Category Archives: Scuba Diving

Leadbellies Dive Club Angers Blacktip Island Dive Staffs

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A pair of weight-belt bandoliers worn by members of the Leadbellies Dive Club. The club’s questionable weighting practices have angered many Blacktip Island divemasters. (photo courtesy of Eagle Ray Divers/Eagle Ray Cove resort)

A social club for scuba divers who wear excessive amounts of lead weights angered Blacktip Island dive staffs this week when the club booked space on all the Caribbean island’s dive boats.

“It’s a show of force on our part,” Leadbelly Divers president Ida Sunck said. “Wherever you go, divemasters shame you for wearing too much lead. It’s embarrassing and degrading. So we banded together to push back.

“We put members on every boat on the island, so there’s no way one outfit can shuffle us off to another one,” Sunck said. “We’re the customers, and we’ll wear as much weight as we want. Period.”

To qualify for membership, divers must meet strict weighting requirements.

“The baseline, with no wetsuit, is at least 10% of your total body weight, Leadbelly Bob Dunker said. “After that, there’s a BMI-based sliding scale, with roughly one pound added for each millimeter of wetsuit thickness worn.

“With a five-mil suit, you’d better be wearing 30 pounds, minimum, or you’re out,” Dunker said. “We encourage members to use weight-integrated BCs, just to surprise the divemasters, but some folks use so much they have to strap on weight-belt bandoliers.”

Island dive professionals say their opposition is focused on safety.

“It’s crazy wearing that much weight, especially on a wall dive,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase said. “If you’re wearing 20-plus pounds of lead over the wall and your BC fails, you’re gone. The guy with 26 pounds? That’s not integrated weight. That’s ballast. Why not just use the boat’s anchor?

“With that much weight, they’re vertical in the water,” Hoase said. “They burn through air and stress the hell out of their hearts. And most of them aren’t in the best shape to begin with. We keep the oxygen kits set up and ready to go with this group.”

Other staff focused on environmental concerns.

“Overweighted like that, they’re dragging across the bottom,” Club Scuba Doo operations manager Finn Kiick said. “They kill coral every time they kick. We showed them the Marine Parks rules, but they don’t care.

“We tried to charge a dollar a day per every pound they used, too,” Kiick said. “But the owners scotched that one.”

The island’s resort owners have welcomed the Leadbellies.

“Sure they’re yahoos, but if we turn them away, they’ll just dive with Sandy Bottoms or Blacktip Haven,” said Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt. “The dive staff just needs to suck it up.

“We lose a customer, we’ll never get him back,’ Skerritt said. “We lose a couple of staff cat-herding the guests, well, we can always get more dive hippies. I got a foot-high stack of resumes by my desk.”

Island guests, meanwhile, gave the club high praise.

“The kids love to watch their giant strides,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Christie Cottonwick said. “The splashes are phenomenal! It’s like being at a belly-flop contest!”

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Maglev Sightseeing Sub Debuts On Blacktip Island Reefs

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Blacktip Island’s new maglev bullet sub made its underwater debut Thursday afternoon. The sightseeing submarine can circle the small Caribbean island in less than an hour. (photo courtesy of Sally Port/Tiperon University-Blacktip)

A new high-speed sightseeing submarine took its maiden tour around Blacktip Island Thursday morning to launch what backers hope is as an emerging tourism market.

The submarine circles the island on a magnetic levitation rail at a depth of 25 feet, carries up to 32 passengers and can complete the island’s 26-mile circumference in less than an hour.

“Lots of places have submarine rides, but Blacktip’s the only one with a bullet sub,” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “All us resort owners ponied up, and the Tourism Department kicked in some cash, too, to get more guests to visit the island.

“Lots of people don’t dive. They just want a quick look at the reefs, then back to the bar,” Skerritt said. “Hell, half our divers cover two, three sites every dive anyway. And no one gets seasick on the sub. So far.”

Scientists say maglev technology makes the quick tours possible.

