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Old-School Blacktip Island Divers Create Living History Museum

old dive gear museum

Vintage dive gear owners on Blacktip Island have joined forces to create the region’s first living history museum focused on scuba diving equipment and techniques from diving’s early days. (BTT staff photo / Clete Horn)

A group of old-school Blacktip Island scuba divers this week combined their antiquated dive equipment to create a living history museum celebrating the small Caribbean island’s rich scuba traditions, members said.

“Instead of throwing out all our old gear, we put it all in one place to show modern divers what scuba diving was like in the day,” Blacktip Island Mossback Club president Jay Valve said. “Dive ops won’t let us on the boats with this stuff, so we put it in glass cases where visitors could look at it. That was depressing though, so we decided to do demonstration dives with our gear from shore a couple times a week.

“Divers today don’t realize how easy they’ve got it, what with their floatie vests and extra regulators and fancy pressure gauges,” Valve said. “There’s still plenty of life in this old equipment. If this kit was good enough for Lloyd Bridges, it’s good enough for us.”

Club members echoed Valve’s sentiments.

“The dive industry generates a ton of money, but it’s done it by sissifying the sport,” Clete Horn said. “That’s why we do dives to show folks how scuba used to be an adventure. We stay shallow and close to shore so snorkelers and non-divers can see everything. Any guests want to have a go with the gear, we’ll suit them up and turn them loose.

“These’re divers who never breathed off a double-hose reg,” Horn said. “Or felt the thrill of a 10-inch dive machete strapped to their leg. This is how real divers dived. It’s a great experience for dive guests, and shows, really, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Some in the community don’t share club members’ enthusiasm.

“Sure, real divers dived with those museum pieces. Real stupid divers,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens said. “Scuba equipment has evolved. Jay and his gang haven’t. This whole concept is a tribute to how wrong Darwin really was. I’m not sure how anyone survived it. Then or now.”

“What in the world does anyone need a knife like that for, fighting sharks?” Havens said. “All it’ll take is one yahoo getting stabbed, or drowning while using this junk, to do major damage to our bookings. They need to leave all this gear behind glass where it belongs.”

Diving guests have embraced the vintage gear.

“I tried the double-hose reg and the single-seal, fishbowl mask yesterday, and it was a blast,” island visitor Mary Wrasse said. “Sure, the mask leaked like a sieve and I damn-near aspirated half the ocean trying to clear it, but it really put me in touch with what diving was a generation or two ago. And not having an air gauge really racheted up the adventure.”

Community leaders were cautiously supportive.

“This is the stuff the Blacktip Island tourism product was built on,” dive industry watchdog Wade Soote said. “As far as we know, this is the first program of its kind in the Caribbean. That’s bound to draw some extra visitors to the island. And no one’s gotten hurt so far, that we know of, so there’s no down side.”

Club members are encouraged by the shows of support.

“I’m proud to dive with Granddaddy’s regulator and Daddy’s mask and knife,” Horn said. “Folks not only survived using this stuff, they thrived. Put food on the table with it for generations.

“We’re getting more old-time gear for the museum as the old timers pass,” Horn said. “Not from diving, of course. From their families, after. Somebody dies diving, makes it damned tough to recover the gear.”

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Dirigible Service Planned For Blacktip Island

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An antique-themed airship, based on modern designs, will soon be plying the skies between Tiperon and Blacktip islands if its promoters can get the ambitious project off the ground. (photo courtesy of lordkinbote)

Travelers bound for Blacktip Island in the future will have the option of arriving from Tiperon Island via antique lighter-than-air dirigible, say the service’s creators.

“We’re looking at a commuter service that’s more ecofriendly and more stylish than petroleum-burning aircraft,” island entrepreneur Rich Skerritt said. “An old-school airship seemed perfect. It’s slower than an airplane, sure, but it’s as fast as a boat without the worry of rough seas, and it’s way better for the environment. We’re calling it ‘One Nation In Dirigible.’

“We’ll trick out the gondola in Victorian style, like you’d see in an old Jules Verne movie,” Skerritt said. “It’ll have comfy armchairs, a full bar, a pipe-smoking lounge, the whole shebang. We’re playing up the nostalgia to draw passengers who want more from their travel than just a quick commute.”

