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Blacktip Island Scuba Instructor Launches Underwater Ventriloquism Course


Bobo the Monkfish is one of Alison Diesel’s teaching aids for her Underwater Ventriloquist specialty course at Blacktip Island’s Eagle Ray Cove resort. (photo courtesy of Alison Diesel)

A Blacktip Island divemaster has developed the industry’s first underwater ventriloquist specialty course, the Caribbean island’s Eagle Ray Cove resort announced Thursday.

“It started with me and Marina throwing our voices underwater so divers’d think fish were talking,” course author Alison Diesel said. “And there’s already an underwater mime course, so this seemed like the next logical step.

“Water’s denser than air, so sound travels even faster,” Diesel said. “It makes underwater venting so much easier. I’m stunned no one’s done this before.”

Experts say underwater ventriloquism is small step from above-water ventriloquism.

“You have the same issue with making the labial sounds – f, v, p, b, m and w – without closing your lips,” course graduate Gage Hoase said. “But you can’t make those sounds with a regulator in your mouth, anyway. It all comes together pretty quick with a little practice.”

Students construct their own dummies for the course’s final checkout dive.

“Wetsuited sidekicks are standard,” Diesel said. “But we also see tacky tourists, lionfish and even a dive light. We work on developing a character for the dummy that’s totally different from the student’s personality.”

The course is not without its detractors.

“It’s creepy, OK? I said it,” said Sand Spit bartender Cori Anders. “We banned Ali’s students from practicing at the bar. There were too many fights, usually between drunks and the dummies. On Blacktip, it’s hard to tell them apart.”

Industry insiders were harsher.

“Ventriloquism? In 2017? You can to the same thing with an underwater mike and speaker,” said Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick. “And it gives scuba instruction a black eye. What scam course will it be next, underwater basket weaving?

“There’s a safety issue, too,” Kiick said. “There’s been accidents, but Ali covers them up.”

Diesel was quick to defend her classes.

“Yeah, we had one unfortunate incident where a student had a, what do you call it, psychotic break while practicing,” she said. “But that was a one-off.

“He was the most laid-back dude you’d ever meet,” Diesel said. “But his dummy, Marker Buoy Mickey, had Tourette’s bad. Mickey hacked off everyone on the reef, and we couldn’t shut him up. Someone finally sent Mickey over the wall wrapped in a 20-pound weight belt.”

Students, meanwhile, raved about the course.

“They start you slow with basic no-lip talking, then work up to the sound substitutions for the lipped sounds,” Eagle Ray Divers guest Charlie McCarthy said. “Underwater, you talk real fast so your voice sounds realistic. Kind of like that clue-egg in the Harry Potter movie. But backwards.”

Eagle Ray Divers offers the course through PADI, NAUI and SSI. NAUI students required to do final performance without a mask or regulator.

“And we actually do have plans for a basket weaving course, where students use turtle grass and sea weed salvaged from the beach,” Diesel said.

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Blacktip Island Dive Op Installs Roller Coaster Bow Seats

roller coaster

A state-of-the-art RCS-5000 roller coaster seat at Blacktip Island’s  Club Scuba Doo prior to installation on a Scuba Doo Divers dive boat’s bow. (photo courtesy of Dusso Janladde)


Blacktip Island Club Scuba Doo this week installed roller coaster seating on the bows of its dive boats so guests can safely ride there in rough seas.

“People always want to sit on the bow, even when the waves get gnarly,” Scuba Doo Divers dive manager Finn Kiick said. “And they get cranked when we make them come back.

“With these new seats, though, they can have a thrill ride going to and from the dive sites,” Kiick said. “We strap ‘em in and let ‘em scream.”

The seats are amusement-park grade RCS-5000s, standard on most modern high-speed rides, with padded lap-bar restraints to keep riders in place.

“These jobs will take a three-meter wave at 15 knots – about four and a half gees of force – and stay latched,” Club Scuba Doo general manager Polly Parrett said. “Basically, a wave could smack you unconscious and you wouldn’t come out of the chair.

