Category Archives: Scuba Diving

‘Sub-Dudes’ Underwater Casino Skirts Blacktip Island’s Gambling Ban

JACQUES ROUGERIE

A pair of Blacktip Island visitors take a shuttle to the Sub-Dudes underwater casino off the Island’s east coast Wednesday for it’s grand opening. (photo courtesy of Jacques Rougerie Architecte)

Local entrepreneurs are betting their underwater casino, opened Wednesday off Blacktip Island’s east coast, will successfully dodge the Tiperon Island’s strict anti-gambling laws.

“The law clearly states no gambling may take place on Blacktip, or on the seas surrounding it,” said Felicia Skulkin, attorney for the newly-formed Blacktip Island Gaming Association said. “It doesn’t bar gaming under the water, and that’s where the Sub-Dudes Lounge comes in.

“We’re providing a service other business people and the government weren’t able, or wouldn’t take,” Skulkin said. “Sub-Dudes is simply one more place island guests can relax, unwind and blow off some cash . . . I mean, steam.”

The casino is built into the limestone seabed 50 yards offshore.

“It’s a big dome in about 20 feet of water,” financier and Eagle Ray Cove Resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “It’s accessed from shore via a Plexiglas tunnel that lets people watch the sharks and barracudas as they wander down.

“Guests can also access the facility via scuba,” Skerritt said. “Eagle Ray Cove dive boats’ll drop you off, or folks can shore-dive in if they want.”

Critics worry the casino will harm Blacktip long-term.

“Building it underwater is an end-run around a law put in place for good reason,” local resident and retired attorney Frank Maples said. “That casino won’t bring money to Blacktip, it’ll bring money to Rich, period. That’s money that could’ve been sent elsewhere on Blacktip.

“Rich and his cronies only revealed it was a casino at the opening yesterday. That’s textbook consciousness of guilt,” Maples said. “The last thing Blacktip needs is gambling and the organized-crime influence that goes along with it. It’s no secret Vinny Calamari from Tiperon is a big investor in this scheme.”

Local law enforcement questioned the legality of underwater gambling.

“The structure itself may bypass the law, but people coming to Blacktip with the intent to gamble do not,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “The same goes for anyone returning to shore with what will be considered illegally-obtained winnings.”

“There’ve also been rumors of casino staff denying air to non-gamblers and big winners,” Marquette said. “In-water or out, that’s extortion.”

Other officials supported the casino.

“I was shocked, simply shocked when I learned Sub-Dudes was a gambling facility,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “Then Rich Skerritt dropped off that cash for the island’s widows-and-orphans fund, and I realized there was a quite the upside to underwater gaming.

“And I’ve known Vinny Calamari for years. He’s a reputable business investor,” Cobia said. “The only crime organized in all this is people slandering the place and making it sound unsafe.”

Skerritt allayed safety concerns by noting the casino is equipped with multiple hyperbaric options.

“The safety of our guests and their and enjoyment are our prime concerns,” he said. “Sub-Dudes is tricked out with a two-place barometric chamber for folks who let time get away from them. We also have a hyperbaric stretcher to get them to the surface in an emergency.

“Our staff’s well trained and knows denying treatment, or air, to a client is a big no-no,” Skerritt said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of at Sub-Dudes. Come on down. Trust us.”

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Sargassum Scooper To Protect Blacktip Island Beaches

sargassum collector

Sargassum seaweed has covered Blacktip Island’s beaches in recent months, causing many tourists to cut short or cancel their visits. A group of local scientists are testing their ‘Dr. Port’s Sargasstic Super Scooper’ seaweed collector off the island’s west coast in hopes it will alleviate the problem. (photo courtesy of Jonathan Wilkins)

A Blacktip Island civic group has deployed a giant seaweed vacuum device off the Caribbean island’s west coast in an attempt to control the mounds of sargassum seaweed washing up on beaches upwind of the island’s resorts.

“The sea’s choked with sargassum these days,” Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce president Jay Valve said. “The beaches’re knee-high in rotting seaweed. Tourists can’t get to the water, and the stench’ll gag a maggot.

“It’s so thick in the water it’s even clogging seawater intakes on dive boats,” Valve said. “Blacktip Haven’s Sea Monkey blew an engine overheating from the stuff.”

The device’s inventors have dubbed it the Dr. Port’s Sargasstic Super Scooper.

“It’s basically a smaller version of that machines that’s skimming plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, just modified for seaweed,” Tiperon University-Blacktip engineering chair Sally Port said. “Giant, floating booms go out 50 feet on either side and funnel the sargassum into a central processing chamber.

“We tweaked the basic design with parts scrounged at the dump,” Port said. “Its heart and soul are a couple of scooter engines, a refrigerator compressor and the drum from a big washing machine. It grinds the seaweed into micro pellets, combines them with salt pulled from the seawater to make them negatively buoyant and shoots them back out into the ocean.”

