WINTER HARBOR — If anyone thinks lobster boat racing is a dying pastime, they didn’t spend last Saturday at Winter Harbor.
Nearly 80 boats signed up for the 51st edition of the Winter Harbor Lobster Boat Races. There were probably the same number of boats — large and small, working and pleasure — in the spectator fleet that lined the both sides of the course between Schoodic Point and Grindstone Neck.
Some of the boats came from no farther away than a mooring off the Winter Harbor town dock. Many, though, traveled much greater distances, coming from Jonesport and Beals Island, Lamoine, Bass Harbor, Stonington, Stockton Springs and beyond.
A wedding scheduled for Saturday afternoon kept some of the Jonesport-Beals fleet at home. Those that did come, from wherever, were all rewarded with perfect racing conditions: bright sun, flat water and, rarest of all at Winter Harbor, no fog.
The crowd was fired up to see if any of the fastest boats — none of the working lobster boats — could set a new speed record.
Running without competition in its class race (super- or turbocharged gasoline powered V-8 engines more than 525 cubic inch displacement) Galen Alley’s Foolish Pleasure was clocked at 50.1 miles per hour, more than 20 miles per hour below its record-setting 72.8 mph clocking a few years ago, then retired for the day. That left spectators hungry for a showdown between Foolish Pleasure and two other speedsters: Cameron Crawford’s 1,050 horsepower diesel Wild Wild West and Shawn Alley’s Ford-powered Little Girls.
The diesel demon was clocked at 52 miles per hour winning the diesel free-for-all, but was narrowly edged for the title of Fastest Recreational Lobster Boat by Little Girls, clocked at 53.4 in the race.
It wasn’t that long ago that few, if any diesel-powered working lobster boats could top 30 miles per hour. Now, it seems most of them do, many by a good margin.
In Class H, for boats 36 feet and up with engines of 436 to 550 horsepower, Searsport fishermen and boatbuilder Travis Otis blasted off the starting line in his 410-horsepower Sisu-engined First Team and finished well ahead of his five competitors clocking 31.9 mph — slow for that boat but all it took to win.
In the next race, Eric Beal’s Jenna Marie, a brand new boat with essentially the same Northern Bay 36 hull as First Team but a 610-horsepower Cummins under the platform, edged out his competition and clocked 40 mph flat. No recreational boat, Jenna Marie lobsters out of Milbridge.
Not to be outdone, Stonington boatbuilder Jeff Eaton won his class for boats over 28 feet with diesels between 701 and 900 horsepower. He hit 41.2 mph in his La Bella Vita. The working lobster boat is an exceptionally handsome Northern Bay 38 Eaton finished for himself, with a 750-horsepower Iveco under the platform. La Bella Vita also finished second in the diesel free-for-all.
With 15 boats on the signup sheet, Class M, for diesel-powered boats 40 feet and up with engines of 501 to 750 horsepower, was the biggest class by far and confirmation that boats are getting bigger. The class was so large that it was split up to run two preliminary heats.
Michael Faulkingham’s Captain Cole won the six-boat final, turning 34.8 miles per hour, and four of the five fastest, Captain Cole, 51, Gramp’s Bird and Lady Lexy were owned by someone named Faulkingham.
With the Winter Harbor races done, only three more events remain on the schedule. All of them are next weekend.
On Saturday afternoon, boats from the Midcoast and those still in contention for the season-long points championships will head for Friendship. On Sunday morning, racers will have a chance to run at Pemaquid in the Merritt Bracket races or to head for Portland and race in the annual fundraiser for the Maine Multiple Sclerosis Society.
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