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Airbag Boom-Off Competition Boosts Blacktip Island Safety

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Blacktip Island motorists will take turns bashing airbag covers Saturday afternoon in the second round of the Department of Public Safety’s Boom-Off airbag safety competition. (photo courtesy of Herring Frye/BI Public Safety Office)

The second round of the Blacktip Island Department of Public Safety’s inaugural Boom-Fest airbag safety competition will take place at noon Saturday at the Caribbean island’s Public Works building, event organizers announced Thursday.

“The thing started as a simple auto airbag safety check, but so many people showed up to watch, we made it a contest to get as many cars inspected as possible,” public safety head Stoney MacAdam said. “Most airbags on the island are disasters waiting to happen, what with salt air rotting the contacts. Airbags don’t go off in collisions, or they’ll go off mid-drive with no warning.

“Contestants draw straws for which car to sit in, then bash the steering wheel with a rubber mallet,” MacAdam said. “If the airbag doesn’t deploy, you move on to the next round. If it does, you move on to the island medical clinic.”

Residents say the competition builds on an island tradition.

“It’s been an unofficial bar game for years,” Jerrod Ephesians said. “People in the car parks after the pubs close dare each other to hit their airbag covers. It started when James Conlee passed out, his head hit the wheel and BOOM! James barely noticed.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Ephesians said. “A bag goes off, it’ll mess you up bad. You can feel the tension build with each round. No one knows what’ll happen with each whack.”

Officials say the rules are simple.

“It’s a single-elimination, multi-round format,” public safety chief Herring Frye said. “The airbag deploys, you’re out. It doesn’t, you move on to the next round. And you’re disqualified if the crowd thinks you half-assed your whack or you lean back too much.”

“Car assignment’s totally random,” Frye said. “You can drive up in a new Honda, but draw a 20-year-old Land Rover from the hat. Those are the scary ones. British engineering’ll smack you in the face every time.”

Some in the community questioned the need for the event.

“Encouraging safety’s great, but this is really making light of a serious concern,” shopkeeper Peachy Bottoms said. “I mean, what’s next, a ‘who can drive at night without headlights’ race? Who can bail out of a burning car?

“More people are injured in Boom-Fest than in auto accidents,” Bottoms said. “And the losers use up critical medical resources. Why not just test airbags with no one in the car? Or take your chances on the road?”

Organizers say the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

“Medical staff is standing by, when possible, and we order all kinds of extra supplies for the clinic,” MacAdam said. “It’s worth the expense. It’s cheaper to treat a Boom-Off victim than an auto accident victim. And this ensures every vehicle on the island gets tested.

“We’re doing a round every Saturday to make sure everyone gets the chance to see at least one competition,” MacAdam said. “Worst case, we run out of cars before we have a clear winner. But at that point all the island cars will have been inspected.”

Contestants, meanwhile, were eager for Saturday’s second round.

“It’s like a jack-in-the-box, but full contact,” standings leader Dermot Bottoms said. “Trick is to have a few rums before you get in. After a couple of times, you get to where you kind of like it when the bag goes off.”

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Wilderness Safaris Let Blacktip Island Visitors Hunt Mersquatch

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A 2014 photo of the Blacktip Island mersquatch, the only known picture of the elusive and secretive aquatic relative of the more widely-known sasquatch. (photo courtesy of Molly Miller)

Blacktip Island visitors will have a new adventure option starting next week when local naturalist Rocky Shore launches his Mersquatch Photo Safari on the Caribbean island’s sparsely-populated southern end.

“The mersquatch is the mostly-aquatic relative of bigfoots and yetis,” Shore said. “It’s native to Blacktip and loves it down south where there’s not a lot of people and the island’s eat up with caves and sinkholes leading out to sea.

“We’ll be taking folks In Jeeps and on foot on overnight trips in the interior to see if we can get a look at him,” Shore said. “They’ll also see iguanas, hermit crabs, land crabs, grackles, no telling what, but the brass ring’s the mersquatch. There’s no guarantee, of course, but that’s the goal.”