Island environmentalists worry the Scooper will create more problems than it solves.

“That’s literally tons of detritus they’re releasing into the sea,” Blacktip Island Greenpeace spokesperson Harry Pickett said. “If even a fraction of that settles on the reefs, it could smother the coral and wipe out the underwater ecosystem.

“As stinky as the rotting seaweed is, that’s better for the island and its economy than dead reefs,” Pickett said. “This island lives or dies with the scuba industry. No coral reefs, we’re screwed.”

Scientistss say that worry is unfounded.

“The preliminary models we ran showed the macerated vegetative matter should actually nourish the coral,” marine biology professor Ernesto Mojarra said. “In theory, it should make the reefs healthier than ever.

“Now, all that particulate matter will kill the visibility. No denying that,” Mojarra said. “But the models suggest the increased nutrient levels will attract manta rays, so, long term, Blacktip should benefit from even more scuba-diving guests.”

Island officials say they hope to expand the program soon.

“We’ve deployed the Scooper on a slow sweep upwind of all the resorts to maximize its effect,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “That protects Blacktip’s major population centers, but it’s short term.

“The next step is to extend the gizmo’s booms far enough to protect the whole west coast,” Cobia said. “If it works well, we plan to export the things, too. Ideally, this could save the entire Caribbean tourism industry.”

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Dive Knife-Throwing Tourney Highlights Blacktip Island Weekend

dive knife throwing

Eagle Ray Cove’s inaugural dive knife-throwing contest Saturday is open to all types of dive knives and all throwing styles. (photo courtesy of Ger Latner)

Blacktip Island’s Eagle Ray Cove resort is capitalizing on the growing popularity of knife throwing by hosting a dive knife-throwing contest Saturday

“People are already chucking knives on the sly on dive boats and behind bars late at night,” Eagle Ray Divers manager Ger Latner said. “Might as well bring it out in the open, make it an official thing. It’s part of scuba culture that’s been hiding in the shadows too long. And our boats are taking a beating.

“It’s open to all types of knives and all throwing styles,” Latner said. “The only restriction is our lawyers say contestants have to wear safety glasses, but a dive mask with tempered glass’ll do.”

Contest organizers were still working out the details of the event Thursday.

“We’ll have wooden targets on the dock at three, 10 and 15 feet,” Blacktip Chamber of Commerce Kay Valve said. “We’re also looking at the possibility of adding an underwater round, to really tie the contest in with its scuba diving roots.

“The grand prize is the coveted Silver Flash Dive Machete,” Valve said. “It’s a 12-inch, chrome-plated, pointed-tip Lloyd Bridges Commemorative Edition. With the handle, it’s as long as your thigh. Everyone’s hot to win that puppy.”

Latner said contestants will be asked not to drink until after the competition has ended.

“Originally, we planned on alcohol being just another variable,” he said. “Historically, knife throwing and drinking go hand in hand, and we really are trying to reconnect to our roots with this.

“Our attorneys put the kibosh on that right quick, though,” Latner said. “We’re taking the safer route, under protest, but, of course, we can’t stop folks from boozing up on the sly.”

Other organizers stressed the weekend is about more that flying knives.

“It’ll be an event that appeals to the whole family,” Christina Mojarra said. “We’ll have knives for sale, knife sharpening booths, and we’ll sell food, t-shirts and other chotskies.

“Also, Gage Hoase’ll be doing coral carving,” Mojarra said. “With a couple of knives and a chunk of coral, he can chisel out little seahorses, turtles, you name it, in no time flat. We’ll have kids activities, too, like the mumbley-peg contest. The younger kiddos will wear close-toed shoes, but the bigger ones will compete barefoot.”

The tournament is sponsored by dive knife manufacturer Wenoka.

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Underwater Scooter-Sharing Comes To Blacktip Island

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bamboo You founder Piers “Doc” Plank demonstrates one of his D-PEEVE underwater scooters on Blacktip Island’s Jawfish Reef Thursday. The company launched a DPV-sharing service on the Caribbean island this week. (photo courtesy of Marco Busdraghi)

A Blacktip Island entrepreneur is betting underwater scooter sharing will be the next scuba craze by launching a diver-propelled vehicle-sharing service this week on the Caribbean island’s dive sites.

“D-PEEVE is a riff on the bike sharing that’s all the rage now,” said Bamboo You founder Piers “Doc” Plank. “We scattered them across all the popular reefs, along with underwater charging stations that look like coral heads.

“Tap your resort key fob on the payment box, and off you go,” Plank said. “We charge it straight to your room. Each charge gives you 15 minutes of DPV time, then you leave the D-PEEVE wherever you happen to be.”

The unattended scooters surprised some island divers.

