Category Archives: Scuba Diving

Blacktip Island Role Players Create Durgons and Dragons Game

durgons and dragons

The common black durgon is a major danger in the new Durgons and Dragons role-playing game developed by a group of Blacktip Island scuba-diving gaming aficionados. (photo courtesy of NOAA)

A group of Blacktip Island underwater role-playing game enthusiasts this week played their first rounds of their newly-developed Durgons and Dragons on Jawfish Reef to celebrate the upcoming end of hurricane. season.

“It’s a riff on Dungeons and Dragons, played underwater,” game developer Lee Helm said. “The Dive Master walks players through underwater adventures, usually quests to find treasure or explore sunken pirate ships or caves.

“There’s no magic per se, but the in-game reef is way different than the real reef,” Helm said. “Sharks and orcas and krakens are the obvious dangers. But all the normal reef fish can be deadly, too.”

As in Dungeons and Dragons, players must navigate dangers and defeat monsters.

“Parrotfish, triggerfish, nurse sharks, even other divers can kill you,” gamer Edwin Chub said. “And you have to watch for swarms of brown chomises. Chromii. Whatever.

“The real terrors, though, are the leafy sea dragons and black durgons,” Chub said. “Just yesterday a durgon chewed through 10 player characters. We’re still recovering from that.”

With players on scuba, game time is limited by air consumption.

“When you’re out of air, the game’s over. Heavy breathers put the entire team at risk,” said player Harry Blenny. “You’re basically playing against game hazards, other players and time. People meditate beforehand to save air.

“It gets vicious. Light breathers try to kill off the air hogs’ characters so the game will last longer,” Blenny said. “And the air-suckers gang up on other players to get those characters killed off. We had plans for surface-supplied air to avoid all that, but decompression sickness issues scotched that since there’s no barometric chamber on the island.”

Some residents remained unimpressed.

“I really don’t get it, but I guess I don’t have to,” cook Jessie Catahoula said. “It’s goofy, but at least it keeps Lee and his buddies out of sight and away from me.”

Players emphasized the game’s positive aspects.

“It teaches people to work together as a team, not knowing if one of the characters is a Random Bad Diver,” Helm said. “When an RBD starts flailing there’s a 20 percent chance the character closest to him drowns.

“Just this morning my 39th-level heliox diver got bent on a rogue upwelling because of a Baddie,” Helm said. “I had to start over with a character that’s barely nitrox certified.”

Others touted the game’s growing popularity.

“There’s already Durgons and Dragons clubs on other islands,” Blenny said. “We’re gonnna have a D and D tournament over the holidays, too. As word spreads, our ultimate goal is to have some women join us. Or talk to us.”

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New Boat Marshals Safeguard Blacktip Island Divers

boat marshals

Scuba divers behaving badly on Blacktip Island dive boats have prompted leaders on the small Caribbean island to assign undercover security officers on charter boats. (photo courtesy of Gage Hoase)

In response to increased altercations on Blacktip Island dive boats, island leaders this week deputized multiple, incognito Boat Marshals, based on the Air Marshal program for commercial aviation, to safeguard dive guests.

“There’s been an uptick in verbal and physical confrontations on boats,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “Whether because of crowded conditions, bad weather, or just people being cranky these days, it was getting out of hand.

“The shouting matches between dives were bad enough,” Cobia said. “But when guests started flinging weight belts at each other because someone silted a swim through, we had to act. There’s only one island constable, and Rafe can only be so many places at once. He needed help.”

The marshals are former constables with arrest powers, randomly assigned to various dive boats.

“There was no choice. We were taking in the shorts on TripAdvisor,” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “And our dive staff’s not trained to get physical with guests. Not that way, anyway.

“Now we’re putting trained officers on the boats, in mufti, looking like any other guest,” Bottoms said. “Usually in tacky shirts and shorts. Or not. You never know. But any yahoo steps out of line, they’ll have a marshal on them like a duck on a June bug.”

The island’s dive professionals welcomed the move.

“It makes our job way less stressful, knowing there’s someone to deal with a-holes,” Blacktip Haven boat captain Dusty Blenny said. “Yesterday some dude got up in my grill when I wouldn’t go to Lucifer’s Grotto. Tried to grab the wheel. The marshal du jour thumped him good and locked him in the head.

“They can disarm you of knives, lionfish spears and tank bangers, you name it,” Blenny said. “Today one stopped a snorkel fight before it could start.”

Dive guests appreciate the change.