One Nation In Dirigible’s co-creator said the slow service is a major selling point.

“Upwind, Tiperon to Blacktip, it’ll take about six hours,” Piers ‘Doc’ Planck said. “Downwind, maybe three or four, depending on the wind. We tell passengers not to think of it as a slow ride, but as the bookends of a stylish vacation.

“‘We’ll get there when we get there’ is our motto,” Planck said. “It’s not much different from sailing, really. Passengers can sit back, enjoy the ride and channel their inner steampunk. There’s an interest in old-ee time-ee stuff these days.”

Interest in the service has been high, despite the group not yet having an aircraft.

“Sure, it’s a niche market, but people’re willing to pay top dollar for it,” chamber of commerce president Goldy Gobie said. “They’ve sold a bunch of advance tickets. We’re hoping a unique service like this really draws a new kind of visitor to the island.”

Travelers say a period airship adds an air of glamor to their trips.

“I’ve always regretted being born too young to experience blimp travel,” Patty Palometta said. “Now I can find out firsthand what it’s like to cruise along above the clouds with no sound but the wind whistling by the windows. Unless it catches fire.”

One Nation In Dirigible’s creators downplayed safety concerns.

“Helium’ll provide lift, not hydrogen like with the airship whose name we don’t say, but that starts with ‘H,’” Skerritt said. “Tire company blimps fly thousands of hours every year without a mishap.

“We’re still tweaking the design until we find what works best,” Skerritt said. “Then we’ll decorate it like your grandma’s sitting room and we’re in business. It may take a while to get it just right, but that shouldn’t discourage folks from buying advance tickets. Any tickets you buy today will be honored. Someday. Somehow.”

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Blacktip Island Community Players Stage ‘Schoolhouse Rocky’ Mashup

School House Rocks

Blacktip Island Community Players cast members act out a grammar lesson between boxing rounds Thursday evening’s dress rehearsal of ‘Schoolhouse Rocky,’ combining elements of ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ and the ‘Rocky’ movie. (photo courtesy of Otterbein University Theater & Dance)

The Blacktip Island Community Players will perform ‘Schoolhouse Rocky,’ a mashup of Schoolhouse Rock and the Rocky boxing movie, Saturday and Sunday evenings at the Caribbean island’s Heritage House, BICP members said.

“We wanted to push the boundaries and do something unexpected, something no one’s done before,” said Doris Blenny, BICP director. “People are tired of all the ‘My Fair Lady’s and never-ending ‘Cats’ knock offs. We opted for educational fisticuffs.

“With Schoolhouse Rocky, we’ve combined favorite songs and characters from the Schoolhouse Rock public service announcements of the ‘70s with highlights from the Sylvester Stallone boxing classic,” Blenny said. “Most people have an antagonistic relationship with grammar and multiplication tables, so it’s really quite fitting when you think about it. For a few seconds.”

Actors say the combination allows them to test their creative limits.

“Anyone can sing about conjunctions, and act out a fight scene,” cast member Marina DeLow said. “But try being convincing as Bill the bill, fighting your way up Capitol Hill against Apollo Creed. That takes a special talent.

“And nothing stretches a vocalist’s ability like singing the ‘’Naughty Number Nine’ multiplication song while taking a punch to the gut and counter punching,” DeLow said. “And frankly, it’s contagious. Half the island’s running around humming the tunes ever since we started rehearsals. And fighting in the bars. With and without gloves.”

Island parents praised the play’s educational merit.

“The kiddos can learn math and grammar, and the fighting keeps them from getting bored,” Ginger Bass said. “It hearkens back to Aristotle’s ‘art should instruct and delight.’ And the little ones’ll never mess up their adjectives once they’ve heard the Adjective Song performed by two sweaty boxers. Bad grammar gets walloped every time.

“It also teaches the youngsters how to throw a nasty left hook,” Bass said. “Bullies won’t stand a chance, in or out of the classroom.”

