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Old-School Blacktip Island Divers Create Living History Museum

old dive gear museum

Vintage dive gear owners on Blacktip Island have joined forces to create the region’s first living history museum focused on scuba diving equipment and techniques from diving’s early days. (BTT staff photo / Clete Horn)

A group of old-school Blacktip Island scuba divers this week combined their antiquated dive equipment to create a living history museum celebrating the small Caribbean island’s rich scuba traditions, members said.

“Instead of throwing out all our old gear, we put it all in one place to show modern divers what scuba diving was like in the day,” Blacktip Island Mossback Club president Jay Valve said. “Dive ops won’t let us on the boats with this stuff, so we put it in glass cases where visitors could look at it. That was depressing though, so we decided to do demonstration dives with our gear from shore a couple times a week.

“Divers today don’t realize how easy they’ve got it, what with their floatie vests and extra regulators and fancy pressure gauges,” Valve said. “There’s still plenty of life in this old equipment. If this kit was good enough for Lloyd Bridges, it’s good enough for us.”

Club members echoed Valve’s sentiments.

“The dive industry generates a ton of money, but it’s done it by sissifying the sport,” Clete Horn said. “That’s why we do dives to show folks how scuba used to be an adventure. We stay shallow and close to shore so snorkelers and non-divers can see everything. Any guests want to have a go with the gear, we’ll suit them up and turn them loose.

“These’re divers who never breathed off a double-hose reg,” Horn said. “Or felt the thrill of a 10-inch dive machete strapped to their leg. This is how real divers dived. It’s a great experience for dive guests, and shows, really, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Some in the community don’t share club members’ enthusiasm.

“Sure, real divers dived with those museum pieces. Real stupid divers,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens said. “Scuba equipment has evolved. Jay and his gang haven’t. This whole concept is a tribute to how wrong Darwin really was. I’m not sure how anyone survived it. Then or now.”

“What in the world does anyone need a knife like that for, fighting sharks?” Havens said. “All it’ll take is one yahoo getting stabbed, or drowning while using this junk, to do major damage to our bookings. They need to leave all this gear behind glass where it belongs.”

Diving guests have embraced the vintage gear.

“I tried the double-hose reg and the single-seal, fishbowl mask yesterday, and it was a blast,” island visitor Mary Wrasse said. “Sure, the mask leaked like a sieve and I damn-near aspirated half the ocean trying to clear it, but it really put me in touch with what diving was a generation or two ago. And not having an air gauge really racheted up the adventure.”

Community leaders were cautiously supportive.

“This is the stuff the Blacktip Island tourism product was built on,” dive industry watchdog Wade Soote said. “As far as we know, this is the first program of its kind in the Caribbean. That’s bound to draw some extra visitors to the island. And no one’s gotten hurt so far, that we know of, so there’s no down side.”

Club members are encouraged by the shows of support.

“I’m proud to dive with Granddaddy’s regulator and Daddy’s mask and knife,” Horn said. “Folks not only survived using this stuff, they thrived. Put food on the table with it for generations.

“We’re getting more old-time gear for the museum as the old timers pass,” Horn said. “Not from diving, of course. From their families, after. Somebody dies diving, makes it damned tough to recover the gear.”

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