ROCKLAND, Maine — Sunday was all about lobster — about 20,000 pounds of Maine’s favorite crustacean, to be exact.
From babies wearing lobster costumes during the diaper derby to adults tearing into plates of steamed red lobsters, the 65th annual Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland came to a cracking close during the event’s free hometown and family fun day.
One woman who appeared to be having a ball while watching some children’s activities was 2012 Sea Princess Jessica Ruppert of Waldoboro.
“I love it,” the smiling 18-year-old said of the festival. “I’ve been here every day. I absolutely love it.”
Ruppert, though royalty, seemed to speak for the masses who crowded the Harbor Park fairgrounds. Some waited in a long line for the lobster tent, while others got close to the Main Stage to cheer on children who competed in events including the codfish carry, the lobster eating contest and the diaper derby.
“It’s very cute,” Melissa Racioppa of Clinton, N.Y., said while watching her children Erica, 8, and Andrew, 11, eat lobsters as fast as they could. “They were nervous, because they aren’t used to cracking them without crackers.”
Although Erica and Andrew did not win their heat, they did appear to be all smiles after they demolished their lobsters.
Another mother, Katrina Oakes of Rockland, said that she was waiting to enter baby Lucille in the diaper derby. Lucille sported a bumblebee-stripe onesie and iridescent wings.
“She’s a busy bee,” Oakes said of the 10-month-old.
She said that her family had been having a lot of fun going on the fair rides and enjoying the fairgrounds. They had also paid a visit to the USS San Antonio, a Navy ship visiting Rockland during the festival, and were planning to dine on lobsters for lunch.
“This is the main thing in Rockland,” Oakes said.
According to Maine Lobster Festival President Tim Carroll, organizers were estimating that between 40,000 and 50,000 people had come to the five-day event.
Carroll, chief deputy of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, said that he was using his vacation to log 18-hour days at the festival.
“Things seem to be going well,” he said.
Although switching the free hometown day from Wednesday to Sunday did cause a flurry of resistance on social media outlets including Facebook and Twitter, it seemed to be working out, he said.
“It was to try to get more local people here for the whole day,” Carroll said, gesturing at the swarms of hungry folks waiting for their plates of lobsters. “It looks like people have certainly taken advantage of the hometown day. This is not our usual Sunday.”
He said that all the lobsters cooked and served at the festival come from Maine lobstermen.
“We’re trying to sell as much lobster as we can,” Carroll said. “We’re promoters of the lobster industry.”
Those anxious to eat as much lobster as they could included the Killea family of Jacksonville, Fla.
“I like lobster, and it’s expensive in Florida,” said Allison Killea, 15.
The five-member family had just arrived in Maine for an eight day vacation. On their itinerary? Hiking, and eating lobster.
“I’m a purist. I like them just steamed,” said mom Sandra Killea.
Meanwhile, over by the diaper derby, Elizabeth Noble of Camden dangled a toy in front of her lobster outfit-clad 10-month-old daughter. She was trying to coax baby Audrey Page into crawling faster than the baby next to her, but her daughter was distracted by the cheering crowds and came in second in the two-baby heat.
“She’s a really good crawler,” Noble said afterwards, showing off the happy baby to family and friends in the crowd.
She said it was her first time at the Maine Lobster Festival.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said.
Curran Grant, 14, of South Thomaston, was busy working in the information booth as one of the 1,500-person-strong army of festival volunteers.
“It’s good for the community,” he said of his volunteer job. “It makes you feel like you do something to help other people.”