By the time most of you see this, the pages of the old shop calendar will have turned to June. And that means just one thing.
The start of another season of lobster boat racing here on the coast of Maine … and by all early indications this one promises to be a corker.
Jon Johansen and the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association (MLBRA) have lined up a schedule of 11, possibly 12, racing days running from season kick-off in Boothbay Harbor on June 20, to a wrap-up weekend on Aug. 16 with overlapping events in both Portland and Pemaquid.
Pick any summer weekend and there’s a good chance there’ll be thunder on the bay somewhere along the Maine coast.
There’s simply no explaining lobster boat racing, or understanding those who are fiercely passionate about it. Either you get it or you don’t – and given the way the sport has grown in scope and popularity over the past few years, a whole lot of folks do get it.
There are no accurate records, but by most accounts fishermen started racing lobster boats as soon as there was more than one of them in any given harbor. Eventually the friendly in-from-the-grounds-to-the-dock grudge matches morphed into more organized events.
The sport had fallen into one of its periodic slumps in the late 1980s when our own Brian Robbins led the charge to revitalize the competition by adopting a set of standarized rules and classes for every town, every race.
It was radical “new think” at the time, but the idea caught on and by the early 90s, fishermen were racing for points and some pretty nice year-end prizes thanks to the sponsorship of Commercial Fisheries News and C.E. Shepherd wire.
Sadly, some of the biggest luminaries of that era have either crossed the bar or retired from racing. Corliss Holland, Vin and Vid Young, Ray Cronk (of C.E. Shepherd) are just a few of the faces of late 1980s-early 1990s racing that are missed today.
But, as is the way with most things, new characters have stepped up to fill those shoes.
One of them, Steve Johnson, is profiled in this month’s new feature, Off Course: Tales from the Maine Lobster Boat Races, on page19.
Stevie is a nut, certifiable and proud of it. He embodies the absolute lunacy of lobster boat racing. More power, more power, more power.
But for every Stevie – and there are more than a few of them among the serious racing campaigners – there is some kid, hard charging down the bay every day the way you do when you’re young, who just wants to “run what you brung” in front of a hometown crowd some sunny Sunday morning.
This year, racers will be running in a card of 24 class races at each MLBRA-sanctioned venue, along with whatever local races each committee chooses to add.
Speaking of those committees, a tip of the hat is in order. The thankless process of organizing each event, lining up sponsors and prizes, plus assembling a crew to start, manage, judge, and finish off each long day of racing falls to unpaid volunteers up and down the coast. God bless ‘em.
Beyond the obvious draw of boat-to-boat competition, the Maine lobster boat races also provide a popular test bed for boat builders, engine companies, and other suppliers to showcase their products in a fun-not-work environment.
And the ultimate winners in all of this?
The spectators, of course.
Whether you raft up on a boat course-side, or just take in the races from the shore, you simply aren’t human if that first roar of big power coming off the starting line doesn’t run a chill up your back.
But a great way to spend a day? You bet.
So check out <www.mainescoast.com> for this year’s schedule.
See you at the races.
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