Cast members include:

  • Marina DeLow as Bill the bill / My Hero Zero / Rocky Balboa
  • Payne Hanover as Conjunction Junction / Little Twelvetoes / Apollo Creed
  • Alison Diesel as Mr. Morton / Lucky Seven Sampson / Adrian
  • Gage Hoase as Paul Revere / all three Lollys
  • Jessie Catahoula as Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla / Interplanet Janet
  • Lee Helm as Interjections / The Hairy, Scary Bear

“We were kind of skeptical at first about how, or if, the mashup would work,” Payne Hanover said. “We figured it’d appeal just to an older crowd, but people of all ages have been stopping by to watch us rehearse. And singing along—even little kids know the words.

“Plus, everyone has a blast seeing Lee Helm get the snot beat out of him, even if it’s an act,” Hanover said. “We do make sure we land at least one solid shot amid all the stage-punches. The audience loves it. Lee’s got it coming and he knows it.”

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Blacktip Island To Become A Medical Tourism Mecca

medical tourism

Blacktip Island business leaders are betting the Caribbean island’s pristine beaches and rustic medical facilities will draw visitors eager for medical adventures in the tropics. (photo by Wendy Beaufort/BTT staff)

Hoping to capitalize on a growing tourism trend in the region, Blacktip Island’s business leaders Thursday approved a plan to market the small Caribbean island as a medical-tourism destination.

“This medical tourism stuff’s all the rage these days,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “The Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, they’ve all got sick and injured folks lining up to pay top dollar for life-saving treatment in the tropical sunshine. We’re hitching our star to that wagon quick as we can.

“It’s the natural extension of our existing tourism product,” Cobia said. “Sure, Blacktip’s a little rustic compared to some of the high-end destinations, but that’s our strength. Why recuperate in the hustle and bustle of Old Havana when you can heal body and soul here on our tranquil beaches?”

Community leaders stressed Blacktip’s medical shortcomings.

“You’re right. We are an island of 120 people, give or take. No way we can compete with five-star locales like Grand Cayman,” Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce president Rich Skerritt said. “We only have the one little clinic, kinda like your high school nurse’s office. It’s backwater, under equipped and under staffed, but that’s the draw.

“We’ve positioned ourselves as the adventure medical tourism destination to bring in all the young adrenalin junkies,” Skerritt said. “It’s an untapped demographic. Anyone can go to a top-notch facility and get world class treatment. Here, we just have an on-call nurse—who may or may not be able to help you—and basic medical supplies. We don’t even have an x-ray machine. You can go in for a flu shot and come out worse off than when you went it. It’s not for the faint of heart. Literally.”

Some on the island questioned the initiative’s appropriateness.

“It is completely unethical to provide anything but the best care possible,” Tiperon University Blacktip medical school chair Dr. Ernestine Bass said. “To intentionally entice patients to a facility incapable of providing adequate care for serious medical conditions is wrong and potentially criminal.

“We have a serviceable clinic that covers the basic needs of our residents and guests. But that’s all it’s designed to do,” Bass said. “Any medical emergencies, we send patients off island quick as we can. We’ll end up doing that with these medical tourists, too. If there’s a seat on the plane. People will get hurt, or worse. Jack and Rich might as well market this as ‘Darwin Was Wrong Travel’”

Patients, however, raved about the program.

“Medical care’s gotten so stale, so run-of-the-mill lately,” island visitor Buddy Beretta said. “This is more primitive, and so visceral. It gets you in touch with your ancestors and everything they went through just to survive.

“For my colonoscopy, they ran out of anesthesia,” Beretta said. “They gave me a shot of rum, a stick to bite on and away we went. It makes you feel alive. Unless something goes wrong. And recovering in a beach hammock was way better than in a hospital bed.”

Program backers are optimistic about future expansions.

“Right now the clinic’s only got one room and two beds, but if this takes off, we’ll add another room, and maybe get a part-time doctor.” Cobia said. “The nurse’ll get more proficient as she gets more practice, too.

“End of the day, nostalgia plays a huge role in this,” Cobia said. “Our pitch is, ‘In junior high, the school nurse could make everything better. On Blacktip Island you can regain that lost youth.’ Sure, we may lose a few patients, but with an operation this size, you have to expect a few losses.”

