‘Something silly’ hits Damariscotta

Buzz Pinkham zooms around the Damariscotta River Sunday afternoon in his 2.5 horsepower pumpkin boat. He helped found the festival in 2005, when just one pumpkin boat hit the water. (Bangor Daily News/Abigail Curtis)
Buzz Pinkham zooms around the Damariscotta River Sunday afternoon in his 2.5 horsepower pumpkin boat. He helped found the festival in 2005, when just one pumpkin boat hit the water. (Bangor Daily News/Abigail Curtis)
Posted Oct. 11, 2009, at 10:05 p.m.
Peter Geiger's space shuttle pumpkin was the fastest on the water during the paddle division of the pumpkin regatta. &quotThat is the most stable pumpkin I've ever paddled," Geiger, the editor of the Farmers Almanac, said about his white-painted 525-pound vessel. (Bangor Daily News/Abigail Curtis)
Peter Geiger's space shuttle pumpkin was the fastest on the water during the paddle division of the pumpkin regatta. "That is the most stable pumpkin I've ever paddled," Geiger, the editor of the Farmers Almanac, said about his white-painted 525-pound vessel. (Bangor Daily News/Abigail Curtis)

DAMARISCOTTA, Maine — Costumed people raced around Damariscotta Harbor on Sunday in giant pumpkins that were hollowed out and equipped with outboard motors.

Two thousand people cheered them on from shore, clapping when they made it and clapping when they didn’t.

And no, it was not a very strange collective hallucination.

“I’ve had people say, ‘That doesn’t make sense,’” said Buzz Pinkham of Damariscotta, who helped start the annual Damariscotta Pumpkinfest event five years ago. “We spend too much time in our lives trying to make sense of things. You have to have a day when things don’t make much sense — and enjoy it.”

The weeklong festival, which concludes today, included the pumpkin catapult, a parade and the Pumpkin Chuckin’ event, during which people shoot pumpkins at a junked Lincoln Continental.

“Everybody had a good time and a smile,” Pinkham recalled.

On proud display this year was the new Maine record holder in the giant pumpkin division. Its 1,210 pounds were the culmination of eight years of labor by pumpkin hobbyist Elroy Morgan of Bradford.

“I finally got the record,” Morgan said, beaming behind sunglasses. “I just happened to get lucky with this one. It just kept growing.”

Although the massive pumpkin weighed just 167 or so pounds on Aug. 3, it grew 30 pounds a day for three weeks.

It may be placed on display at the Bangor Mall, Morgan said, but it won’t be the end of his growing career.

“I’m hoping to get 1,400 or 1,500 pounds in the next couple of years,” he said.

But the highlight of Pumpkinfest has to be the pumpkin paddle boat races and the motorized pumpkin regatta. A total of 14 boats entered the races this year, which is 13 more than there were in 2005. That’s when Pinkham got a how-to book about growing giant pumpkins, which strived to answer the age-old question of what to do with a giant pumpkin.

One solution — to make a giant-pumpkin boat — piqued Pinkham’s interest. He grew a giant pumpkin that year with the intention of seeing how seaworthy it could be, and tried to quietly take it to the harbor for a test run.

“You can’t really sneak into town with a pumpkin boat,” he said.

Word spread quickly, a hundred people came to gawk, and the tradition began.

Part of the fun came from the droll commentary delivered by Larry Sidelinger, who made plenty of NASCAR allusions in his thick Maine accent.

After Tom Lishness of Windsor capsized, Sidelinker provided a blow-by-blow description of the way rescue crews rushed to the aid of the pumpkin and its motor.

“We need a wrecker,” Sidelinker said. “We got a sinking. Notice they’re saving the pumpkin. The heck with the driver!”

Mary Kate Reny, who serves on the Pumpkinfest committee, looked happy as she watched the races from the sideline as tethered pumpkins gently knocked against the dock in the breeze.

“There’s nothing better than this fabulous community doing something silly,” she said.

One crowd favorite was Robert Clifford of Walpole, who piloted a pumpkin boat called the S.S. Super Soaker. It was equipped with a 15-horsepower outboard motor, and he lapped the competition while still finding time to spray the crowd with a water gun.

“It’s my first time racing,” he said. “And if it sinks like those other pumpkins, it’ll be my last time.”

Lisa Evans of Roslindale, Mass., appeared to be the only woman who raced. She paddled a borrowed pumpkin boat that was painted white and decorated to look like a space shuttle.

“It was very fun,” she said after one heat. “Paddling a pumpkin — you don’t usually have that opportunity.”

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