WINTER HARBOR — In conjunction with its annual Lobster Festival, Winter Harbor has been hosting lobster boat races for 54 years, but somehow the event never seems to get old.
Last Saturday morning, 96 boats signed up for the races and, by the time the day was through, there were some remarkably close finishes and some remarkably good feelings. A day later, at the Merritt Brackett Memorial Race in Pemaquid, those phenomena were repeated, with the added fillip of an upset victory.
Winter Harbor saw the debut this season of Shawn Alley’s Little Girl, a 28-footer designed by Calvin Beal Jr. with a 514-cubic-inch Ford providing the power. Remarkably fast for a boat some three decades old, the gasoline-powered speedster was in top form over the weekend.
At Winter Harbor, Little Girl won her class, Gas Class A, the Gasoline Free-for-All and the race to determine the fastest wooden lobster boat. She also pushed Cameron Crawford’s Wild Wild West to the limit, finishing close behind the dominant, diesel-powered speedster in the Fastest Lobster Boat race. That was a hint of things to come.
In a rematch on Sunday, racing at Pemaquid Harbor, Little Girl held off Wild Wild West to cross the finish line a boat length ahead, with the diesel speedster gaining on her fast. It was the first loss this year for the boat that currently holds the speed record for diesel-powered lobster boats, 60.4 miles per hour, set two years ago.
There was plenty more good racing under the sunny skies that made the waters off Schoodic Point sparkle on Saturday.
All season long, Eric Beal’s Kimberly Ann and Jason Chipman’s Miss Amity, 42-foot designs from Calvin Beal Jr. and Osmond Beal, respectively, have battled for supremacy in Diesel Class M(B) — boats over 40 feet with diesels between 501 and 750 horsepower. With seven races behind them, the series was split 4-3 in Chipman’s favor.
On Saturday, when the boats took off for the final (the class has so many boats there had to be two qualifying heats), Kimberly Ann got a great jump off the line and, for awhile, it looked like she was going to square the account.
Over the long course between Grindstone Neck and Schoodic Point, though, Miss Amity had the legs to catch and pass Kimberly Ann to widen its class race lead.
Miss Amity wasn’t the only boat to keep a win streak going.
In Diesel Class J, Harrington lobsterman and Narraguagus High School basketball coach Heather Thompson remained undefeated in her 36-footer, Gold Digger, though the boat couldn’t pull off a win in the diesel free-for-all — the exclusive province so far this season of Wild Wild West.
The naming of boats is always an arcane and mysterious process, though many fishing boats are named after wives or children. The source of some boat names is less obvious.
At Winter Harbor, the award, if there were one, for the most intriguing boat name would have to have gone to Chris Church’s 34-footer Deedle Dee Doop.
While the lobster boat races are intensely competitive, on occasion there is a reminder of how close-knit the fishing community really is.
At Winter Harbor on Saturday, the fleet took part in a special event — Randy’s Race — a fundraiser to benefit a Winter Harbor Lobster Cooperative employee diagnosed with cancer.
According to Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association President Jon Johansen, a group of bait dealers in the area agreed to donate $200 for every boat that took part in the special race. Johansen said that 40 boats ran, raising a total of at least $8,000.
With the summer drawing to a close, two more events remain on the lobster boat racing slate: Long Island in Casco Bay on Saturday, and Portland on Sunday.