Category Archives: Scuba Diving

Proposed Underwater Bar Draws Blacktip Residents’ Ire

underwater bar

Resort owner Sandy Bottoms’ plans for a mobile underwater bar off Blacktip Island’s west coast met opposition from many Blacktip Island residents concerned about the project’s safety and environmental impact. (photo by Charlie Noble/BTT staff)

A Blacktip Island entrepreneur’s plans for an underwater drinking establishment hit an unexpected snag Wednesday when island residents protested the proposed bar.

“The bar scene’s damned competitive on this island, and we’re trying to get ahead of the curve,” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “It’ll be the only place in the Caribbean you can dive down, sit in a Plexiglas dome and have a drink. It’ll have little electric servo motors, too, so it can cruise around the reef.

“For safety, we’ll only serve freedivers, not anyone on scuba,” Bottoms said. “And it’ll only be in about six, eight feet of water, so decompression sickness won’t be a factor. It’s only a prototype so far, but we’ve been encouraged. I don’t know what all the fuss’s about.”

Many opponents say those precautions don’t go far enough.

“Sandy’s talking about serving people alcohol at depth, then having them leave the bar underwater and swim back to the surface inebriated,” Sally Port said. “One inhalation, or hiccup, at the wrong time, a bar patron drowns.

“And if you stay down there for multiple drinks, maybe make an afternoon of it, DCS will definitely come into play. People’ll get hurt,” Port said. “He’s chasing a dollar today that’ll cost him multiple dollars tomorrow. That’s a black eye for Blacktip.”

Others questioned the structure itself.

“There’s no way they can build a plastic bar sturdy enough to withstand pressure at depth and a bunch of drunks banging around in it,” Harry Blenny said. “Dermott spends one evening there and the place’ll be demolished.

“Sandy got the idea from him and his buddies taking beers down in wreck wreck and drinking them in an air pocket,” Blenny said said. “There’s a world of difference between a steel hull and a plastic bubble. And how much coral will it destroy into while it’s scooting around the reefs?”

Not all residents opposed the concept.

“It would be lovely to slip down, have a glass of wine and watch the fish go by,” Paloma Fairlead said. “And sunsets would be incredible. You’d just have to drink responsibly.

“And Sandy, or someone, would have no problem coming up with a shuttle of some sort to get people down and back without the danger of drowning,” Fairlead said. “I’ve seen that sort of thing in movies.”

Others said they would avoid the bar.

“Don’t have to worry about me trashing it because there’s no way I’ll go down there,” Dermott Bottoms said. “I’ll go on the sea to fish, but won’t go in it, much less under it. There’s sharks and such. And plenty of rum right here where it’s dry.”

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Mayor Launches Blacktip Island Motto Contest

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Blacktip Island leaders hope an island slogan contest, open to all, will give the Caribbena island a competitive advantage in the growing tourism wars. (photo courtesy of Wendy Beaufort/BT staff)

Blacktip Island leaders Friday announced a contest to create a motto for the small Caribbean island to use in promotions in order to stand out among other vacation destinations in the region.

“With so many islands, we get lost in the shuffle,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “Our resorts have seen a drop in occupancy across the board. Most people get to Tiperon and stop. We’ve got a whizz-bang marketing plan to address that, but it all hinges on a catchy slogan.

“The Bahamas have ‘Life Is Grand.’ Saint Lucia has ‘Simply Beautiful.’ Greater Tiperon has, “Surface With A Smile.’ They’re all eating our lunch, tourism-wise,” Cobia said. “We made a suggestion box for anyone on the island, local or visitor, and as soon as we get enough entries, we’ll pick the best ones and have an island-wide vote.”

Organizers say the contest is off to a spirited start.

“We’ve had more suggestions than expected, and you can tell people are taking the contest to heart, no matter how misguided,” contest chair Kay Valve said. “We’re anticipating more, and more appropriate suggestions this week.

“We’re keeping the process as democratic as possible, within reason,” Valve said. “We’ll disqualify anyone stuffing the box, and anything too malapropos, but at this point we’re letting the public have its say.”

Valve said the leading entries so far are:

  • I’ve Been Drinking and Probably Shouldn’t Say This, But . . .
  • Two Roads To Nowhere
  • Well, I Heard
  • Discover Our Blacktip
  • If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
  • Welcome to Blacktip. Leave Your Money and Go Home

Some in the community say the contest is misguided.

