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.”