“The carriage does 37.3 miles per hour, top speed,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip engineering chairperson Sally Port. “The drag from the water keeps the velocity down, and that’s key. If it went 200 miles per hour underwater, all you’d see would be a blue blur.”

The submarine is not without its critics.

“They’ve turned a pristine reef into an amusement park,” Pelagic Society president Edwin Chub said. “And no environmental impact study was done. They just pounded a rail into the reef and let her rip.

“And ‘bullet sub’ is a fitting name. It goes so fast fish can’t get out of its way,” Chubb said. “Snapper and coral die for this every day. There’s ichor on Rich and Sandy’s hands.”

Business owners brushed aside the criticism.

“There’s been bullet trains in Japan and Korea for years, so why not have one underwater on Blacktip?” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “We’re just keeping up with the times. Showing fish to people who wouldn’t otherwise see them, and without a long boat ride.

“Guests say it’s better than diving,” Bottoms said. “The sub slows down at good sites where there’s stuff to see, then zips past the boring junk,” Bottoms said. “We can cycle through 30-plus tourists an hour, then sell them seaweed-dyed Bullet Sub t-shirts when they get off. This is the future of ecotourism.”

Guests on the sub’s inaugural trip agreed.

“It was like being in a video game, zooming over the coral like that,” said Sandy Bottoms’ guest Paula Porgy. “We scared the crap out of a bunch of fish, and I think we bonked into a couple of divers, but what a ride!

“It was the trip of a lifetime! We saw everything!” Porgy said. “And we were back in the hot tub in time for pre-lunch margaritas. Who could ask for more?”

 

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Seahorse Racing Brings Controversy To Blacktip Island

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Two Blacktip potbellied seahorses (blacktipius potbellius) line up in the starting gate Thursday at Blacktip Island’s new seahorse racetrack off the island’s sheltered west coast. The facility has drawn the ire of local marine life activists. (photo courtesy of Joanne Merriam)

Blacktip Island tourism officials hope a new seahorse racing facility, opened off the island’s west coast Wednesday, will draw more scuba divers to the small Caribbean island.

“It’s an up and coming sport that’s really taking off,” developer George Graysby said. “In the past year seahorse racing’s become the number one underwater spectator sport, bigger even than being a spotter for lionfish culls.

“We built an industry-standard .018-furlong hippodrome, with a three-foot-long backstretch,” Graysby said. “The track’s groomed sand and turtle grass. Those little suckers move around it pretty damn quick, once you adjust your expectations.”

The facility drew fierce opposition from People for the Ethical Treatment of the Marine Environment.

“This is a cruel sport, run by cruel people,” PETME president Harry Pickett said. “They capture young sea horses and raise them in total confinement. They pump them full of growth hormones. They shock them to make them swim faster.

“And if one of them has a bad race, or breaks a tail, they euthanize it strait away,” Pickett added. “It’s animal cruelty at its basest. And for what? Entertainment?”

Racing enthusiasts brushed aside those concerns.

“Harry needs to climb down off is high horse, loosen up and have some fun,” local race fan Rocky Shore said. “I mean, they don’t call it the most exciting five to six minutes in underwater sports for no reason.”

Island officials worry the track may bring a surge in crime on the island.

“We’re alert for any on-track or off-track gambling,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Anyone bets on a race, odds are they’ll be caught. That goes for placing bets on who gets caught betting as well.

“We’ve also taken steps to keep mob influence off the island,” Marquette said. “Organized crime ruined the seahorse racing industry on Aruba last year.”

Surprisingly, the racecourse found unexpected allies among island naturalists.

“Nudibranchs are the jockeys, you see, and a mount finishing sans-jockey is disqualified,” said Pelagic Society member Piers Planck. “We’ve had quite the uptick in inquiries about seahorses and nudibranchs. If this derby racing gets people interested in marine conservation, we’re all for it.

