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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Book Burning Raises Funds For Blacktip Island Library

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The Blacktip Island Bibliophile Society hopes a book burning and bar-b-q event this weekend will raise enough money to rebuild and stock a new library on the small Caribbean island. (photo courtesy of Herring Frye/BIBS)

The Blacktip Island Community Bibliophile Society will host a Fahrenheit 451-themed “It Was A Pleasure To Burn” book-burning ceremony and bar-b-q cookout Saturday evening to raise funds to rebuild the Caribbean island’s lending library, destroyed by fire last year.

“We can’t be a proper library without a building. And books,” Society chair Herring Frye said. “We tried literary readings and bake sales, but no one came. We had to do something flashy to get folks’ attention.

“We finally thought since fire destroyed the old library, maybe it could help build the new one, Frye said. “Then we hit on the idea of us dressing up as Fahrenheit 451 firemen, and got all kinds of attention. The book lovers are howling, and we already have a big pile of books people dropped off for us to burn.”

Society members concurred.

“We’re not torching great literature,” co-chair Elena Havnes said. “It’s mostly out of date scuba manuals and old phone books. And a disturbing number of Justin Bieber biographies. Several people suggested burning science books, too, since they’re so little-used these days, but we drew a line in the sand at that.

“We’re asking people to leave a monetary donation when they drop off unwanted books,” Havens said. “They’ll get one lottery ticket for every dollar they donate, and at the end of the night we’ll draw a ticket at random. The winner will have the new study carrel named after them.”

Critics decried the event.

“Sure, it’s for a good cause, but it trivializes book burnings,” resident Harry Wrasse said. “This sends a horrific message to our children, too, that burning books is a legitimate action. The end doesn’t justify these means.

“If they light any books, we’ll be there with water buckets to put an end to it,” Wrasse said.

Others questioned the need for a library.

“This is the 21st Century,” resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “We don’t need books. We have the internet. If Herring and Elena want to raise money, they should do it for an ad campaign to get more people to Blacktip Island.”

Society members were quick to defend the library and the event.

“The library’s about more than books,” Havens said. “Every great community has a library at its heart. That was the one place on Blacktip where people could gather that wasn’t a bar or restaurant. It was our public space. Our piazza, if you will. Regaining that’s worth losing a few unwanted books. We’re not the bad guys here.”

Admission is $4.51. For an additional $20, attendees may toss a book on the burn pile. Donations of diesel fuel are greatly appreciated.

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Hostage Crisis Has Blacktip Island Resort On Edge

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The calm around the Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort pool Thursday afternoon belied the tense overnight standoff between Blacktip Island police and a man who took hostage the resort’s manager. (photo by Wendy Beaufort /Blacktip Times Staff)

A dispute between two Blacktip Island residents turned ugly Thursday evening when a man took a resort manager hostage and refused to release her until questions about his bar tab had been resolved.

Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette identified the man as Dermott Bottoms and the hostage as Kay Valve, Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort’s manager.

“Mr. Bottoms was at the bar complaining he hadn’t been credited for paying last month’s bill,” Marquette said. “Mrs. Valve tried to reason with him, things escalated and Dermott barricaded them both in her office, demanding a month of free drinks and a helicopter ride off the island.

“We initiated hostage negotiations, but Dermott broke that off abruptly when we said ‘no’ to the helicopter,” Marquette said. “At this point we’re waiting him out.”

The passive response angered some close to the situation.

“Rafe yelled, ‘Dermott, you give yourself up,’ then Dermott yelled, ‘No,’ and Rafe yelled, ‘Well, all right, then,’” Kay Valve’s husband, Jay Valve, said. “That’s not a negotiation, that’s molly-coddling.

“Rafe needs to do something,” Valve said. “My wife’s locked in a room with a three-sheets-to-the-wind Dermott. No telling what’s going on in there.”

The constable stressed Kay Valve was not in any danger.

“Dermott’s harmless, essentially, unless you get physical with him,” Marquette said. “He does this kind of thing all the time. I could bust in there, sure, but someone’d get hurt unnecessarily. Probably me.

“Our current protocol is to set beer and a pack of cigarettes outside the door, get out of sight and wait for him to come out,” Marquette said. “When he does, we’ll pop him with a tranquilizer dart from across the lobby.”

The resort’s owner backed the plan.

“You got a cat up a tree, you set out a can of tuna and let nature take its course,” Sandy Bottoms said. “Same thing’ll work with Dermott. Not that he’s a cat. A cat’s much smarter.

“I phoned in to Dermott, told him there’s goodies outside the door,” Bottoms said. “He knows to behave himself. I talked to Kay, too, and she didn’t sound worried. Said she’d walk on out if Dermott passed out, which it looked like he was about to do.”

Bottoms added resolving the situation by voiding Dermott’s tab was not an option.

“It’s Dermott we’re talking about,” he said. “It’s not an insubstantial sum. Plus, we let him off once, we’ll be doing this every month.”

Bottoms would neither confirm nor deny accusations his resort routinely double-bills bar tabs.

The standoff was still ongoing at press time.