“We’re a small island with incredibly limited resources,” environmental advocate Harry Pickett said. “The dump’s overflowing. Resort septic fields are killing the reefs. Blacktip needs to go backward, un-develop, if you will. More tourists mean more infrastructure, more waste, more dying coral.

“Popularizing the island will be the worst disaster since building that electrical power plant,” Pickett said. “We need to be tearing down resorts and sending people away, not encouraging more. The next thing you know, we’ll have paved roads and we’ll have lost our charm.”

Contest backers disagreed.

“Progress doesn’t have reverse gears,” Cobia said. “We’re looking to the future. We can’t afford to fall further behind those Tiperon rat bastards on this one.”

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Blacktip Island Scuba Retailer Launches Steampunk Gear Line

Steampunk scuba

A gear-driven dive computer is one of many steampunk-themed scuba accessories released by local retailer Bamboo You this week in response to a growing demand for high-end steampunk gear among scuba diving visitors. (photo courtesy of Abraham Parseghian)

Blacktip Island scuba equipment manufacturer Bamboo You released a new line of steampunk-themed scuba accessories this week to capitalize on the growing popularity of the science fiction genre-inspired fashion among scuba divers.

“The whole alternative history with steam engines and metal gears is a natural for diving,” Bamboo You owner Piers “Doc” Planck said. “Divers are showing up with homemade cosplay-looking get ups, but none of it’s very polished. This’s an untapped market, and we’re going after like a duck on a June bug.

“Anyone can strap on an underwater top hat, or trick out their mask to look like a dirigible captain’s brass goggles, but we’re making high-end accouterments that capture an authentic steampunk aesthetic,” Planck said. “We’ll kit you out like you’re an underwater Jules Verne or Sherlock Holmes. Without the cocaine, of course.”

Steampunk aficionados are eager to use the equipment.

“You can make your own faux-riveted wetsuits and pith helmet dive beanies, but this stuff goes way beyond that,” Kenny Chromis said. “Leather fins with brass buckles up to your knees? Steam-powered dive computers with visible gears? That’s some bad-ass gear.

“That level of detail’s critical if you respect the genre,” Chromis said. “You can’t very well be Lord Archibald Clankenshaft-St. Giles at 80 feet without clockwork mechanisms and a skeleton pocket watch, now can you?”

Island dive staffs are concerned about the new equipment’s safety.

“Most of our divers, with standard scuba rigs, are lucky to finish a dive without hurting themselves,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Marina DeLow said. “They strap on all these funky gizmos, it’s gonna get ugly underwater.

“It’s job security for us, though,” DeLow said. “More than ever, our divers’ll need us to get them back to the boat alive and in one piece.”

Other resorts are requiring divers to familiarize divers with their new gear before entering open water.

“We’re making steampunkers do a full skill circuit in the pool so we can see what we’re dealing with,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “They have to know what they’re doing with whatever contraption they strap on before they jump in real water.”

Planck is planning to expand the line if it proves popular.

“We’ve got plans for all sorts of gear-driven diabolical devices—smoothbore spear pistols and zeppelin-shaped underwater scooters and the like,” he said. “They’re scuba accessories. The more useless they are, the better they sell, and we’re making our stuff plenty useless.”

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Ruins Off Blacktip Island Coast May Be Atlantis Remnants

underwater city

Cori Anders and other divers take measurements of the upright slab walls of the underwater ruins they discovered this week off Blacktip Island’s south coast. (photo courtesy of Vincent Lou)

Scuba divers exploring off Blacktip Island’s southern tip Wednesday discovered rocky formations some marine experts say could be the remains of a sunken city.

“We were out diving for fun and stumbled across these cool architectural features,” Cori Anders said. “They were totally obvious, but it’s right out from Mango Sound, where the currents are ripping and people don’t dive much. That’s got to be how it stayed hidden for so long.

“The vertical slabs with super tight seams between them reminded me of that Yonaguni site by Okinawa,” Anders said. “There were way too many straight lines for it to be natural—that doesn’t happen in nature. Much. And there’s weird figures scratched into them, too. They’re absolutely man-made.”

Island scientists were skeptical.

“Judging from the video, the slabs are most likely layers of sedimentary rock and the joints are natural, parallel fractures,” Tiperon University-Blacktip marine science professor Ernesto Mojarra said. “Those vertical walls likely used to be horizontal layers before the softer rock beneath them eroded and they settled upright. There’s plenty of straight lines in nature, and Cori’s photos prove that.”

Some locals say ruins off the island’s coast are no surprise.