“I about spit my reg when I saw a DPV plugged into the coral,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Missy Mahi said. “I thought it was a joke and hauled it up to the boat to clean up the reef.

“Everybody laughed at me, but I got even on the next dive,” Mahi said. “I shot through a tunnel full throttle and popped out – FWOOM – like a cannonball. It silted the tunnel so bad the jokers behind me couldn’t see a thing.”

Some scuba professionals are leery of Plank’s new service.

“This scooter crap is eat up with safety issues,” Eagle Ray Divers operation manager Ger Latneer said. “Most divers aren’t trained in DPV use. And if the battery dies, we got divers stranded off who-knows-where.

“The biggest worry’s unless there’s two scooters together, that means guests are solo diving at 10, 12 knots,” Latner said. “Or one diver’s hanging onto his buddy’s fins, getting dragged behind.”

Plank said those worries are unfounded.

“There’s an instruction card on top of each D-PEEVE that explains how to use it,” he said. “And we have GPS trackers, so we can always find the units.

“If someone decides to go off on their own, well, that’s not our fault. Divers are always wandering off anyway,” Plank said. “And with only a 15-minute charge, how far can they really go?”

Plank said Bamboo You plans other, similar gear-sharing programs.

“We’re gonna do entire scuba rig-sharing,” he said. “I’m talking the tank, BC and regulator, the whole shebang. People can swim down, slip into the gear and do a quick reef tour. Then when they’re through, they just float the rig in to shore and we can top off the tank.

“You won’t have to lug your scuba gear with you on vacation anymore,” Plank said.

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Underwater Screaming Classes Bring Peace To Blacktip Island

underwater screaming

A green moray eel flees from a primal screaming diver Thursday afternoon during one of Club Scuba Doo’s ‘underwater hollering’ sessions off Blacktip Island’s Diddley’s Landing public pier. (photo courtesy of P. Lindgren)

 

In an effort to reduce stress on Blacktip Island, one local resort this week began offering underwater screaming sessions for its guests and island residents.

“We noticed our divers seemed more stressed than usual lately and decided to do something about it,” said Club Scuba Doo diving manager Finn Kiick. “Everybody’s doing the meditation bit these days, so we decided to take a different tack.

“It’s a throwback to the primal scream craze from the 70s,” Kiick said. “The retro thing is all the rage. We call it ‘submerged hollering’ to avoid legal trouble.”

Organizers say the classes produce immediate results.

“Everything about it’s relaxing,” Club Scuba Doo scuba instructor Rosie Blenny said. “The water’s calming. The fish are calming. And when you let out that first yell, your stress evaporates. Underwater, they can hear you scream. And that’s a good thing.

“After the first scream all the fish disappear, but at least they’re there to set the tone,” Blenny said. “The only hitch is sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a participant and a diver in actual trouble, but we’re getting better at sorting that out. Mostly.”

Participants say the formal structure is key.

“I can yell all I want on my own, but it doesn’t do me any good,” Club Scuba Doo guest Marlin Bleu said. “But with this we sit in the sand, like those drum circles men’s groups used to do. Except not in our underwear. We wear shorts. It’s different.

“We give ourselves fish names and scream them through our regs,” Bleu said. “I’m Parrotfish-Who-Nibbles-Earlobes. I was so relaxed at the end of the first class I could barely climb up the dock steps.”

Organizers dodged environmental minefields by staging the sessions outside the marine park.

“It’s Blacktip, so someone’s going to complain to matter what we do, but we nipped the fish-hugger protest in the bud,” Kiick said. “We do classes in the sand out from Diddley’s Landing where there’s no coral to kill.

“The big thing’s not to have sessions when the barge’s coming in,” Kiick added. “That surprised last week. The hull slid over us and blocked out the sun, and the big-ass props were spinning like giant Cuisinarts right above us, it was like the end of the world. People screamed alright, but not in a good way.”

Participants hope the classes continue.

“I laughed at first, then tried it on a dare, and it actually works,” Sand Spit bartender Cori Anders said. “I’m up to three sessions a week now, and my blood pressure’s down a good 20 points. My throat’s raw, but at least I’m not yelling at guests anymore.”

 

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Newly-Discovered Flounder May Mean Hurricanes For Blacktip

yodeling flounder

A screen grab from Casey Piper’s underwater video showing the newly-discovered yodeling flounder voicing its cry on Blacktip Island’s Water Pump Reef Wednesday. (photo courtesy of Casey Piper)

A previously-unknown species of flounder, discovered by a Blacktip Island dive guide Wednesday, has scientists intrigued and some locals worried about the discovery’s impact on the coming hurricane season.

“Divers’ve been hearing a weird wailing sound on the reef for weeks, but no one could suss out what it was,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “Then one of our divemasters got lucky. In a fish-life sort of way.”

