August 1, 2013

Off Beat: Lobster crate race Sunday in Rockland

The race is arguably the most popular contest at the annual Maine Lobster Festival.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

So here's the thing about being a great lobster crate racer: You've either got it, or you don't.

click image to enlarge

The winner of last year’s Great International Lobster Crate Race was Connor McGonagle, 12, who ran safely over 6,000 crates.

Courtesy photo

click image to enlarge

A competitor in a previous year’s crate race is off and running.

Courtesy photo

GREAT INTERNATIONAL LOBSTER CRATE RACE

WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday; registration begins at 7 a.m.

WHERE: Maine Lobster Festival, Harbor Park, 275 Main St., Rockland

HOW MUCH: Free

INFO/SCHEDULE: mainelobsterfestival.com

WHAT ELSE: The festival opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday. Regular admission is $8 for ages 12 and older, $2 for ages 6 to 11, and free for ages 5 and younger. Entertainment includes concerts by The Spin Doctors on Friday and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and David Cassidy on Saturday. Seats for the Saturday shows are $25 each, but you can stand and watch from outside the gated area for the price of festival admission.

Celia Knight, 47, knows this the hard way. She first ran the Maine Lobster Festival's legendary lobster crate race when she was 17, and has run it a dozen or so times since.

But in her case, practice does not make perfect. More often than not, she has felt the icy grip of Rockland Harbor's waters within seconds.

Her personal best is a total of 27 crates. By comparison, 12-year-old Connor McGonagle of Owls Head ran safely over 6,000 crates last year.

"It's all about balance, and you either have it or you don't," said Knight, a long-time volunteer at the festival. "My brother did better -- he did 470."

The difficulty -- and the big splashes -- have helped the Great International Lobster Crate Race become arguably the most popular contest at the annual Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland.

The 66th annual festival is happening this week, and will be capped off at 2 p.m. Sunday with the lobster crate race. Sunday also happens to be the festival's free admission day, which is sure to help the lobster crate races draw an even bigger crowd.

"It's probably the thing that locals enjoy the most. They know people who've done it, and they've done it themselves," said Knight. "It's just fun."

Like a lot of competitions at Maine fairs and festivals, the lobster crate races grew out of a working tradition. At fairs in the northern part of the state, you see ax throwing and sawing contests that come from the history of lumbering. But in Rockland you see crate racing, which speaks to the lobster industry there.

Now, nobody claims that running across lobster crates strung together in the water is a skill you need for lobstering. But it is something lobstermen sometimes do for fun. The festival's first lobster crate contest was held sometime in the early 1970s, Knight said.

So here's how the race works: About 50 wooden lobster crates (filled with seaweed to help them float) are strung between two docks. Children and adults in four weight classes (featherweight, medium, heavyweight and supersize) run the crate gauntlet, one contestant at a time.

It's not about speed. It's about how many crates one can run over.

"They get to take a break every 500 crates, if they get that far," said Knight.

The crate race is so popular, festival organizers have to limit the field to the first 80 people who sign up. Registration for the 2 p.m. race is at 7 a.m., and before that, there will be a long line of people waiting to get their names on the roster, Knight said.

But even if you don't get to race, it's a pretty exciting spectator sport.

And a lot dryer.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

 

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