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Blacktip Island Divers To Swim Underwater 5K For Charity

Underwater 5K

The Blacktip Island Running Club will host the inaugural underwater 5K fun dive Saturday morning to raise money for charity. (photo courtesy of Summitandbeach)

Race-minded Blacktip Island scuba divers are slated to swim a five-kilometer underwater course around the Caribbean island’s west coast reefs Saturday morning to raise money for charity, race organizers said.

“It’ll be like any other 5K, just underwater,” Blacktip Island Running Club president Val Schrader said. “We figured since most diving guests kick non-stop and cover that much territory every dive anyway, why not turn that to good and raise money for a much-beloved charitable organization?

“Anybody who’s certified is welcome to join in,” Schrader said. “It’s about participating and having fun for most participants. Only a few are actually fast enough to win, and they’ve been training ever since we announced the race last month. All ages are encouraged, and there’ll be awards for the winners of each age division. We’ll even have an under-10 division snorkeling category.”

Organizers said the logistics were more challenging than with a terrestrial race.

“For a road race you just measure out five kilometers on your car’s odometer and call it good,” club member Clete Horn said. “Underwater, though, distance measurement gets trickier. We had a team out with big tape measures plotting out a course around multiple dive sites. And a second team following behind, double-checking their math.

“We also had to steer the course away from coral as much as possible,” Horn said. “We’ve got 5K of dive reel line held up by stakes in the sand, in a meandering loop from Jawfish Reef to Hammerhead Ledge and back again.”

The race will start and end at Diddley’s Landing public pier.

“Racers’ll line up at the pier’s edge, and when we blow the whistle, they’ll all giant stride in at once,” Schrader said. “It’s about a nine-foot drop, so that entry may be the most exciting part of the race.

“We’ll post judges underwater at each turn to make sure no one cuts corners,” Schrader said. “The first diver to climb back up the steps beside the pier will win the coveted Golden Flipper award. Well, we’re pretty sure it’ll be coveted. Eventually.”

Spectators will be able to watch the race from the pier.

“We threw up some scaffolding in case people want a better view, but we’re really not expecting a huge crowd, what with the race starting at seven in the morning,” Port Authority head Rocky Shore said. “We’ll be serving hot coffee and cold bloody Marys for spectators in need, and after-race divers.”

Participants are using a variety of strategies to prepare for the race.

“Lee Helm’s blabbing about greasing himself up, like for an English Channel swim,” Alison Diesel said. “But, knowing Lee, that’s just an excuse to rub Crisco all over himself and wear his Speedo in public.

“Me, I’ve doing wind sprints on every dive this week, covering as many sites as possible,” Diesel said. “My thighs are screaming, but my cardio’s killer. Carb up big time tonight, and I’ll be taking home that Golden Flipper tomorrow.”

Proceeds from the race will go to the Helping Hands Monkey Hands service-animal providers.

 

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Blacktip Island Entrepreneur Releases Seasonal Affective Disorder Panels

SAD panels

Blacktip Island sustainable scuba gear manufacturer Bamboo You is marketing retired restaurant chalk boards as ‘Sol-Less’ reverse-seasonal-affective disorder panels for overstimulated island visitors. (photo courtesy of Scottb211)

Blacktip Island entrepreneur Piers ‘Doc’ Planck Wednesday unveiled a new product line of black matte, light-absorbing panels to help island visitors manage their reverse-seasonal-affective disorders.

“People think of SAD only affecting folks in northern, low-sun latitudes, but the sunlight here can overwhelm newcomers,” Planck said. “Sometimes people need a downer, but they don’t know it. Or want to admit it. And our Sol-Less panels provide that.

“Visitors can get too upbeat and burn themselves out, what with all the sun and the light reflected from the water and the sand,” Planck said. “A lot of people overdose on sun and fun and crash by the third day or so. Next thing you know, they’re going to bed at 8:30.”

Planck associate Christina Mojarra explained how the panels counteract tropical sunlight.

“It’s based on the concept of subtractive lighting, like you’d use in photography,” she said. “Originally, we had test subjects sit inside for a bit, but no one wants to do that on a nice day. And the blacklights just made them hungry.

