Lobster Race – Knox County VillageSoup
Think of lobster races; a perfect oxymoron.
Few have ever seen it, and it only happened once. For three days in August, mid-1980s, lobsters ârestâ in a large tank in the exhibition tent at the Maine Lobster Festival. I was there.
In fact, it was my event.
At the time I was a director in the Festival Corporation. At one of our winter meetings, the idea of ââa lobster race was circulated and discussed. I worked for a lobster dealer in Spruce Head for about 11 years helping manage 52 tanks of live lobsters. Since I was young and full of energy, I volunteered to lead the event. I knew that a tank full of live lobsters always draws a crowd, tourists and locals alike.
When rolled around in late July, I secured a two meter fiberglass tank three feet deep, a length of hose, and a very loose plan for getting water in and out. I knew I wanted to build an open system because of its simplicity.
The tanks you see in a restaurant or grocery store are complex closed systems. They circulate, cool and filter the salt water. My system would pump real salt water from Rockland Harbor into my tank and then drain it back overboard.
I had to get sea water in and out of the tank.
My first pump wasn’t big enough. After finding a larger pump, the next problem was keeping the suction line from filling the tank with sand sucked in from the bottom of the port. I was saved by a shopping cart that I found overboard. I set up the cart and dropped my suction line into the cart, which kept my line a good two feet off the ground.
Now with a properly functioning tank, I set out to build alleys for lobsters to run side by side. My setup allowed five Hummers to drive at the same time.
The next challenge was to encourage the lobsters to move from the start gate to the finish line at the other end of the tank. From my Spruce Head training, I knew lobsters would pile up in the darkest corner of the pool. I suspected it would motivate them to darken one end of the tank.
After placing a shadow over the other end of the tank, my test lobsters were moving towards it for most of the time.
That included creating the race and where I was really struggling. With a little help, we came up with a concept where participants pay a $ 5 fee to choose a Hummer for the race. The candidate whose lobster came first would win a t-shirt. Fortunately for me, my old high school history teacher, Gary Davis, showed up the day the first race was due to start. In his slow, drawn-out tone, he said, “I heard you could use some help.”
I definitely have.
Little did I know Gary was a world class carnival screamer after doing so for many years at the Aroostook County’s Potato Blossom Festival. He worked the crowd, race after race, to gather the five participants it took to start a race.
“You, sir, get a dollar out of your pocket!” and “Hello, yes you. Come here for a minute.”
It was amazing to watch. After lining up five excited lobster jockeys, we announced that the race would begin. By then there would be a good audience.
I would lift the gate … and nothing has happened, that always gave great laughter, then tense silence, then cheers to push the lobsters forward.
After about five minutes, one of the lobsters picked up both claws and began pedaling like a forklift with the forks raised. The other bugs would prevail and we would have a race. It went on like this for three long days. The event was a success.
I am happy to have it on my resume. But I don’t want to bet it will ever return.
But I have a safe bet for everyone. The Maine Lobster Festival will return.
It keeps coming back.
Glenn Billington is a Rockland Lifelong Resident and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.
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