There is Nothing Like a Lobsterboat Race

Reason #121 in our "200 Reasons to Love Maine" special bicentennial issue.

Maine Lobsterboat Races
Photographed by Terry Bolvin
By Charlotte Wilder

As a sports reporter, I’ve covered just about every big championship the sports world has to offer. But none come close to being as hardcore as the annual lobsterboat races in Jonesport. One weekend a year, fishermen and women, who usually use their boats to haul lobster traps, empty out their cabins, trick out their engines, and see how fast those babies can go. The reckless beauty of fishing vessels charging through the Atlantic takes your breath away. It quickens your pulse. How, you think, are these clunky boats going so insanely fast? 

I grew up spending summers in Rockport. I heard lobstermen on the harbor docks talking about crazy race finishes and yearned to see them for myself. It took a while, but in 2017, I finally made it to Jonesport to film a short documentary and write a story about the races. Locals with the same last names as the ones who started the event in the 1930s fed me lobsters while they told me the story of their town’s biggest day of the year. 

No one agrees how the races started. Some say they have their roots in lobstermen racing each other home on Moosabec Reach as they brought in their daily catch. Others believe local boatbuilders wanted to prove whose design was fastest. In any case, it was fun. So much fun that the summer racing circuit has endured and expanded over the years: the state’s jagged coast now hosts nearly a dozen races most summers, in harbors from Portland to Rockland to Stonington to MDI.

Jonesport, however, is the granddaddy of them all. Winning there means more than winning anywhere else. Spectators line the bridge from the mainland to Beals Island. Locals tie their boats to moorings to drink, party, and cheer on their friends whizzing by. 

No, lobsterboats are not hydrodynamic. If the sleek yachts of the America’s Cup are the thoroughbreds of the sea, lobsterboats are the Clydesdales — romantic, photogenic, great for a beer ad, but not exactly what you’d bet on at the Kentucky Derby. I saw 35-foot boats rocking 1,500-horsepower diesels, which is like putting a Ferrari engine on a Vespa. And no, the races are not safe. I nearly died when the boat I was on almost flipped going 50 miles per hour. But it was the most alive I’ve ever felt, so if you have the chance to get on board and don’t mind flooding your body with adrenaline, I highly recommend it. 

The races are majestic. When the lobsterboats get going, they’re somehow graceful. The speed transforms the weight of their heavy hulls into elegant behemoths that plow through the water like aquatic fighter jets, seeking nothing other than town-wide glory. There’s no purse — all you win is a plaque with your name on it. But it’s worth it. True Mainers know that you can’t put a price on bragging rights.

Watch SB Nation’s 2017 video from the Moosabec Reach Lobsterboat Races.

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July 2020