Scuba diver “minnows” Gage Hoase (left) and Ginger Bass race for the safety of a nearby coral head Thursday afternoon during a game of “sharks and minnows.” (photo courtesy of Diego Delso)
Blacktip Island’s scuba-diving residents, deprived of tourists and other island visitors since March, this week created an underwater sharks-and-minnows league to add variety to their diving activities.
“We’re all doing lots of recreational diving these days to stave off boredom, but diving the same sites was getting pretty stale,” Gage Hoase said. “For a laugh one day, Jerrod tried to keep Joey Pompano from getting to the boat’s boarding ladder. Other people laughed and joined in and it turned into an impromptu keep-away game.
“Next day, everybody started playing tag underwater, so we formalized some rules and voila, we had a thing,” Hoase said. “It’s the same rules as above water, or in a pool. Mostly. Divers try to get from one coral head to the next, with the ‘shark’ in between. When the shark bangs his tank it’s ‘shark attack’ time, and the minnows have to get past him without getting tagged.”
Players say the action can get intense.
“It gets damned competitive down there,” Ginger Bass said. “People you’d never suspect of being gamers get super aggressive. And there’s always arguments about whether somebody was actually tagged. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, when you’re wearing a wetsuit. A couple of times we had to end the game so people could go to the surface and argue over who did, or didn’t get tagged.”
Some on the small Caribbean island raised safety concerns.
“These people are grabbing and clawing at one another 30 feet underwater. Eventually someone’ll get hurt,” island nurse Marissa Graysby said. “Somebody accidentally snags a regulator hose or bumps someone’s tank valve while they’re playing grab-ass, that could mean serious trouble.
“The only medical infrastructure on this little island are me and the clinic, and we have no way to evacuate anyone off island, Grasby said. “Blacktip is not the place you want to get hurt. Especially now, and for such a silly reason.”
Others said the nurse’s fears were unfounded.
“People get into the game, sure, but we’re all careful not to be stupid,” Jay Valve said. “If a reg comes out, all action stops until the diver gets it back. And we do air checks between each round.
“The real medical issue is what would happen if we all didn’t play this game,” Valve said. “it’s social interaction that doesn’t involve drinking, and folks blow off a ton of steam with this. Marissa’s not trained to deal with the mental health issues if we all sat around doing nothing. Or diving the same old sites the same old way.”