“Some species do make better jockeys,” Planck said. “The sea goddess family – the chromodoris – are usually best. They have the strongest grip. But we also had a sargassum nudibrach – scyllaea pelagica – that you couldn’t dislodge with a stick. We tried. Quite vigorously. Though not for gambling purposes.”

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Rude Dive Staffs Prompt Blacktip Island Cotillion Class

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Alison Diesel and Gage Hoase practice their quadrille Thursday evening at the Blacktip Island Heritage House. Dancing is one of many social skills being taught to island dive staff in a new cotillion class aimed at boosting tourism on the island. (photo courtesy of Silar)

Faced with a growing number of complaints about rude dive staff, Blacktip Island community leaders and etiquette activists have joined forces to create a cotillion program aimed at the Caribbean island’s divemasters.

“We got loads of guest complaints from every resort on the island,” mayor Jack Cobia said. “It ranged from not saying ‘hello,’ to sarcastic remarks, to snatching food from guests’ hands. Dive ops fire the bad apples, but the replacements’re just as bad.

“When word hit travel review sites, we knew we had to do something drastic,” Cobia said. “It was killing our tourism product.”

The solution was to recruit the island’s gentry.

“Jack could have been describing wild animals,” long-time resident Helen Maples said. “He asked if I might teach the rascals manners, deportment, dancing and other social graces.

“I was delighted! I’ve wanted to institute a regimen like this for years,” Maples said. “The next evening I lined up a dozen hostile scuba hippies, and whacked them with a ruler if they didn’t stand up straight.”

Cobia is cautiously optimistic about the course.

“Honestly, it’s a pilot project,” he said. “But if it works, we may expand it to include all resort workers, then airfield staff, then anyone else in the tourism industry.

“If it doesn’t work, it’s still fun to watch,” Cobia said. “Helen tells them to imagine their granny’s standing next to them. Then, if they so much as look sideways, TWHACK! Bruce Lee’d be jealous of how fast that ruler moves.”

Predictably, many divemasters were critical of the class.

“That bloody ruler hurts,” said Eagle Ray Divers’ Lee Helm. “It’s not right, requiring us to go there and be physically abused. Mrs. Maples is a sadist, she is.”

Maples was unapologetic about her methods.

“It’s a time-honored tradition. Or should be,” she said. “The ruler reminds them to wear shoes, to speak in complete, non-obscene sentences and to pass the salt and pepper together when a tablemate requests, “Would you please pass the salt?”

Some dive staff, though, say they enjoy cotillion.

“Lee’s a whiner,” said Eagle Ray Divers’ Alison Diesel. “It’s so cool when Gage, umm, I mean Mister Hoase, comes up and says, ‘Miss Diesel, may I have this dance?’ and I say, ‘Certainly, Mister Hoase.’”

Attendee Finn Kiick, of Club Scuba Doo, sees other positives.

“It’s goofy, sure, but you learn proper, formal dancing,” he said. “Women dig that crap. You’ll see DMs out cutting a rug at the Sand Spit pretty much any night of the week now, practicing.

“It’s value-added on the boats, too,” Kiick added. “Run out of stories to tell during a surface interval? Now you can entertain the guests with a waltz. Or a quadrille.”

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It’s Sharks vs. Jetfins in Blacktip Island Players’ “West Side Story”

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Marina DeLow, right, performs ‘I Feel Pretty’ during the dress rehearsal of the Blacktip Island Community Players’ “West Side Story,” celebrating 50 years of recreational scuba diving from resorts on the Caribbean island’s west coast. (photo courtesy of Doris Blenny/BICP)

The Blacktip Island Community Players will perform their take on the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “West Side Story” Saturday evening at the island’s Heritage House. The performance celebrates 50 years of the recreational scuba industry on the Caribbean island.

“We usually go for something original,” director Doris Blenny said. “But this year we decided to reimagine a classic to honor the founding of Muddy Bottoms’ Double-Hose Divers all those years ago.

“We’re casting the Sharks and Jets as rival dive operations,” Blenny said. “It speaks to the competition between resorts that defines Blacktip Island. And with all the island’s scuba charter companies on its west side, well, it adds an extra layer that truly resonates.”

