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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 Celebrates Columbus’ Landing With Paintball Shootout

312th Engineers keep it in the family

Some of Blacktip Island’s paintball guns, collected by Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette, after Thursday’s annual Columbus’ Arrival Expat Derby. (photo courtesy of Timothy Hale)

Blacktip Island turned red for the day Thursday with the annual Columbus’ Arrival Expat Derby, which allows island locals to shoot expatriate residents with red paintball pellets.

“Columbus isn’t the hero here he is in the U.S.,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “His arrival brought disease, genocide and slavery. The Expat Derby started as a way for locals to vent their anger at foreigners without anyone getting hurt too much.”

“In the old days, there’d be fights. Blood would flow,” Altschul said. “Community leaders started the tradition of throwing red snappers at expats instead, to decrease the violence. Then paintball guns came along and we switched. The pellets sting, but red paint’s better than blood. And it doesn’t waste food.”

Paintball guns, normally banned on the island, are regulated by the local police.

“I issue guns and paintballs in the morning, then collect them all at the end of the day,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “There’s also strict rules concerning how the devices are employed.

“It’s body shots only, preferably above the belt,” Marquette said. “And tourists are strictly off limits, for obvious reasons. Any violators forfeit their paintball rights next year.”

Blacktip natives say the derby brings the community together.

“It’s a fun tradition that keeps resentments from getting too out of hand,” local Ger Latner said. “The island’s expats understand. Most seem to enjoy it.

“End of the day, we’re all still good friends,” Fletcher said. “We get together for drinks and to patch up any wounds in the evening. No hard feelings.”

Island expatriates echoed Latner’s sentiment.

“I just go out early, in a white shirt, and let them pop me a few times,” island Mayor Jack Cobia said. “People see a couple of splats on you, they’ll move on to someone else. Usually. I wrap my torso in towels, too. Those paintballs raise an ugly welt.

“End of the day, it keeps peace in the community,” Cobia said. “There’s a lot less locals-versus-expats hostility on Blacktip than most Caribbean islands. Bruised ribs are a small price to pay.”

Others agreed.

“I wear a scuba mask, just in case, but it’s not a big deal,” said resident Hugh Calloway. “Antonio, he drilled me good yesterday morning, right in the chest, as I stepped out my front door. Then he gave me a ride to work. And we had a drink on the way.”

Island officials say this year’s derby was relatively uneventful.

“There’ll be no paintball next year for Dermott Bottoms and James Conlee,” Constable Marquette said. “They got in a shootout with each other in front of the store. Several windows were broken, and the police vehicle will need to be repainted. I also have to buy a new police uniform.”

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Blacktip Island Braces For Columbus Day Festival

Blacktip Island resident Chrissy Graysby searches the beach for the remains of her papier-mâché caravel after last year’s Columbus Day boat race.

Blacktip Island resident Chrissy Graysby searches the beach for the remains of her papier-mâché caravel after last year’s Columbus Day boat race.

History will clash with genealogy Sunday at Blacktip Island’s Columbus Day Festival, commemorating deserters from Christopher Columbus’ fleet settling the Caribbean island in 1493.

“The Santa Maria stopped at Blacktip Island for reprovisioning,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Most of our locals trace their ancestry to a handful of malcontents who jumped ship and hid in the jungle until the boss sailed away.

“The place was uninhabited, so the sailors made themselves at home,” Altschul said. “Popular tradition has it that several of the deserters were suspiciously-proportioned cabin boys, but we have no hard evidence to support that. Other than population growth.”

The celebration is not without controversy.

“Columbus was a murderer who introduced disease, slavery and genocide to the Western Hemisphere,” local activist Harry Pickett said. “To celebrate the arrival of such a monster is a travesty, even if he is my uncle. And cousin.”

Event organizers brushed aside the criticism.

“There was no native population on Blacktip to murder or enslave,” Knights of Columbus Grand Knight Jay Valve said. “Columbus may have been a ruthless rotter and racist, but he’s also the one who brought our ancestors together. He’s family.”

Some locals say the celebration doesn’t go far enough.

“Columbus introduced self-reliance and individualism to a part of the world that was sparsely inhabited and underused,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “The best way to honor that legacy is with more development. More resorts. A big-ass cruise ship terminal. Really squeeze maximum usage out of the island.”

Organizers, however, are emphasizing the day’s activities.

“We’ll have something for everyone,” Valve said. “There’s a Prove The Earth Is Round calculus contest, an Italian sonnet slam, and snow globe carving.

“The full-scale papier-mâché caravel-building competition will go on most of the day,” Valve said. “Followed, of course, by the papier-mâché caravel race across Eagle Ray Sound. The last boat to turn completely to mush is the winner.”

Island residents are eager for the day’s festivities.

“Last year’s bluff-top blind man’s bluff was brilliant,” resident Chrissy Graysby said. “We spent the afternoon watching blindfolded drunks try to navigate their way off the bluff without falling over the edge. Dermott’s scars are pretty much healed now.”

Local historians say Columbus would be pleased with the celebration.

“Murder, rape and pillaging aside, Columbus truly is Blacktip Island’s spiritual father,” Altschul said. “He had no idea where he was going, once he got here he had no idea where he was and he called that a success. Anyone that clueless is a Blacktipper at heart.”

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