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West Coast Developments May Capsize Blacktip Island

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Blacktip Island’s world-renowned west coast beaches may be lost forever if the island flips over due to too much development on its west side, a recent study suggests. (photo courtesy of Ferris Skerritt/Skerritt Construction)

A study released Thursday by a Blacktip Island construction firm revealed the Caribbean island may be in danger of flipping upside down due to the concentration of resorts and other infrastructure on the island’s west coast.

“All that cement, the vehicles, the staff, the pool water and whatnot, it puts a lot of strain on the island’s base,” Skerritt Construction owner Ferris Skerritt said. “We’ve been keeping an eye on it for years. It’s a ticking time bomb.

“At this point, a big influx of tourists to those resorts could cause the island to snap off,” Skerritt said. “I mean, have you seen the size of some of those folks? At that point, Blacktip’d capsize and drown us all. We need to get this island balanced. Pronto.”

Local business owners urged development on the sparsely-developed east coast as a solution.

“We got the Spring Break crowds coming, then the summer crowds,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “For the good of the island and everyone on it, we need more development over on the east side.

“Problem is, building over there’s always been cost-prohibitive, what with that being the weather coast and so far from the airfield,” Rich Skerritt said. “But with some public funds to offset the construction costs, there may still be time to save our island.”

Others business owners concurred.

“I always wanted a resort on the east coast, just couldn’t justify the cost,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “I don’t like taking public money, but if it’s for the good of the island, I’ll make the sacrifice.”

Some experts, though, disputed the study’s findings.

“The island’s not going to break loose or flip over,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip geology department chair Ernesto Mojarra. “That’s physically, scientifically impossible. People need to use their noggins.

“Rich and Sandy are just trying to scare people into subsidizing new resorts,” Mojarra said. “And Rich’s brother just wants the construction contracts.”

Some locals remained worried, despite Mojarra’s assurances.

“It’s scary, these experts saying opposite things, especially when it concerns our safety,” Sand Spit bartender Cori Anders said. “With so much controversy, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution.

“They say something like this happened near Fiji a few years back,” Anders said. “Stuff like this happens all the time. You just don’t hear about it.”

Other island entrepreneurs are unconcerned.

“If Ernesto’s right, we’re fine,” said Blacktip Haven resort own Elena Havens. “And if Blacktip does turn turtle, well, we’ve already waterproofed the Haven’s rooms so we can be the first full-service underwater resort in the Caribbean.”

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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 High Kicks Off Homecoming Weekend

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A fanciful Blacktip tasseled nudibranch (Bomella blacktipius) is part of the decoration for this weekend’s Blacktip Island High School homecoming festivities. The school’s teal-and-pink colors were inspired by the nudibranch, the BIHS mascot, found only on Blacktip Island reefs. (photo courtesy of Doris Blenny)

The Blacktip Island High School Fighting Nudibranchs will celebrate their 143nd homecoming on land and sea this weekend to honor students and alumni of the Caribbean island’s sole secondary school.

“It’s an exciting schedule we have planned,” homecoming chair Doris Blenny said. “We kick things off tonight with the spirit rally, the beach bonfire and the crowning of the homecoming court.

“Saturday’s the parade, then the offshore hand-line fishing tournament against arch rival Tiperon High, followed by a formal dance in the evening. School spirit’s sweeping the island.”

Locals of all ages said homecoming brings the community closer.

“I tear up just thinking about fishing against those cheating Tiperon High Frigates back in the day,” BIHS Class of 1981 alumni Antonio Fletcher said. “Proud we still go head-to-head with the big boys instead of bringing in some patsy to beat.

“I do love seeing the school colors flying all over the island, too,” Fletcher said. “And when they burn that paper mache frigate at the bonfire, folks go wild.”

The highlight for many will be the crowning of the king and queen.

“We only have one senior this year,” Blenny said. “Well, one student, period, so the voting was fairly predictable. It was Rusty Goby or no one.

“We set precedent, though, when the voters decided it wasn’t right to have just a king,” Blenny said. “They named Rusty king and queen. And to fill out the court, we’ll have iguanas with ribbons around their necks, and some of them wearing lipstick.”

Goby echoed Blenny’s enthusiasm.

“It’s a double honor, believe you me,” he said. “And appropriate, frankly, since nudibranchs are both male and female. For the homecoming court’s dance, I’ll do a sea slug-themed Viennese waltz to Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself.’

“It’ll be an exhausting few days, but well worth it,” Goby said. “The pep rally and bonfire and parade and the fishing tourney then the dance. I mean, I won’t be able to sneak a beer, or a smoke behind the gym, until everything’s over.”

Some alumni downplayed the celebration.

“I’m happy for Rusty and all, but a Blacktip homecoming can be a bit underwhelming after you’ve been through a few,” said BIHS Class of 1993 alumni Wendy Beaufort. “I mean,the parade’s usually just Dermott Bottoms bicycling past the resorts with an MP3 player blasting salsa music.”

Blenny defended the perceived lack of spirit.

“We’re a tiny school, all right?” she said. “We’ve tried bringing back famous alumni, but we couldn’t find any. Besides Jack Cobia, our mayor, but he’s locked up on a drunk driving charge.

“Frankly, the tailgating’s where Nudibranch spirit really bursts out,” Blenny said. “You want to see spirited celebration, check out the Sand Spit parking lot Saturday afternoon. Especially if Rusty can make it three in a row against those rat-bastard Frigates.”

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