TREMONT — Sun-baked racers looked as red as the cooked version of their daily catch once prizes were doled out at the 8th Annual Bass Harbor Lobster Boat Races on Sunday.
Cameron Crawford’s 1,000-plus horsepower Wild Wild West was the winner in the diesel free-for-all category and the overall “Fastest Lobster Boat” competition, but didn’t set a new diesel speed record. Greg Lewis’s Rachel Irene, a Mitchell Cove 35 with a 500-horsepower Cummins under the platform, earned the title of “Bass Harbor’s Fastest Lobster Boat.”
Pancakes began bubbling on a grill outside the harbormaster’s office a bit earlier than registration began at 8 a.m.
“I walked in at 7:45 and people were waiting,” said Colyn Rich, who was collecting names in a bucket of participants for the prize drawings later.
An exact number of racers was difficult to track down until the day wrapped up because registration went right up to start time, just after 10 a.m. Organizers reported about 69 boats, one of the strongest showings in the local race’s history. Most came from nearby but there was at least one from Jonesport and another from Swan Island in the Kennebec River.
There were 30 different races on the slate with boats divided into classes based on length, engine size and type of fuel. Five of the races drew no entries including the three for boats with big horsepower gas engines. Diesel Class A for boats up to 235 horsepower and 24-31 feet 11 inches in length had the strongest showing with eight participants.
“Seems like every year it gets a little better and better,” said Steve Butler aboard a friend’s boat. “Started off everyone just wanted to race so they could show off.”
A sunny Sunday was the perfect day to show off and take a break from work for many of the lobstermen. Those who weren’t going full throttle were hanging out and watching, some rafted up together in pods.
“This is my first race,” said Molly Goodwin of Bass Harbor aboard the Drew & Henry. “We always come to watch. It’s gotten bigger every year. The first year there were just a handful of boats.”
By 9 a.m. volunteers for the Bass Harbor Memorial Library flipping pancakes to feed the crowd were mixing their fourth two-gallon bucket of pancake batter.
“These guys have been busy, busy, busy,” said Elaine Eaton, a member of the library’s board of trustees. “These are the best pancake cooks in the world.”
Goodwin, perched in a lawn chair with a full cooler nearby, was fastening the life preserver of one of several children on board the boat.
“If you are serious about racing, you drop your passengers off,” she said. “We’re not serious about it.”
According to organizers of the races, as well as Goodwin’s husband, Chris, who is a local lobsterman, many came out hoping to walk away with the coveted prize of bait. Recent increases in bait prices made the giveaway that much more valuable.
“They’re giving 115 bushel (of bait) away, which is great,” said Chris Goodwin, who registered in the M class — over 40 feet and up to 500 horsepower. “That’s the reason I entered.”
Racers didn’t need to be the first across the finish line to get a prize. Every participant received a prize, worth $100 or more, after traversing the course that ran nearly a mile. Some got two. But, for many, bragging rights were just as valuable as a new lobster trap or a bucket of bait.
“If you’re not first, you’re last,” said Justin Sprague, owner of Black Velvet, who came in fifth out of seven boats in the Diesel Class F race.
One prize, a super block used to haul traps, went to budding fisherman Cameron Lunt, 9, who raced for the first time. He placed first in the kick-off race, driving a 19-foot Gilley skiff against one other competitor. When asked his favorite part of the day, Lunt said, “Being in first place.”
He has informed his dad, Travis Lunt, who began fishing around the same age, that he wants to be a fisherman when he gets older. When asked why, the young Lunt’s response was “It runs in the family and it’s fun.”