“We do charge extra for bow seating,” Parrett said. “But guests are happy to pay. There’s even occasional fisticuffs over who gets those few choice spots.”

Some industry experts, however, worry the seating may have a negative long-term impact.

“Those things are a disaster waiting to happen,” said scuba watchdog Wade Soote. “One broken neck or one drowning, and Blacktip’s tourism product will have a permanent black eye.

“Last week a guest had to spend the night on the bow when Finn lost the key to the lap bar,” Soote said. “And what happens after a few salt-water drenchings and a rusty latch fails?”

Scuba Doo touted the chairs’ reliability.

“On the mondo-wave days, we make people wear full scuba,” Kiick said. “Folks usually opt for that on their own, so it’s not a huge deal. And we have an awesome cutting torch of the bar ever gets stuck again.”

The bow seats have also received an unexpected endorsement from the International Coaster Enthusiasts roller coaster club.

“It’s a different ride every time, what with the seas always changing,” ICE president Busch Matterhorn said. “You don’t get that kind of unpredictability on a static metal tube ‘coaster. We had seasoned old timers squealing like little girls today.”

The resort offers new Bow Rider Diver specialty courses via most certifying agencies.

“It’s a pretty straightforward course,” Kiick said. “We blast you through a quick class, then do mask clears and out-of-air drills in the chair at full throttle. NAUI divers have to do the skills with only a mask and snorkel. PADI divers just pay double.”

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Blacktip Island Divemasters Launch Underwater Clogging Course

The first Underwater Clogging specialty course students practice their dance steps on shore Thursday before attempting them underwater later that afternoon. (Photo by Al Stephenson)

The first Underwater Clogging specialty course students practice their dance steps on shore Thursday before attempting them underwater later that afternoon. (Photo by Al Stephenson)

Inspired by underwater acrobatics at a recent heritage festival, Blacktip Island divemasters Gage Hoase and Alison Diesel have developed an underwater clog-dancing course they began teaching this week on the Caribbean island.

“It’s a traditional southeastern American dance style that tons of our scuba diving guests identify with,” Hoase said. “We pump bluegrass music through a hydrophone and we’ve got 30, 40 divers jigging under the boat in no time.

“The cool thing’s you don’t need prior dance experience,” Hoase said. “We start by teaching the steps on shore in slow motion, sort of like tai chi. Then we drop students in the shallows off Diddley’s Landing public pier for the real deal.”

Diesel noted the classes stress conservation and safety.

“We’re careful to practice in big sand patches so we don’t damage coral,” Diesel said. “All the stomping can kill the viz pretty quick, but students don’t seem to mind.

“The trick’s making sure you don’t step on stingrays in the murk,” Diesel said. “We had to send a woman to the clinic yesterday after she got spined in both feet. Barracuda are a worry, too, with all the thrashing the students do.”

Most resort diving guests are enthusiastic about the course.

“It reminds me of the county fair back home,” scuba diver Suzy Souccup said. “You don’t get that heartwarming clack of clogs hitting the wooden floor, of course, but they let you use tank bangers and underwater rattlers, so that gives the same effect. Sort of.”

Hoase and Diesel say their classes are already packed.

“The guest’ve really glommed onto the idea,” Diesel said. “We’re working up an underwater square dance course, too, and long term we’ll branch out into underwater Latin, hip hop, tap, ballroom and pole dancing courses.”

Not all diver guests are happy with the classes.

“I come to Blacktip Island to relax and look at fish,” said longtime Eagle Ray Divers guest Lou Luxfer. “Now I can’t get in the water without hearing that cat-gutting noise they call music, and you can’t see the fish through all the sand those yahoos kick up.”

Hoase isn’t daunted by the complaints.

“Sure, the clogging stirs up some sand, but the currents off Diddley’s takes most of the sediment over the wall,” Hoase said. “And we’re careful to run classes during non-peak times when there’s not a lot of other divers on the reef, like agency standards stipulate.”

The course is offered as a specialty through NAUI, PADI and SSI. Diesel also teaches a Solo Clogging course through IANTD, which bans use of bluegrass music.

“It’s an agency-specific thing, not a big deal,” Diesel said. “We separate the students from each other as far as we can and play Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself’ on the underwater speaker.”

