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Underwater Headphones Let Blacktip Island Divemasters Narrate Dives

underwater commentary

Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Lee Helm, in a full-face mask, narrates a dive on Blacktip Island’s Jawfish reef Thursday. The resort’s new program allows in-water divemasters to talk directly to resort guests throughout their dives. (photo courtesy of NOAA)

In an effort to stay one step ahead in the competitive world of recreational scuba, one Blacktip Island resort Monday began offering reef tours led by in-water dive guides giving running commentaries to snorkel and scuba guests outfitted with waterproof headphones.

“We kit our divers out with underwater headsets, and our divemasters have full-face masks so they can talk through the entire dive,” Eagle Ray Divers manager Ger Latner said. “Before, the best a dive guide could do was point to something and maybe write a quick note on a slate. Now our DMs can give full explanations.

“We’re the only dive op on Blacktip that offers this service,” Latner said. “All the extra gear costs, but it’s worth it.”

Resort guests guests agreed

“I never know what the divemaster’s pointing at, and I can never ask,” guest Jackie Wrasse said. “I usually just signal ‘OK’ and move on. Sometimes I think they point at nothing just to mess with me.

“With this, though, I know exactly what they’re showing me,” Wrasse said. “I had no idea there were so many things down there that’re supposed to be interesting.”

Other island dive operators were critical of the tours.

“With one or two divers it can be OK,” said Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick. “But you get 20 divers all trying to get up close to one tiny sea slug, it turns into a real Charlie Foxtrot.

“Already, you can tell where an Eagle Ray divemaster’s been,” Kiick said. “Just look for the broken sea fans and kicked-to-hell coral. No way we’re doing that to the reef.”

Some Eagle Ray Divers staff had reservations as well.

“It’s not fair, having to talk through the entire dive,” divemaster Lee Helm said. “Some people are good at it, but I like to zone out when I lead a dive. And it’s pure hell when there’s nothing to show people, but they still expect a nonstop monologue.”

Others have embraced the narration.

“It’s great being able to explain what I’m showing and why it’s cool,” said divemaster Alison Diesel. “It’s also great the guests can’t talk back. We tried that at first. It didn’t end well.”

“It’s also fun, when a diver hand-signals a question, to answer wrong just to see the look on their face,” Diesel said. “I’m playing with doing tours in rhyme, too. I started with couplets yesterday. I’m working my way up to rap.”

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Maglev Sightseeing Sub Debuts On Blacktip Island Reefs

maglev sub

Blacktip Island’s new maglev bullet sub made its underwater debut Thursday afternoon. The sightseeing submarine can circle the small Caribbean island in less than an hour. (photo courtesy of Sally Port/Tiperon University-Blacktip)

A new high-speed sightseeing submarine took its maiden tour around Blacktip Island Thursday morning to launch what backers hope is as an emerging tourism market.

The submarine circles the island on a magnetic levitation rail at a depth of 25 feet, carries up to 32 passengers and can complete the island’s 26-mile circumference in less than an hour.

“Lots of places have submarine rides, but Blacktip’s the only one with a bullet sub,” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “All us resort owners ponied up, and the Tourism Department kicked in some cash, too, to get more guests to visit the island.

“Lots of people don’t dive. They just want a quick look at the reefs, then back to the bar,” Skerritt said. “Hell, half our divers cover two, three sites every dive anyway. And no one gets seasick on the sub. So far.”

Scientists say maglev technology makes the quick tours possible.

“The carriage does 37.3 miles per hour, top speed,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip engineering chairperson Sally Port. “The drag from the water keeps the velocity down, and that’s key. If it went 200 miles per hour underwater, all you’d see would be a blue blur.”

The submarine is not without its critics.

“They’ve turned a pristine reef into an amusement park,” Pelagic Society president Edwin Chub said. “And no environmental impact study was done. They just pounded a rail into the reef and let her rip.

“And ‘bullet sub’ is a fitting name. It goes so fast fish can’t get out of its way,” Chubb said. “Snapper and coral die for this every day. There’s ichor on Rich and Sandy’s hands.”

Business owners brushed aside the criticism.

“There’s been bullet trains in Japan and Korea for years, so why not have one underwater on Blacktip?” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “We’re just keeping up with the times. Showing fish to people who wouldn’t otherwise see them, and without a long boat ride.

“Guests say it’s better than diving,” Bottoms said. “The sub slows down at good sites where there’s stuff to see, then zips past the boring junk,” Bottoms said. “We can cycle through 30-plus tourists an hour, then sell them seaweed-dyed Bullet Sub t-shirts when they get off. This is the future of ecotourism.”

Guests on the sub’s inaugural trip agreed.

“It was like being in a video game, zooming over the coral like that,” said Sandy Bottoms’ guest Paula Porgy. “We scared the crap out of a bunch of fish, and I think we bonked into a couple of divers, but what a ride!

“It was the trip of a lifetime! We saw everything!” Porgy said. “And we were back in the hot tub in time for pre-lunch margaritas. Who could ask for more?”

 

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