OWLS HEAD, Maine — When three lobster boats were sabotaged in Owls Head harbor earlier this month, it didn’t take long for the shock to ripple through this fishing community of roughly 1,600 residents.
On Sunday, this tight-knit community gave back to three of their own with a benefit dinner … of lobster, of course.
While the money raised probably won’t cover all of the fishermen’s bills, the men certainly appreciated the steady crowd of familiar faces — as well as some unfamiliar ones.
“It’s nice to see,” said a soft-spoken Keith Simmonds. “It’s a good turnout.”
Simmonds’ boat and the vessel belonging to Donald McMahan Jr. both were sunk in the harbor late on Aug. 4 or early Aug. 5 when someone apparently slashed their intake valves or hoses. A third boat, owned by Richard McMahan, was partially submerged.
No arrests have been made and the investigation is continuing. However, it is widely believed that another lobsterman was the saboteur.
The vandalism in Owls Head, a quiet village off the main roads not far from Rockland, came just a few weeks after another high-profile event in this summer’s alarming spike in “turf wars” among lobster fishermen. In that incident, Chris Young was shot in the neck on Matinicus Island. Vance Bunker was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after the July 20 incident. Both men are from Matinicus.
Numerous people said Sunday that tensions are still running high, although the presence of additional law enforcement officers may have tempered the visible aggression.
There are tensions among lobstermen, tensions among families of lobstermen, tensions between lobstermen and state regulators, and so on. Meanwhile, state and federal law enforcement have stepped up patrols around Owls Head, Matinicus and other areas of the Maine coast and are urging local residents to help defuse the tensions tied to the turf wars.
But the mood at Sunday’s benefit dinner was decidedly upbeat as a few hundred people enjoyed freshly cooked lobsters on a day that, despite the weather predictions, turned out to be a picturesque Maine summer afternoon.
Donald McMahan, whom most locals know simply as “Jibba” or “Jib,” said he was extremely gratified by the response. In the typical fashion of a self-sufficient (and admittedly stubborn) lobsterman, McMahan acknowledged he wasn’t overly keen about idea of a benefit dinner.
“I like to do things myself. I’m independent,” he said over a plate of lobster Sunday.
Then again, he really didn’t have a choice but to go along with the idea put forward by his sister Deborah Damon. And on Sunday, this veteran lobsterman who fought back after suffering a stroke several years ago said he was thankful for the community’s support.
While his boat still needs some additional repairs, he has already been out on the water.
“I’ve been through too much to let this bother me,” he said of the sinking.
Asked why she and her friends decided to attend the dinner, local lobster fisherman Janet Hocking replied simply, “We love Jib.”
Deborah Damon, said uncertainty about how Hurricane Bill could affect the region created a logistical challenge for her and the other organizers. They had originally planned to hold the event at the Ship to Shore Lobster Co. wharf in Owls Head but then decided to relocate to the local community center instead.
But the response was so large that they ended up serving lobster dinners at both locations.
“That’s what I was trying to do: to help them out,” Damon said.
Rodney Mason, who runs Ship to Shore Lobster Co. with his wife, Anna, estimated that by about 2:30 p.m. they had cooked about 400 of the 500 pounds of lobster that were donated by local fishermen. The event was scheduled to run until 5 p.m. Sunday.
Many people made additional donations, such as a person who gave $100 for three lobster dinners that cost only $15 apiece.
“To me, this shows that, number one, the community supports the guys who got sunk and, number two, that they don’t approve of that type of behavior,” Mason said.