Many locals are eager to see the show.

“This is the sort of thing that really spotlights Blacktip’s vibrant thespian scene,” said island theater aficionado Frank Maples. “And Doris’ casting, as ever, is spot-on.”

Blenny chose this year’s performers exclusively from island dive staffs.

“We wanted realism,” she said. “And really, who can put all the yearning, the anger, the lusts of a young divemaster into a performance better than a divemaster, young or otherwise. You can see that especially in the Act I dive knife fight scene.

“Marina DeLow as Maria was an obvious choice, what with her beautiful, if off-key, lyric contralto voice,” Blenny said. “And the jump from ‘Marina’ to ‘Maria,’ well, it’s just one letter isn’t it?”

Other cast members include:

  • Lee Helm as Tony
  • Finn Kiick as Bernardo
  • Alison Diesel as Anita
  • Gage Hoase as Riff

“We respected the original score as much as we could, but we also tweaked some songs to be scuba-themed,” DeLow said. “We do the standard ‘Maria’ and ‘I Feel Pretty,’ but then we get jiggy a little with ‘Tonight’s Dive,’ and ‘(I Like To Be On) Blacktip.’ When Gage sings, ‘When you’re a Bottoms, you’re a Bottoms all the way,’ the crowd’ll go bonkers.”

The producers are encouraging audience members to dress in scuba-themed attire.

“Come as a divemaster, a tourist or even in vintage dive gear,” Blenny said. “We want theater-goers to become part of the spectacle. Muddy would have liked that.

“As ever, though, alcohol will not be allowed, and attendees will be frisked and given breathalyzer tests prior to admission,” Blenny added. “We’re not having a redux of the ‘Tora, Tora, Tora’ melee of three years ago.”

Proceeds from the show go to the Heritage House and to the Blacktip Island Divemasters Retirement Fund.

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Blacktip Island Scuba Instructor Launches Underwater Ventriloquism Course

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Bobo the Monkfish is one of Alison Diesel’s teaching aids for her Underwater Ventriloquist specialty course at Blacktip Island’s Eagle Ray Cove resort. (photo courtesy of Alison Diesel)

A Blacktip Island divemaster has developed the industry’s first underwater ventriloquist specialty course, the Caribbean island’s Eagle Ray Cove resort announced Thursday.

“It started with me and Marina throwing our voices underwater so divers’d think fish were talking,” course author Alison Diesel said. “And there’s already an underwater mime course, so this seemed like the next logical step.

“Water’s denser than air, so sound travels even faster,” Diesel said. “It makes underwater venting so much easier. I’m stunned no one’s done this before.”

Experts say underwater ventriloquism is small step from above-water ventriloquism.

“You have the same issue with making the labial sounds – f, v, p, b, m and w – without closing your lips,” course graduate Gage Hoase said. “But you can’t make those sounds with a regulator in your mouth, anyway. It all comes together pretty quick with a little practice.”

Students construct their own dummies for the course’s final checkout dive.

“Wetsuited sidekicks are standard,” Diesel said. “But we also see tacky tourists, lionfish and even a dive light. We work on developing a character for the dummy that’s totally different from the student’s personality.”

The course is not without its detractors.

“It’s creepy, OK? I said it,” said Sand Spit bartender Cori Anders. “We banned Ali’s students from practicing at the bar. There were too many fights, usually between drunks and the dummies. On Blacktip, it’s hard to tell them apart.”

Industry insiders were harsher.

“Ventriloquism? In 2017? You can to the same thing with an underwater mike and speaker,” said Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick. “And it gives scuba instruction a black eye. What scam course will it be next, underwater basket weaving?

“There’s a safety issue, too,” Kiick said. “There’s been accidents, but Ali covers them up.”

Diesel was quick to defend her classes.

“Yeah, we had one unfortunate incident where a student had a, what do you call it, psychotic break while practicing,” she said. “But that was a one-off.

