HARPSWELL — They’re back.

The greatly missed and much-loved annual lobster boat races are returning to Harpswell on July 29 after a four-year hiatus. And it isn’t a day too soon.

“The buzz around town has been insane,” said Larry Ward, the head of the Harpswell Lobster Boat Races Committee and a co-organizer of this year’s event. “It has been sorely missed.”

The races, last held in 2013, begin at 10 a.m. in Pott’s Harbor. There will be 31 race classes, ranging from non-working boats to Novi boats, with first-, second- and third-place finishers. Ward said the race committee has secured more than $9,300 in cash, gift certificates and bank cards to award the winners.

“The biggest challenge has been securing sponsorship and prizes, because we wanted to make sure we have decent prizes,” he said.

Ward said he has a team of “angels” helping to put together this year’s festivities. Ward said getting the course mapped out and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and acquiring the required permits takes time, and he expects a large crowd of people on land and in the water to watch the races.

“It’s taken quite a bit of time, but I have five of the most incredible girls in the world that I work with,” he said.

Lobster boat races in Harpswell had been a tradition since the first event in 1987, but after 26 years, Ward said the group that ran the event were worn out. Last August, a local resident got things moving in the right direction, and Ward took over working with a group of volunteers to bring the races back to the peninsula.

“This only happened because of our volunteers,” he said. The committee has leveraged social media to get the word out about the returning races. The group’s Facebook page posts regular updates, there is merchandise for sale and there have been many articles in local newspapers. 

Ward said the races have been missed because it’s always been a fun race, Ward said. This year’s event should have more than 60 boats in 31 different race classes, including skiffs, modified and non-working lobster boats.

One of the most popular races, historically, has been the slowest lobster boat. Ward called it a “signature race of the event” and said many people are excited to see which boat takes the longest to complete the half-mile run.

“In the modified class, you’ll see some boats going 70 mph, but a lot of people like seeing what boat is the slowest,” he said. “They’ll be 16-foot skiffs and 45-foot boats with 1,350-horsepower diesels in them.”

Most of the boats that’ll race on July 29 are working lobster boats, and Ward said when you see one of them running 45-50 mph, it’s pretty impressive.

Registration for the event begins at 8 a.m. at Erica’s Seafood on Basin Point Road. For $20, boat owners can register and then be placed in one of the 31 race classes. The first race begins at 10 a.m. and the event will end in the afternoon. 

“The best place to watch is on the water,” Ward said. “People come with their own boats, they can rent boats and there are charter boats that’ll bring people out.”

One family who was at Erica’s Seafood last week said they were looking forward to seeing their first lobster boat race.

Mike and Allison Russell, of Florida, rented a house in the area for the first time and recently heard another couple talking about lobster boat races when they were walking around Boothbay Harbor last month. They immediately began asking questions and took an interest.

“I’d imagine it would be pretty interesting to see these lobster boats, which you’d typically observe moored somewhere, hauling down a straightaway at high speeds,” Mike Russell said. “It’s going to be awesome.”

The Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association has an 11-race season that started with Boothbay Harbor’s race on June 16 and ends with the Aug. 19 race in Portland. 

Ward said there has been an emptiness in Harpswell the last four years without the boat races, and he said he knows everybody is eager for their return. 

“There’s been a lot of participation, and it’s a really big thing now,” he said. “It’s a good family day on the water, and it’s for a good cause.”

The tradition of donating the race proceeds to the Harpswell Santa Fund began in 1991. The nonprofit organization was formed that year in memory of Ward’s brother, Lewis Ward Jr., a local lobsterman who drowned in a tragic accident in 1991.

In a press release about the event earlier this year, Amanda Peacock said the local lobstermen of Harpswell started the fund after her father’s death, and she said the race is her opportunity to give back to everyone who helped her family during that time.

Ward said the Harpswell races are a very inclusive event. There likely will be some teenagers — with an adult — captaining a boat along with older racers in their 60s and 70s.

“There is no stereotyping whatsoever,” Ward said. “We have all ages, and there are lobsterwomen who go out there and do better than the guys.”

Despite the fear from some people in Harpswell that think the race won’t continue past this year, Ward said the committee wants to pick up where things left off in 2013 and move forward.

“We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel here,” he said. “We’ve got fresh blood and a marketing agent, so I’m sure we can keep this going without another hiatus.”

For more information, call or 798-1725 or email [email protected]

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