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Traffic Accidents Mount On Blacktip Island Reefs

Increased use of diver propulsion vehicles is causing traffic snarls on Blacktip Island dive sites. (photo courtesy of Matthew Hoelscher)

Increased use of diver propulsion vehicles is causing traffic snarls on Blacktip Island dive sites. (photo courtesy of Matthew Hoelscher)

Blacktip Island marine park officials are urging caution on the Caribbean island’s scuba dive sites after a spike in the number of accidents involving underwater diver propulsion vehicles.

“We’re victims of our own success,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “We’re teaching so many D.P.V. classes, it seems like everyone’s using scooters now.

“We tell students slow and steady’s the way to go with the scooters, but our guests never listen,” Latner said. “We’re seeing single- and multi-vehicle wrecks underwater about every day.”

The scooters also have many of the island’s scuba divers upset.

“Bunch of knuckleheads racing around is what they are,” diver Georgie Passaic said. “It’s just ZOOM and you’re blindsided by bubble trails and flapping fins. There’s even traffic jams on some of the sites.”

Officials say the problem is made worse by divers coming to Blacktip Island from different parts of the world.

“The Americans circle coral heads clockwise, whilst the Brits circle anti-clockwise,” Marine Parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “And the Americans insist on using four-way stop right-of-way rules. The Brits use roundabout rules. The result is a right mess.”

Attempts to enforce underwater safety measures have been ineffective.

“The island constable’s jurisdiction ends at the shore,” Schrader said. “And we don’t have the personnel to patrol every dive site. We have plans for underwater traffic signals, but that’s a long way off.

“Meanwhile, the underwater wreckage is piling up,” Schrader said. “People just mash the accelerator and go. On some of the more popular reefs you can’t see the coral for the debris.”

Local dive professionals bristled at criticism they’re to blame for the situation.

“We crack down on scooter use, that takes beer from our mouths,” Club Scuba Doo dive operations manager Finn Kiick said. “People pay top dollar for D.P.V. courses and rental. We about went out of business last week when we banned scooters completely.”

Other industry insiders insist underwater scooters are here to stay.

“These D.P.V.s are a boon,” Eagle Ray Divers’ Latner said. “All the wrecked scooters out there mean we’re teaching more Wreck Diving courses, more Search and Recovery courses and more First Aid courses. We even have instructors working up Underwater Traffic Routing course outlines for NAUI, PADI and SSI.”

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Blacktip Island Dive Operators Welcome Emotional Support Animals

Blacktip Island scuba resorts now allow emotional support animals, such as these sandwich terns, to dive with their people.

Blacktip Island scuba resorts now allow emotional support animals, such as these sandwich terns, to dive with their people.

With the growing popularity of emotional support animals, dive operations on Blacktip Island are refitting their dive boats to accommodate scuba diving guests’ companion animals.

“Places have been allowing emotional support dogs and cats for years,” said Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms. “After a bunch of guest complaints, we decided to try that with diving.

“We rigged our Titan Eos with special seats and lavatory facilities to see how it’d go,” Bottoms said. “It worked so well, we rigged the Titan Ganymede and Titan Uranus too. Nothing’s too good for our emotionally unstable guests.”

Other island resorts quickly followed suit.

“So long as the diver has proper documentation for their support animal, they’re welcome on our boats,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “We also rent water-tight Plexiglas crates with pony bottles for folks who want to take their animals on the dive with them. I mean, underwater’s where a lot of our guests need the most emotional support.

“We can accommodate anything up to and including a small pot-bellied pig,” Latner said. “Any bigger, the crate’s buoyancy gets to be an issue.”

Blacktip Island’s divers welcomed the change.

“It’s wonderful to take Frumpy with me and not leave him in the room by himself half the day,” scuba diver Suzy Souccup said, stroking her 12-foot Burmese python. “He and I are both calmer during the dives, though several guests were put off when he decided to explore the boat on his own during our surface interval.”

The island’s dive staffs are not as enthusiastic.

