The dried surface of Blacktip Island’s booby pond will be the site of Sunday’s Booby Days race celebrating the Caribbean island’s resident booby bird population. (photo courtesy of Sula Beakins)
The first weekend in May brings the annual Booby Days to Blacktip Island, celebrating the island’s most numerous and most popular residents, the goofy-footed booby birds.
“People come from all around the globe to see these birds,” said Sula Beakins, Blacktip Booby Benevolence League president. “They’re Blacktip Island’s life blood.
“There’s only about 100 people here, but there’s thousands of boobies,” Beakins said. “There was even a push a few years back to rename Blacktip ‘Booby Island,’ but the island council thought that’d give potential visitors the wrong impression.”
As ever, the weekend’s highlight will be Sunday’s race across the island’s dried central pond, to the booby rookery and back again.
“It’s tougher than it looks, and dangerous,” said 2015 winner Edwin Chub. “That mud’s a dried crust on top of sharp ironshore. It looks flat, but there’s all kinds of cavities and crevasses underneath.
“We race in the traditional manner, with tennis rackets strapped to our feet,” Chub said. “We also have to fight our way through a line of folks dressed as frigate birds. It’s a bit like ‘sharks and minnows,’ just stinkier.”
“The nesting boobies’ll peck king hell out of racers on the other side,” Beakins said. “But that’s added incentive to hightail it back.”
Public health officials require all participants to wear full-face respirators to guard against inhaling any dried booby pond dust.
“In the rainy season that pond’s liquid, but there’s damn-little water in it,” said Public Health Director Stoney MacAdam. “That’s generations of dried-up rotted vegetation, dead fish and bird poop. There’s diseases out there that don’t have names yet.”
Participants are also required to tie a long rope to their waist to facilitate body recovery should they fall.
“You go down out there, you’re history,” MacAdam said. “And ain’t no one going out to get you.”
Other weekend activities include a mackerel rundown cook off, a booby-petting booth for children and the ever-popular soused herring-eating contest.
“We serve up raw herring, just like a booby would eat it, but with diced onions,” Beakins said. “Whoever eats the most in a minute, keeps it down for five minutes and hasn’t got food poisoning in four hours wins the coveted Booby Prize.”
The celebration is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control.