Most who sit down to enjoy a taste of conch, like the one pictured above, think very little of conch cracking, the sometimes tricky task of extricating the savory sea mollusks from their shells. There are some not-so-pretty reasons for this, of course.
For me, though, conch cracking has long been equal parts art and obsession; a series of slippery slights of hand, hammering, stabbing, and pulling that I always dreamed to master.
On my just-completed weekend trip to Deep Water Cay, the private island fishing enclave located just offshore the east coast of Grand Bahama Island, I realized my conch cracking dream. My teacher, none other than the greatest conch cracker of all time: Shervin Nelson Tate.
Before we get into the man, though, a few words on where he’s from…
Every October for the past 43 years, on this the day formerly devoted to Columbus (it’s known as National Heroes Day in The Bahamas now), the small settlement of McLean’s Town, a virtual stone’s throw from Deep Water Cay, sheds its normally sleepy state, attracting crowds of people from all corners of The Bahamas (and beyond) for what is, essentially, the Super Bowl of Conch Cracking – The McLean’s Town Conch Cracking Festival.
It is here where The Conch Cracking Championship of The World is contested each year, the winner taking home prize money, a special trophy, and bragging rights as The Best Conch Cracker in The Bahamas.
In all the years that the championship has been contested, no one, and I do mean NO ONE has dominated like Shervin.
He entered his first competition as a preteen motivated, in part, to avenge his father who, Shervin felt, had been cheated out of the title the previous two years. He won, besting scores of grown men many times his senior.
As the years went by, Shervin just kept on winning, and winning, and winning. Then, after 22 straight years of first-place finishes, he went out on top, concentrating more of his time on his other passion, singing, and serving guests at Deep Water Cay.
Shervin may have retired his conch cracker (hammer) and knife from professional competition, but he’s more than happy to teach his championship technique to all interested guests at Deep Water, some of whom have actually gone on to win the visitor’s portion of the Conch Cracking Championship!
“I’m sure you could beat quite a few guys,” Shervin told me after a quick lesson back on Saturday. Sadly, though, I had to leave before the Festival could get started.
I pledged to return next year and do my best to make him proud. For anyone interested in joining me, or simply learning the fastest, easiest way to crack conch, here’s how Shervin gets it done…