Some residents scoffed at the idea.

“The mersquatch is a bunch of hooey, and Rocky knows it,” Ginger Bass said. “He’s charging a small fortune to take people out in the bush to get bug bit. Any ‘signs’ the guests find’ll be Rocky’s buddies off in the bushes howling and breaking branches.”

Others were more supportive.

“People say there’s no mersquatch, but I saw him first-hand, four years ago now,” south end resident Molly Miller said. “Got a quick picture, too. Right after he stole my sundress. The worry isn’t Rocky finding the mersquatch. it’s what happens when the mersquatch finds him?”

Island leaders were cautiously upbeat.

“I can’t speak to whether this what’s-it exists, but anything that brings visitors to the island is good,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “Blacktip’s definitely lacking in topside activities, so Rocky’s camping trips are a perfect addition to our tourism product.

“Rocky’s quite the entrepreneur, I’ll give him that. He created a demand, then supplied the product,” Cobia said. “This’s already working out better than his Atlantis tours in the glass-bottom boat. And clicks on the island’s website have jumped through the roof.”

Guests on a test safari this week raved about the experience.

“It was as exciting as a big-game photo shoot,” Maria Pompano said. “We were never sure when the mersquatch would leap out from behind the trees. Or tear through our tent at night. The guide wasn’t armed, either, so that added to the rush.

“We didn’t find the mersquatch, but there were a lot strange noises at night, and some broken tree limbs. And scat. Lots of scat, so we were close,” Pomano said. “Sure, the mosquitos were hellish, but we got a t-shirts and water bottles, so it balanced out.”

Shore brushed aside the safari’s critics.

“Whether we find the mersquatch or not is beside the point,” he said. “People are getting an exciting nature tour, and loving it. And, really, are you more likely to pay top dollar for a ‘nature tour’ or a ‘mersquatch safari?’”

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Lionfish Shortage Spurs Blacktip Island Fish Farm

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Local aquaculture enthusiasts hope their plan to raise lionfish in inland ponds will solve the lionfish shortage at island restaurants. (photo courtesy of George Graysby)


A shortage of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish on Blacktip Island reefs has prompted local aquaculturists to launch a captive-breeding program this week to supply lionfish to island restaurants.

“We’re victims of our own success, really,” Blacktip Haven chef Jessie Catahoula said. “We put lionfish on the menu to encourage scuba divers to cull them off the reefs. The cullers did such a good job, there’s no lionfish left.

“Problem is, we’ve marketed the hell out of fresh lionfish tacos, ceviche, medallions, you name it,” Catahoula said. “Tourists come here expecting lionfish, and boy, do they get hacked off when we don’t have any. Flying the meat in from the big island’s killing our bottom line. Thankfully the fish nerds stepped in.”

Resident aquarium enthusiasts floated the idea of a fish farm.

“The restaurants tried substituting other types of fish, but customers caught on,” George Graysby said. “Captive breeding was the only viable solution. We have lots of aquariums, so this isn’t really that big of a jump.

“We still push culling and conservation and all, but going forward all the lionfish served on Blacktip will be farm raised,” Graysby said. “Farm-to-table lionfish, if you will. And we’re working on genetically modifying them, too, to make them venom-less. And bigger.”

Experts say the plan will boost the small Caribbean island’s economy.

“Lionfish is set to be the new tilapia,” Tiperon University-Blacktip economics professor Sally Port said. “Digging the ponds is already keeping two people employed full time. And once the place is up and running, it’ll need a full-time staff to maintain it.

“It’ll be six months before the first fish are ready for harvesting, but at that point, the process will be self sustaining,” Port said. “George and Belinda are starting the fry in aquariums this week and will transfer them to the ponds as soon as, well, as soon as the ponds are completed.”

Island environmentalists cautioned about the project’s potential downside.

