WINTER HARBOR — When the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic became obvious last spring, several towns decided that 2020 was not the year to run lobster boat races.
Winter Harbor didn’t cancel its races, traditionally held on the second Saturday in August, and last weekend the Downeast community was rewarded for its gumption.
Blessed by near perfect weather, 88 boats signed up to power up the course between the Schoodic Peninsula and Grindstone Neck in a slate of 29 races that saw some tight competition and a new diesel-powered lobster boat speed record — well, maybe — set.
There were plenty of stars in this year’s event, but the “supernova” had to be Cameron Crawford’s 28-foot, 1,050-horsepower Wild Wild West. The fastest boat on the race course for the past few years — though not a working lobster boat — the diesel-powered demon won the Diesel Free for All and the Fastest Lobster Boat Race, as well as making a solo run in her class race — and came within a missing radar pulse of setting a new speed record for diesel-powered lobster boats. Running up the course in the final race of the day, Wild Wild West clocked in at 63 miles per hour according to the GPS receiver on the boat. Unfortunately, the official race committee radar gun on which speed records are based was taking a holiday, so the new “record” is unofficial and the old record of 60.4 miles per hour set by Crawford in 2016 still stands, at least for now.
Still unapproached is the overall lobster boat speed record of 72.8 miles per hour set at Stonington in 2011 by the late Galen Alley in has gasoline-powered Foolish Pleasure.
Winter Harbor always seems to bring out a good mix of boats familiar to racing fans and boats that are brand spanking new. This year, among the newest boats were Fred Backman’s 37-foot Atlantic Viking, racing in Diesel Class B (boats at least 32 feet long with engines no larger than 235 horsepower) and Wayne Beal’s Miss Mariena, a 32-footer with a 500-horsepower diesel that won Class G.
Also new this year, and in the water only a short time, was Tim Toppins’ new boat, Suspect. Since the early 1990s, Toppins has sold new diesel engines for scads of new boats built along the coast. This year, he finally got the chance to put a new boat and engine combination together for himself and results were good.
Racing for the first time in his Scania-powered Mitchell Cove 35, Toppins won his class race, beating out veteran competitors Mystery Machine and All Out.
Once again, Diesel Class M(B) drew the biggest fleet, 15 boats. The fleet was split and the top three finishers in each of two preliminary heats raced in the final in which Eric Beal’s Kimberly Ann narrowly beat Matt Shephard’s Alexsa Rose.
The final event of this year’s pandemic-shortened season is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 16, in Portland.