Frigates and red-footed boobies share a stand of mangroves on Blacktip Island Thursday afternoon. This weekend’s Boobies Vs. Frigates competition will feature island residents recreating the two species’ aerial battles for food. (photo courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr)
Blacktip Island residents will draw straws today to determine their roles in Saturday’s annual Boobies Vs. Frigates competition celebrating the height of hurricane season.
“It was a storm-relief debacle that morphed into a community-wide event several years back,” organizer Wendy Beaufort said. “The contest mimics the in-air fights between the booby birds and the frigate birds. The Booby team has to get supplies from Diddley’s Landing to the air strip. The Frigates try to stop them any way they can and steal their goods.
“It teaches teamwork and working together during the hard times post-hurricane,” Beaufort said. “After a storm, you’re never sure who’ll be on your side or who you’ll need help from. The teams are totally random each year, so you see friend against friend, family against family. It’s like a full-contact holiday dinner.”
Residents say the competition eases the tensions of hurricane season.
“Watching the satellite weather, prepping the house, dreading that next big storm, it takes its toll on your nerves,” Jerrod Ephesians said. “Whacking a Booby trying to get past you and stealing his back pack, it’s a great stress reliever.
“Everyone joins in, unless they’re totally physically unable,” Ephesians said. “You should’ve seen Helen Maples last year, smacking Frigates with her cane and kicking them with that ankle boot, broken foot be damned.”
The event has few, but strict, rules to ensure contestants accurately mimic the battling seabirds they represent.
“Boobies have one arm tied behind them so they’re at a disadvantage, like in real life,” event co-chair Christina Mojarra said. “Frigates, they can do anything they want, and it’s usually mean and nasty.
“There’s all sorts of strategies,” Mojarra said. “Usually, the Boobies cluster up in one big wedge and try to bull their way through. Others’ll try an end-run, solo, while that’s happening. It’s a free for all, really. The nurse gets paid double-time for the next few days.”
The contest ends when all the supplies have been either transported to the airfield or seized by the Frigates.
“As soon as that last bag’s secured, the party starts,” Beaufort said. “As ever, Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resorts hosts, what with it being right there, but the party always spills over all up and down the coast.
“A lot of people stay in character all night,” Beaufort said. “You’ll see Frigates at the bar trying to steal money from Boobies, and Boobies squawking about spilled beer and running down the road trying to get a moment to take a drink.
“Sure, some Boobies overindulge and end up barfing in the bushes, but that just adds to the realism,” Beaufort said.