Emancipation Day, August 4, was celebrated at Schooner Bay in South Abaco with a Cabana Fish Fry and top -spinning competition. Locals joined with visitors and second homeowners from Nassau and abroad to enjoy a day of fun and feasting.
At 1 PM a group of interested onlookers and excited participants gathered in a specially prepared area where two boards had been set up for competition. Stephen Knowles, well-known wood turner of Bahama Palm Shores, started things off with a top spinning demonstration. Steve has been making tops on Abaco for the past 20 years and is a master not only at the craft but also at the spinning of the tops he makes.
He brought 20 tops with him that day, 10 of which he had made for Schooner Bay and 10 to sell to anyone interested in owning one of his special tops. He explained that he makes most of his tops out of white ironwood and spice wood but whenever he can get hold of some lignum vitae that is what he likes to use best.
“It is my number one top and people’s favourite,” he said.
About eight people started off in the competition and they had to show their skill by spinning their top to hit the top in the centre of the board. The number of competitors left in the game soon narrowed down to three. These were Stephen Knowles, master spinner himself, Bruce Smith of Bahama Palm Shores and Dr. Jerome Lightbourne, a Schooner Bay second homeowner from Nassau.
Since Steve Knowles had crafted the first prize which was a wood turned piece, he bowed out of the competition. Glenn Kelly, town manager at Schooner Bay then stated that they would; “Up the ante in the competition” and he painted a small red dot in the centre of the board which the competitors then had to aim their tops at. When both competitors managed to achieve this goal a leaf was then placed in the centre of the board to be pegged which made it even more difficult.
The final winner was Bruce Smith.
Then it was the turn of the young people to compete. Joshua and Daniel, sons of Glenn Kelly, were the only two youngsters to take on the challenge but when Mr. Kelly invited anybody who was young at heart to join in they were joined by Luke Lavalle, who also works at Schooner Bay.
Irene Lowe said that she had been spinning tops with her left hand since she was a child and she was proud to announce that she had just also learnt to spin with her right hand. She was throwing out the challenge for people to try and compete with her using both hands but was disappointed that nobody took her up on it.
Spinning tops have been around so long that no one knows who started this but it is thought to be likely that the first top was a nut or an acorn spun by a curious child. Different types of tops have been spun for centuries in China, Japan and Europe. It is believed that the pegged top which is spun in the Bahamas has been around since about the 1700s or 1800s. The pegged top is spun by winding a string or cord around the top and throwing the top up to unwind the string and make the top spin on its metal peg. The spinner then uses the cord to pull the top onto the designated mark or to flick it up to be caught in the hand.
Following the top spinning competition, onlookers and contestants moved to the Cabana Bar and Restaurant close by to enjoy the Fish Fry. Tables outside offered views over the pristine beach and beautiful blue water while tables inside offered relaxation of a little cooler nature. In addition to all the beverages of choice the menu offered a good variety ranging from conch chowder and fritters to chicken wings, sandwiches and pizza and for the more hearty appetites deep fried yellow tail snapper and lobster tail plates.
During the afternoon Schooner Bay chef, Shenique Peart, provided a continuous conch salad making demonstration with delicious, fresh ingredients. Her mouthwatering salads were then on the menu for all to enjoy.