“Always been stories about ancient civilizations on Blacktip, other cultures that thrived here ages ago,” amateur Atlantologist Antonio Fletcher said. “Ruins out there could be part of Atlantis, you know. We’re in the Western Hemisphere, and close to the Bimini Road—we know that’s part of Atlantis.

“Close to the Bermuda Triangle, too,” Fletcher said. “Could be something similar, that zaps you to another dimension. The Blacktip Trapezoid, maybe. That’s why folks on this island get so crazy sometimes. The university already did thorium tests that show the ruins are 10,000 years old. Ernesto just won’t release the results. And how does he explain the drawings?”

Mojarra rebutted Fletcher’s claims.

“No tests were done because no tests are needed,” he said. “Those ‘drawings’ are natural scratches where parrotfish nipped at the algae. And the only place those rocks are zapping anyone is to the bottom of a rum bottle.

“It’s more likely to be a part of Atlanta than Atlantis. At least Atlanta’s real,” Mojarra said. “Why don’t we exhaust natural, scientific explanations before we jump to UFOs, aliens and Bigfoot?”

Dive operators, meanwhile, are primed to capitalize on the find.

“We got Ruins Diver and Atlantis Diver specialty courses drawn up,” Sclub Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “Plus special ‘Dive Atlantis’ trips. For an up charge, of course. And t-shirts. Nothing like this anywhere else in the Caribbean. We’re all over that.”

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Blacktip Island Resorts Stage Underwater Hide-And-Seek Contest

Scuba hide-and-seek

A group of Blacktip Island scuba-diving guests have a practice session Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the Caribbean island’s inaugural underwater hide-and-seek contest. (photo by Paloma Fairlead/Blacktip Times)

Blacktip Island’s scuba charter companies will join forces Sunday afternoon to host the inaugural Where’s Waldo underwater hide-and-seek contest on and around the island’s Hammerhead Hole dive site, the Blacktip Island Tourism Department announced Thursday.

“It started with us joking about how dive staff are constantly searching for lost dive guests underwater,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “From there it morphed into a monthly staff training exercise, the guests got a kick out of it, so we made it a game.

“The staff still gets to sharpen their skills,” Latner said. “If anything, it’s even better training when the guests are trying to get lost. And to raise the bar more, we invited back some of our most navigationally-challenged guests as all-star hiders.”

Organizers say the rules are hide-and-seek standard, with a few twists.

“Everyone has five minutes to hide after they jump off the dive boats,” contest judge Jay Valve said. “We expect people to scatter like minnows once they hit the water. Open-circuit scuba bubbles are a dead giveaway, and rebreathers are banned, so we’re expecting more swimming away than crouching and hiding. Guests do it naturally.

“Hiders are limited to one 80-cubic-foot cylinder, and we’ll be frisking everyone for hidden pony bottles,” Valve said. “If you’re not ‘found,’ but you’re low on air and surface, you’re automatically ‘out.’ And we’ll have spotters, and drones, keeping watch.”

Some worried the contest presents significant safety issues.

“The temptation’s to suck your tank down to the last breath,” island nurse Marissa Goby said. “That’s potentially problematic, decompression sickness-wise, if you’ve been down a while. Or forget to exhale on your way up. There’ll be chase boats, and I’ll have a helper with first-aid training on hand, but it still creates a lot of risk.

“Also, the safety crews have to cover a ton of territory—people can go a long way with 3000 psi,” Goby said. “They’ll have GPS trackers on everyone to keep track of where they are, or where to recover the bodies, but GPS only works on the surface. We’re expecting lots of skip breathing, too, so we’ll have ibuprofen on hand for those vicious carbon-dioxide headaches.”

Others say the safety concerns are overstated.

“Bird dogging goofballs across three dive sites? That’s just a normal workday for us,” divemaster Alison Diesel said. “Honestly, I can’t tell the difference between divers trying to get lost and divers trying not to get lost. Bottom line, they can swim, but it’s not our first cat herding.”

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Blacktip Island Divemasters To Stage Lizzie Borden Snorkeling Tribute

Lizzie Borden

Several of the hand axes that will be used in Saturday afternoon’s performance of Don’t Ax Me Again—The Lizzie Borden Story, an original two-act play by local divemaster Alison Diesel. (photo courtesy of Magnolia677)

Dive staff from all Blacktip Island’s resorts will don snorkel gear Saturday afternoon to perform Don’t Ax Me Again—The Lizzie Borden Story in the Eagle Ray Divers pool to raise money for a local charity.

