To say that Fitzroy Dobson loves his job would be an understatement.
For the last 46 years he’s organised and provided radio-worthy commentary on crab races that have become somewhat of a fixture on the tourism scene in western Jamaica. His crustacean friends have brought delight, and in some cases luck, to those he entertains.
Most often seen at hotels in St James, Dobson and his collection of hermit crabs have taken racing to a whole new level. The crabs are placed at the centre of a small circle and, as they make their way to its circumference, Dobson — megaphone at his lips — provides blow by blow coverage of the contest.
There are seven competitors, identified by the colour of their shells. They have been painted with water-based, non-toxic paint to represent countries including Jamaica, England and the United States.
Dobson’s commentary is sprinkled with humour that often leaves those watching the race with huge grins on their faces. Delighted guests often upload his performance to YouTube.
“The guests love it, I make them laugh,” he said with a chuckle.
Before he found his calling as a crab racer, the Westmoreland native worked on a ship and did a stint as a carpenter. Then he joined the pool staff at what was then the Rose Hall Intercontinental Hotel in Montego Bay (now the Hilton Rose Hall).
“There was a gentleman called John Stockdale there, he was the entertainment director. When he said to me if I can do crab race, I said, ‘Yes sir, yes sir’. I didn’t know what he was talking about but I know horse race. I went to get some round-looking crab, paint them up, started using a little bull horn and he showed me how to do it and that’s where it started from,” Dobson explained.
He has made a modest living from crab racing, enough to give his daughter an education.
But it wasn’t easy in the beginning, he said, because he had problems articulating his words and he had a tendency to speak too fast. Determined to do better, he listened to the radio and practised.
“I gradually learned, in particular listening to the radio, how they speak. People don’t know that the radio is there to teach you; you can’t just say anything [you want to on] the radio,” he explained.
Since then, most weekends he can be found at properties such as The Hyatt, Half Moon and Tryall where his brightly coloured crabs elicit shouts of delight as they make their way to the circle’s edge. The cheers are familiar to anyone who has ever been to the race track.
Now 76 years old, Dobson worries there will be no one to keep crab racing going after he can no longer stage the contests.
“Them only interested in collecting a money, they don’t speak proper English, they’re not energetic,” he said. “When I’m gone, I think that’s it.”
But for now, he has no intention of slowing down.
“I’m fit like a fiddle, man,” he remarked, indicating that he will only stop when he gets that message from God.
“I feel good, energetic!” he said.