“Then we noticed people sitting by the blackboard at the Sand Spit bar were way chill, and the lightbulb went on,” Mojarra said. “In trials, overstimulated subjects sat beside our black matte panels for 20 minutes and it calmed them right down. They went from being out carousing and annoying the more low-key guests, to being low key themselves.”

The island’s scientific community is skeptical.

“Whatever Doc and Christina are doing may calm people down, but I’ve seen no causal relationship between sedate individuals and repurposed blackboards,” Tiperon University-Blacktip biology chair Catalina Luxfer said. “I think it’s more than coincidental their original test subjects were sitting at a bar mid-afternoon.”

Others objected to the panels’ marketing.

“Doc’s had some damn-fool ideas before, but this one takes the cake,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “He wants people to be less happy? How do you pitch ‘less happy’ as a good thing to potential island visitors?

“Tourists plan all year to come down here and get happy,” Cobia said. “It’s great he’s making money, but at what cost to the rest of us? Blacktip’s a 24-7 party, and he’s selling a buzz kill.”

Despite the criticism, end-users praised the panels.

“Sometimes the party, party, party side of a Caribbean scuba vacation can take its toll,” Eagle Ray Divers guest Quinn Blenny said. “The Sol-Less panels don’t squelch your fun, they just dial it back a notch or two. They let you enjoy your vacation in moderation and not need a vacation when you get back home.”

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Blacktip Island Uses Fin-Kick Technology To Generate Electricity

fin-kick energy

Blacktip Island scuba divers now have the option of generating electricity for the Caribbean island’s power grid by attaching modified wave converters to their fins. (photo courtesy of jqpubliq)

Scuba divers on Blacktip Island this week began generating energy for the Caribbean island’s electric grid with their fin kicks to augment the island’s electrical infrastructure, public works officials said.

“Electricity’s expensive on this little rock, and burning diesel to generate it is hell on the environment,” Department of Public Works chief Stoney MacAdam said. “We’re going green and sustainable by strapping mini wave energy converters to divers’ fins and offloading the power they produce into the power grid.

“We don’t have the funding to launch a large-scale offshore facility, but the dive operations have helped defray the cost of these person-scaled oscillating surge converters,” MacAdam said. “Volunteer divers clip them on their fins, run a wire up their legs, and the energy produced gets stored in a battery pack on their BC. They turn the batteries in to the dive shops, the shops offload the electricity and the divers get discounted diving.”

The program is not without its hitches.

“We’re still in the pilot stage, but it’s been good overall, with only a couple of minor electrocutions” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “Participating guests get a discount on their diving commensurate with how much electricity they generate, and volunteers are lining up despite the occasional zap.

“The big worry was how the batteries would hold up, but they’re doing fine,” Latner said. “With the lithium-ion puppies we’re using, you can slam power into them, then pound it back out without any negative effect. And the battery packs come with a quick-release buckle in case they overheat.”

Island visitors hailed the program.

“We’re helping the environment and getting a discount,” Gina Marlin said. “My husband and I made a game of it. We kick as big as we can, as fast as we can, to create as much power as possible. Then on safety stops, we race around the boat to make sure our batteries are jam packed.

“The only drawback so far is my collector battery drained some, and I didn’t get full credit for all the juice I produced,” Marlin said. “Whether that was a glitch or a bait-and-switch, I didn’t get nearly the credit I should have. Trip Advisor’s getting a smoking review about that.”

Some island dive staff are unhappy with the program.

“Clean energy’s good, but now we have yahoos doing big-ass flutter kicks to get their mondo discounts,” divemaster Alison Diesel said. “The punters are blasting up sand and kicking the crap out of the reef just to save a few bucks. End of the day, this is worse for the coral.

“We beg people to use smaller kicks, to scull, so they don’t silt up the reef” Diesel said. “Now this is electric fin BS has them doing the opposite. What’s next, overweighting everyone so they kill even more coral?”

Officials remained optimistic.

“The scuba hippies can complain about damaged coral all they want, but this is good for the island overall,” MacAdam said. “The upside of this far outweighs some isolated reef damage.”

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