CAMDEN, Maine — The fleet of sailing vessels that turned out Saturday for the Camden Windjammer Festival were joined by the fleet feet of 30 competitors in the long-lived and much-loved lobster crate races.
The competitors, mostly children, vied for top honors in a competition that rewards balance, speed and traction. Some of them criss-crossed the strung-together crates until their two-minute time limit expired. Others, despite their daring best efforts, landed in Camden Harbor with a dejected kerplunk. Regardless, hundreds of spectators who watched the event cheered everyone equally whether they ended up wet or not.
Ten-year-old Abby Doherty of Kennebunk was one of the first female competitors, and she did her gender proud.
“It seemed easy at first,” she said while enjoying a vanilla ice cream cone after the competition. “When you start getting tired and go slower, the water starts to come up and it’s a lot harder.”
Her 8-year-old sister, Lily, agreed.
“It was hard,” said Lily. “I was running so hard I got out of breath. It sinks down. I was nervous at first but it was fun.”
The lobster crate race was just one of numerous events and expositions featured at the festival, which began Friday and runs through Sunday. The festivities’ final day Sunday was scheduled to continue with more events, including the Chadwick Cup Radio-controlled Boat Race, a “Sea Dog” dog show, a simulated pirate attack, a boat parade and the much-anticipated build-a-boat race at 3 p.m. Competitors for that event were busy Saturday slapping together vessels of various shapes and sizes, all inspiring the same question: Will it float?
Dan Bookham, executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce, said this year marks the largest turnout of schooners and windjammers at the festival, with at least 22 tied up in Camden Harbor on Saturday. The crowd, which was reduced in 2010 because of the arrival of a potent tropical storm, was as large as ever, he said, which was fitting as the festival celebrated 75 years of windjammer activity in Maine.
“We usually attract between 8,000 and 9,000 people, and I think we’ll be at that level again this year,” he said.
The festival started 16 years ago as an end-of-season celebration for windjammers in the area and has grown into one of Maine’s best-known Labor Day weekend events.
According to Arthur Kirklian, who owns The Leather Bench shop on Main Street in Camden, the festival is as eagerly anticipated by business owners as it is by anyone else.
“It’s good for the town; it’s good for the people,” he said. “I think just about everyone around here enjoys it.”
For more information about the festival and to see a schedule of Sunday’s events, visit the website www.camdenwindjammerfestival.com.