Category Archives: Scuba Diving

Undersea ‘Christmas Carol’ Brightens Blacktip Island Holiday Season

underwater xmas carol

The cast of the underwater ‘Christmas Carol’ run through the final scene at Bob Cratchit’s house during the dress rehearsal Wednesday afternoon. (photo courtesy of Mahdian)

Dive staff from Blacktip Island scuba resorts have joined forces to stage an underwater version of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol in the shallows off the Diddley’s Landing public pier. The play will be performed twice daily through Christmas Eve.

“We wanted a fresh take on an old classic,” artistic director Cori Anders said. “The dialogue’s 100% scuba signals, with some new ones we got from the local Mime Divers Association.

“Each actor gives surprising nuance to the hand signs – is that ‘eel’ sign fast, slow, over-the-top, understated? Small inflections carry a ton of weight,” Anders said. “After the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come leaves, Scrooge’s desperate out of air sign had the crew in tears.”

The cast includes:

  • Elena Havens as Ebenezer Scrooge
  • Gage Hoase as Bob Cratchit
  • Marina DeLow as the Ghost of Christmas Past
  • Alison Diesel as the Ghost of Christmas Present
  • Wendy Beaufort as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come
  • Hugh Calloway as Tiny Tim
  • Lee Helm as the Christmas Turkey
  • Finn Kiick as Old Fezziwig

“We didn’t really need the Old Fezziwig character, but it’s just fun to say and lightened the rehearsals,” Anders said.

The underwater venue allows for creative staging.

“Scrooge clomps across the sand in lead boots, while neutrally-buoyant ghosts float over and around him,” said Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens. “And when the inevitable sting ray cruises past, it gives an ethereal quality to the performance.

“The audience is on scuba and can view the play from any angle, so long as they don’t interfere with the actors,” Havens said. “And we have morning and afternoon shows to give all divers a chance to see it.”

Some of the staging had to be curtailed for safety’s sake.

“We tried a night dive version, but the audience got mixed in with the actors and it turned into a real Charlie Foxtrot,” said cast member Gage Hoase. “Things blew up when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come scared the bejesus out of a couple from Cincinnati. They bolted to the surface. But, man, did they tip well at the end of the week.”

The play is not without its critics.

“You have to be 10 years old to scuba dive, which means the younger kiddos can’t see it,” local parent Ginger Bass said. “And the sign language is a mostly gibberish. I mean, I know the story and I had a hard time following along. I think they make it up as they go along, and there were some rude gestures mixed in that are definitely not scuba signals.”

Performances are at 10:30 and 2:45 daily. Proceeds of the play go to The Blacktip Island Widows and Orphans Fund, minus expenses and incidentals.

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Blacktip Island Native To Pen Weekly Advice Column

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The Blacktip Times will feature a new weekly advice column in its Lifestyles section.

In response to a growing number of letters to the editor sent to The Blacktip Times regarding lifestyle questions, the paper’s editor-in-chief announced Wednesday the creation of ‘Ask Dermott,’ a man-on-the-street oriented advice column.

“Dermott Bottoms is one of the few people born on Blacktip Island. He’s lived his whole life here,” editor Samson Post said. “He’s uniquely qualified to offer insight into how to live happily and peacefully on this little rock.

“His advice is succinct and to the point,” Post said. “Dermott will be a great addition to the Blacktip Times team.”

Bottoms said the move was a no-brainer.

“Offer advice at the Sand Spit every evening, might as well get paid for it,” he said.

The Times is offering a sample of the new column prior to its official release:

Dear Dermott,

When I’m drinking tea, should I hold my pinkie out, or is that a pretentious holdover from the old days? – Tea Bone

Dear Tea Bone,

‘Pinkie?’ Ought to have your butt kicked just for that. Drink beer. Do whatever you want with your fingers.

**

Yo, Dermott,

I was out for a day of fishing when my outboard died. I got out and swam the skiff back to shore. When I got home, I found my wife in bed with our neighbor. She was wearing a Batman hood and cape. He was wearing a Hello Kitty mask. What should I do? – All Wet

Dear Wet,

Check your fuel can for water, your fuel line for clogs and maybe clean the air filter.

**

Hey, Dermott,

Every time I give a dive briefing, Bananarama’s ‘Cruel Summer’ plays from my dental fillings. Guests are spooked. Am I out of a job? – Music Man

Dear Music,

Tell them it used to be show tunes, so it could be worse.