“We’ve spent so much time and energy getting rid of these invasive pests, now George’s actively breeding as many of them as he can?” Harry Pickett said. “What happens when a big storm washes thousands of lionfish onto the reefs?

“They’ll wipe out the native reef fish in no time,” Pickett said. “We’ll be worse off than before,” Pickett said. “This is an ecological disaster waiting to happen, never mind the stink a farm like that’ll create.”

Farm backers brushed aside such worries.

“We’re digging the farm way inland where it’s safe from any storm surge,” Belinda Graysby said. “And it’s up by the Tailspinner bar where it won’t bother anyone. And even if it does, if the booby pond stink doesn’t scare people away the smell of a fish farm won’t, either.

“Worst case, if a big hurricane does flood the ponds, well, we’ve got an island full of trained cullers who can clear the reefs in no time,” she said. “Either way, the restaurants’ll get their fish.”

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Caribbean-Themed Medieval Dinner Theater Comes To Blacktip Island

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Detail from the marquee at Blacktip Island’s new medieval-style dinner theater, which opened this week at the Caribbean island’s public pier. (image courtesy of Piers Planck)

Blacktip Island entrepreneurs this week launched a tropical-themed Medieval dinner theater to celebrate the Caribbean island’s history and broaden its tourist appeal.

“On Blacktip the focus is on scuba diving, fishing and bird watching, and rightfully so,” said show impresario Piers ‘Doc’ Planck. “But the island has so much more to offer. That’s what we’re tapping into with this Middle Ages-style dinner-and-tournament.

“Most people don’t know Blacktip Island was a Knights Templar outpost in the 11th Century,” Planck said. “It was the Order’s sole naval base in the Western Hemisphere, and the survivors of the Friday the 13th massacre escaped to Blacktip with what was left of the Templar treasury.”

Show organizers are still fine tuning many of its details.

“We’re still feeling our way with staging and choreography,” Rosie Blenny said. “It’s mostly James Conlee and Dermott Bottoms in second-hand Aquaman costumes and pool floaties whacking each other with bamboo poles and yelling ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’ But tourists love it.

“We made it aquatic-themed so it was more relevant to island visitors,” Blenny said. “Marketing’s tough, but that’ll change as word spreads. Knights in tights jousting with inflatable seahorses? That’s something people’ll tell their friends and neighbors about.”

The island’s business community is upbeat about the venture.

“Anything that gets people to the island is good, no matter how goofy it is,” Chamber of Commerce president Christina Mojarra said. “They’re staging it at Diddley’s Landing for now, and the audience brings its own chairs, but if this thing takes off, we’re looking at building a permanent stadium that can be used for other events, too.”

Not all island residents support the new show.

“The idea of the Knights Templar having a presence on Blacktip Island is ahistorical hooey,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “It was the Hospitallers. Tourism income is all well and good, but not at the expense of historical fact.

“And Antonio Fletcher dressed as King Neptune presiding over the affair undercuts any Society for Creative Anachronism-style educational value it might have,” Altschul said. “It is hard to look away from, though. Like an auto accident or a boat wreck.”

Island visitors were generally positive about the show.

“I didn’t really get what was going on, or what the point of it was, but it was fun to watch . . . whatever it was,” Eagle Ray Cove guest Otto Korrecht said. “Honestly, if I understood it I may not have liked it as much.

“The food was, well, the ‘Templar Conch Chowder’ and ‘Hospitaller Halibut’ were dodgy, and the ‘Holy Land Ale’ was just warm beer with limeade in it,” Korrecht said. “But you didn’t really notice during the jousting, though. I’m guessing that’s a big part of the business model.”

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Mutant Sand Fleas Nip Blacktip Island’s New Year’s Fireworks

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An uptick in the population of a previously-unknown variety of sand fleas has forced organizers to cancel Monday’s New Year’s Ever fireworks displays on Blacktip Island. (Blacktip Times file photo)

Blacktip Island’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display, scheduled for Monday night, has been canceled due to an unprecedented sand flea infestation on the small Caribbean island, event organizers said.

