ELLSWORTH — Hang on to those baseball caps and grab some ear protectors. It’s the middle of June and the Maine lobster boat racing season is here.
Last year saw some fierce competition despite the absence of two traditional, longtime racing venues.
This year, Searsport and Harpswell are both still absent from the schedule, but there could be a potent new challenger for the World’s Fastest Lobster Boat title now held by Foolish Pleasure, and almost certainly, a Canadian invasion.
This year’s schedule includes 10 events, with racing in ports all along the coast stretching from Portland to Jonesport. Nine of those events will count toward the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association’s season-long points championship.
The season opens this Saturday morning with the Boothbay Harbor Charlie Begin Memorial Lobster Boat Races. On Sunday, the fleet will head for Rockland to race behind the breakwater inside the harbor.
The early word from the organizers of the Boothbay Harbor races it that they expect some “really fast” visitors from Canada. If they come from across the Bay of Fundy, they’re likely to stay for the Rockland event.
On Sunday, June 26, racing comes to Bass Harbor at the southern end of Mount Desert Island. Racing there is outside the harbor in an area that can get rough if a strong wind is blowing against the tide.
On July 2, Moosabec Reach, way Downeast, will be the scene of the annual July 4 weekend Beals Island/Jonesport races. Last year, Jonesport enjoyed a visit from Dodge It, a fast 30-footer that came all the way from Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, to challenge the lobster boat speed-record-setting Foolish Pleasure from Beals Island. An engine problem aboard the local boat ended any competition, but a return visit may well be on the docket.
Speaking of challenges, Long Island boatyard operator Steve Johnson recently sea-trialed his 30-foot Elizabeth. With a 632-cubic-inch, 1,110-horsepower Merlin/Chevrolet under — or sticking up through — the platform, the old Repco may have a shot at a new lobster boat speed record. The latest rumor, though, is that Foolish Pleasure will run with a smaller engine this year and won’t be racing in the same class as Elizabeth.
There should be some excitement in the diesel classes, too. Last week, the crew at C&C Machine in Ellsworth was putting some finishing touches — including a new propeller — on Cameron Crawford’s 1,000-plus horsepower Wild Wild West. If sea trials this past weekend go well, the boat should be ready to show its stuff at Boothbay Harbor this weekend.
Eight days after running on Moosabec Reach, the racing fleet will gather in Stonington Harbor on Sunday, July 10, to race on the Deer Island Thorofare in sight of Maine’s busiest lobster port.
After a weekend off, racing will resume July 24 on the Midcoast in Friendship, but there will be no races in nearby Harpswell this summer.
On Saturday, Aug. 13, Winter Harbor will host its 52nd annual Lobster Festival and what is often the largest racing fleet of the season will churn the waters between Schoodic Point and Grindstone Neck. The next day, it’s back to Pemaquid on the Midcoast for the Merritt Bracket Memorial Races — which do not count toward the season-long MLBRA Points Challenge championship.
To qualify for the Points Challenge, a boat must compete in at least three sanctioned races. A boat that runs in six or more races will be scored by taking the five best finishes.
While some venues may run local races, for the points challenge the fleet is separated 18 classes — eight for gas-powered boats, 10 for diesels — divided by length and horsepower.
On Aug. 20, Long Island boatyard owner Steve Johnson will get the chance — subject always to the vagaries of racing high-powered boats — to show off his Elizabeth in her home waters. The next day, racing moves to Portland for the final event of the season — a major fundraiser for the Maine Multiple Sclerosis Society.
As of this writing, the sign-up period for each of the races is between 8 and 9 a.m. on race day, with the first starter’s flag scheduled to drop at 10 a.m. The exception is Long Island, where sign-up will begin at 1 p.m. and the racing starts at 3 p.m.