“It’s reassuring seeing action taken, on the boats and underwater,” Club Scuba Doo guest Donna Requin said. “This morning a knife fight broke out between a photographer hogging an eel and another photographer who shoved her aside.

“We were all in shock when, WHOOSH, in came a marshal who dragged them to the surface,” Requin said. “By the time we surfaced, the two had already been skiffed off to the jail.”

Some officials worry the program may be a victim of its own success,

“There’s so many incidents, and so few marshals, we’re having trouble keeping their identities secret,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “We keep disguising them, but they still get recognized because of all the YouTube videos.

“Once word gets out, we’re hoping divers’ll behave themselves so we can phase out the B.M.s,” Marquette said. “At that point we’ll repurpose them for bar security Friday and Saturday nights.”

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Blacktip Island Divemaster Discovers New Fish Species

new fish

Blacktip Island marine biologists say a fish photographed by an island divemaster may be a new species of wrasse. (photo courtesy of Barry Peters)

A Blacktip Island scuba guide diving on his day off Wednesday discovered what scientists say is a previously-unknown reef fish species on the Wrasse Hole Wall dive site.

“Marina dared me to go to 150, and when I got there I saw a weird little fish,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Lee Helm said. “I shined my light on it and the eyes jumped out at me. I was gobsmacked.

“Back on the boat, people said I was narked,” Helm said. “I had a photo to prove it, though. I was going to name it after me, but I owed Dermott money and I like my face as-is, so I named it after him instead.”

The fish, tentatively dubbed Wrassius bottomsis, is probably a relative of the common Caribbean hairy wrasse, marine biologists said.

“We can’t say for certain without collecting a specimen, killing it and cutting it up – and we’re sending a team down tomorrow to do just that – but it appears to be part of the wrasse family,” Tiperon University-Blacktip ichthyology chair Ernesto Mojarra said. “We have to be sure, though. Anything Lee’s involved with is usually full of crap. It does look kind of like Dermott, though I’d never say that to his face.”

Island scuba operations wasted no time promoting the find.

“We’re running packed boats out to Wrasse Hole Wall two, three times a day,” Eagle Ray Cove Resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “Sure, the staff’s got its hands full keeping the guests above 100 feet, but that’s why we pay them minimum wage.

“We’re doing Bottoms Wrasse t-shirts, wrasse hats and Speedos, too,” Skerritt said. “And our own Wrasse Wipe sunscreen. Our bookings are already up in just the last to days.”

Dive professionals worry the discovery may encourage unsafe diving.

“If Lee wants to go that deep and get himself bent on his own time, that’s his business,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “Problem is, all our guests want to get down that deep, too, to see his damn fish.

“There’s only so much control a couple of staff can have over 20 divers,” Latner said. “Before, it was like herding cats. Now it’s pure chaos. We snagged three divers at 140 just this morning. Someone’s gonna get hurt, or worse, before this is all over.”

Other residents were less unconcerned.

“Divers go deep all the time. If they’re strong, they’ll survive,” Dermott Bottoms said. “Important thing is that’s my wrasse everybody’s trying to see. My wrasse’s gonna be all over the internet now, you know.”

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Blacktip Island Hosts Underwater Columbus Day Parade

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The reef off Diddley’s Landing public pier will be the site of Blacktip Island’s inaugural Underwater Columbus Day Parade Monday. The island’s Cultural Society hopes the event will ease holiday tensions. (photo by Wendy Beaufort/staff)

The Blacktip Island Cultural Society Thursday announced its inaugural Underwater Columbus Day Parade, slated for Monday night at the island’s pubic pier, as a way to ease tensions among island residents on the controversial holiday.

“Columbus isn’t the hero here he is in other parts of the Western hemisphere,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Here he’s best known for genocide and pillaging. That makes for a good bit of friction between locals and some of the expats.

“Locals shooting expats with red paintball pellets all day releases some of the frustration,” Altschul said. “But it doesn’t address the divisions or heal old wounds.”

The underwater parade aims at bridging that gap, organizers said.

“We’re not celebrating Columbus so much as we are the arrival of scuba tourism,” BICS chair Peachy Bottoms said. “That’s the one thing that truly unites Blacktippers. Scuba is the industry on this little rock. We’re all thankful for that.

“The underwater parade, with divers from all walks of life, from all the resorts, will emphasize how we have more in common than we realize,” Bottoms said. “People can still shoot each other with paintballs until sunset, but the parade will be non-violent, totally inclusive and focused on the positive.”

To engage non-divers, event organizers made the parade spectator friendly.