**

Dermott,

Two people asked me to the same Christmas party. I like them both, but for different reasons. Who should I pick? – In A Bind

Dear Bind,

Flip a coin. This is Blacktip Island – you don’t lose your partner, you just lose your turn.

**

Hi, Dermott,

This holiday season I’m searching for the perfect wine pairing for land crab. Any suggestions? – Thirsty Diner

Dear Thirsty,

Chilled Heineken accentuates the flavor of land crab without overpowering it. For whelk stew, try a warm Amstel. Or skip the food and go straight to rum.

**

OK, Dermott,

In a Dungeons and Dragons scenario where my group is trapped by a giant cave troll, should I cast a spell of invisibility and sneak away, or a spell of ogre strength and maybe save everyone? – Draggin’ Behind

Dear Draggin’,

Get the hell out of my column.

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Fisherman Discovers Sunken Pyramids Off Blacktip Island

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Antonio Fletcher’s photo of what he claims are ancient pyramids atop a remote seamount off Blacktip Island’s northwest coast. (photo courtesy of Antonio Fletcher)

Local fisherman Antonio Fletcher says he discovered underwater pyramids on a seamount off Blacktip Island’s west coast Wednesday morning while searching for a new fishing spot.

“Went out to Robber’s Bank, where folks don’t usually go,” Fletcher said. “Had my camera on a weighted line to see where the fish were and BAM! There were these big bumps on top of the bank.

“Looked to be stair-stepped. Like Mayan and Aztec pyramids. Or maybe Egyptian,” Fletcher said. “Makes sense, you know – that was high ground before sea levels rose, and Central America’s right close by.”

Local archeologists are asking fishermen and scuba divers to avoid the seamount until they can investigate Fletcher’s claim.

“This could be the find of the century, but we can’t get to it because of ripping currents the last few days,” Tiperon University-Blacktip professor Catalina Luxfer said. “There’s no known man-made structures in this part of the Caribbean, though, so it may just be a big coral head. But if it is something, we don’t want it looted.

“That seamount’s remote, but it’s not unknown. If there’s structures like that on it, I’m not sure why someone hadn’t seen them, though,” Luxfer said. “As for Mayans and Aztecs, those are two completely different civilizations separated by thousands of years. And I’m not touching the Egyptian angle.”

The island’s non-scientists are eager to explore the site as well.

“I don’t care what Catalina wants, we’re gonna drop divemasters out there once the currents die down, see exactly what we’ve got,” said Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt. “If ‘Tonio’s right, this is a major find.

“We can charge guests double for diving on Mayan pyramids, and folks’ll be lined up out the door begging to pay,” Skerritt said. “Pyramid diving could make Blacktip the premier scuba destination in the western hemisphere. Catalina can study the site all she wants while our divers are there.”

Many locals are dubious about the find.

“It’s probably just a couple of big rocks. Or sleeping turtles,” fisherman Rocky Shore said. “I mean, what kind of camera does ‘Tonio have that he can just lower it down and get reliable photos? And where’d he even get a camera? He can barely afford gas for his outboard.

“End of the day, this is ‘Tonio,” Shore said. “He thinks he’s Fletcher Christian reincarnated. It’s a wonder he didn’t claim he found Atlantis.”

Fletcher remained optimistic.

“Not saying it’s Atlantis,” he said. “But it could be part of it.”

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Blacktip Island Church Demands Ban On Split Fins

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Use of paddle-style scuba fins may become mandatory on Blacktip Island dive sites if a local religious leader’s anti-split fin campaign is successful. (photo courtesy of Steve Dingledein)

The Blacktip Island scuba diving community was polarized this week by an island religious leader’s demand that split scuba fins be banned in favor of paddle-style fins.

“These cloven-hooved fins are the devil’s work, plain and simple,” said the Rev. Pierre Grunt, head of the Blacktip Island Temperance League. “They may seem innocent, but that’s how Satan fools the unwary.”

“They’re symptomatic of the evils overwhelming our island,” Grunt said. “It’s no coincidence the reefs started dying the same time these fins showed up. To save our reefs, we have to return to the paddle fins of our forefathers.”

Grunt’s claim struck a chord among some local divers.

“I never realized how bad these fins were until Rev. Grunt opened my eyes to what’s really going on,” said island resident Edwin Chub. “That was a jaw dropper, all right. I went straight out and threw my split fins away. Lots of us did. I’m not gonna be a part of something like that.”

Local scuba operators denounced the grassroots campaign.

