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Leadbellies Dive Club Angers Blacktip Island Dive Staffs

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A pair of weight-belt bandoliers worn by members of the Leadbellies Dive Club. The club’s questionable weighting practices have angered many Blacktip Island divemasters. (photo courtesy of Eagle Ray Divers/Eagle Ray Cove resort)

A social club for scuba divers who wear excessive amounts of lead weights angered Blacktip Island dive staffs this week when the club booked space on all the Caribbean island’s dive boats.

“It’s a show of force on our part,” Leadbelly Divers president Ida Sunck said. “Wherever you go, divemasters shame you for wearing too much lead. It’s embarrassing and degrading. So we banded together to push back.

“We put members on every boat on the island, so there’s no way one outfit can shuffle us off to another one,” Sunck said. “We’re the customers, and we’ll wear as much weight as we want. Period.”

To qualify for membership, divers must meet strict weighting requirements.

“The baseline, with no wetsuit, is at least 10% of your total body weight, Leadbelly Bob Dunker said. “After that, there’s a BMI-based sliding scale, with roughly one pound added for each millimeter of wetsuit thickness worn.

“With a five-mil suit, you’d better be wearing 30 pounds, minimum, or you’re out,” Dunker said. “We encourage members to use weight-integrated BCs, just to surprise the divemasters, but some folks use so much they have to strap on weight-belt bandoliers.”

Island dive professionals say their opposition is focused on safety.

“It’s crazy wearing that much weight, especially on a wall dive,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase said. “If you’re wearing 20-plus pounds of lead over the wall and your BC fails, you’re gone. The guy with 26 pounds? That’s not integrated weight. That’s ballast. Why not just use the boat’s anchor?

“With that much weight, they’re vertical in the water,” Hoase said. “They burn through air and stress the hell out of their hearts. And most of them aren’t in the best shape to begin with. We keep the oxygen kits set up and ready to go with this group.”

Other staff focused on environmental concerns.

“Overweighted like that, they’re dragging across the bottom,” Club Scuba Doo operations manager Finn Kiick said. “They kill coral every time they kick. We showed them the Marine Parks rules, but they don’t care.

“We tried to charge a dollar a day per every pound they used, too,” Kiick said. “But the owners scotched that one.”

The island’s resort owners have welcomed the Leadbellies.

“Sure they’re yahoos, but if we turn them away, they’ll just dive with Sandy Bottoms or Blacktip Haven,” said Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt. “The dive staff just needs to suck it up.

“We lose a customer, we’ll never get him back,’ Skerritt said. “We lose a couple of staff cat-herding the guests, well, we can always get more dive hippies. I got a foot-high stack of resumes by my desk.”

Island guests, meanwhile, gave the club high praise.

“The kids love to watch their giant strides,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Christie Cottonwick said. “The splashes are phenomenal! It’s like being at a belly-flop contest!”

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