“Underwater’s not the best place for topside animals,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Marina DeLow said. “We had a badger go ballistic on a dive last week. Things were fine until we hit 30 feet, then all hell broke loose.

“We had to evac the badger to the surface without a safety stop, then spent an hour getting it calmed down enough for us to open its crate,” DeLow said. “We ended up having to cut back on air until it passed out.”

Other resorts are offering training to avoid underwater mishaps.

“We’ve started NAUI and PADI Emotional Support Animal specialty courses,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Haven said. “At a minimum, we require support animals to do an orientation dive in our pool before boarding our boat.”

Experts emphasized the need for good judgment in choosing an animal to dive with.

“We had a woman with an emotional support squirrelfish yesterday,” DeLow said. “It wasn’t two minutes into the dive a Nassau grouper hit it, bam, duck on a June bug. A doc onboard guessed it set her therapy back six years.”

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Locals To Shelter-On-Scuba For Meteor Shower

A university scientist warns this year’s Perseid meteor shower will rain destruction on Blacktip Island.

A university scientist warns this year’s Perseid meteor shower could turn Blacktip Island into a cratered wasteland.

Blacktip Island residents are urged to seek shelter during the height of this week’s Perseid meteor shower, predicted to strike the Caribbean island from 11:17 pm – 2:43 am the night of August 11-12.

“Blacktip will be at the absolute bull’s eye for this year’s Perseid event,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip professor Ernesto Mojarra. “We’ll experience one of the most projectile-intense passes in recent history.

“By Tuesday morning this place could look like a World War I battlefield.”

Many locals plan to shelter in place underwater on the island’s coral reefs for the shower’s most intense period.

“That hurricane shelter smells of feet, and the tin roof barely stops rain,” island resident Lee Helm said. “No way it’ll stand up to meteors. Me? I’m riding it out on scuba.”

“Your average meteor is only deadly to about 18-20 feet in seawater,” TU-B’s Mojarra said. “After that it’s just a cold rock dropping a few feet per second.

“We’re telling folks the best depth for survival is in the 20-30 foot range. That gives the ideal balance between safety from meteors and prolonging one’s air supply.”

“All our rental gear’s spoken for,” Eagle Ray Divers’ owner Rich Skerritt said. “Regulators, tanks, everything. Some folks are reserving two, three cylinders just to be safe.

“We’ll have dive boats available, too, to take folks to the deeper reefs. For an additional fee, of course. Pricey? Sure. But, hey, what’s your life worth?”

Other resort operators are skeptical.

“We’ve set up chairs on our beach so people can watch, and will have complimentary Kevlar umbrellas, but that’s about it,” Club Scuba Doo manager Polly Parrett said. “The way some people are reacting, you’d think the sky was falling. And I suppose it is. But not in a bad way.

“Is it coincidence Ernie’s got a ton of money invested in Eagle Ray Divers? I think not.”

“The Chicken Little story has its basis in fact,” Mojarra said. “This sort of catastrophe’s happened before. And’ll happen again. We can’t just bury our heads in the sand.”

Eagle Ray Divers will offer NAUI, PADI and SSI Meteor Diver distinctive specialty courses for those who shelter on the reefs.

“This is a unique opportunity, despite the danger,” Eagle Ray Divers’ Skerritt said. “Folks are crazy if they don’t take advantage of it. This is a cert card none of their friends’ll have.”

“How often do you get to say, ‘meteors rained down on me and I survived’?” Mojarra said. “And with luck, divers will find spent meteorites on the reef to keep as souvenirs. That’s priceless.”

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Divemaster to Make Giant Stride Entry From Space

Divemaster Marina DeLow will splash down on Blacktip Island's Jawfish Reef Sunday after making a giant stride entry from a capsule at the edge of space. (photo courtesy of Stefan97)

Divemaster Marina DeLow will splash down on Blacktip Island’s Jawfish Reef Sunday after making a giant stride entry from a capsule at the edge of space. (photo courtesy of Stefan97)

Inspired by 2012’s record-setting space jump, Blacktip Island dive leader Marina DeLow will perform a giant stride scuba entry from the edge of space, splash down on an island dive site, then complete a recreational scuba dive this weekend.

