In Maine it's June, it's summer and it's that time of year again - lobster boat racing. Eleven races are spread out along the Maine coast. between June 15 and Oct. 19.

Boothbay Harbor on Saturday and Rockland Harbor on Sunday hoisted the season’s first two races.

Forty-four boats showed up at Boothbay, six more than last year. Most of the boats had tied up by Friday afternoon, their crews ready to meet up and have a good time. “At Boothbay, they love to get together,” said Jon Johansen, President of Maine Lobster Boat Racing. “The parties run till three in the morning.”

Then it's time to get things together since sign-ups generally run between 8 and 9 a.m. and racing starts at 10. Forty-four boats signed up for Boothbay's 31 races. That's six more boats than last year, but still lower than the 52 boats racing between 2010 and 2012.

 The first three races were for work boats under 24 feet. The fastest boat came out of Class C (Inboards, outboards or outdrive 91 hp and up). That was David Noyes' Zippah (Carson 17, 150-hp Evinrude) that hit 49.7 mph, beating four other boats. For the fourth race only two boats showed up for the Fastest Working Lobster Boat in Boothbay, Andrew Hallinan's Shoals Run (Wayne Beal 32, 450-hp Cummins) and Andrew Taylor's Blue Eyed Girl (Morgan Bay 38, 900-hp Scania). It was an easy win for Blue Eyed Girl, crossing the line at 43.1 mph.

There were five races for lobster boats in the Gas Powered Work Boats 24 Feet and Up bracket, but only three lobster boats showed up. Thus all three were sent down the course at the same time. The winner of Gasoline Class C (V8, 376 to 525 cid, 28 feet and over) was Jim Koehling's Brown Eyed Girl (Duffy36, 454-hp Chevy) at 36 mph. The sole entry and thus the winner of Gasoline Class E (V8, Over 525 cid, 28 feet and over, superchargers/turbos) and the race's overall winner was Steve Johnson's Lynn Marie (Sisu 26, 632 Chevy) at 50 mph.

Next up were Diesel Powered Work Boats 24 Feet and Up. As with the Gasoline Classes, there were only five boats in the six lower powered diesel classes - 235 hp to 435 hp. Thus all five boats went down the course together, each getting first in its respective class. The fastest boat represented Diesel Class F (336 to 435 hp, 34 feet and over). That was Winfred Alley Jr.'s Faith Melle (Libby 34, 425-hp Cummins) at 40.2 mph. Entries and speed picked up in the next races, with 30 boats spread through 10 diesel classes, starting with Diesel Class G (436 to 550 hp, 28 get to 35 feet) and ending with Diesel Class N(B) (40 feet and over, 1,001 hp and over).

 A good race was Diesel Class K (701 to 900 hp, 36 feet and over). Four boats were in the race but the major contenders were Andrew Taylor's Blue Eyed Girl (Morgan Bay 38, 900- ho Scania) and Jeff Eaton's La Belle Vita (Northern Bay 38, 815-ho FPT. It was a close race all the way up the course, and Blue Eyed Girl was barely ahead as they crossed the finish line at 48.2 mph. Blue Eyed Girl would go on to win the second heat of the Diesel Free For All.

The dominant boat of the day was Maria's Nightmare II Wayne Beal 32, 1,000-hp Isotta). She won the Diesel Free for All at 57.4 mph, the Diesel Free for All finals at 47 mph, and the Fastest Working Lobster Boat race at 58.5 mph. Johansen said she should be capable of running in the low 60-mph range. 

The Fastest Working Lobster Boat race was the last race of the day. There are a couple of reasons a lobsterman would put his boat on the line in back-to-back days of racing. The pure visual and sensory exhilaration of being behind the wheel as you jam the throttle to its maximum, while among other boats doing the same thing, is one reason. Then, if you lose on day one, you can't pass up the chance to redeem yourself the following day. Even being first across the finish line has an excitement to it that just needs repeating the next day, or even the next week. It all comes down to a passion for racing lobster boats.

Thus after Boothbay's last race, 22 of the boats that competed on Saturday left Boothbay Harbor to make the run up Penobscot Bay to Rockland Harbor, joining 23 boats already there for Sunday's races.

In Rockland, as in Boothbay, the lobsterman's reluctance to go with gasoline engines was evident as there was only one boat in the five gasoline powered classes. That was Steve

Johnson's Lynn Marie, which, running by itself, hit 52.1 mph. In contrast, in the Diesel classes there were a number of good races. One of those was Diesel Class I (551 to 700 hp, 28 to 35 feet), where there have been good battles in the past between Gary Genthner's Lil' Lisa Marie (Mussel Ridge 28, 600-hp FPT) and Chris Smith's Misty (Crowley Beal 33, 650-hp Scania) with Lil' Lisa Marie winning most of the races, but at. Rockland Misty edged out Lil' Lisa Marie, topping out at 41.2 mph.

Then in Diesel Class K Jeff Eaton's La Belle Vita came back from Saturday's defeat to take first place at 43 mph, beating two other boats, Stephen Osgood's Shooting Star (Northern Bay 36, 750-hp John Deere) and Zach Donnell's Regency (Calvin Beal 38, 800-hp Scania).

 Blue Eyed Girl did not come to Rockland. Another example of defeat one day and victory the next was in Diesel Class N(A) (40 feet and over; 751 to 1,000-hp). Ryan Lemieux's Obsession Young Brothers 40, 1,000-hp Caterpillar) and Dana Beal's Natalie E. (Libby 41, 1,000-hp FPT) are two boat basically the same size and same horsepower.

At Boothbay the win went to Obsession at 41.1 mph with about 20 feet separating the two boats. In Rockland, it was a race “too close to call,” said Johansen as the two boats came up the course; at the finish line, Natalie E. “slipped by for the win.”

As might be expected, Jeremy Beal's Maria's Nightmare II was the dominant boat in Rockland, winning Diesel Class L at 50 mph, the Diesel Free for All at 49 mph, and the Fastest

Lobster Boat Race at 58.3 mph with Jeff Eaton's La Bella Vita in second place at 39.1 mph. The next race is at Bass Harbor, Sunday, June 23. A good spot to watch the races from land is the Swan Island Ferry terminal. So, head on over.

 Running full throttle down a mile-long race course does create concern among lobstermen for the well-being of the boat that they earn their living with, but the adrenaline rush that comes with each race generally overcomes any hesitations. Yet, things do happen, such as in Boothbay's Diesel Class H (436 to 550 hp, 36 feet to 39 feet 11 inches). After three boats headed up the course, "it looked like a close battle," said Johansen, but then Travis Otis' First Team (Northern Bay 36, 410-hp Sis 645) "went dead in the water." Willie Coombs' Melinda M Wayne Beal 36, 500-hp FPT won at 35.5 mph.

At Rockland, Obsession (left) and Natalie E. duel it out for the second day in a row. Obsession won at Boothbay, hitting 41.1 mph, but in Rockland Natalie E. is slightly ahead and stayed that way across the finish line at 40.1 mph. Jon Johansen photo.

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Michael Crowley is the former Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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