“Pierre scares away any resort guests with this crap, I’ll split more than his fins,” Eagle Ray Cove Resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “That goes for his rants about no diving on Sundays, too. Why would the preacher care about scuba fins? Or even notice them?”

Some Blacktip residents questioned Grunt’s motives.

“The only non-coincidence is Pierre’s part-owner in Bamboo You, and sales have tanked on their bamboo paddle-style fins,” local Clete Horn said. “Last month his schtick was an alcohol ban, and that fell flat on its face.

“He’s just switched to fins, telling a bigger whopper and hoping more folks’ll buy in,” Horn said. “Big picture, Pierre wants to fill his church. And his offering plates.”

Some in the island’s religious community worry the campaign will be detrimental long term.

“We’re being demonized over these fins,” High Druid Joey Pompano said. “People are blaming us for bringing them to the island. For encouraging people to use them.

“We don’t care what fins people use, or if they don’t use fins at all,” Pompano said. “Rev. Grunt and his BITS can go to hell. Why don’t they pick on the Unitarians once in a while?”

The Rev. Grunt remains unapologetic.

“Deuteronomy 23:13 is quite clear,” he said. “ It reads, ‘Thou shalt have a paddle upon thy person . . .’ You can’t get more straightforward than that.”

Grunt declined to comment on his ties to Bamboo You. Company officials did not return several Times phone calls.

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Underwater Headphones Let Blacktip Island Divemasters Narrate Dives

underwater commentary

Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Lee Helm, in a full-face mask, narrates a dive on Blacktip Island’s Jawfish reef Thursday. The resort’s new program allows in-water divemasters to talk directly to resort guests throughout their dives. (photo courtesy of NOAA)

In an effort to stay one step ahead in the competitive world of recreational scuba, one Blacktip Island resort Monday began offering reef tours led by in-water dive guides giving running commentaries to snorkel and scuba guests outfitted with waterproof headphones.

“We kit our divers out with underwater headsets, and our divemasters have full-face masks so they can talk through the entire dive,” Eagle Ray Divers manager Ger Latner said. “Before, the best a dive guide could do was point to something and maybe write a quick note on a slate. Now our DMs can give full explanations.

“We’re the only dive op on Blacktip that offers this service,” Latner said. “All the extra gear costs, but it’s worth it.”

Resort guests guests agreed

“I never know what the divemaster’s pointing at, and I can never ask,” guest Jackie Wrasse said. “I usually just signal ‘OK’ and move on. Sometimes I think they point at nothing just to mess with me.

“With this, though, I know exactly what they’re showing me,” Wrasse said. “I had no idea there were so many things down there that’re supposed to be interesting.”

Other island dive operators were critical of the tours.

“With one or two divers it can be OK,” said Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick. “But you get 20 divers all trying to get up close to one tiny sea slug, it turns into a real Charlie Foxtrot.

“Already, you can tell where an Eagle Ray divemaster’s been,” Kiick said. “Just look for the broken sea fans and kicked-to-hell coral. No way we’re doing that to the reef.”

Some Eagle Ray Divers staff had reservations as well.

“It’s not fair, having to talk through the entire dive,” divemaster Lee Helm said. “Some people are good at it, but I like to zone out when I lead a dive. And it’s pure hell when there’s nothing to show people, but they still expect a nonstop monologue.”

Others have embraced the narration.

“It’s great being able to explain what I’m showing and why it’s cool,” said divemaster Alison Diesel. “It’s also great the guests can’t talk back. We tried that at first. It didn’t end well.”

“It’s also fun, when a diver hand-signals a question, to answer wrong just to see the look on their face,” Diesel said. “I’m playing with doing tours in rhyme, too. I started with couplets yesterday. I’m working my way up to rap.”

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Eiffel Tower Replica Is Blacktip Island’s Newest Dive Site

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Starting Saturday, Blacktip Island scuba divers will be able to explore an underwater 1:10-scale steel replica of the Eiffel Tower. The privately-constructed structure honors the invention of the open circuit scuba regulator in France in 1942. (photo courtesy of Stoney MacAdam/Blacktip Island Public Works)

Blacktip Island scuba divers can now explore a replica of the Eiffel Tower after local entrepreneurs and public works officials teamed up to build a 130-foot, mostly-underwater tower replica off the Caribbean island’s northwest coast. The structure celebrates the 75th anniversary Jacques Cousteau’s introduction of the open-circuit scuba regulator.

