Blacktip Island Conch Racers Face Stiff Competition

Racing conchs battle for position in Thursday’s qualification round.

Racing conchs battle for position in Thursday’s qualification round.

Blacktip Island’s fastest conchs will go head-to-head Friday in the Caribbean island’s 13th Annual Conch Races at Diddley’s Landing public pier.

“It’s an island tradition started generations ago by young men trying to get young women down to the beach at night,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Next thing you know, someone cooked up an actual race to give the story a veneer of truth. Things took off from there.”

As ever, the races will feature a four-heat, single-elimination format, with the winner of each heat advancing to the championship race.

“This isn’t your father’s conch racing,” conch aficionado Wendy Beaufort said. “Large or small, these conchs are specially groomed for speed. And the competition’s gotten really cutthroat.

“Two years ago someone nicked a conch’s foot with a dive knife pre-race. The poor thing could only limp in a circle. Then last year’s winner tested positive for Viagra.”

The conchs will race on the island’s sand conch course 20 yards offshore from the pier.

“Underwater space for kneeling’ll be available for folks who want to watch first-hand,” race organizer B.C. Flote said. “Most watch via webcam in topside bars, though. They can have a beer there and not worry about their air supply. As hard as these conchs go, they still move at a snail’s pace. A race can take an hour or more.

“This year we’ve also glued GPS trackers on the shells so fans can follow along on their smart phones or tablets. We color code each conch to keep them straight. We thought about naming them, but that seemed silly. Only land crabbers name their racers.”

The event will climax in a cook off featuring conch fritters, chowder, ceviche and burgers.

“Visitors are horrified that we eat the winner,” B.C. Flote said. “But we don’t play favorites. We eat all these suckers. What else would you do them?

“The winner does get its shell spray painted gold and set in the racing club’s trophy case, though. What more could a conch ask for?”

“This is always an exciting time on the island,” resident Alison Diesel said. “Nothing beats a good conch race.”

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