about it.

“Whether it’s for laughs or for profit, a smart ass is about to ruin Blacktip’s economy,” Cobia said. “Of course, the elephant in the drying shed is it may be some rat bastard from Tiperon Island trying to steal our guests. They’ve done it before.”

The island constable has focused on island divemasters.

“Most likely is it’s a disgruntled DM,” Marquette said. “One who’s either had it with annoying scuba gear, or trying to hide one crime amongst a lot of others. Either way, it’s classic divemaster passive aggression taken to the next step.”

The scrutiny has angered some dive staff.

“It’s not fair, Rafe pulling us aside and grilling us without a bit of evidence,’ Eagle Ray Cove divemaster Lee Helm said. “He questioned me in front of guests yesterday, and others have been detained more than once.

“It’s profiling, plain and simple,” Helm said. “The divemaster’s union will have something to say about this, I can assure you.”

Island resorts, meanwhile, have upped their security.

“We’re patrolling the drying shed and the boats ‘round the clock,” Eagle Ray Cove dive operations manager Ger Latner said. “And Finn up at Scuba Doo has webcams and motion detectors. God help the person caught with a ‘Nitrox’ slap strap on them. There’s been several ugly incident with innocent guests already.”

While many guests are troubled by the thefts, others see them as an adventure.

“It’s like vacationing in a 1950s Cary Grant crime caper film, isn’t it?” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Suzy Souccup said. “There’s a real-life cat burglar out there, eh?

“This is my best vacation ever!” Souccup said. “Sure, I lost my underwater Etch-A-Sketch, but I have the thief’s calling card on my mask now. What a souvenir!”

The police and mayor’s office have released a join plea to the island’s scuba-diving guests.

“Divers, if you have annoying, or useless, scuba gear, lock it up,” Marquette said. “Or better yet, leave it at home.”

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Local Artists Display Blacktip Island’s Pre-Raphaelite Heritage


“The Mirror of Venus” has been reimagined to feature the Eagle Ray Cove dive staff in Marina DeLow’s “Narcissus at the Booby Pond.” The painting, and others, will be on display Saturday at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort. (photo courtesy of Yelkrokoyade)

Blacktip Island’s artistic roots will be on display this Saturday at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort for the Blacktip Arts School Society’s Neo-Pre-Raphaelite Art Show and Auction, with proceeds going to local art students.

“People don’t realize what a thriving arts scene we have on Blacktip,” show organizer Reg Gurnard said. “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood has a long, if underappreciated, influence on Blacktip.

“The Rossetti family often wintered here in the 1850s,” Gurnard said. “Dante Gabriel taught painting classes at the island school, and Christina first read her Goblin Market to our Sunday school children. Some say the tropical light and lush colors were an inspiration for the Pre-Raphaelite style.”

Fellow painter Ginger Bass concurred.

“We try to stay as true as possible to the original strictures of the PRB,” she said. “Not copying, but rather, perpetuating their style and sensibility with a modern tropical flare. That’s where the ‘neo’ comes in.

“Rather than Lady Godiva on her horse, we have a Divemaster Godiva riding nude on a dolphin,” Bass added. “With her hair flowing strategically to cover any naughty bits, of course.”

Some in the community found the artwork objectionable.

“It’s smut disguised as art,” said the Reverend Pierre Grunt. “I mean, have you seen the ‘The Lady of Sandy Bottoms’ Herring Frye did? And don’t even get me started on Cal Batten’s ‘Ophelia and the Conchs.”

Others decried the paintings’ esthetic.

“This stuff was all the rage what, 150 years ago?” local artist and bartender Cori Anders said. “There’s nothing new about it. Never mind that the Pre-Raphaelites’ central tenet was to reject the commonplace and conventional.

“There’s so much contemporary art that better shows off Blacktip’s creative chops,” Anders said. “Just look at the exciting things Jerrod’s doing with flotsam and jetsam. And Dermott’s work with beer bottles? Words fail me.”

The show will feature a juried competition, and will conclude with the auction of all paintings.

“The goal’s to give back to our community,” resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “Folks get to enjoy looking at these pictures, then all the auction proceeds go to the kids. Minus expenses. Expenses can be high on Blacktip.”

The show will also feature Pre-Raphaelite-inspired poetry during an open-mike session preceding the auction, with any PRB-related works welcomed.

Victorian-era treats will also be served, including mock turtle soup, brandy snaps à la crème and fried celery.

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Blacktip Island Easter Crab Hunt Slated For Sunday

Easter crab

Blacktip Island residents were busy this week collecting land crabs to dye for Sunday’s Easter Crab Hunt. (photo courtesy of B.C. Flote)

Blacktip Island’s children will crowd the Heritage House grounds Sunday afternoon for the Caribbean island’s annual Easter Crab Hunt.

