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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 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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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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