Lobster boats compete in Rockland

Posted June 21, 2009, at 7:17 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Lobster boats tore past the Rockland Harbor breakwater Sunday morning, leaving white rooster tails — and spectators’ cheers — in their wakes.

It was the second race of the 2009 Maine Lobster Boat Race season, and though the blustery weather didn’t cooperate, nothing could dampen the thrill of speed for the racers.

“It’s just a wicked adrenaline rush,” said Galen Alley of Beals Island, who skippered the Foolish Pleasure, a supercharged speedboat that set the 2008 speed record of 64.1 mph.

Alley, who brought his boat in on a trailer, was the only racer from Beals Island. Organizers said the bad weather and winds of up to 30 knots per hour kept some racers away from the Rockland course, which seemed to be dominated by local boats. Last year, the harbor was packed, Alley said. This year, about 40 boats raced in 26 classes for cash prizes and glory, said Jon Johansen of Winterport, president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association.

“This weekend’s kind of hard to say anything about, because the weather is so bad,” he said.

Steve Brooks of Brooks Trap Mill in Thomaston helped organize and sponsor the races. He said that if the weather had been better, as many as 70 racing boats could have filled the harbor.

“Otherwise, we had some awesome races,” Brooks said.

Although sparkly sunshine was in short supply, the Rockland race was memorable for other reasons.

“We had a car,” Johansen offered. “It’s a Pontiac Sunbird. We’re trying to save General Motors, in our own little way.”

Racer Steven Johnson of Long Island started building a boat out of the Sunbird about a month ago, and it raced in the outboard class. He mounted the convertible on a boat frame and set it up so the boat is steered with the car’s steering wheel. The windshield wipers work, and the car’s headlights and taillights twinkled cheer-fully, just feet above the waves of Rockland Harbor.

“It brings more excitement to the races,” Johansen said. “People come for the show.”

People like Rockland City Councilor Lizzie Dickerson, who watched the festivities from a perch on the U.S. Coast Guard’s 47-foot motor lifeboat.

“We’re celebrating our maritime heritage, out having a party and burning some diesel,” she said. “Fishing, and lobster fishing, is still a really important part of our economy. We need to not forget that. A lot of families are supported by lobstering.”

Chief Warrant Officer Curtis Barthel of Coast Guard Station Rockland, at the wheel of the motor lifeboat, said the races are always very safe — despite the high speeds.

“Fishing boats are normally the only boats the Coast Guard can catch,” he joked. “They’re predominantly slow. But the lobster boats have always been known to be fast.”

That’s just fine with Harley Winchenbach, 16, of Tenants Harbor, a sternman on the lobster boat Hey Baby.

“It was a good time,” he said after the Rockland race. The Hey Baby easily won its class.

Briannah Parlin, 18, of Rockland also rode the lobster boat during its race.

“It’s a rush, that’s for sure,” she said.

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