ELLSWORTH — Summer is still a few days away, but last weekend the sights and sounds of summer roiled the waters of Boothbay Harbor and Rockland as Maine’s summer lobster boat racing season got underway.
Boothbay Harbor is the traditional opening venue and by Friday night more than two dozen boats from along the Maine coast were tied alongside Brown’s Wharf ready for Saturday’s races. By the close of entries Saturday morning, 47 boats were signed up to race under bright sun and a light southwest breeze.
For months, rumors have percolated about Jeremy Beal’s new boat, Maria’s Nightmare, a 28-footer from Wayne Beal’s Jonesport boat shop with a 2,500-horsepower — you read that right, 2,500-horsepower — Chevrolet engine under the platform. The engine arrived from its builder on Friday afternoon and on Saturday the boat’s first two races were also its first sea trial.
While the fleet held several new boats that are likely to be contenders at future races, familiar boats took many of the day’s top honors.
The big winner of the day was Shawn Alley’s Little Girl, a 28-foot Calvin Beal Jr. hull with a 514-cubic-inch Ford engine. She won the Gasoline Free-for-All, beating Steve Johnson’s well-known Bud & Dawn, a Jingle Johnson 28 with an 1,100-horsepower Chevrolet engine.
Alley also won the day’s Fastest Lobster Boat title while Johnson won the gas-powered Class E race.
Among the diesels, Nick Wiberg’s Stonington-based Miss Katie, formerly Uncle’s UFO, battled Heather Thompson’s Gold Digger, from Harrington, but didn’t have enough to get by for the win and finished a very close second in their diesel Class J race.
Cameron Crawford’s Wild Wild West, literally in a class of its own, was the only entrant in Diesel Class O, but an incorrectly installed part in the boat’s 1,050-horsepower Italian-built engine cut its speed to far below what it should have been and the boat retired for the day.
On Sunday, the fleet was in Rockland Harbor, where the promised rain never came.
According to Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association President Jon Johansen, 57 boats signed up to race in what he describes as “a truly great event.”
Perhaps the biggest news was the return to form of Wild Wild West. Whatever was ailing the boat in Boothbay Harbor was cured by the time it ran at Rockland, winning in diesel Class O, the diesel free-for-all and the Fastest Lobster Boat Race.
Cameron Crawford’s diesel hot rod wasn’t the only fast boat on the course.
Jeremey Beal’s Maria’s Nightmare had the 2,500-horsepower Chevy really cranking and, in the boat’s final race of the day the race committee’s official radar gun registered 60.2 mph for a few brief moments. If Beal can get the engine and boat package to hold together for an entire race there could be some broken records in the offing.
Repeating their shootout in Boothbay Harbor, Nick Wiberg’s Miss Katie and Heather Thompson’s Gold Digger battled it out for the diesel Class J win and, once again, the black-hulled Gold Digger nosed across for the win by little more than a coat of paint.
Making her first racing appearance of the year, Wayne Rich’s wooden Wide Open from Bass Harbor won gasoline Class B race, took second place in Wooden Boat Class A race and fourth in the gasoline free-for-all.
Adding an entirely apolitical touch to the day’s events, Cory McDonald’s Hello Darlings II came from Stonington and got the win in the diesel Class B Race. McDonald and his wife, state Rep. and lobsterman Genevieve McDonald, are the organizers for the Stonington Lobster Boat Races, held in July. Their Holland 32 is named for their twin daughters, who recently celebrated their joint first birthdays.