Category Archives: Scuba Diving

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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Underwater Gift Shop Comes To Blacktip Island

underwater gift shop

Eagle Ray Cove resort staff will vacuum seal retail merchandise in plastic wrap to stock the resort’s new underwater gift shop, believed to be the first of its kind in the Caribbean. (photo by Wendy Beaufort/Blacktip Times staff)

A Blacktip Island resort owner will open the Caribbean’s first underwater gift shop this Sunday in an effort to increase the resort’s profile in the scuba industry.

“We’re creating a new revenue stream and boosting the outfit’s visibility,” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “We already got our topside gift shop, and world of a new, submerged one’ll get around quick. It also lets us tap into visitors from all the resorts, not just The Cove.

“We’re aiming at the impulse buyers, the kind of folks who wander through Wal-Mart picking up crap they don’t really need,” Skerritt said. “Whether it’s a coffee mug or paperweight or what have you, they’ll pay good money to say they bought it underwater. We’re not just selling tchotchkes, we’re selling the experience.”

The store, on the sand flats off Didley’s Landing public pier, will be manned by Eagle Ray Divers staff.

“Our divemasters’ll stock the place every morning, then break it down after the last dive boat docks in the evenings,” ERD operations manager Ger Latner said. “We’ll only staff it when boats are nearby, and rotate DMs through so no one takes on too much nitrogen, though we may staff it all day if it proves popular with shore divers.

“We vacuum seal the products in plastic, like food for the freezer, along with fishing weights to make sure nothing floats away,” Latner said. “People can tap their credit card or charge it to their room. Cash is welcome, too, but we don’t make change.”

Island visitors embraced the concept.

“It has everything you can get in a terrestrial gift shop, only better,” Earnestine Bass said. “So what if the t-shirt’s a little damp? It’ll dry.

“I’m staying an extra day just so I can be at the grand opening,” Bass said. “I’ll be able to take my friends gifts from underwater. How do you get more unique than that?”

Island environmentalists raised concerns.

“This is crass abuse of an incredibly-fragile ecosystem,” activist Harry Pickett said. “There’s already plenty of shiesse shops on shore that don’t damage coral or disturb aquatic wildlife.

“And there’s the issue of people unwrapping purchases underwater and letting the plastic wrapping float away,” Pickett said. “The last thing we need is more plastic on the reefs or washing up on the beach.”

Skerritt shrugged off those concerns.

“Harry and the scuba hippies need to see the bigger picture,” he said. “We’re offering guests a new service. That’ll bring more people to Blacktip, and that benefits everyone. A rising tide lifts all boats, and a little dinged-up coral’s a small price to pay for that.”

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Blacktip Island Summer Musical To Honor Jacques Cousteau

Cousteau musical

A coral-encrusted motor scooter serves as the wreck of the Imperial Japanese Navy ship Fujikawa Maru on Blacktip Island’s Heritage House stage during Thursday night’s dress rehearsal of “Death Lagoon,” the Blacktip Island Community Players’ 2019 Summer Musical. (photo courtesy of Aquaimages)

The Blacktip Island Community Players will kick off their 2019 Summer Musical season Saturday evening with the first performance of ‘Death Lagoon,’ a punk rock-themed homage to scuba diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau. The play will be performed Saturday evenings June 8 – July 6 at the Caribbean island’s Heritage House.

“People are making musicals about every other damn-fool thing, so why not a punked-up Cousteau?” said BICP artistic director Doris Blenny. “We’re recreating his most famous episode, ‘Lagoon of Lost Ships,’ where he and his team explored the Imperial Japanese Navy warships sunk in Truk Lagoon during World War Two.

“Blacktip would be a backwater nothing without scuba tourism, and Cousteau was the first to popularize recreational diving,” Blenny said. “It’s an homage, really, showing our collective respect and appreciation for Cousteau and his team. And Payne Hanover’s been on a Stooges jag lately, so it all came together quite naturally.”

The musical features Alison Diesel and Jacques Cousteau, Payne Hanover as Philippe Cousteau, and Lee Helm, Elena Havens and Jessie Catahoula as Calypso crew members.

The staging proved challenging for the BICP props team.

“Creating a realistic underwater scene was tough, but we have some incredibly inventive stage hands,” props master Marina DeLow said. “We scrounged a half-dozen trashed scooters from the dump to use as sunken warships, and we built a suspended fly system to make the actors and fish look like they’re swimming.

“We tried just hanging people from the rafters with dock lines, but it looked way too cheesy,” DeLow said. “It was fun watching Lee Helm swing back and forth, though, yelling for us to cut him down. Which we did. After lunch.”

Original songs include:

  • Sink and Run
  • Yamato and Musashi Buggered Off
  • I’m So Bored With the IJN
  • Hailstone Riot
  • Up Your Fujikawa Maru

The performance will conclude with a Sex Pistols-inspired version of John Denver’s ‘Calypso,’ celebrating Cousteau’s famous ship, Blenny said.

“The finale brings a tear to everyone’s eyes every time we rehearse it,” she said. “When those 15, 20 people in the audience hear it, there won’t be enough Kleenex on the island.”

Theater-goers are reminded of the BICP’s standing no-alcohol policy in the Heritage House, instituted after the infamous ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ incident of 2013. Purses, backpacks and pant legs will be checked at the door.

Proceeds from the performances will go to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Blacktip Island.

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