May 22, 2011

Deirdre Fleming: Lobster boat races a uniquely Maine spectacle

Maine Lobster Boat Races did not originate for tourists.

click image to enlarge

A lobster boat, right, rolls over as another one pulls ahead during a Maine Lobster Boat Race in Searsport.

Associated Press file photo

2011 MAINE LOBSTER BOAT RACE SCHEDULE

JUNE 18: Boothbay Harbor

JUNE 19: Rockland

JULY 2: Jonesport/Beals Island

JULY 9: Searsport

JULY 10: Stonington

JULY 23: Friendship

JULY 24: Harpswell

AUG. 13: Winter Harbor

AUG. 14: Pemaquid

AUG. 21: Portland

It's a celebration of the fun and friendly spirit in the lobstering community.

But Jim LeClair of Belfast thinks Maine's lobstermen are missing the boat.

LeClair works at the Maine Coast Welcome Center and served as a judge in the Searsport race last year. He had so much fun he helped turn the judging honor into a contest this year.

And he's not done coming up with ways to draw people to these races along Maine's hidden coastal towns.

"Some people don't see the more remote parts of the state that are really beautiful because they stay on the main drag all the time," LeClair said. "They're the sort of towns a typical tourist wouldn't go to, like Moosabec Reach. They might not know some of the more remote locations."

In the Searsport contest, participants had to name all 10 towns in the lobster boat series. The winner earned the right to judge the finish of the July 9 race -- from a boat.

A local inn jumped into the contest, and the Penobscot Marine Museum offered free admission.

"The woman will stay locally, eat locally, see a local race, have a local experience," LeClair said.

The contest drew 50 participants and Barbara Roscoe of Rockland won, guessing correctly all the towns in the lobster boat race series.

Roscoe said before doing research she knew only two of the 10 towns that host races, and she had never been to a lobster boat race.

She's thrilled to be an honorary official at one.

"The lobster industry is a part of Maine, and I've always been interested in that," Roscoe said. "It's something really fun, and I like to take photographs. I'll get some nice shots out there."

Meanwhile, one of the region's charter boat companies also got on board to help spread awareness about the quirky race series.

Downeast Windjammer Cruises will give tours off the Searsport coast during the races to give boaters an up-close view of the contest.

And LeClair believes the more people learn about his coastal region, the more they'll want to be a part of it.

The lobster boat races are all about Down East culture, given the general laid-back attitude among racers.

"We're not a quote-unquote spectator sport. But people like to come and see the things these boats can do," said Travis Otis, vice president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association.

"It's more focused on camaraderie within the lobster boat racers themselves. We're one big, happy family. It's like a family reunion. It's a little weird because we have 10 family reunions through the summer."

Otis said the lobster boat race series does not cater to the spectators, but it still draws fans who line docks to see the silly spectacle of fishing boats going full-bore.

When a Portland race was added last year as part of the MS Regatta, a host of public events were added.

But mostly, Otis said, the series exists as a special way for Maine's lobstering community to bond.

"It may be in some instances the only time you see these people. And before the race and during, they don't say a single word to each other. But after it's all done, they get together and have a good laugh," he said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph

 

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