“The sand fleas and no-see-ums are so bad right now, you can’t go outside anytime after dark,” Rosie Blenny said. “Go to any island resort and all you’ll see are welted-up tourists. The clinic’s out of any kind of cortisone.

“Usually the fleas are bad at dusk, then go away once it’s full dark, but these suckers are different,” Blenny said. “We tried setting up the mortars last night and the crew was eaten alive in five minutes. There’s no way we can set up fireworks in these conditions, much less set them off.”

Experts say the pests are a genetically-modified strain of sand fleas.

“Tests we’ve run on collected subjects show a slightly-altered DNA,” island public health chief Herring Frye said. “Whether that alteration is natural or human-induces has yet to be determined.

“At first we thought the mutation was due to cyanide gas from all the decaying sargassum seaweed washed up in the beaches,” Frye said. “Sand fleas love that sargassum, and we’ve been up to our knees in it lately. But new data suggests the change is more likely from some sort of genetics experiment gone wrong.”

Island entomologists downplayed that possibility.

“We run genetics experiments on insects and crustaceans all the time, sure,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip biology chair Goby Graysby. “But our labs are secure and nothing, I mean nothing, escapes them. Lately, anyway. And James Conlee’s not allowed within 100 yards of the TU-B campus.”

Other island residents suspected a more sinister source.

“A few homeowners have complained for years about the noise from the fireworks,” resident Lucille Ray said. “Not to mention any names, we’ve all overheard someone with the initials Cyrus DeCamp talking about how nice it’d be if something made it impossible to set off New Year’s fireworks.

“He has the know-how, And he’s just crazy enough to do it,” Ray said. “People’ve called him the New Year’s Grinch before now. My bet is he kicked his game up a notch.”

DeCamp could not be reached for comment, all phone calls to him were unanswered and reporters’ visits to his house were met with a hail of thrown rocks.

In place of a fireworks show, island residents and guests are making alternate plans.

“The Sand Spit’s organized a midnight flashlight war inside the bar,” bartender Cori Anders said. “And down at the Ballyhoo, it sounds like people are going to just drink until they see fireworks in their heads.”

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Singing Coral Head Highlights Blacktip Island Holiday Festivities

singing xmas coral

Gage Hoase and Alison Diesel wear Christmas tree worm caps Thursday night during the dress rehearsal of the Blacktip Island Acapella Society’s underwater Singing Coral Head. (photo courtesy of Nick Hobgood)

The Blacktip Island Acapella Society will eschew its traditional Singing Christmas Tree choral performance this Sunday night in favor of an underwater Singing Coral Head, with singers dressed as Christmas tree worms instead of ornaments, to celebrate the Caribbean island’s bond with its coral reefs.

“Instead of a choir in a giant tree, we’re doing a choir in a coral head,” director Donna Requin said. “We wanted to do something traditional, yet scuba themed, given the importance of scuba diving to the island.

“We’ll be giving Christmas favorites an aquatic twist,” Requin said. “The singers will wear big, bushy bonnets that mimic actual Christmas tree worms. It’s not some tacky holiday stunt, though. We’re being fully respectful of the holiday and the reef. We’re calling it A Merry Fishmas Choral Head.”

Songs include:

  • God Rest Ye Merry Jawfish
  • It Came Upon The Viz So Clear
  • Snapping Shrimp We Have Heard On High
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Night Dive
  • Fishmastime Is Here

Singers will perform in full-face masks, with songs played on underwater speakers.

“The masks muffle our voices a bit, and the hydrophones distort them, but that adds to the effect,” tenor Gage Hoase said. “The idea is to get people to see Christmas, and the reef, in a new light.

“Singing on scuba actually solved one of our problems,” Hoase said. “We needed a soprano, but no one could hit those high notes. Then Alison Diesel switched from air to heliox and BAM! She sounds like Maria Callas. In that range, anyway.”

