Early Beals Island Lobster Boat Racing

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Moosabec Boat race approximately 1959 Esten Beal Jr in the Twylavie and Lester Faulkingham in the Paula Rose

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1964 Moosabec Reach Boat Racing.

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Maxine M built by Vinal Beal for Archie Alley Jr. Racing Moms Choice built by Ernest Libby Jr. for Ernest Libby Sr. 1972

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July 4th, 1992 Moosabec Reach Boatracing

Anyone who follows lobster boat racing would know that there was going to be a great battle in Diesel Class E. Two good friends were looking for the top spot. Kenton Feeney’s BAD INFLUENCE [Holland 32, 350-hp Yanmar] and Dan Sawyer’s HIGH VOLTAGE [AJ-28; 400-hp Yanmar] with the win going to HIGH VOLTAGE.

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Here is Jason Chipman’s MISS AMITY [Osmond 42; 700-hp Scania], Robert Alley, Jr.’s HANNAH LOUISE [Calvin Beal 42; 750-hp John Deere] and Eric Beal’s KIMBERLY ANN [Calvin Beal 42; 750-hp FPT] as they cross the finish line.

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2017 Moosabec Boat Race. F/V Joyce Ann. Owner, Thurman Alley. Original owner, Wendall Alley. Builder: 33 Jimmy Beal Calvin Jr's model