“I heard a weird oooooo-aaaaaaa-oooooh sound, loud, right behind me, looked back and saw this big-ass flounder, with its mouth open, doing a weird flappy, break-dancey thing,” dive guide Casey Piper said. “It sounded like a slow-motion yodel. Sort of.”

Based on Piper’s video, local scientists determined the fish was a long-rumored species of yodeling flounder.

“You hear fishermen’s’ tales about flounderia yodelicus, but no one’s actually seen one,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip marine biology professor Ernesto Mojarra. “They’re the unicorns of the sea. This one seems to change pitch by fluttering its ‘wings’ and waving its top pectoral fin, like playing a theremin. You can hear it from the surface if you’re really quiet.”

Blacktip fishermen, though, say the fish and its yodeling are bad omens.

“Grandpa said that sound was the duppies warning about a bad hurricane season,” Antonio Fletcher said. “If Casey got video of it, well, I guess it’s a duppy fish, then. But storms are still coming.

“Thing is, one year Grandpa was out fishing and heard that moaning. He hooked a big-old flounder and the noise stopped,” Fletcher said. “Fed the family for days. And had no hurricanes that year. That’s no coincidence.”

Some locals see Fletcher’s story as a hint of how to ease storm season.

“Unicorn or not, I say the divers make themselves useful and spear this damn thing so we don’t have any storms,” storekeeper Peachy Bottoms said. “They do it with lionfish. What good’s a marine park if it won’t protect us from hurricanes?”

Blacktip Island Marine Parks officials opposed the suggestion.

“False causality aside, the park is here to protect all marine life,” marine parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “We’re doubling up on patrols and will arrest anyone with a spear anywhere near the park.”

The scientific community backed Schrader.

“If anyone’s going to kill this flounder, it’ll be us, so we can properly study it,” Mojarra said.

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Blacktip Island Resort Launches Underwater Taxidermy Course

underwater taxidermy

Two rufous-spotted grouper, stuffed by underwater taxidermy students at Blacktip Island’s Eagle Ray Cove, are on display in the Caribbean island’s Last Ballyhoo bar. (photo courtesy of Jacklee)

A Blacktip Island scuba instructor launched a new underwater taxidermy specialty course this week to the delight of students and the dismay of several local civic groups.

“Sport fishermen always want to mount trophy fish, but fish are tough to stuff,” Eagle Ray Divers instructor Gage Hoase said. “You lose the colors in minutes and the skin degrades as you work it. People usually take a cast of the fish, then pour a copy in resin. Underwater taxidermy looks more real than that.

“Taxidermy underwater keeps the skin fresh and malleable,” Hoase said. “We stretch skin over a mold, cure it on the pier, then touch it up with paint. Students start on yellowtail snappers and damselfish, then work up to bigger stuff.”

Students raved about the classes.

“I couldn’t believe how realistic the parrotfish I mounted was,” said Kitty Mitchell. “There’s no comparison to a resin casting. It has a stronger smell to it, but that just lets you know it’s real. And adds to the value.

“Gage walked us through how to use the knives and curved needles and hide stretchers,” Mitchell said. “And we make the molds from washed-up turtle grass, so it helps with beach cleanup, too.”

Others noted the hazards of underwater taxidermy.

“You’d think the biggest worry would be sharks, but it’s really those swarms of little snappers. They bite chunks out of your fingers when they go after the skin you’re working,” Palometa Fischer said. “Sharks are a concern, sure, but we have spotters to keep them away. Those snappers are vicious.”

The course drew unexpected ire Thursday afternoon when two groups picketed Eagle Ray Resort, in an effort to cancel future classes.

“Blacktip’s famous for its marine park, for protecting its marine life, and now Gage is teaching a class on how to skin fish and stick them on the wall?” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president and treasurer Harry Pickett said. “People come here to swim with live fish, not make grotesques. This runs counter to the island’s ethos, and we’ll be protesting roadside until it stops.”

A second group of picketers launched a separate protest nearby.

“Gage and them’re solving a problem that doesn’t exist,” said protest organizer Dermott Bottoms. “Blacktip don’t need taxis, you know. Don’t have a car, or your bike breaks, someone’ll give you a ride. Taxis’ll destroy Blacktip. What’s next after that, buses? Trolley cars?”

Hoase was quick to defend the course.

“Sport fishing is just as much a part of Blacktip as scuba diving,” he said. “We only stuff fish caught outside the marine park. And we do the taxidermy outside it, too.

“Harry’s fine with drinking a beer under the mounted marlins at the Ballyhoo, but he’s protesting how those marlins get made? That’s hypocrisy. And as for Dermott, I have no idea what he’s talking about. But that’s nothing new.”

Hoase also addressed the students’ safety concerns.

“We’re working on building a walled-off taxidermy pool by the dock that keeps other fish out,” he said. “We tried protective netting, but a couple of barracuda managed to get through the mush and things got ugly.”

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