Some in the community were critical of the concept.

“It’s another cheesy holiday train wreck,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens said. “Last year’s underwater Nativity scene made from old tires was an absolute embarrassment. We’re still getting trashed on Trip Advisor for it.

“‘Different’ doesn’t always mean ‘creative,’ especially when it trivializes the holiday,” Havens said. “People singing underwater wearing silly hats? That’s not Christmas. And what about people who don’t dive? Our church caroling is inclusive of everyone. Who celebrates Christmas.”

Requin brushed aside the criticism.

“The ‘caroling at the church’ audience has been dwindling for years,” she said. “Our choral head will be a breath of fresh air. Or freshly-compressed air.

“For those who don’t dive, or don’t care to dive, the singing can be heard quite clearly from a boat,” Requin said. “It’s quite ethereal. And non divers can also enjoy the performance via a live feed in the Sand Spit bar, where they’re welcome to sing along.”

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Blacktip Island Thespians Bring Norwegian Christmas Tale To Life

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Holiday lights were raised over Blacktip Haven’s amphitheater Thursday in preparation for the Blacktip Island Community Players’ annual Christmas performance. (photo courtesy of Doris Blenny/BICP)

The Blacktip Island Community Players will kick off the holiday season Friday night with their performance of the classic Norwegian Christmas story, “The Cat on the Dovrefjell” at the Blacktip Haven outdoor amphitheater.

“Blacktip theater-goers are a savvy lot, and tired of the usual holiday fare,” director Doris Blenny said. “This is also a hat tip to the Norse raiders who sacked the island back in 650 A.D. or so.”

The story centers on a hunter, bringing a white bear to the king, who stops at a woodcutter’s house by the Dovrefjell mountain on Christmas Eve, Blenny said.

“The woodcutter, Halvor, was abandoning the house for the night because every Christmas Eve trolls came down, ate all his food and trashed his house,” Blenny said. “The hunter decided to stay anyway. That night the trolls came down and partied hard.

“They thought the bear was a giant cat and teased it,” Blenny said. “Things went south when one of them burned the bear’s nose with a hot sausage, and the angry bear chased the trolls back up the mountain. The next year at Christmastime, when a troll asked Halvor if he still had his white cat, Halvor said his cat now had seven kittens. The trolls never bothered him again. It’s a lovely holiday message, really.”

The cast includes:

  • Dermott Bottoms as the Bear
  • Jerrod Ephesians as the Hunter
  • Marina DeLow as Halvor the Woodcutter
  • Alison Diesel, Hugh Calloway, Jessie Catahoula and Finn Kiick as Assorted Trolls
  • The Blacktip Island bluff as the Dovrefjell

The rehearsals have already resulted in one injury, cast members said.

“Casting Dermott as the bear and wrapping him in that white flokati rug was brilliant, but telling him to attack people? That’s mental!” former troll Lee Helm said. “The first time I said, ‘Kitty, would you like some sausage,’ he knocked me unconscious and flung me out the window.

“They’ve barred him from rehearsals, but the damage was done. To me, anyway,” Helm said. “For Christmas this year I got 124 stitches, a concussion and a broken arm.”

Other cast members say Bottoms’ unpredictability will add realism to the performances.

“No one has a clue what Dermott’ll do when he gets his cue, not even Dermott,” replacement troll Alison Diesel said. “All we know is when I say ‘sausage,’ we’re all gonna be running like hell away from him.

“I’ve been practicing my tuck-and-roll,” Diesel said. “Dermott’s totally in character now. He won’t take off that rug, and he growls at anyone who talks to him. We told people in the first three rows to wear motorcycle helmets and any body armor they might have.”

BICP officials say the play will run through the holiday season.

“Performances will be every Friday and Saturday through New Year’s, cast injuries permitting,” Blenny said. “And it’s wonderful we can actually use the, ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ stage direction.’”

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