SEARSPORT – It could have been NASCAR, except it was set along the green and rocky Maine coast.
But before Galen Alley of Beals Island carted his lightweight lobster boat off to the next race in Stonington, he offered a promise, even a dare to the legions of lobster racing fools out there in the Maine Lobster Boat Race series.
“If the conditions are good, you’ll see us going 70 mph in Portland. And you can put that in the paper,” said Alley, his license plate “LIV2RAS” behind him.
Alley is the local showman of this statewide series, Mr. Limelight, he’s your hot dog who turns heads. And Alley has earned the right to own that swagger as the world record holder in lobster boat racing.
He’s gunned his boat “Foolish Pleasure” up to 68.1 mph a month ago in Rockland. And he’s fired up to do it again when the Maine Lobster Boat Race series comes to Portland for the first time Aug. 22.
Alley is unique in the Maine Lobster Boat Race series, but these events are not unique in Maine. They have been held in some way for the better part of a century.
Legend has it the first lobster boat race took place off the coast of Jonesport back when they only had wind for fuel, said Travis Otis, a Searsport lobsterman and vice president of the series.
“When lobstermen go out, they always try to get back to the dock first because maybe there will be a better price,” Otis said. “So originally there were two fishermen trying to beat the other, and the loser of course being second place said, ‘Well, it wasn’t you, it was your boat.’ So they switched boats and the first guy still beat him.”
Through the years, Otis said, the lobstering communities of Jonesport and Beals Island have produced contenders, rivals, and a few heroes in these races.
“That little rivalry is supposedly where all this fantastic speed in racing came from,” Otis said. “It’s their livelihood. If they’re not on a boat doing something to support the boat, the boat supports other aspects of the town.”
Definitely these races are about winning and bragging rights. But with categories like the “Gasoline Free For All,” it is a little tongue-in-cheek.
Lobster boat racing is a lot of standing around and waiting, but also has the inherent pleasure of watching a bunch of stocky, misplaced sea vessels go after it on the ocean.
With a pier lined with patient spectators, the lobster racers and their “pit crews” (who are really just family and friends) sit waiting, even entertaining.
Lawn chairs cover boat decks as the wait for the start drags on and 10 a.m. starts to look a lot like 5 p.m.
“It’s fun, it’s the camaraderie,” said fisherman and racer Ed Torosian of Hampton, N.H.
Torosian drove seven hours in the fog from Hampton, N.H., to come to the Searsport race. He’s excited for the fan base he’ll have in Portland, the most southern race in the series.
“Portland will be great for us. It’s only a two-hour steam. I’m quite sure we’ll see a little crowd from our home,” Torosian said with a smile.
Ed Shirley of Verona Island is a retired Merchant Marine who has raced his lobster boats for nearly 10 years. He does it because it’s a block party on water, and the cast of characters always amuse him.
“I used to race in another class on a faster boat, but this one is very comfortable. I’ve lived on it for six months,” Shirley said as several friends and family relaxed on the deck of his boat, “Askk’n.”
Alley’s boat looks a bit different. It’s lighter than most, built exclusively to race. His mechanic, Bob Stephens, is from Augusta and travels with him to races.
Being from a lobstering family and rich fishing community, Alley loves the races — and loves to stand out at them.
Most boats go anywhere from 30 to 50 mph. Alley regularly rips it, flying well over 60 mph.
“If there are good conditions, we’ll run it at 60 to 62,” he said.
But even Alley with all his sponsors displayed on his boat, realizes this stuff is good fun and a form of wild entertainment served up Maine style.
“He called the boat ‘Foolish Pleasure’ because this is foolish but a pleasure to watch,” said Rocky Alley, Galen’s brother.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: