Foolish Pleasure, The World’s Fastest Lobsterboat, Rides Again
After the untimely death of its longtime owner, the famously fast lobsterboat motors back onto Maine’s racing circuit.
Mark Freeman spent this spring continuing to tinker with Foolish Pleasure while it was perched on a trailer on the side of Route 1 in York.
By Kathryn Miles Photographed by Dave Waddell
Mark Freeman grew up spending summers down east, on Beals Island, the heart of Maine lobsterboat culture. That’s where, in the early 20th century, a craftsman came up with the now-ubiquitous design of modern lobsterboats and where local fishermen had the idea that those practical working boats ought to be hitched with outsize engines and raced. As a kid, in the 1960s and ’70s, Freeman caught rides on some of the island’s legendary racing boats, and he bought his first lobsterboat at age 15, on his way to becoming a lifelong fisherman. Around the same time, he befriended Rocky and Galen Alley, brothers whose family was already well-known on the racing circuit. Rocky would go on to claim a world record for the fastest wooden lobsterboat, while Galen would set the still-standing overall lobsterboat speed record — 77.2 miles per hour — with Foolish Pleasure, a fiberglass reconstruction of their great-grandfather’s boat.
In January 2019, Galen died after his vehicle hit a patch of black ice and rolled over. Foolish Pleasure was left to sit on a trailer. Rocky considered relaunching Foolish Pleasure himself, but he didn’t have the heart for it. “It’s hard enough losing a little brother,” he says. “It would have been even harder continuing to do something I know he loved more than I did.”
As months went by, Foolish Pleasure’s future became increasingly precarious. Maine’s weather is hard on boats even when they’re on dry land, and they require constant care and investment. “It takes a lot of money to get speed,” Rocky says. “Galen put hundreds of thousands of dollars into that boat.” When Freeman, who’s now 61, heard about the boat’s plight, he set his mind to returning Foolish Pleasure to racing. “As a kid, I got a ride on pretty much every Beals Island lobsterboat,” Freeman says. “Now, it’s time for me to put on a show.”
He bought the boat in November 2019, and by the time he hauled it south to his native town of York, Foolish Pleasure wasn’t much more than an aging hull. He’s since spent a year and a half making repairs and installing a new 650-horsepower engine — about half the strength needed to get Foolish Pleasure back to record-setting speeds but plenty, he figures, for his inaugural season.
Lobsterboats are designed for the plodding work of pulling traps, and pushing them past 50 miles per hour comes with risks. Capsizes and crashes aren’t common during races, but they aren’t unheard of either. Freeman is mostly nonchalant about the danger. As a former stock-car racer, he’s used to speed. He’s also accustomed to the dangers of life on the water: In November 2002, the engine on his 50-foot dragger, Jennifer Rebecca, caught fire while he and a crew member were fishing off Cape Cod. They spent more than 12 frigid hours in a raft before a Coast Guard plane spotted them. Nevertheless, Freeman is racing Foolish Pleasure without a crew this year, just in case something goes wrong.
In late June, in Boothbay Harbor, the boat raced for the first time in almost three years. In its preliminary heat, the engine failed, and Foolish Pleasure had to be towed back to shore. By the afternoon, Freeman had repaired it and was ready for the final race of the day. This time, Foolish Pleasure won. The next day, in Rockland, it won again. But for Freeman — and for Rocky Alley — winning means far less than simply seeing the boat back in the water. “Mark always thought a lot of my brother. There’s a lot of respect there,” Rocky says. “Galen would be very happy and very pleased.” “Everyone loved Galen and his boat,” Freeman adds. “I want to keep their legacy alive.”
Start Your Engines
The racing circuit runs from June through August. Winners in the more than two dozen classes — from small skiffs to 40-footers, with various engine types — receive modest prizes, which they often donate to charitable causes. Here, a schedule of the remaining races this summer, all a go as of press time, although dates and details could change due to weather or the ongoing pandemic.
July 25 Harpswell Lobster Boat Races Viewable from the Dolphin Marina and Restaurant (515 Basin Point Rd., Harpswell).
August 14 Winter Harbor Lobster Boat Races Best viewed by boat in Winter Harbor’s Henry Cove.
August 15 Merritt Brackett Lobster Boat Races In Pemaquid Harbor, viewable from the fort at Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site (Colonial Pemaquid Dr., New Harbor).
August 21 Long Island Lobster Boat Races Best viewed by boat near the southwest side of Long Island, in Casco Bay.
August 22 Portland Lobster Boat Races In Portland Harbor, viewable from the Eastern Promenade and Fort Allen Park (49 Eastern Promenade, Portland).