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By Arthur S. Woodward

“Where ya goin’ the 4th?” “Goin’ to find the 5th!” This was a characteristic question and answer in Beals as the 4th of July was approaching. These were said in a joking manner, of course. The truth was that more than likely those asking and answering the question were going to be in attendance at the big Fourth of July celebration in Beals and maybe include the carnival and some of the celebration in Jonesport by taking a boat across the Reach. Both towns had (and still have) very patriotic celebrations of the anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America. The celebrations in Beals could include a parade, band concert, foot races and various other contests, swimming races, rowing races, picnics, going aboard the U. S. Navy ship anchored in the Reach, evening fireworks, and, as much fun as all of that was, the singular big event for many was the lobster boat racing. The 4th was a very highly anticipated holiday then, as now. The boat races climaxed the day. Yes, the 4thwas a day for the big race, unless it was foggy, and, unless, of course, the 4thfell on a Sunday. Sunday being the Lord’s Day, there would be no official racing. The race would be scheduled for a weekday. It would be a rare occasion if a Beals boat left the mooring on a Sunday to go to haul.
Lobster boat racing was a very common occurrence for the men in the Moosabec Reach area. It has been said that any time two boats were headed in the same direction there could be a race. The boats didn’t have to be the same type or size, or anywhere near the same power. A lobsterman would hook onto a lobster smack, two sardine boats would hook up for a knurl, smacks and sardine boats would test each other, etc., but it was likely more commonplace to have lobster boat versus lobster boat in a chance meeting.
If a man sailed up alongside of another boat that was underway and held out a piece of rope and shook it that was a challenge for a race. It meant, “Let’s race, I can tow you!” Generally, though, the one challenged didn’t need an invitation and reached down and opened her wide open. They’d have it out and often that would be that. Occasionally, though, even those unplanned races resulted in stories that are told to this day. For example, the time the soaked up and dirty bottomed boat outsailed a brand new boat is still remembered after many years.
Before the lobster boats were fitted with engines the fishermen would have sailing races.
From, say, the early 1920s when the Jonesport Model appeared on the scene the racing took on a very serious tone, the racing being fun notwithstanding. One boat would be built to beat another boat, with adjustments in design to attempt to make that happen. There were dozens of boats built along the lines of the Jonesport Model. A number of different Jonesport and Beals builders built them for several years.
The Jonesport Model (bear in mind that Beals was still a part of Jonesport when the first of these boats were built) was long, narrow, sleek, and fast. The typical model had a deep forefoot, sharp entry, gradually curving bottom from nearly vertical at the bow to quite flat at the stern., and was likely file sided (some more than others), beautiful sheer, an outward slanted pretty and somewhat rounded stem, and a round or so-called torpedo stern in many cases . These boats would vary in length, to possibly 35 - 36 feet, and vary somewhat in width up to eight or so feet. Gradually the torpedo sterns gave way to square sterns, which were almost vertical and with tumble home on the upper part of either side. In the early days the boats were fitted with removable canvas spray hoods. Some of the larger round stern boats had a trunk cabin and maybe a hood aft of that. Later on pilot houses would be built at the after end of the hood. The pilot houses were open in the rear and generally on the starboard side, as most boats around home were “right handed”. Still later a trunk cabin and pilot house would be built on the boats.
The models have continued to evolve, resulting in much larger boats, with fiberglass replacing wood in many cases. In later years the models are referred to as Beals Island Models or Jonesport-Beals Models, and they are also identified by the names of their designers. By whatever name the models are called and whoever the designer-builder, they are distinctive and pretty and they are found along the U. S. coasts and in coastal waters in far away places. And the modern boats, like their predecessors, can be driven to amazing speeds.
This phase of the lobster boat racing story in the Moosabec Reach covers, generally, from the 1920s into the 1950s. A second phase followed with bigger wooden boats, big V-8 engines, and spray rails in the 1960s and 70s. The current third phase features mostly fiberglass boats, enormous gas and diesel engines, and capabilities to reach very high speeds.
When there is discussion of early lobster boat races the two boats that quickly enter the conversation are the legendary “Red Wing” and the “Thorobred”, built in Beals c. mid-1920s. All one has to do is mention these two torpedo stern speedsters and make a statement or two about which one was faster, which one was built to compete with the other, or such, and you could end up with a debate if not an argument. I believe these statements are correct, but, I’m risking a debate: the “Red Wing” was built by William Frost; the “Thorobred’ was built by George Addington, using the “Red Wing” molds; the “Red Wing” was 33 feet in length, and the “Thorobred” was 34 feet long; they were about seven feet wide; the “Red Wing” was named for the brand of marine engine she first had; the “Thorobred” was named for the Thorobred model marine engine even though her first power was a Kermath marine engine. This may be debatable, too, but the horn timbers in these two boats figure into the racing success of the “Thorobred” over the “Red Wing”. It’s said that the “Red Wing’s” horn timber turned up a little, and that made her bow rise and cost her some speed. The horn timber is the part of the frame from the after end of the keel to the end of the stern.
I am only naming the “Thorobred” and “Red Wing” even though there were other popular fast boats. I don’t want to make a list and then find I’ve omitted any boats. A number of boats had names but some had no names.
Some of the faster boats had very thin keels, maybe three inches thick. They were so thin that they didn’t have a two-piece shaft log. Instead of a log the shaft tunnel would be bored out or burned out. The thin keels probably weren’t rabbeted for the toes of the timbers. Instead, the timbers would be fastened to the top of the keel.
As time passed used car engines were installed in many boats. The engines, in many cases at least, came out of cars that had been in wrecks. Two large auto wreckers in Orono were good sources for engines, Silver’s and Penobscot.
The “Red Wing” and the “Thorobred” both had straight eight Buick Roadmaster engines, as did several other boats. Other boats had flat head straight eights and straight sixes, both flat head and overhead valves. The engines would have direct exhaust pipes, and the sounds were loud, incredible, and unforgettable. Early in the morning of the 4th you could hear the racers out in the Reach trying them out.
The race was not formally structured. I believe there was no race committee, except maybe the selectmen would set the time for the race and perhaps serve as starter and finish line judges.
Some fishermen would ground out for a few tides to dry their boats out and clean and maybe paint the bottoms. Some men used car wax on the bottoms of their boats. All boats were wooden, typically with oak frame and cedar planking. Almost every boat was painted white with buff or orange buff trim. Some boats had green bottoms but most bottoms were painted red.
Racing is application of physics.
When preparing to race and get the highest possible speed from their boats, some racers would do tune-ups, advance the timing as much as they dared, add a second carburetor, or possibly even a third, maybe ream out the holes in the needle valves in the carburetors, change pitch in their propellers, and possibly put on bigger props and use second gear. Some men might take their fresh water cooling pipes off the bottoms and have the engines pump the salt water through them. Some would take the spray hoods off. In some cases as stories go, some would put aboard moth balls, ether, wood alcohol, high test gasoline if available, and, there was talk that in some instances aviation gas was used. Some men would take their boats out and run the engines at top speed, get them really hot, then put a wrench on the head bolts and turn them down as hard as they could. There’s a story of one fellow taking off his exhaust manifold for added power. In some instances everything that didn’t have to be in the boat was taken out, even to most of the floor boards and the engine box. Possibly, though, a small amount of weight would be added in the bow or stern to adjust the trim. It is said that one man cut a lot of the keel off of his boat in an unsuccessful effort to win. A fellow “from away” built what may have been a V bottomed boat and came to race, but was unsuccessful in his attempt to win.
It seems that everyone knew when the race was to start, and people would crowd the shore line, wharves, and their anchored boats so as to have a good vantage point for the race. The excitement would build.
As race time approached the boats would appear from the various coves, wharves, and moorings. If, at that time, a fisherman decided he would race he’d go get his boat and go into the wharf, take out his bait tub, anchor and road, and any other excess weight he could, and go to the starting line with his fellow competitors. Sizes of engines and boats didn’t matter. This was THE RACE! They never knew which engine might blow a piston or otherwise fail, which propeller would lose a blade (like, it is said, from an aluminum propeller), which boat might have a steering problem or some other difficulty, or who might run out of gas. In other words, it was possible, with enough calamities, for the least likely boat to win, and give that skipper the bragging rights for that 4th until the next year. In one race the “Thorobred “blew a piston and caught fire in the base, but limped in to win, as the story goes. One boat ran out of gas and drifted across the finish line to take second place.
Now it was RACE TIME! When the competitors were lined up at the starting line the starter would give the signal and throttles would quickly be opened wide open and boats that had barely any headway getting to the line would lurch forward, bows lifting, with a rush of water coming out from under their sterns as their props dug in, driven by their engines that had just been given full speed ahead. Aboard the boats there could be some interesting things going on. For example, a big screwdriver could be dropped into the carburetor to hold the choke open, high test, or even possibly airplane gas could be causing extra RPMs, moth balls could be adding a little extra kick as they were dissolved in the gasoline, wood alcohol could be dripping into the carburetor for added power, a second carburetor would have kicked in, and in later years a third carburetor could be pushing the engine to even greater power. And, those reamed out needle valves would be providing an increased flow of fuel. The skipper would be standing at the tiller, probably bent forward, encouraging his boat on toward the finish line, and glancing across at any boats near him , to see if he was gaining on them or whether they were gaining on him. Skippers who found their boats behind others had to be careful in maneuvering through the wakes of the boats ahead of him. As excited spectators looked on they’d likely see a boat’s bow dip and see her slow down and stop, sometimes in a cloud of smoke, as something went wrong and she was finished. Meanwhile the rest of the fleet roared onward, each boat and engine giving the best they could while piloted by their capable skippers. Anticipation and excitement built as the faster boats neared the finish line. Would they hold on and the favored winner be able to get across first? Then, all of a sudden, it was over! The judges had signaled the winning boat was across the line, and second and third place finishers were designated. The crowds of spectators were excitedly sharing their collective wisdom about the winner, who should have done something differently, and if they had, they would have won, etc., etc. These discussions could last all winter around hot stoves in shops, boat shops, stores, and buildings, wherever men got together to talk things over in bad weather. Men who had done the racing were thinking and planning what they could do, if necessary, to win next year. One man told me he raced every year and got beat until he learned how to win.
Prizes for winning and placing may have been a coil of 6-thread rope, a pair of boots, a suit of oil clothes, a case of oil, or such.
For several years in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s the Beals Lobster Boat Races were highlights of the Fourth of July celebrations. They provided great excitement, enthusiasm, and discussion topics, and were the source of shared wisdom, planning, speculation, and preparation for the upcoming race next 4th .
In researching this story I augmented my memory by conferring with my cousin, Erroll George Woodward, as he remembers a lot about the races and we grew up together, and he and I made a round stern playboat when we were boys and I still have her; Richard Alley, who’s about my age, a boat builder and fisherman and whose father once owned the “Red Wing” and his grandfather, “Nat” Alley, had the “Red Wing” built by Will Frost (Richard said the “Red Wing” once outsailed a speed boat from Jonesport); Guy and Ruth Carver as Guy, a fisherman, did a lot of racing and remembers a lot about it and Ruth has a very good memory of the people and boats, and Guy said he raced every year and got beat until he learned how to win; William Faulkingham, who has built a model of the “Thorobred” and whose father, “Lessie”, ran out of gas and drifted across the finish line to get second place once and won other races, and whose grandfather, Herman Beal, bought the “Thorobred” when she was built by George Addington; my cousin, Willis Beal, boat builder (built at least two torpedo stern boats, too), racing veteran, and fisherman , and whose great grandfather, Lowell Beal, won a trophy in a sailing contest in the early days.
One additional historical point: when lobster boats first had inboard engines they were referred to as naphtha boats, or gasoline boats, because of the fuels they used.
I extend my sincere thanks to my wife, Lois, and those others who helped me in preparing this story.
And it is with deep gratitude, appreciation, and hearty congratulations to all those, past or present, who had any part in the Early Beals Island Lobster Boat Racing. Best regards to those participants in the recent past, current, and future lobster boat races.
“Where’re ya goin’ the 4th?”