“Blacktip’s a scuba island, and this is our shout-out to Jack Cousteau,” local businessman Rich Skerritt said. “A statue of him, or of the regulator, seemed disrespectful. Then we hit on the idea of the tower, what with its French connection and all, and voila!

“It’ll be a scuba icon, just like the real tower’s a Parisian icon,” Skerritt said. “We kept it tasteful, with a flashing light show every hour and everything. It’ll be even better once it gets a bit of coral growth and attracts some fish life.”

Skerritt’s associates agreed.

“Diving-wise, it’s like those oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, just shallower and easier to get to,” resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “We made sure it stuck out of the water a good 15 feet for safety and so boats can tie off on it. For a fee. And we got plans for an underwater restaurant on it, too.”

Not all Blacktip residents are happy with the tower.

“It’s an eyesore and an environmental nightmare,” said Harry Pickett, president of the Blacktip Benthic Society. “Acres of coral were destroyed to build that monstrosity. Rich and Sandy want to turn the reef into their private amusement park.”

Others voiced safety concerns.

“It’s a navigational hazard, plain and simple,” Marine Parks spokesperson B.C. Flote said. “It’s a distraction for aircraft, too. Monday’s late flight mistook the tower light show for the landing strip. Luckily there were night divers there to save the passengers and recover all the luggage.”

The tower’s designer brushed aside those concerns.

“We purposely built that sucker at the edge of the wall,” Public Works engineer Stoney MacAdam said. “The current took any construction sediment right out to sea.

“And those lights are a safety feature,” MacAdam said. “Lost divers, night divers, they can always find the tower. Some pilot can’t tell the difference between the Eiffel Tower and an airfield, that’s a training issue. It’s not on us.”

Skerritt bristled at criticism of his resort charging double to dive the site.

“That tower cost a pretty penny. We got to recoup our investment,” he said. “And with the ripping currents out there, we also have to have a chase boat down current to grab any yahoos who don’t clip onto an I-beam quick enough. That kind of attention to safety costs money.”

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Fish On Strike At Blacktip Island Dive Sites

fish on strike

Blacktip Island scuba divers are blaming the island’s French angelfish for inciting a swim-off strike involving all the fish at all the Caribbean island’s dive sites. (photo courtesy of Barry Peters)

Scuba divers on Blacktip Island reefs Wednesday and Thursday were surprised to find the dive sites empty of reef fish, in what experts are calling a cross-species protest.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “As of yesterday morning it was hard to find any fish at all, and the ones you did see would taunt you, then dart away.

“It started with the French angelfish turning tail on photographers,” Latner said. “Then all the other fish followed suit. Guests thought it was funny at first, but now everyone’s pissed off. Every photo from today has been of bare coral or a fish’s butt. Even the sea slugs are hiding under the coral heads.”

Local marine biologists say the phenomenon is likely a form of piscine protest.

“Based on what data we have, our working theory is the fish are consciously spurning divers due to an environmental stressor,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip biology professor Ernesto Mojarra. “It happens a lot. You just don’t hear about it.

“Given the hostility displayed toward photographers, most likely the fish are tired of underwater strobes flashing in their faces all day,” Mojarra said. “They’ve made no demands yet. That we know of. They can be difficult to read, but we have our best biologists on site to mediate.”

Local resort owners, though, are not waiting patiently.

“I don’t care what they’re hacked off about, this is killing my business,” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “It figures it’s the French angelfish behind it. Those bastards are always starting trouble.

“They demanded vacation time last year,” Bottoms said. “Got the idea from the grouper, who take off for a week on the spawning grounds every winter. Now all the other fish want entitlements. We need to cut them loose and bring in new fish who’ll be grateful to have a reef like this. You think the lionfish won’t jump at the chance?”

Experts, however, warned such action could escalate into violence.

“This morning a multi-species school circled Hammerhead Reef for hours,” Mojarra said. “A bunch of barracuda watched, but didn’t join in. If the barras, or the sharks, get involved, things could get ugly. Fast.

“We need to rachet things down a notch,” Mojarra said. “Banning cameras and strobes from the dive sites would be a good start. It’s drastic, but that good-faith gesture could be the thing that resolves this.”

While most guests were angered by the lack of marine life, some were unexpectedly supportive.

“I came here to look at the fish, sure, but it’s their right to not hang with divers,” said Blacktip Haven guest Maxie Fondé. “They’re wild animals, after all.

“Big picture, I support what they’re doing,” Fondé said. “I mean, if I don’t stand up for their rights, who, or what, will stand up for mine when the time comes?”

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