‘A family reunion with NASCAR and tractor pulling:’ lobster boat racing season begins

Posted June 15, 2013, at 6:31 p.m.
Last modified June 16, 2013, at 5:06 p.m.
Spectators tie their boats up in rafts Saturday to watch people compete for bragging rights and some prizes during the kickoff to the 2013 Maine Lobster Boat Races. &quotIt's a social event, mostly," lobsterman Walter Rich of Bernard said. &quotThe social event's just as important to me as the rest of it."
Spectators tie their boats up in rafts Saturday to watch people compete for bragging rights and some prizes during the kickoff to the 2013 Maine Lobster Boat Races. "It's a social event, mostly," lobsterman Walter Rich of Bernard said. "The social event's just as important to me as the rest of it." Buy Photo
Boats go head to head Saturday in Boothbay Harbor during the first race day of the 2013 Maine Lobster Boat Races.
Boats go head to head Saturday in Boothbay Harbor during the first race day of the 2013 Maine Lobster Boat Races. Buy Photo

BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — During the height of the busy summer fishing season, lobstermen’s lives can get busy, stressful and competitive.

Which is all the more reason why Maine Lobster Boat Racing attracts a crowd. Saturday marked the first day out of the blocks for the 2013 racing season, with a well-attended event in Boothbay Harbor that drew boats from up and down the coast.

“It’s like family reunion, mixed with NASCAR and tractor pulling,” Travis Otis of Searsport, the vice president of Maine Lobster Boat Races, said about the summer-long race series. “It’s the camaraderie between everybody. We’re all in the same boat, we’ll say. And it gives us the opportunity to let off a little steam by racing and getting bragging rights. It’s a nice time for everybody.”

By early afternoon on Saturday, no boat had exceeded the nearly 80 miles per hour that Galen Alley of Jonesport has achieved in the past in his tricked-out boat Foolish Pleasure. Alley did not compete in the Boothbay race.

But boats that zoomed through the half-mile race course in the harbor at more than 30 miles per hour created veils of white spray and drew plenty of appreciative eyeballs from onlookers. People watched the races from lobster boats rafted up together in a sociable line, from low-to-the-water ocean kayaks and from swanky-looking sport fishing boats.

“Everyone’s been nice,” Ed Torosian of Hampton, N.H., said of racing with his boat, the Ms. Rose — the only out-of-state vessel to compete Saturday. “I’ve made some good friends, and over the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of the Maine coast. As you know, Maine has a lot of coast.”

The race season lasts into September, with stops in Rockland, Searsport, Bass Harbor, Stonington, Harpswell and Friendship, among other fishing harbors. Otis said that lobster boat racing has been roughly organized since the 1970s and was more recently revitalized in Jonesport. In an industry that in recent years has been hit by fluctuating lobster prices, increased costs and occasional trap wars, racing has provided a chance to build community — and gain glory.

Lindsay Durkee of Islesboro, 18, said that she lets her father drive her boat, Black Diamond, in the races.

“He started me when I was younger,” she said.

Richard Durkee, also of Islesboro, said that they’ve won their class three years in a row.

“Fishing season really hasn’t started yet — that’s why I’m here,” he said.

Norah Donnell, 5, of Ogunquit, whose father was racing the boat Happy Hour, was busy making friends among other children from other boats. Her mother, Stacey Donnell, said that it was great to see the fishermen come together for a good time.

“There’s a lot of competition in this industry,” she said. “It’s nice to see these guys come together and enjoy each other’s company.”

Zach Donnell said that he really enjoyed the chance to see everyone — and check out all the boats.

“I could sit here all day long and watch boats,” he said.

Colyn Rich, 11, of Bass Harbor, the youngest competitor in the races, planned to race his skiff Sunday morning in Rockland. The third-generation lobsterman said that he likes spectators.

“The more the better,” he said.

He and his father, Wayne Rich, spent the winter restoring a 1953 boat built by Colyn’s great-grandfather that they raced Saturday. They planned to break a longtime losing streak with the refurbished Wide Open.

“We’re going to be faster this year,” Wayne Rich said. “We’re going to compete.”

For a full calendar of the 2013 Maine Lobster Boat Racing season, visit the website http://www.mainescoast.com/lbr/

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