Category Archives: 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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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Christian-Pagan Brawl Forces Blacktip Island Easter Parade Underwater

UW Easter parade

Kay Valve of the Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council marks the route of Sunday’s underwater Easter parade on Jawfish Reef Thursday. Parade organizers hope staging the event underwater will reduce sectarian violence that has marred recent Easter parades. (photo courtesy of Rosie Blenny/BIEC)

The Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council announced Wednesday the Caribbean island’s annual Easter parade will take place underwater after sectarian violence marred last year’s parade along the island’s resort strip.

“Staging the parade underwater’s a Hail Mary, but it was that or cancel it completely,” BIEC chair, the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians said. “There’ll be fewer people underwater, and it makes crowd control a whole lot easier.

“Last year’s fights between the Christians in the parade and the yahoos hijacking it for Ostara’s spring fertility festival blind sided us,” Ephesians said. “It started with insults, then thrown beer bottles, then an all-out melee the length of the parade route. We had to do something to preserve the event.”

Island authorities confirmed last year’s parade brawl set new records for damage.

“Vehicles were burned. Businesses were vandalized. The clinic was chock-a-block with injured participants from both sides,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “If Jerrod and his council hadn’t come up with this alternative, the parade was history.”

Organizers noted security measures will be in place for this year’s parade.

“We’ve tailored the event to maintain a high degree of safety while being as inclusive as possible,” BIEC sergeant-at-arms Kay Valve said. “Safety divers will keep the various factions separated and peaceful. And prevent drownings.

“Participants can be Christian, pagan or anything else,” Valve said. “They don’t even have to be religious. We do ask that everyone be sober, though. And anyone starting trouble will be immediately power-inflatored to the surface, regardless of religious affiliation.

Parade participants praised the changes.

“It will be lovely seeing everyone kitted out in their best wetsuits, BCs and masks,” Blacktip Island Junior League president Marcia Seagroves said. “And we’ve all gussied our neoprene hoods into the most wonderful bonnets. It’s different, certainly, but promises to have its own sort of dignity. Nevertheless, all League members will wear dive knives, just in case.”

Not all locals were pleased with the parade’s new format.

“It’s a mockery, celebrating Holy Week with an underwater game of follow-the-leader,” Father Poppy Bottoms of Our Lady Of Blacktip Cathedral said. “So’s Jerrod organizing it – he’s the one who set the spark to the tinder last year by running through the parade wearing nothing but a white bathrobe and yelling he was the archangel Gabriel.”

BIEC officials remained upbeat.

“We’ve encouraged underwater spectators to bring video cameras so we can stream the parade live to the BIEC website for non-divers,” Valve said. “There will also be prizes for best bonnet and most inappropriate wetsuit. And afterwards we’ll have a sea turtle egg hunt for the kiddos.”

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Blacktip Island Community Players To Stage Underwater ‘Reef of Dreams’

reef of dreams

Finn Kiick, as scuba-diving pioneer Émile Gagnan, swims above Sand Spit Reef Thursday during the dress rehearsal of The Blacktip Island Community Players spring play, Reef of Dreams. (photo courtesy of Mudasir Zainuddin)

The Blacktip Island Community Players will stage their annual spring play this Saturday and Sunday underwater near the Sand Spit bar to raise money for island charities.

Reef of Dreams is a tropical re-imagining of Field of Dreams,” director Doris Blenny said. “Lee Helm got a wild hair up his butt and rewrote the screenplay at the bar one night. We were dubious at first, but Lee was adamant.

“‘When the primal forces of nature tell you to do something, you do it,’ is how he put it,” Blenny said. “Lee’s take is a dive resort owner hears a voice and builds an underwater dive shop, hoping Émile Gagnan will pay him a visit.”

Actors will perform offshore at Sand Spit Reef using full-face masks and hydrophones.

“It’s set on a reef, and we had to have some way to speak our lines,” BICP member Alison Diesel said. “We schmoozed the manufacturer to donate the masks. They really add to the dramatic feel. ‘Ever hold a wet wetsuit to your face?’ just doesn’t have the same punch on the surface.

“The underwater speakers give a way-eerier feel to The Voice, too,” Diesel said. “The first time Elena whispered ‘Oui, he will come,’ it totally freaked us out.”

