PORTLAND – The final lobster boat races of the season are on tap, and a strong turnout is expected Sunday when dozens of lobstermen race their boats in Portland Harbor for prizes and bragging rights.
More than 60 boats are expected for the MS Harborfest Lobster Boat Races, which start at 10 a.m. Sunday. Another 150 or more spectator boats are expected to line the sides of the race course as fishermen gun their engines and leave roostertails in their wake in a tradition that goes back more than a century.
Portland is the 12th and final stop in this summer’s race series in ports along Maine’s coast. The races feature boats of varying sizes and power, with souped-up lobster boats used only for racing topping out at more than 60 mph. The fastest working lobster boats reach speeds of around 45 mph.
Andy Gove this summer had the fastest working lobster boat in all four races he entered, topping out at 46 mph aboard his 900-horsepower boat, Uncle’s UFO. What makes Gove’s victories all the more impressive is that he’s 83 years old. He’s had a lobster-fishing license for 76 years since getting his first at age 7, and he still pulls 600 traps from his home port of Stonington.
In years past, Gove traveled hours on end to enter every race of the summer. This year he entered only four, in Stonington, Winter Harbor, Searsport and Jonesport.
“I would’ve gone to more, but I’m 83 and I’ve got a bad knee, a bad eye and a bad shoulder,” he said.
A modified boat called Foolish Pleasure, owned by Beals Island lobsterman Galen Alley, had the fastest speed of the season, 64 mph.
At last Sunday’s races at Pemaquid, one of Alley’s crewmen said the boat was going just shy of 80 mph, said Jon Johansen, president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association. Johansen couldn’t independently confirm the speed because he didn’t have his radar gun, but he doesn’t doubt that the boat was going that fast.
“He was flying. He had no problem holding the hammer down,” Johansen said.
Portland used to have races decades ago, but they were stopped in the 1980s before being revived in 2010. Besides those on boats, other observers will watch Sunday’s races from shore. Spectators can listen to the race announcer on VHF radio channel 10.
A series of tug boat races will follow the lobster boat races, Johansen said.
“If they top out at 15 you’ll be lucky, but they leave a 6-foot wake,” he said.