“Divers’ll wear multicolored marker lights so they’ll be easy to follow,” parade grand marshal Catalina Luxfer said. “And they’ll be diving off Diddley’s Landing, so there’s plenty of room for a crowd.

“We’ve built a scaffolding with bench seats to allow for as many viewers as possible,” Luxfer said. “The divers’ll go in at sunset, after the police collect all the paintball guns, then after the parade there’ll be a big party on the pier.”

The after party will feature the first performance by island supergroup Ragnarok Lobster, made up of members of defunct island-favorite bands.

“From the Social Morays there’s Alison Diesel on lead guitar, and Marina DeLow on bass and backing vocals,” Bottoms said. “From Effing Zeagles there’s Finn Kiick on drums, and from Ivan and the Embolizers they’ve got Gage Hoase on lead vocals and beer cans.”

BICS members hope to cap the evening by burning a scale-model Spanish caravelle as both a celebration and a protest of Columbus’ arrival.

“Everyone was in favor of setting something on fire, for whatever reason,” Luxfer said. “People can interpret the ship burning however they want.

“It’s a no-go unless there’s an offshore breeze, though,” Luxfer said. “We launched a trial ship last week, and the wind pushed it back into the mangroves. We barely got the fire put out before it hit the Tale Spinner lounge. Fire ships are all fun and games until a bar burns.”

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Blacktip Island Braces For Weekend Underwater Villanelle Fest

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Several Blacktip Island dive sites and multiple resort swimming pools will host this weekend’s ‘Mad Night’ Underwater Villanelle Festival, sponsored by the Blacktip Island Poetry Society. (photo courtesy of Reg Gurnard)

Blacktip Island’s poetry aficionados will gather at multiple venues this weekend for the third annual, two-day ‘Mad Night’ Underwater Villanelle Festival, organized by the Blacktip Island Poetry Society.

“Every yahoo and their cousin participates in the Easter Poetry Slam. It’s a drunken, free-for-all, anything-goes affair,” festival organizer Doris Blenny said. “We came up with the ‘Mad Night’ concept several years ago after people mistook ‘poetry’ for ‘poultry,’ and all hell broke loose.

“This is a separate event, limited to one poetic form, that really separates the wheat from the chaff talent-wise,” Blenny said. “A villanelle shows your chops, or lack of them. There’ll be no ‘cat sat on the mat’ dreck this weekend. Unless it fits the rhyme scheme and line repetition pattern.

“The name’s a hat tip to Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ and Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Got Gentle Into That Good Night’ villanelles,” Blenny said. “Plus, it pretty well sums up the last two Fests.”

The two-day event will feature underwater readings of published villanelles as well as sessions for local poets to read their own work aloud.

“The underwater aspect helps with crowd control. And author control,” BIPS sergeant-at-arms Peachy Bottoms said. “There’re separate categories for full-face-mask readings and through-the-regulator readings – both beautiful in their own way. There’ll be interpretive swimmers on hand, too, to enhance the experience.

“We’ll have readings on multiple dive sites, in resort pools and in the Heritage House bathtub,” Bottoms said. “There’s also a kids’ session in the Eagle Ray Cove hot tub with snorkels.”

BIPS judges said the form restriction will be strictly enforced.

“If it’s not a villanelle, we’ll cut the mike. All our participants have been warned,” Reg Gurnard said. “We’ll make an exception for the occasional terzanelle, but sonnets are right out. And don’t get me started on sestinas. We’re still repairing the Heritage House after Antonio Fletcher’s x-rated open-mike debacle.”

Some island poets protested the festival’s limitations.

“It’s not fair, excluding people because we don’t use rhyme or a strict structure,” Lee Helm said. “The elitist judges are biased against us. I mean, what’s next, bloody Epic Greek Lyric Fest?

“My gran wrote villanelles. As a schoolgirl. And hated them,” Helm said. “This is the sort of hidebound, Structuralist mindset that’s holding back Blacktip’s poetry community. And creativity in general.”

Blenny defended the festival’s rules.

“We haven’t replaced the Poetry Slam, we’ve simply created a new, different event with a more refined focus,” she said. “If we hadn’t imposed this strict structure, we never would have heard Dermott Bottoms’ interlocking villanelle cycle about inebriation. His ‘Rumward by Booby Flight’ brought the house down. It truly did.”

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New Scuba Periscopes Will Save Blacktip Island Divers’ Egos

scuba periscope

A new Wood Eye scuba periscope takes shape at Bamboo You’s Blacktip Island workshop Thursday afternoon. (photo courtesy of Doc Plank / Bamboo You)

A Blacktip Island entrepreneur has created a new collapsible viewing tube that allows lost scuba divers to locate their dive boat without having to surface, local scuba retailer Bamboo You announced Thursday.

“Divers get lost all the time. They’re embarrassed to surface and find the boat,” inventor and Bamboo You owner Piers ‘Doc’ Plank said. “Everybody sees you, everybody knows you got lost and everybody takes the piss out of you. Our new Wood Eye lets you avoid all that.

“It’s a pocket-sized periscope that zips out to five feet when deployed,” Plank said. “Slip it in your BC pocket and no one knows it’s there. When you get lost, the Wood Eye lets you stay out of sight while you take a look around.”

Scuba guests who tested early models were impressed.

“I get lost a lot, and my wife always makes me prairie-dog up to find the boat,” Blacktip Haven dive guest Buddy Brunnez said. “Man, the grief I get. With the Wood-Eye, though, I can stay underwater, spot the boat and no one’s the wiser. This gizmo’s changed my life.”

Island dive staff liked the device as well.

“It looks like some random piece of bamboo poking up out of the water, if you even notice it,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Marina DeLow said. “Our bottom line is if it gets divers back to the boat without us having to search for them or rescue them, we’re all for it.

“And, to be honest, several of our navigationally-challenged dive staff are using Wood Eyes,” DeLow said. “Most guests don’t even notice. Except when Lee Helm’s leading the dive. That idiot’s about as subtle as a punch in the face.”

Island leaders were dubious, but supportive.

“I really don’t see the point, but that describes most scuba gadgets I see,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “If Doc can get people to give him money for the things, though, good on him.

“Commercially, it’s a win for Blacktip,” Cobia said. “It expands our manufacturing sector, creates jobs and God knows it keeps the beaches clear of bamboo.”

Plank said Wood Eye embraces the company’s all-natural philosophy.

“Along with our bamboo triple-split Diablo fins and our bamboo nitrox snorkels, Wood Eye’s 100 percent green and eco-friendly,” he said. “They come in all kinds of colors so you can coordinate with your scuba gear. They’re available in natural bamboo, as well, for the purists out there.”

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Blacktip Island Lighthouse Vandalized To Shine Bat Signal

lighthouse bat_signal

Blacktip Island’s northern lighthouse shines a Batman logo into an overcast sky Thursday evening. The navigational beacon was vandalized earlier in the week to display the signal. (photo courtesy of Simon Scarfe)

Vandals Monday modified Blacktip Island’s northern lighthouse to display the Batman-related Bat Signal, island authorities said.

“Someone got in the housing and blacked in a Batman logo on the lens,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “We blamed it on kids, but really, it could have been anyone. It was funny at first, but it’s caused some unforeseen safety issues.

“Passing ships are saying it’s confusing,” Marquette said. “Last night an oil tanker damn-near ran aground. Of course, the captain claimed he was Batman, and was wearing nothing but a black hood and cape, so there were extenuating circumstances.”

Community leaders have opted not to repair the light immediately.

“Our guests love it,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “They bike up to the north point before dinner just to see it. It’s the latest stop on the island tour.

“It’s drawing tourists up where most visitors don’t go, and word’s spreading quick,” Skerritt said. “We’re seeing an uptick in resort bookings the last few days.”

The vandalism has also boosted the island’s dive industry.

“Near as we can tell, the signal’s attracting batfish,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “They’re super rare, but the north-end reefs are lousy with them this week. We’re hauling divers up there morning, afternoon and night.”

The financial boom has some residents suspicious.

“The Tail Spinner bar up on the point is doing a bang-up business since that so-called prank,” Sally Port said. “I wouldn’t put it past old Harry Wrasse to have done it himself, just to sell more drinks.

“The Skerritts and Bottomses aren’t above pulling a stunt like that, either, to fill their resorts,” Port said. “Of course, it could’ve been Jerrod Ephesians, for a lark. He’s just crazy enough. And he has that tweak-your-nose artsy side to him.”

Others say the attention has ruined Blacktip’s small-island charm.

“The crowds have killed the Spinner’s laid-back vibe,” Gage Hoase said. “It used to be a great place to chill and watch the sunset. Now, it’s packed with 15, 20 tourists at a time. The Spinner, the island can’t handle that kind of crowd.”

Island officials say the light will be repaired by the end of the weekend.

“Batman’s a DC Comics character, and we have a sponsorship contract with Marvel Comics,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “It’s been fun and games, but now there’s a bunch attorneys involved, and charging by the hour. If the pranksters wanted to bring money to the island, they picked the wrong way to do it.”

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