“A hundred years later people are still debating what happened,” videographer Leigh Shore said. “There was a damn-near fight among dive staff at happy hour over who the actual ax murderer had been. Then a few days later, Alison Diesel’d written a two-act play about it. We all got together to stage the thing since the Community Players wouldn’t touch it.

“We’re performing it in the pool so as many people as possible could see it first hand,” Shore said. “The snorkeling gear will really engage the diving audience. We were going to do it on scuba, but this seemed less cliché. And it’s surprisingly easy to understand lines spoken through snorkels.”

The production posed several challenges for the actors.

“It’s totally a period piece, but there’s no 1890s gear on the island,” divemaster Alison Diesel said. “Each actor ended up making their own costume. It’s amazing what you can do with neoprene, and the fin de siècle touches on the masks and snorkels is awesome.

“It also took some practice swinging an ax convincingly in a crowed swimming pool without actually hurting anyone,” Diesel said. “The handle gets slippery. The first rehearsal I lost my grip, the ax went flying and broke four pool tiles. Rich Skerritt’s pretty hacked off about that.”

The performance will feature:

Alison Diesel as Lizzie Borden

Gage Hoase as Andrew Borden

Leigh Shore as Abigail Borden

Marina DeLow as John Morse

Booger Bottoms as Maggie Sullivan

Finn Kiick as Dr. Owen Seabury

Some in the community questioned the play’s appropriateness.

“The subject’s in bad taste, and the staging is inappropriate,” resident Frank Maples said. “Bad taste and inappropriate are de rigueur on Blacktip, but still, there’s a certain gravitas one would hope for. We’ll see if the actors convey that in the live performance.

“The big worry, though, is it may give locals crazy ideas,” Maples said. “That’s the last thing Blacktip needs. Though Alison assures me it is for a good cause.”

Diesel said the money raised will go to charity.

“All proceeds go to the Divemaster Retirement Fund, minus what we keep for expenses,” she said. “We’re also asking for donations to help pay for the broken pool tiles.”

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Facial Recognition System Will Protect Blacktip Island Reefs

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Blacktip Island marine parks authorities have installed facial-recognition cameras like this one on the Caribbean island’s dive sites in an effort to reduce scuba diver-caused coral damage. (photo courtesy of Nick Hobgood)

Concerned with increasing diver damage to Blacktip Island reefs, authorities have installed facial-recognition cameras, disguised as coral heads, throughout the island’s dive sites to identify the most egregious offenders.

“The coral on some of our most popular dive sites is wiped out from so many divers with crap buoyancy,” marine parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “We’ve tried being nice. We’ve tried educating people. Now we’re getting ugly.

“There’s not enough dive staff, or marine park staff, to patrol the reefs, so we’ve installed hidden cameras,” Schrader said. “Whenever someone crashes into coral, we’ll be able to track them down and take appropriate action.”

Authorities say punishment for damaging coral will be stiffened as well.

“In addition to the fines already in place, we’ll be posting violators’ names and faces on our website,” Department of Tourism head Rocky Shore said. “We’re going for an all-out, island-wide full-court press. Naming and shaming’s an integral part of that.

“Additionally, we can move the camera housings from site to site,” Shore said. “Dive staff will be able to spot them, but tourists down for the week will never know. They’ll have to assume they’re under surveillance the entire time they’re under water.”

Many scuba diving visitors raised concerns about the program.

“This is a serious invasion of privacy,” Bill Fisch said. “They say it’s to protect the coral, but who gets all that data they’re collecting on every diver, and who are they selling it to later?

“Plus, how can divers relax and unwind is they know they’re being spied on?” Fisch said. “I’m gonna get fined and insulted time my fin brushes a sea plume?”

Others supported the plan.

“If it protects the coral, I’m all for it,” longtime island visitor Suzy Souccup said. “Plus, it’s fun to watch divers striking poses underwater, as if there’s a camera in every coral head. The guy who mooned the brain coral, though, I could have done without that.”

Park officials were quick to defend the program.

“Divers waive some of their privacy rights when they enter the marine park,” Schrader said. “That’s stated quite clearly on every dive operation’s waiver. And we’re only concerned with major reef crashers.

“You put out a fingertip to keep surge from slamming you into coral, no worries,” Schrader said. “We’re going after the yahoos who crawl across the reef, drag their gauges over it, kick the crap out of sea fans or stand on coral. We expect this to be a major revenue enhancer.”

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