“It’s a tradition from generations ago that teaches kids foraging skills,” organizer Doris Blenny said. “We dye land crabs bright Easter colors, dump them on the lawn, give them a five-minute head start, then turn the kids loose.

“Only four children live on the island, so it doesn’t have much impact on the crab population,” Blenny said. “Plus, we use water-soluble food coloring that doesn’t harm the crabs. And non-colored crabs don’t count.”

The hunt is not without its hazards.

“A kid’ll get pinched every once in a while, but that just toughens them up,” Hunt Marshal B.C. Flote said. “It’s part of the learning process. And they won’t make that same mistake twice.

“We fit the smaller kiddos out with oven mitts and baseball gloves,” Flote said. “It’s a hoot watching them run around in their Sunday-best clothes, diving willy-nilly for crabs under the sea grapes.”

Prizes will be awarded to whoever collects the most crabs and whoever finds the biggest crab.

“The biggest challenge is keeping the crabs in the Easter baskets,” Blenny said. “Last year several children lined five-gallon buckets with plastic Easter grass. No crabs got out, but afterward it was impossible to separate the crabs from the grass, and some good chocolate got ruined.”

Adult residents are looking forward to the hunt as well.

“It just isn’t Easter without it,” resident Olive Beaugregory said. “My little ones so love getting together to dye the crabs the night before. And you should hear them scream as they chase the crabs. Even before anyone gets pinched.

“They love seeing Dermott dressed as the Easter Crab, too, handing out the chocolate crabs,” Beaugregory said. “Even if Mr. Crabby does smell a bit like feet. And rum.”

As ever, island authorities cautioned residents to be on guard against crab-related vandalism.

“Every year we get folks – kids and adults – slipping painted crabs inside peoples cars and houses,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “It’s the only time of year people lock their doors and windows. Those crabs can be a messy surprise.”

The traditional Easter Crab Hunt will be followed by the traditional Easter Crab Boil.

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Seahorse Racing Brings Controversy To Blacktip Island


Two Blacktip potbellied seahorses (blacktipius potbellius) line up in the starting gate Thursday at Blacktip Island’s new seahorse racetrack off the island’s sheltered west coast. The facility has drawn the ire of local marine life activists. (photo courtesy of Joanne Merriam)

Blacktip Island tourism officials hope a new seahorse racing facility, opened off the island’s west coast Wednesday, will draw more scuba divers to the small Caribbean island.

“It’s an up and coming sport that’s really taking off,” developer George Graysby said. “In the past year seahorse racing’s become the number one underwater spectator sport, bigger even than being a spotter for lionfish culls.

“We built an industry-standard .018-furlong hippodrome, with a three-foot-long backstretch,” Graysby said. “The track’s groomed sand and turtle grass. Those little suckers move around it pretty damn quick, once you adjust your expectations.”

The facility drew fierce opposition from People for the Ethical Treatment of the Marine Environment.

“This is a cruel sport, run by cruel people,” PETME president Harry Pickett said. “They capture young sea horses and raise them in total confinement. They pump them full of growth hormones. They shock them to make them swim faster.

“And if one of them has a bad race, or breaks a tail, they euthanize it strait away,” Pickett added. “It’s animal cruelty at its basest. And for what? Entertainment?”

Racing enthusiasts brushed aside those concerns.

“Harry needs to climb down off is high horse, loosen up and have some fun,” local race fan Rocky Shore said. “I mean, they don’t call it the most exciting five to six minutes in underwater sports for no reason.”

Island officials worry the track may bring a surge in crime on the island.

“We’re alert for any on-track or off-track gambling,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Anyone bets on a race, odds are they’ll be caught. That goes for placing bets on who gets caught betting as well.

“We’ve also taken steps to keep mob influence off the island,” Marquette said. “Organized crime ruined the seahorse racing industry on Aruba last year.”

Surprisingly, the racecourse found unexpected allies among island naturalists.

“Nudibranchs are the jockeys, you see, and a mount finishing sans-jockey is disqualified,” said Pelagic Society member Piers Planck. “We’ve had quite the uptick in inquiries about seahorses and nudibranchs. If this derby racing gets people interested in marine conservation, we’re all for it.

“Some species do make better jockeys,” Planck said. “The sea goddess family – the chromodoris – are usually best. They have the strongest grip. But we also had a sargassum nudibrach – scyllaea pelagica – that you couldn’t dislodge with a stick. We tried. Quite vigorously. Though not for gambling purposes.”

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