“He was the most laid-back dude you’d ever meet,” Diesel said. “But his dummy, Marker Buoy Mickey, had Tourette’s bad. Mickey hacked off everyone on the reef, and we couldn’t shut him up. Someone finally sent Mickey over the wall wrapped in a 20-pound weight belt.”

Students, meanwhile, raved about the course.

“They start you slow with basic no-lip talking, then work up to the sound substitutions for the lipped sounds,” Eagle Ray Divers guest Charlie McCarthy said. “Underwater, you talk real fast so your voice sounds realistic. Kind of like that clue-egg in the Harry Potter movie. But backwards.”

Eagle Ray Divers offers the course through PADI, NAUI and SSI. NAUI students required to do final performance without a mask or regulator.

“And we actually do have plans for a basket weaving course, where students use turtle grass and sea weed salvaged from the beach,” Diesel said.

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Blacktip Island Cullers Will Hunt Human ‘Lionfish’ Saturday

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Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Lee Helm, in a semi-closed circuit rebreather, practices swimming away as fast as he can Thursday in a warm up for Saturday’s Sons and Daughters of the Reef Mock Lionfish Hunt on Blacktip Island’s west coast. (photo courtesy of Peter Southwood)

In response to animal rights protests, Blacktip Island’s Sons and Daughters of the Reef hunt club will substitute a local divemaster for a lionfish in their inaugural Mock Lionfish Cull for charity Saturday afternoon on the island’s west side.

“More and more clubs worldwide are doing these mock hunts,” said S&DR Master-of-Fish Gage Hoase. “The prey, usually a fox, is replaced with a human, and the hunters still get a great chase.

“This cull’ll keep the fish huggers happy and draw good press,” Hoase said. “Plus, truth be told, we’re running out of lionfish on Blacktip. People are spearing and eating so many of them.”

Club officers selected the local divemaster with the most customer complaints during the past year as the Designated Lionfish.

“We’re sticking Lee Helm in a lionfish suit and dropping him on the reef,” S&DR Huntsperson-at-Arms Alison Diesel said. “We’ll give him five minutes, then turn the cullers loose with their spears.

“It’s nowhere near as harsh as it sounds,” Diesel added. “Lee’ll have a rebreather, so bubbles won’t give him away. And a Kevlar suit that’ll turn just about any spear point. Or so we’re told.”

Local fish rights activists say the switch to human prey, while not a perfect solution, is a step in the right direction.

“If the Designated Lionfish is human, and sort-of volunteers, we have no problem with that,” Society for Providing Lionfish-Appropriate Training president Palometa Fischer said. “Ideally, though, they’d jab him with real lionfish spines to make him really feel persecuted.”

Lionfish stand-in Lee Helm expressed reservations.

“There’s no ‘volunteer’ to it,” Helm said. “They just held me down and jammed that bloody costume on me. Someone – Marina, I’ll wager – even speared my neck ‘by accident.’

“The only choice I have is to jump in on my own, properly weighted, or be tossed in with 40 pounds duct-taped to me,” Helm said. “These people are out for blood.”

Hunt club members say the vote for Helm was unanimous.

“Lee’s an obnoxious little git that pisses off everyone, staff and guests alike,” said culler Marina DeLow. “We’re all looking forward for the chance to prang him good, point-blank.”

Other echoed the sentiment.

“If the suit doesn’t stop a spear or two, well, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy,” said culler Casey Piper. “You can’t spear Lee enough, really.”

Hunt organizers expect a record 35-40 cullers to participate.

“There’re members with real grudges against Lee,” Hoase said. “We’ve warned everyone not to aim for exposed skin, but you never know what’ll happen in the heat of the hunt. We’ll have the nurse standing by. And lots of bandages.

“On the up side, we’ve never had a turnout this big,” Hoase said. “We may make Lee our permanent Designated Lionfish. Probably best to put it to a vote, though.”

Proceeds from the hunt go to the Coral Reef Protection Fund.

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