“I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, and I love diving,” said DeLow, a divemaster at Eagle Ray Cove resort. “What better way to combine both passions? It’ll be the first time anyone’s gone from above the troposphere to below the troposphere with one step.

“We do giant strides from elevated piers all the time. This is really the same thing, just with more hang time.”

DeLow will splash down at Halyard Wall on Blacktip Island’s west coast, then do a 45-minute open-circuit dive before surfacing.

“The angle has to be just right,” said Dr. Azul Tang, head of DeLow’s jump support team. “She hits vertical, she’ll bottom out 260 feet down the wall; too oblique, she’ll skip across the water like a stone. She bounced four times and did a double-gainer in last week’s practice drop.

“Seventy-one point two degrees off vertical should put her at 53 feet of depth. That’s our goal.”

The European Space Agency (Agence spatiale européenne) has donated the balloon to lift DeLow 120,000 feet into the stratosphere. Eagle Ray Divers has donated a specially-modified dive boat for use as a gondola.

“The Guinness World Record folks said it won’t count as a giant stride unless it’s from a boat,” Eagle Ray Divers ops manager Ger Latner said, “so the Skipjack’ll be the first dive boat in space. We’ve about used up the island’s supply of 10-mil Visqueen and duct tape. And explosive bolts.”

Kevlar scuba fins will give DeLow additional maneuverability while airborne. The Kevlar will also resist burning up on entry.

Island dive operators plan to avoid the island’s west coast for the duration of DeLow’s jump window.

“We trust her aim and all,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens said. “But if she hits our boat, well, we don’t have the staff for that kind of repair. Or clean up.”

DeLow isn’t worried.

“I’ve already written up lesson plans for a new specialty course,” she said. “NAUI, PADI and SSI instructors will also be able to incorporate it into their existing Altitude Diving courses.”

Eagle Ray Divers’ Latner is optimistic as well.

“If she survives, and the insurance company gives us the OK, we’ll make space diving one of our regular dive offerings,” he said.

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Blacktip Island Gets Artificial Reef

A model aircraft carrier used in the film “Tomcats of Fury” is one of the ships slated to be sunk as an artificial reef.

A model aircraft carrier used in the film “Tomcats of Fury” is one of the ships slated to be sunk as an artificial reef.

In keeping with the trend of sinking retired ships to create artificial reefs, model warships used in numerous Hollywood films will be sunk off Blacktip Island’s west coast this week to create the island’s first artificial reef.

“They’re small, sure, but there’s a lot of them,” Director of Tourism Val Schrader said. “It may not be as dramatic as the artificial reefs in, say, Florida or the Cayman Islands, where they used full-sized ships, but we’re tickled pink nonetheless. Some islands larger than us don’t have an artificial reef at all.”

The plan has drawn protests from veterans groups, environmental organizations and cinematic professionals.

“If these craft aren’t properly cleaned, they could wreak havoc on incredibly fragile reef systems,” Harry Pickett of the Pelagic Society said. “One drop of airplane glue can wipe out a 1,000-year-old coral head. And they’re talking about dropping dozens of these things out there.”

Minnie Bilder, head of the Screen Propmakers Guild, voiced concern as well.

“These vessels have had long, dignified careers,” Bilder said. “They’re stars. They deserve better than to be chucked off a dive boat by a bunch of Jacques Cousteau wannabes building an amusement park.”

Schrader countered both objections.

“These models have been cleaned according to the highest international standards,” she said. “And we’re not going to just toss them overboard to settle willy-nilly on the coral. They’ll be taken down individually, with full honors, and placed on the sand in a dignified manner.

“This is win-win-win. The wrecks will attract divers to the island’s resorts, and the underwater structures will provide homes for fish and other marine creatures. It’s a boon for the economy and the ecosystem, and also allows the movie studios to free up warehouse storage space.

“We’re especially excited at the prospect of these ships providing homes for juvenile Goliath grouper,” Schrader said.”

Dives done on the miniature wrecks will count toward NAUI and PADI Miniature Wreck Diving specialty certifications.

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