It’s not even Earth Day yet, but we are completely exhausted from Earth Day celebrations. We sit in the lone sailboat in Governor’s Harbor, Eleuthera, listening to Bahamian ‘Rake and Scrape’ and Junkanoo music come across the water from Bay Front Park. I’m drinking one of the 26 beers I earned today.
We started at noon with a walk around town, then went to the ‘Jammin For Nature’ festival. Attendance was low at first, but picked up as the day progressed.
There were a few craft stalls set up under a temporary thatched roof. Half a dozen booths served fish and steak meals with generous helpings of sides. Sands, a Freeport based brewery, had a couple of beer tents set up. The stage was set, complete with palm frond underpinning, for the MC and live bands.
The fun started with games. It was easy for the MC, Ricardo, to get kids to join in the jump rope competition, and sack, three-legged, and egg and spoon races. He was even able to cajole some adults into the tug-o-war by capitalizing on intra-Elutherian rivalries. But only the promise of ‘two beers for the winner’ could lure your humble narrator to compete as a ‘wisitor’ in the adult tug-o-war.
But no other ‘wisitors’ wanted to tug with me. Out of pity, I suppose, a local named Ron challenged me. Ron had biceps the same diameter as my thighs. Surprize! Even though he quickly dragged me across the line I was given the two beers.
During the games we chatted with a local biking enthusiast, Nick, and with Peggy, who was being walked by her dog, Honey. Now I grew up in the South, where people are nice. But people here are NICE. When we told Nick we were planning to walk to the nature park a couple of miles up the road later on, he said he had been meaning to go, but just hadn’t gotten there yet. He proposed that we drive there right now in his car.
But we couldn’t go now. The big competition was about to start. The Sands brewery was sponsoring a sculling race. This was clearly the big athletic event of the afternoon.
In the harbor there were five Bahamian sculling boats and buoys marking the course. The MC had been announcing the start time and trying to drum up volunteers all afternoon. The stakes were high. A case of beer is easily worth 40 bucks here. The winner would take ten cases, second place would take eight, and third place would take six. The top scullers from each heat would advance to the final race.
Now, Bahamian sculling is different than the rowing you did for three hours of college credit. The boats are dories with a single oar and an oarlock on the stern. I use the term ‘oarlock’ loosely because the oars aren’t really ‘locked’ in place. More on that later.
The sculling race had been delayed repeatedly because of a lack of volunteers. Now Ricardo announced that any participant would get a case of Sands beer. Of course, I signed up.
In the first heat the winner made Bahamian sculling look easy. He swished his oar right to left, going out to the buoy and coming back quickly. He had doffed his obligatory Sands T-shirt, and chatted with many onlookers long before the next boat came in. I had watched him closely, and was sure I had mastered his technique. Apparently he just beat the water behind his boat into submission, creating a current behind the boat. I could do that.
At the start of my heat I was way out in front. I used the long oar to push off for a quick start. I stood and paddled vigorously right and left to create a current behind the dory. As I approached the buoy I did one-sided strokes to leave it to port. But I didn’t understand the Bahamian ‘trick’.
When I first got into the boat I was told about the ‘trick’. The guy said to give the oar a twist. I didn’t understand at the time, but he meant that I should twist the oar to the right when rowing right, so that water pressure would hold the oar into its ‘oarlock’. If you don’t do the twist, the oar jumps out of the oarlock. My oar had been jumping out, and I had been compensating for this by holding down the oar with my left hand and rowing with my right.
Now that I was rowing back into the wind and current I couldn’t keep the oar in place. I was actually going backwards. After struggling with this to the brink of coronary arrest, I finally asked the race monitor for a jet ski tow back in to the finish line.
Bahamians have learned that you can’t flog the earth’s forces into submission. You must learn how to cooperate with these forces to survive. Slowly, painfully. I am learning this first hand. It’s a most valuable Earth Day lesson for me.
Back at the stage, the first live band we heard was great. The Rum Runners played Bahamian Rake and Scrape with a kettle drummer, the obligatory saw scraper, and an electric guitarist who could emphasize both the high pitched strumming and growling off-beat bass sounds. In addition to the Rake and Scrape favorites, they re-invented a lot of dance standards with their Bahamian treatment.
The next band wasn’t quite as exciting. The cold wind and heavy rain clouds drove us back to the boat. Now, at 10:30pm, the rain has started, canceling the performance of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force Band.