The play’s cast includes:

  • Lee Helm as Ray Kinsella
  • Alison Diesel as Annie Kinsella
  • Hugh Calloway as Jacques Cousteau
  • Finn Kiick as Émile Gagnan
  • Gage Hoase as Sir John Haldane
  • Elena Havens as The Voice

Helm stressed the BICP have gone to great lengths to keep the performance from seeming derivative.

“It captures the film’s spirit without copying its trappings,” he said. “It’s set on a reef, not in a cornfield. There’s no crops of any kind. Or ball-related sports. And in the end, it turns out the voice was talking about Sir John Haldane all along.

“There’s minimal props, so a lot of it’s open to interpretation,” Helm said. “All the acting’s in mid-water, too, so the stage doesn’t get all silted. And we recruited about 40 resort guests as extras to make a long line of dive lights at the end, all coming to the underwater shop.”

The performance will be transmitted to the Sand Spit and the Heritage House, where non-scuba divers can view the show for an additional fee.

“We’ll have five different camera angles, so no one misses any of the action,” Blenny said. “You can really see the tension build on all the actors’ faces when it looks like Ray will lose his resort.

“The show stopper’s when Gage asks, ‘is this heaven?’ and Lee says, ‘no, it’s Blacktip Island,’” she said. “In rehearsals, it brought the house down. Several performers nearly drowned.”

Proceeds from the performances will go to Blacktip Island Habitat for Humanity.

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Underwater Sleep Gym Comes To Blacktip Island

sleep gym

Blacktip Haven scuba divers prepare to descend for a Dive-N-Nap session off Blacktip Island’s sheltered West coast Thursday. (photo courtesy of Jacek Lesniowski)

A Blacktip Island resort is capitalizing on the current sleep gym craze by starting an underwater napping program on the Caribbean island’s west coast sand flats this week.

“It’s a twist on the napercise fad everyone’s into, except it’s underwater,” Blacktip Haven owner Elena Havens said. “We’ve found it’s more calming, with fewer distractions, than the on-land napercise sessions we do. We’re calling it Dive-N-Nap.

“Big rubber bands keep the regulator in your mouth, and big weight belts keep you stuck to the sand,” Havens said. “There’s such a stigma attached to napping. Dive-N-Nap lets you say ‘I’m going diving’ and spares you the embarrassment of saying you’re napping.”

Participants say the sessions are more restful than regular napping.

“You feel like you’re really part of the ocean,” Dusty Blenny said. “Turtles wedge themselves under ledges to sleep all the time, so this is kind of the same thing. Instead of swimming around the reef for 45 minutes, you can lie down and have a bit of sleep.

“You get in whatever sleep position is comfortable, then they weight you down,” Blenny said. “There’s soothing music the whole time – yesterday was Miles Davis, today it was Enya – then bang a gong at the end of the session.”

Organizers countered worries the classes are unsafe or harm the environment.

“We’ve always got two dive staff in the water,” Blacktip Haven divemaster Booger Bottoms said. “Anything goes wrong, they’re there to help, Johnny on the spot. Usually to fetch pillows.

“And it’s in the sand off Diddley’s Landing, where the barge comes in,” Bottoms said. “Nothing lives there. We learned to schedule sessions for when the barge isn’t coming in after that first incident.”

Some on the island questioned the need for the activity.

“Why pay to sleep underwater when you can just nap at home or at work?” bartender Cori Anders said. “Or on your favorite dive site? It’s something different, and I’m gld Elena’s making money with it, but I don’t see it lasting.”

Havens brushed such concerns aside.

“Dive-N-Nap has a strong social draw,” Havens said. “Most participate to be part of something bigger than themselves. And our staff monitors everyone’s air use to make sure there are no nasty surprises.”

“It’s so much more relaxing than terrestrial napping,” Havens said. “That’s desperately needed on this island. People here are far too stressed.”

Dive-N-Nap staff cautioned the activity is not without its drawbacks.

“Most people need a thicker wetsuit, since you lose body heat more quickly when you’re just laying there,” Bottoms said. “The up side’s the shivering burns calories, so it’s great for weight loss.

“Divers are welcome to just chill without falling asleep, too,” Bottoms said. “The only complaint we’ve had is Dive-N-Nap doesn’t help with a hangover. Even on nitrox.”

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