Category Archives: Scuba Diving

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.”

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving

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.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving

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.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving

Blocks Discovered Off Blacktip Island May Be Phoenician Anchors

Phoenician anchors

Blacktip Island Historical Museum curators have already begun building a scale model of a Phoenician trading ship following the discovery of blocks believed to be ancient Phoenician anchors on an island reef. (photo courtesy of Georges Jansoone)

Scuba divers surveying new dive sites on Blacktip Island’s southeast coast Wednesday discovered what they believe to be ancient Phoenician stone anchors on a shallow reef.

“That area doesn’t get dived much because the seas are usually rough,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase said. “We’d found some sweet coral stands and were looking for a good spot for a mooring pin, when, WHAM, there were these obviously man-made somethings on the hardpan.

“They were ‘multi-holed and precisely carved,’ just like Wikipedia said Phoenician anchors were, so we’re pretty confident that’s what they are,” Hoase said. “We figure, as rough as it gets along that coast, some ancient explorers got blown off course and their ship sunk right there.”

Experts say the idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

“We know the Phoenicians were in the Canary Islands, following the same sea route Columbus used,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “It’s conceivable one or more of their ships found their way to the Caribbean. Plenty of area archeology supports that.

“There are sunken marble ruins off Bimini reminiscent of Phoenician architecture, and the Bimini Road didn’t build itself,” Altschul said. “I would need to get a hands-on look at these things before I commit any further than that, but it’s a tantalizing possibility.”

Some locals were not surprised by the find.

“Always been talk of Ancient Near East ships coming here, whether Phoenician or Cretan or Mesopotamian,” island native Antonio Fletcher said. “Folks pass that off as bar talk, but now we got something to back it up. Phoenician’s most likely, since they were the best shipbuilders and sailors of their day. That’s where Blacktippers get their seafaring skills, y’know.”

Others were more skeptical.

“Gage has two blurry pictures of crusted-over cinder blocks with rope tied to them,” long-time Blacktip resident Frank Maples said. “There’s zero indication anyone was on Blacktip Island before the Vikings raided it back in the 1500s, much less ancient Phoenicians. We need to stick to verifiable facts.”

Island officials plan to confirm the find as soon as possible.

“When the weather calms down, we’ll send out a team to document the blocks in situ, then bring them ashore for further study,” Altschul said. “Ideally, we’ll find lettering on them that will tell us their origin.

“If these anchors prove to be real, they’ll go in the island historical museum,” Altschul said. “They’ll be on display for everyone to see, alongside the Viking sword hilt and the skeleton of St. Dervil’s singing iguana.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving

Blacktip Divers To Attempt Record Underwater Phone Booth Stuffing

underwater phone booth

Diver B.C. Flote makes a preliminary safety inspection Thursday at Ma Bell Reef, the site of Saturday’s underwater phone booth stuffing contest. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Scuba divers on Blacktip Island will attempt to set the world record for underwater telephone booth stuffing Saturday on Ma Bell Reef to raise awareness of the island’s newest dive site, island chamber of commerce officials said.

“Our phone booth gathered dust for years, so we sunk it as an artificial reef,” chamber president Ledford Waite said. “We had all the booths from Tiperon sent over, too, and sunk them. It’s a one-of-a-kind site, but the problem’s getting the word out.

“We figured a 1950s stunt using 1980s technology would be perfect for drawing attention,” Waite said. “The world record’s 25 people, but that was on land and without scuba gear. We got eight divers in a booth in a practice run, and we’re hoping someone can squeeze in 11 or 12.”

Experts expect teams to use a variety of strategies.

“Official attempts have to be in a standard, upright phone booth, but that’s the only constant,” chamber treasurer and Tiperon University-Blacktip engineering chair Sally Port said. “How teams handle mass and volume is key. There’s lots of math involved in wedging the right people in the right order, and jamming their tanks in at just the right angles without dislodging any regulators.

“The ideal stuffee should on the short and skinny side, but that’s up to the load master who’ll stack divers in as he or she thinks best,” Port said. “The good thing about doing this on scuba is we don’t have to worry about the person on the bottom not being able to breathe. Or cracking ribs. That’s what killed the fad back in the 50s.”

Teams have done extensive preparation for the event.

“We punched in everyone’s height, weight and density stats, then ran a bunch of computer simulations to see who fits best where,” Marina DeLow said. “We have a good idea of who we want where, but I can’t say more than that. Other than Lee Helm goes on the bottom. Based on solely on him being a jerk.”

Contest rules allow for part of each stuffed diver to extend from the booth.

“If their torso’s in, we’ll call it good,” Waite said. “It’s OK to have arms and leg sticking out, so long as most of the body’s in the booth. And we’ll have safety divers on hand in case anyone does get their reg yanked out, what with arms and legs getting shoved every which way.”

Photos of the winners will be sent to Guinness Book of World Records.

“Technically, no one’s tried to do this before, so any number will be the record,” safety diver B.C. Flote said. “But we’ll be maxing it out to make sure the Guinness people take us seriously.

“This event’s already drawing the community together, young and old,” Flote said. “It proves doing pointless, dangerous things is ageless and universal.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving

Underwater Marco Polo Proves Popular On Blacktip Island Reefs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An underwater Marco Polo player (right) spins to avoid being tagged by the ‘it’ player Thursday beneath an Eagle Ray Divers dive boat on Blacktip Island. (photo courtesy of davidhv22)

In an effort to attract more non-divers to scuba, the Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce this week started underwater sessions of the popular children’s pool game Marco Polo for adults on the Caribbean island’s reefs.

“The inspiration was seeing kids in the pool playing Marco Polo with masks and snorkels,” chamber president Kay Valve said. “There’s lots of non-diving spouses and significant others who don’t dive because they think it’s boring.

“This is the next logical step, and shows people there’s more to do on the dives than just look at fish,” Valve said. “Whoever’s ‘it’ wears a blacked-out mask and shouts ‘Marco’ through their regulator, then all the others shout ‘Polo’ back. You can hear quite clearly underwater.”

Island dive operations have noted an uptick in certification requests.

“We’re slammed certifying people so they can play reef-tag,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “I don’t get it, but the guests are goofy for it and come back smiling, so it’s all good.”

Participants agreed.

“If I’d known how fun this would be, I’d’ve gotten certified years ago,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Earnestine Bass said. “It’s like being a kid again, but not cooped up in some backyard pool.”

Organizers have also created a surface-based version for snorkelers.

“Kids under 10 and anyone else who just doesn’t want to scuba can still have a great time,” Valve said. “We also modified the basic rules for underwater and surface players.

“For divers, there’s a ‘fish out of water’ rule for anyone who climbs on a boat’s swim platform to avoid being tagged,” Valve said. “For snorkelers we added a ‘fish underwater’ rule for players who dive down to escape.”

Some diving guests, however, were not pleased with the new activity.

“I come here to chill and look at fish, not watch a bunch of idiots charge across the reef,” Marlin Bleu said. “All their hollering scares the fish away. And you can hear them two, three dive sites off.

“Worse, I got grabbed twice today by a couple of these jokers,” Bleu said. “I have a dive knife, a big one, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Dive operators say it’s impossible to completely separate players from other divers.

“We ask players to be respectful, but it’s not practical to take them to different sites,” Eagle Ray Divers dive operations manager Ger Latner said. “Marco Polo players want to go to the most popular dive sites too, and they’re paying the same rates as everyone else.

“In the meantime, our dive boats are full and we’re selling courses like crazy,” Latner said. “And snorkel and scuba gear is flying off the shelves.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving