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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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Blacktip Island’s Sea Slug Roundup Sparks Controversy

Two head-shield sea slugs cavort in a kraal during last year’s catch and release Blacktip Island Sea Slug Rodeo.

Two head-shield sea slugs cavort in a kraal during last year’s catch and release Blacktip Island Sea Slug Rodeo.

A Blacktip Island fall tradition came under fire Wednesday when protestors occupied the beach where the two-day Blacktip Island Sea Slug Roundup is slated to launch this weekend.

“Our forefathers were farmers and fishermen,” said event organizer Led Waite. “Slugs were a threat to their fall seaweed crops and had to be culled from the shallow reefs.

“The roundup celebrates that heritage,” Waite said. “Those hippies with signs are just attention mongers. Last week they were all up in arms about development or some such nonsense.”

The protestors decried the roundup as inhumane.

“Forcing nudibranchs into those little pens isn’t natural,” said Harry Pickett, president of the local People for the Ethical Treatment of Slugs. “You get that much slime in that small an area, slugs suffer. Coral dies.

“The sea slug population’s just now bouncing back from near extinction,” Pickett added. “This so-called celebration jeopardizes that recovery process.”

Organizers refute those charges.

“The roundup’s been catch and release for years, and no slugs have ever been harmed,” Waite said. “Two goals of the event are to document sea slug numbers and preserve a viable breeding population. Harry knows that. He just likes saying ‘nudibranch’ in public.”

Local businesses are concerned about the protest’s economic impact.

“Guests plan their scuba vacations around the roundup,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “Dozens jump in on scuba to watch the action. It’s a gold mine in terms of gear rental and t-shirt sales.”

“It can be a bit tedious for the uninitiated,” said longtime dive guest Max Straap. “You can’t hurry slugs. But for the aficionado, it’s as riveting as a grand master chess match. “We got the kids certified when they were 10 just so they could see the herding first hand.”

Organizers, meanwhile, stressed the roundup’s eco-friendly nature.

“Slugs must be herded in the kraals under their own power,” Waite said. “We’re not having a repeat of last year’s fiasco where Lee Helm nudged head-shield slugs into the pen.”

“Lee’s an idiot,” slug wrangler Alison Diesel said. “Everybody down there has cameras. You scratch your butt, 20 people’ll put it on YouTube. And there’s Lee, flicking slugs across the sand like paper footballs.”

“That’s precisely the sort of cruelty we’re protesting,” Pickett said. “And the children’s greased sea cucumber roundup Saturday afternoon shows how that ignorance is being passed on to the next generation.”

The roundup winner will receive the coveted Golden Slimy Doris trophy. All proceeds go to the Blacktip Island Retired Seaman’s Guild.

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Underwater Opera Debuts on Blacktip Island

Hand-crafted costumes for “Nudibranch: The Operetta.”

Hand-crafted costumes for ‘Nudibranch: The Operetta.’

The Blacktip Island Community Players kick off their summer musical series Saturday with ‘Nudibranch: The Operatta,’ written by local divemasters and performed entirely underwater.

Plexiglas helmets will provide the airspace for actors to sing.

“We wanted something colorful and festive to celebrate summer,” musical director Doris Blenny said. “And what’s more festive than multicolored sea slugs?

“I’m continually astounded by the operatic and dramatic talent among dive staffs on this little island. We’re fast becoming the La Scala of the Caribbean.”

Original songs include:

  • Slime Trails in the Moonlight
  • Gastropod Gurls
  • Cerata, Cerata
  • Tough Enough For A Butt-Tuft
  • Sea Goddess in the Sand
  • I’m a Slight, Bright, Undersea Hermaphrodite
  • Three Nudibranchs on the Reef Are We

“The idea was to perform open-air,” Blenny said. “But then we thought, what better stage for sea slug-themed light opera than the reef itself?”

“Underwater is the proper setting,” co-writer and mezzo-soprano Catarina Porto said. “The water slows our movements and makes us more slug-like. The realism is uncanny.”

“It cuts down on drunks crashing the show, too,” said co-writer and contralto Alison Diesel. “That’s what ruined last year’s ‘Pirates of Penzance.’ I mean, it added realism and all, but it wasn’t right.”

“All the actors created their own costumes from locally-sourced materials,” costume master and tenor Payne Hanover said. “Some are coming up with colors and tuft configurations I honestly don’t think exist in nature. But that’s where art stops imitating life, I suppose, and we’re all about that.”

Limited kneeling will be available in the island’s underwater theater. Overflow seating and a live transmission will be available at the Sand Spit bar.

“The trick was finding a time when there was no hockey, basketball, baseball, rugby, soccer or cricket being broadcast,” Sand Spit bartender Corrie Anders said. “We tried to show the fall musical on a Saturday afternoon last year and a bunch of West Virginia University football fans about tore the place apart.”

Proceeds from the production will go to the Offenbach Scholarship for island divemasters bound for the Juilliard School.

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