June 30, 2013

Islanders shell-bent on lobster boat races

Long Island's lobster boat races were never part of the state's formal series, but that could change local enthusiasts get their way.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

LONG ISLAND - Stevie Johnson has been racing remodeled, jacked-up and ultra-fast lobster boats for most of 30 years. But the return of lobster boat racing to his home island comes at a particularly good time for Johnson.

click image to enlarge

Boat builder Stevie Johnson has taken his skills to a new level by turning boats into floating party platforms, and he’ll be racing one of his craft Sunday in an informal lobster boat race on Long Island. Johnson and other islanders want their town back in the formal racing circuit.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

LOBSTER BOAT RACES

JULY 13: Searsport

JULY 14: Stonington

JULY 20: Friendship

JULY 28: Harpswell

AUG. 10: Winter Harbor

AUG. 11: Merritt Bracket, Pemaquid

AUG. 18: MS Harborfest Portland

SEPT. 8: Eastport

OCT. 12: Stonington

For more information, go to www.lobsterboatracing.com.

A few years ago, the boat builder took his skills to a new level when he started turning boats into fun and strange floating party platforms, like his Corvette-boat, Van-boat or Tiki-boat, the latest invention that will grace Casco Bay with a floating Caribbean bar this summer.

"People have wanted to rent the Tiki-boat, but it's not for sale. It's high-performance. And it has a weedwhacker for a blender (in the bar), because it's high performance," said Johnson, 59.

The creative craftsman and Long Island native will be one of the local heroes vying for a title when he competes in the lobster boat races staged Sunday off Long Island. The races start at 11 a.m. and are part of the 20th anniversary of the town's independence, as well as the Maine lobster boat racing circuit, which takes place up and down the coast.

The townspeople here hope the races return for good to Long Island as part of the circuit.

Long Island's lobster boat races were never a formal part of the series. But there's a strong tie between lobstering on the island and the lobster boat race series, which began in Jonesport-Beals nearly a century ago.

"Lobstering is very important to the island as an industry and there are a lot of families who make a living lobstering and have done so for generations," said Lisa Kimball, one of the organizers of the anniversary celebration.

"The whole idea of racing began in Jonesport-Beals, and over the years spread up and down the coast ... The races are a fun tradition for many lobstering communities, an exciting event for spectators to watch, and a fun social gathering out on the water with family and friends."

When the lobster boat races were last held on Long Island nearly 20 years ago, it was more of a community gathering, and not part of the Maine lobster boat racing series. Boat owners from Portland and Chebeague Island and Harpswell came to race.

Kimball said islanders want to bring the tradition back, and maybe make it a part of the statewide series.

Sunday a shoreline celebration will take place, with live music, vendors and youth races. A parade of boats will precede the races and will include many of Johnson's boats that were built at his boatyard on the island.

The locals here are proud of their town's independence, as well as their maritime heritage. Johnson is a good example of that.

Johnson estimates he's built about 30 boats, some for fishing, many for recreation and sport fishing. They're scattered around the Maine coast. But the special themed creations are all his own.

His Corvette (a Corvette built upon a boat hull) is part-and-parcel of the motorboat-love that exists here.

Johnson's Tiki-boat is a Tiki bar atop a hull, a creation that looks like a reed hut from a "Gilligan's Island" rerun.

Then there was the Van-boat, which, as it sounds, was a black van atop a boat. That fell to the wayside, but was great while it lasted.

"It was great in the winter. It was very warm in the Van-boat. It had a TV and stereo," Lynn Johnson said.

"He's always thinking of what he'll built next year, the next project. I tell him you're not even through this year."

He traded his fastest racing boat, the Wild One, to the carpenter who built his house, simply bartering the boat for the labor.

"I think we got the better deal," Lynn Johnson said with a wink.

She accompanies her husband to his lobster boat races but waits for the festivities after.

"I let one of his crew ride with him in the race. They get a kick out of it. They're not really a crew. I call them groupies. There is a guy from Massachusetts who likes to ride with him. That guy's an engine-head," Lynn Johnson said.

Considering the fact these Mainers live several miles off the coast and require a 45-minute ferry ride to get to the mainland, their lives truly are intertwined with the sea. Of the 230 year-round residents, many own boats to get back and forth to Portland.

The lobster boat races Sunday are an effort to celebrate that maritime spirit.

"I think they are going to try to keep it going. I don't think it's a one-shot deal. I think these races will continue," Lynn Johnson said. 

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

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

 

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