Competition seen at last year’s Lobster Boat Race. Facebook photo.

Harpswell’s annual lobster boat race returns this Sunday, when Maine lobstermen and fishermen compete in a mile-long, full-throttle boat race for a chance to win a cash prize and bragging rights.

“They want everybody else to see what their boats can do. They are all supportive, but competitive,” said race volunteer Mary Coombs.

Coombs said the best part as a spectator is to see the lobstermen taking a break from their work and enjoying themselves.

“Monday through Saturday, they go 100% on the water hauling their traps and they are all business,” said Coombs. “It’s hard this time of year with all the regulations and stipulations they have. They have a lot on their mind when they put their gear in the water.”

Last August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put pressure on New England’s lobster fishery with a new set of rules and regulations aimed at protecting the endangered North Atlantic right whale. The administration required lobstermen to string more traps on a single rope and to use weaker ropes designed to allow entangled whales to break free.

In addition to new equipment requirements, the administration closed off over 950 square miles of the Gulf of Maine to traditional lobstering from October to January — New England’s most lucrative lobstering season.

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“It’s nice to see one day where they aren’t worried about whales, or lines and they just go,” said Coombs. “It’s fun to see them not in their oil gear, but in their bare feet behind the wheel.”

Harpswell is hosting one of 11 lobster boat races happening on the coast of Maine this summer. Races started in Boothbay last month and will finish in Portland on Aug. 21.

After canceling the Harpswell race in 2020 due to COVID-19 and a low turnout in 2021 due to rainy weather, Coombs said she hopes for sunshine and large crowds this year. She predicts a turnout of over 1,000 people between racers and spectators.

While registration fees go toward the event, money collected from T-shirt sales and a raffle will be donated to the Harpswell Santa Fund. Established by local lobstermen in 1991, the Harpswell Santa Fund helps local families in need during the holiday season. Last year’s boat race raised $17,000 for the cause.

Coombs said they are still in the process of collecting items for the raffle.

Matched by horsepower and boat size, spectators will see 29 different races, with up to four boats in each heat.

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Racers who come in first, second or third will have the chance to win $150, $100 and $50, respectively.

Heather Thompson from Harrington will race her boat “The Gold Digger” up and down the coast in competitions for the fifth consecutive year.  Thompson has been lobstering for 37 years and said she attends all 11 racing locations each summer, relishing the chance to compete.

“It gives you a chance to get away from the everyday grind of lobstering,” said Thompson. “The best part is going just to see everybody. You have some fun and raise some hell. It’s usually a good time.”

Thompson said lobstering has been tough this year due to new equipment regulations and the rising cost of fuel and bait. She said her costs go up, but the value of lobster goes down. Thompson knows there are better uses for her fuel besides racing, but said she is “addicted” to the tradition.

“Honestly, it’s probably not the best time for me to be taking off and spending $600 in fuel to race, but when it’s something you look forward to and enjoy, you are going to do it,” said Thompson. “If it means I have to work a few extra hours a day to make up for it, then that’s what I’m going to do. I’m addicted to this race. Hey, my money could be going to worse things. This is what I enjoy doing with my money. That’s why I have none.”

The lobster boat race will start at 10 a.m. on July 24 at 1410 Harpswell Neck Road.

To donate raffle items to the Harpswell Santa Fund, email [email protected]

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