Lobster Boat Racing

Racing on the water usually brings to mind sleek yachts, hyper powerboats, catamarans, maybe even crewing teams sweating it out in a shell. You can watch all of those competitive watercrafts in action somewhere in Maine, but you also can check out the funkier sport of lobster boat racing! That’s right—some of those crustacean catching crafts can wind up to 60 or even 70 miles an hour.

“It’s all about having fun and the camaraderie,” says Travis Otis, current vice president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association (MLBRA). “When you mix horsepower and testosterone, interesting things happen.”

The MLBRA organizes up to 13 races per year during June, July and August, in locations such as Boothbay Harbor, Searsport, Stonington, Harpswell, Portland and Winter Harbor. Most of the boats are bona fide working lobster boats, owned, operated and raced by locals who make their living from the sea.

As the story goes, it was two of these lobstermen who began the racing tradition decades ago, when they were hurrying to be first into port in order to reap the best prices for their catch. When the loser blamed his loss on his slower boat, the winner suggested they swap boats and try again. “He still lost,” says Otis, “so it wasn’t about the boat.”

Today, with racing lobster boats sporting names like Thunderbolt, Wide Open, Determination, Wild One and Venom, the annual competition has definitely evolved, without losing its soul. “It’s not like NASCAR,” says Otis. “It’s a healthy competition. These boats represent the livelihoods of their operators so they don’t want to damage them. There’s no road rage or drivers threatening to beach each other.” He says, however, that occasionally a racer will get caught up and blow his boat’s engine. “Then we just send someone out to haul them in.”

The family-friendly nature of the races, as well as a few extracurricular events that some towns schedule in conjunction with the contests, is what attracts the crowds. For example, Stonington organizes Fishermen’s Day the week following its race, and the town of Friendship does the same each year for Friendship Day.

Regulars who compete in the lobster boat race “circuit” sometimes have to repeat the half-mile to one-mile course one or more times, if the results are too close to call. There are judges posted at strategic points along the route, but there are no elaborate video cameras to rely on if there is a dispute. “We’re not the NBA,” says Otis. “I’ve seen races repeat up to four times, and the results were different each time.”

The 2014 lobster boat race schedule is posted on the MLBRA website, where you also can read past results dating back to 2004, peruse the organization’s newsletter or, for the truly adventurous, find out how to compete in a race. Whether watching or contending, you’re bound to have an experience to remember.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to see something out of the ordinary with ordinary things,” says Otis. “These races are a cross between a family reunion and a tractor pull.”