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Sandy Bottoms to Host Divemaster Decathlon

Scuba cylinders at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort stand ready for this weekend’s Divemaster Decathlon sponsored by Assmonkey Ale.

Scuba cylinders at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort stand ready for this weekend’s Divemaster Decathlon sponsored by Assmonkey Ale.

Blacktip Island’s top divemasters will converge on Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort this weekend for the Assmonkey Ale Divemaster Decathalon. The winner will go on to compete in the Caribbean Regional in July.

“We’ve been training like scalded rats,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase said. “Marina, there, can swap over six fill-whips in five seconds flat.”

“The dark horses are the DMs from Blacktip Haven,” divemaster Marina DeLow said. “They’re cagey, they’re wiry and, with the resort sequestered in the interior as it is, we’ve no idea what sort of training regimen they’re using or what times they’re recording.”

As per the International Divemaster Decathlon rules, half the events will be conducted on a rocking dive boat moored offshore and half on the resort’s pier.

On-boat events include:

  • switching three Zeagle BCDs with 20 pounds of integrated weights from one cylinder to another,
  • running a slalom course through a rack of peed-in wetsuits while carrying four dive bags,
  • fishing a hat from the water with a boat hook,
  • unclogging the boat’s marine toilet (simulated feces provided by the Peter Paul candy company), and
  • dodging a variety of weight belts and weight pouches thrown at their bare feet.

Dockside events include:

  • filling one round of scuba cylinders and switching the fill whips to fresh tanks,
  • pounding 10 backed-out dock nails back into place using a scuba cylinder,
  • bandaging three toes with duct tape, and
  • answering a stupid question from a randomly-chosen dive guest.

“Last year Finn Kiick clinched the win on, ‘What does coconut rum taste like?’” Sandy Bottoms’ divemaster Joey Pompano said. “Without batting an eye, Finn said, ‘Chicken.’”

In place of the final floor exercises, each contestant will have 60 seconds to look as cool as possible. Degree of difficulty will be factored in as judges deem fit.

All competitors will be required to consume one 12-ounce beer between each event.

“Competition’s getting tougher, and younger, every year,” Eagle Ray Divers’ Hoase said. “The top scores from 10 years ago wouldn’t even qualify today. And this is just the sub-regional.”

All contestants will receive Assmonkey Ale t-shirts. Runners-up will receive a case of Assmonkey and discount coupons for back surgery and liver transplants.

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Blacktip Navy Repels Cuban Invasion

Blacktip Island shore batteries fire on attacking naval vessels.

Blacktip Island shore batteries fire on attacking naval vessels.

The Blacktip Island naval militia has repelled an attempted nighttime invasion by elements of the Cuban Navy, Island officials reported Friday.

“They sent their pocket frigates in under the new moon, but we were ready,” said Jack Cobia, Scuba Tourism Director and commander of Blacktip’s defenses. “We showed them there’s more to this little island than drunks and scuba hippies.

“Fidel’s had his sights on us for a long time. We’re just a hop, skip and a jump for him.”

“It was utter chaos at sea, battling in total darkness,” said Sgt. Major (ret.) Beaugregory Damsil, captain of the island’s fleet. “Vessels from both sides were firing flare guns, launching beer bottles, swinging sticks at anything that moved. It was hand-to-hand amongst our own crews at the end. They did themselves proud.”

Some island residents questioned the official account.

“There was an offshore kerfuffle, yes, but there’s no evidence Cuba was involved,” longtime resident and de facto mayor Frank Maples said. “And with Mr. Cobia standing for mayor next month, frankly, it smacks of a political straw man.”

“They were definitely Cubans,” Sgt. Major (ret.) Damsil said. “We’re quite certain of that. Well, reasonably certain. They all spoke quite strangely, at any rate.”

The battle was clearly visible from shore.

“It was lovely, really,” Club Scuba Doo manager Polly Parrett said. “We thought it was practice for next month’s Queen’s Birthday celebration, what with the rockets and starbursts and shouting. Our guests were thrilled.”

Cuban authorities have filed an official protest, claiming Blacktip fishermen attacked several boats of refugees fleeing to Central America.

Blacktip officials cited damage to their own fleet.

“We lost some good skiffs in the battle,” Cobia said. “The upside is we gained some great new wreck dives. In the space of an evening Blacktip Island became the premier wreck diving destination in the Caribbean.

“We issued strict orders: Draw them into the shallows, don’t fire until you see the rivets on their hulls, and shoot for the waterlines. A wreck in 6,000 feet of water does no one any good. We’re not just defending the island, we’re creating jobs!”

Cobia would not comment on the exact number, or sizes, of the sunken warships, nor on the possible existence of Cuban prisoners.

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Rum and Sand Flies Fuel Seaweed Sculpting Contest

A Mount Rushmore-inspired Bangles homage in its early stages on the Eagle Ray Cove beach.

A Mount Rushmore-inspired Bangles homage in its early stages on the Eagle Ray Cove beach.

May’s southwest winds have piled turtle grass high on Blacktip Island’s western beaches, heralding the Turtle Grass Sculpting Contest at Eagle Ray Cove resort.

“The wind and the currents mound the seaweed up at The Cove like no place else on the island,” resort manager Mickey Smarr said. “There’s tons of it. Literally. Last year we hauled away 6,800 pounds in May alone.

“We decided to turn lemons into lemonade, so to speak, make it a social event for the whole community. Plus, it helps with cleanup.”

Four-person teams have half a day to create their most imaginative sculptures before the grass rots.

“You have to work it pretty quick,” sculptor Alison Diesel said. “It gets damn rank after a few hours in the sun, and they banned respirators a couple years back. And the sand flies – oi!”

Past winning entries have included a scale model of the Kremlin, a linear depiction of the Battle of Waterloo and a couchant fuzzy bunny rabbit.

This season’s entries are equally impressive.

“We’re finishing a Mount Rushmore-inspired sculpture of the Bangles,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Lee Helm said. “We’ve got Vicki, Debbi and Michael down brilliantly. We’re having a bugger of a time getting Susanna’s eyes and nose done proper, though. Right now she looks more like Robert De Niro.”

As with any island competition, emotions run high.

“There’s extra security on hand after last year’s seaweed fight,” Eagle Ray Cove’s Mickey Smarr said.

“Had no idea there was washed up Portuguese man-o-wars in that grass we was flinging,” sculptor Jesse Conlee said. “Hell, stung our hands, too. But no one talks about that. Just those kids got caught in the crossfire. A little rum and they were fine.”

“Rum does play a big role in the contest. No denying that,” Diesel said. “I’m not sure it’s a definite cause-and-effect thing, but the team that drinks the most while sculpting usually wins. And feels the sand flies less.”

Contest winners receive bottles of Flor de Caña rum and tubes of cortisone cream.

Losers are required to haul away the turtle grass afterwards.

All contestants receive complimentary tetanus shots.

Spectators are advised not to stand downwind of the sculpture area. Tiperon Airways is providing airsickness bags for those who ignore the warning.

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Blacktip Derby Aims To Polish Its Tarnished Image

Krabb Kakes, the 7-5 favorite in this year’s Blacktip Land Crab Derby, in his Blacktip Downs stable.

Krabb Kakes, the 7-5 favorite in this year’s Blacktip Land Crab Derby, in his Blacktip Downs stable.

Sunday marks the 39th annual Blacktip Land Crab Derby, featuring three-year-old thoroughbred crabs from every stable on Blacktip Island as well as international crab farms.

The Derby is the final race in land crabbing’s unofficial Triple Crown.

Organizers of this year’s Run For the Sea Grapes have instituted sweeping changes to restore the race’s image, sullied in years past by allegations of crab-doping, extortion and race fixing.

“It was mooks from the big island muscling in,” Derby chairperson Ledford Waite said. “Popping crabs with phenylbutazone. Rattling trainers with vats of drawn butter.

“This year we’ve sprung for extra muscle. Banned known gamers from the venue. Upped our drug and cholesterol testing to guarantee a clean race. Takes a while to rebuild a reputation, though.”

Island police have stepped up their presence as well.

“Wagering on the Derby won’t be tolerated,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “We’ve loads of plainclothes officers in the crowd this weekend. If you place a bet, odds are you’ll be caught.”

Off-track and internet betting has proved impossible to stamp out.

Krabb Kakes is this year’s favorite with 7-5 odds, but will face stiff competition from Scuttlebutt, winner of last month’s Breeder’s Cup, at 8-1, and Fanny Wigglesworth, the Tiperon Stakes winner, at 9-1.

As ever, each crab is required to carry a cockroach jockey affixed to its carapace.

“Last year, Up Yer Address had a record time, but was disqualified for finishing without his rider,” trainer Marina DeLow said. “We suspected foul play, but nothing could be proven. That flypaper was awfully dry, though.”

Trainers with brooms will line the racetrack to ensure all crabs stay on the course.

“Your heart races hearing the scuttle of all those exoskeleton feet on the asphalt oval,” said racing enthusiast Wendy Beaufort. “There’s no other event quite like this. Anywhere.”

A crowd of several dozen is expected to pack the infield and lawn chair seating, traditionally dressed in their finest cargo shorts and sleeved t-shirts.

“Folks dress to the nines for this,” Ledford Waite said. “It’s the first gala fête of the season. Last year some folks even showed up in shirts with collars and buttons.”

Traditional Derby mojitos will be served throughout the day.

The post-race dinner will feature a Caribbean crab rundown, crab Rangoon and fresh crab legs courtesy of the losing crabs, Waite said.

“Losers provide the food? Hell, the losers are the food.”

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Scuba Fashion Week Comes to Blacktip Island

Designer wetsuits hang ready for Blacktip Island’s Underwater Fashion Week.

Designer wetsuits hang ready for Blacktip Island’s Underwater Fashion Week.

Underwater Fashion Week returns to Blacktip Island this weekend, with top local and international fashion designers showcasing their latest collections.

Underwater runway models have been chosen from local dive staffs following last year’s near-drownings.

“Blacktip has always been at the cutting edge of Caribbean dive fashion,” event organizer Georgio Pompano said. “This year’s designers have pushed that edge to put us at the absolute fringe of the submerged fashion map.”

“‘Retro, sassy and fun’ is the touchstone this season,” said local designer Kitty Smarr. “Your grandpa’s black is the new black. It contrasts phenomenally with our models’ sun-bleached hair”

“We’ve done some daring things with board shorts,” local designer and Sand Spit bartender Corry Anders said. “We’re using mole fur and alligator skin to enhance the sensory experience before, during and after the dive. And all our shorts are edible, of course.”

As ever, the wetsuit is at the heart of Blacktip’s sub-aquatic haute couture.

“We’ve re-imagined warmth protection to transform cliché into major pizzazz,” Pompano said. “Our suits are not your quotidian, urine-soaked farmer john-and-jackets.”

“Beaver tails are back, with a mid-60s retro vengeance,” Anders said. “And French-cut women’s shorties. It gives divers a definite ‘Dr. No’ vibe.

“Throwback dive knives are hip, too. We’ve taken the Sea Hunt-standard dive machete and updated it with a faux black coral handle, sheath and matching sunglasses.”

“The showstopper is our Chanel-inspired mid-thigh hooded vest with a chinchilla fur-rimmed hood and duct tape accents,” Pompano said. “When is a hooded vest not a hooded vest? When it expands into a hoodie-mini! Hello!”

“Makeup is the biggest challenge,” Kitty Smarr said. “All our divemaster models have brown noses and white eye sockets. We have to mask that. And the makeup has to hold up under water.

“This year we’re mixing all our bases and mascaras with a neutral-tinted axle grease to make sure they stay on during the grueling runway presentation and any backstage scuffles that may break out.”

The runway finale will be podcast live to Sand Spit bar during next Friday’s happy hour. Free hors d’oeuvres will be served.

“We’ll have all-you-can-eat popcorn and cocktail weenies,” Anders said. “Plus the full cash bar menu, of course.”

A second television will feature the first round of the NBA playoffs.

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Island Landfill Preps For Holiday Gift Dump

Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council volunteers ready the pit for Saturday’s gift return.

Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council volunteers ready the pit for Saturday’s gift return.

Blacktip Island residents have their unwanted Christmas gifts bundled for Saturday evening’s Easter Eve gift dump at the island’s landfill. The event was introduced more than two decades ago to foster goodwill among the Caribbean Island’s small population.

“Everybody gets crap they don’t want during the holidays,” said the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians, head of the island’s Ecumenical Council. “In the real word, you can return the stuff, sell it or just throw it away. This island’s nothing like the real world, though.

“Returns aren’t an option. If you sell or re-gift, word gets around. Throw it away? People pick through that dump all the time. That’s when things go to hell.”

“Back in ’91 or so it got so bad half the island nearly killed the other half,” longtime resident Reg Gurnard said. “I didn’t go outside until May Day.”

“Started with Dermott Bottoms giving Billy Ray a pink mermaid table lamp cut from a scuba cylinder,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “God-awful thing. Billy’s wife, Lucille, chucked it. Clete Horn spied it in the dump, had seen Dermott with a lamp just like it before Christmas, and tried to sell it to Dermott, thinking Dermott’d want a matching set.

“Dermott beat the tar out of Clete for thieving, then beat the tar out of Billy for being an SOB. Then Lucille beat king hell out of Dermott. Friends and family got involved, and by the end of the week the clinic was out of bandages and sutures. Had to send the Home Guard over from Tiperon to stop the feuding.”

As a solution, the island’s Ecumenical Council instituted an Easter Eve no-questions-asked, blind gift-dump.

“We dig a big pit at the edge of the landfill,” the former-Reverend Ephesians said. “As soon as it’s full dark, people are free to throw their unwanted holiday gifts in. Then, just before first light, we have blindfolded volunteers backfill the pit with bulldozers so no one ever knows what all was buried.

“It’s done in the spirit of forgiveness and atonement,” Ephesians said. “It really binds the community together. Plus, it gives folks a four-month cooling-off period to make sure they really don’t like a gift.”

“The gift dump makes Easter morning a joyous time for everyone, whether they’re religious or not,” Reg Gurnard said. “Soon as those diesel engines crank to life and dirt starts tumbling, all the guilt and remorse of the past three months just evaporates. You feel reborn.”

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Tollbooths Installed on Island Reefs

A Marine Park ranger monitors one of Blacktip Island’s new reef tollbooths.

A Marine Park ranger monitors one of Blacktip Island’s new reef tollbooths.

The Blacktip Island Marine Park Service is installing underwater tollbooths on all the Caribbean island’s scuba dive sites this week. The move is a response to dwindling public funding and increased diver impact on the island’s reefs.

“Think of it as a graduated impact fee,” Park Service spokesperson Val Schrader said.

“Instead of charging every diver a flat marine park fee, we’ll be charging based on how much of the reef they actually see.

“The old system wasn’t fair to new divers who blow through their air and surface in twenty minutes. Or to the Type B divers who stay close to the boat looking at one coral head.”

Collection boxes fashioned as oversized conch shells have been installed at all popular coral heads and swim-throughs.

“They’re big and obvious enough that divers will know what they are,” Schrader said, “but not so outlandish they detract from the diving experience.”

Divers can buy scan cards that clip onto their BCDs, and add credits in $10 increments. Alternately, divers may carry Tiperon currency to drop into collection boxes.

Divers purchasing a Park Service Reef Pass will have their dives charged directly to their hotel room or credit card at a reduced rate.

The plan’s opponents vowed to fight the tolls.

“We’ll go in from shore, on sites where there’s no collection bins,” local resident Barry Sennett said. “These reefs don’t belong to the Park Service or the government. These reefs are your reefs, these reefs are my reefs.”

Other protestors plan to take a more active approach.

“They’ll have a hard time collecting if their precious conch shells get dropped 6,000 feet down the wall,” said a local diver who wished to remain anonymous.

“We’re installing cameras,” Schrader said. “Hidden ones. To keep an eye on things. Divers caught illegally diving will be fined and have their scuba gear confiscated.”

The Park Service has also mandated all BCDs on Blacktip Island be fitted with remote inflator valves. Scuba divers not paying the tolls will have their BCDs auto-inflate them to the surface, where a red dye will be released.

“We’re definitely using shame as a deterrent,” Schrader said. “Sometimes a stiff fine just won’t do the trick.”

Snorkelers will be charged at reduced rates. Free divers will be charged according to the number of dives they do as well as the depth of each dive. Blind divers will be allowed to dive free of charge.

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Resort Owners Erect Beachfront Staff Housing

A staff housing unit nears completion on Blacktip Island’s west coast.

A staff housing unit nears completion on Blacktip Island’s west coast.

In response to Blacktip Island’s growing housing shortage, local businesses have launched an affordable housing program benefiting the Caribbean island’s scuba, housekeeping and maintenance staffs.

“Housing’s scarce on the Blacktip,” Eagle Ray Cove divemaster Lee Helm said. “And damned expensive. We’re sleeping two and three people in a one-bedroom place. Playing rock-paper-scissors for who gets the couch.”

“It’s embarrassing, our staff having to live on top of each other like that,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms, Jr. said. “Resort guests are put off when they hear of it. It reflects badly on us.”

“We’re building lodging for every worker on the island,” Club Scuba Doo owner Nelson Pilchard said. “No one should have to share a couch. Unless they want to.”

The initiative is not without critics, though.

“It’s not about providing housing,” community activist Jerrod Ephesians said. “It’s about collecting more rent from more people. Instead of renting one place to four people, they’re now renting four places.

“The Sandy Bottoms of the island are building these places from junk,” Ephesians said. “It’s a company store-type scam, charging their own employees for glorified camping.”

“Are we building deluxe accommodations? No,” Bottoms said. “But these are dive hippies we’re talking about. Here for the adventure. They love it.”

“We’re experimenting with sustainable building materials,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt added. “Driftwood, bamboo, palm thatching, it’s all natural. And what’s more picturesque than a thatched hut on the beach?”

“My place is nice,” Club Scuba Doo staffer Joey Pompano said. “So long as the weather’s nice, anyway.”

“These places allow our folks to save money,” Scuba Doo’s Pilchard said. “There’s no utility bills, no phone or internet fees, no overheard after rent. I should be so fortunate.”

Other locals are concerned about potential public health issues.

“These places have no garbage pickup, no sewage or septic,” island doctor Lance Tang said. “Any rain will wash their waste into the ground water. And the first big storm surge will push that waste into our back gardens.”

“What everyone’s overlooking is these places are on prime real estate – right on the water, right at the dive sites,” Sandy Bottoms said. “Dive staff can roll out of their hammocks and go straight to work. It saves them commute time and the expense of a vehicle.”

“If this works as well as we think,” Eagle Ray Cove’s Skerritt said, “we have plans for a rustic dive-in, dive-out resort built on this model.”

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Taste of Blacktip Moves to Avoid Escalating Violence

Traditional Caribbean favorites ginger-fried land crab, four happiness iguana and turtle egg drop soup will highlight the 19th annual Taste of Blacktip food festival.

Traditional Caribbean favorites ginger-fried land crab, four happiness iguana and turtle egg drop soup will highlight the 19th annual Taste of Blacktip food festival.

Saturday’s 19th annual Taste of Blacktip food festival has been relocated to the public pier at Diddley’s Landing in response to the cuisine-divided melee that marred last year’s event.

“The fight between the island’s two foodie factions about destroyed Sandy Bottoms Resort,” event organizer Jay Valve said. “We can’t let that happen again.”

Chefs from all the island’s resorts will prepare their versions of traditional Caribbean favorites, capped off, as ever, by the Jiangsu-vs-Sichuan Throwdown.

“People here take their food seriously,” Valve said. “The Jiangsu-Sichuan feud has divided the island for centuries, going back to the island’s first settlers. It’s ruined friendships, destroyed marriages, torn apart families.

“Last year’s brawl started when some Cantonese partisan slipped a plate of dim sum onto the tasting table,” Valve said. “Each side blamed the other, and next thing we knew noodles and hot mustard were flying everywhere.”

“It’s a shame the two sides can’t get along,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens said. “There’s a vibrancy to the island’s culinary scene, with local chefs transforming locally-sourced ingredients into world-class dishes.”

“Staging the cook off on the pier will make crowd control easier,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “There’s water on three sides, and we’ll cordon off the fourth.

“If any rioting does occur, clean up will be a snap. We have bulldozers and fire hoses standing by.”

Blacktip Island’s chefs are eager for the competition to begin.

“We’ll hit them with lionfish-head meatballs with land crab roe,” said Gordon Kerr, Jiangsu practitioner and executive chef at the Michelin-starred Tail Spinner Lounge. “Then follow up with sweet and salty wahoo and a Nanjing iguana tripe crusted with heavy bread.

“The Sichuan lot need to get a clue,” Kerr said. “Subtle flavors are not signs of weakness.”

The Sichuan camp remained undaunted.

“At least we have flavors, subtle or otherwise,” said Blacktip Haven chef Jessie Catahoula. “And ‘mushy’ is not a texture. Not a good one, anyway.

“Our spicy-fried turtle will bring them to their knees,” Catahoula said. “We’ll finish them off with Kung Pao conch.”

The event will also feature food pairings with locally-crafted beer, rum, mead and boxed wine.

“We been blending sea grape wine with coconut hooch,” island vintner/construction worker Dermott Bottoms said. “Come up with a nice huangjiu port. Glass or two of that, you don’t care who wins.”

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Blacktip Islanders Catapult Culled Lionfish For Charity

Freshly-speared lionfish ready to be catapulted into Blacktip Island’s community garden.

Freshly-speared lionfish ready to be catapulted into Blacktip Island’s community garden.

As part of the fight against invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish devastating Caribbean reefs, the Blacktip Island Agricultural Society will stage its inaugural Spring Fling Lionfish-Tossing Tournament Saturday, with proceeds going to the island’s chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

The event is part of broader lionfish control efforts throughout the Caribbean.

“Our reefs are under siege from lionfish,” event organizer Buddy Brunnez said. “It made sense to combine the cull with a Medieval siege engine-building contest. Community groups raise money for their team, hand-craft a catapult from supplies found on-island, then launch their catch into the community vegetable garden.”

Team members on scuba will have one hour to spear as many lionfish as possible. They will then report to the garden site for weigh-in, counting and flinging.

“It’s absolute genius,” Eagle Ray Cove general manager Mickey Smarr said. “We’re culling so many the damn things, we’re up to our ears in lionfish. We’re sick of eating them. So are the tourists. The restaurants are glutted. Using them for fertilizer is the perfect solution.”

“It’s spring, the time of rebirth and renewal,” Agriculture Society president Marcia Seagroves said. “These lionfish will bind us all, via the vegetables we eat, to that ancient cycle of life and death. We’ll plow them into pulp to make sure they’re fully integrated in that cycle.”

“Any pre-gunpowder era flinging device is acceptable,” Brunnez said. “Most teams are going with simple onager-style catapults. Trebuchets are the top of the line, for payload, accuracy and old-fashioned esthetics. But they take a bit of know-how to get right.”

“We had to scrap our trebuchet,” said Val Schrader, Sandy Bottoms Resort team captain. “It generated so much force the lionfish were pretty much vaporized when we released the counterweight. It was beautiful from a distance, but the folks manning the sling weren’t too happy.”

“We’ve built a bamboo ballista based on an image from the Bayeux Tapestry,” said Blacktip Haven team member and island SCA president Jessie Catahoula. “Going for accuracy on multiple shots instead of putting all our fish in one sling, so to speak.”

The contest is not without its hazards, however.

“We’re making doubly-sure we clear the garden area of spectators after little Jimmy Cottonwick got impaled during a trial fling yesterday,” Brunnez said. “He was pulling weeds and took three lionfish to the back and one to the thigh. They’re still picking spines out of him.”

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