Coast Guard Keeps a Watchful Eye during
Lobster Boat Races

By Bob Trapani, Jr., USCG AUX, Division 1N-1 SO-PA

Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The 140-ft USCGC THUNDER BAY served
as the PATCOM for the lobster boat races

On Father’s Day, June 17, 2007, the City of Rockland, Maine, was proud host to the 1st annual Lobster Boat Races within the confines of historic Rockland Harbor. The highly anticipated races took place behind the protective arm of the nearly mile-long Rockland Breakwater, overlooking West Penobscot Bay, as upwards to 500 spectators watched from atop the stone wall and hundreds more observed from the decks of rafted boats.

Rockland became the eighth location in Maine this year where hardy lobstermen could relax from the rigors of their trade and kick-up some surf with their friends and family as they raced their boats for fun and pride. If you’re not from Maine though, you may be wondering why all the hoopla over lobster boat racing,

The website best sums up this fascinating allure, noting, “There is nothing more uniquely Maine than a day at the lobster boat races. Whether you’re drawn to the races as a serious competitor, or are a summer visitor in search of a true Maine experience, a day at the races will kick summer into gear.”

Lobster boats race in Rockland Harbor
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Lobster boats race hard as they
run parallel in the harbor to the
Rockland Breakwater.

But as the United States Coast Guard knows all too well, nothing will dampen such boating enthusiasm quicker – and often times permanently, then for something to go wrong on the water. Without an uncompromising commitment to safety during such a complex marine event as lobster boat races, waterborne fun in the sun can yield tragic consequences in seconds.

The best way to ensure a fun and rewarding marine experience is to “stay the course” during an event’s pre-planning and to make sure all the participating partners communicate together, know their role and expectations and adhere to the rules of safe navigation.

Thanks to some unprecedented teamwork between the United States Coast Guard and the Rockland Lobster Boat Race Committee, the 1st annual lobster boat races went off without a hitch. The Committee worked closely with Coast Guard Sector Northern New England in Portland, and with the commands of cutter THUNDER BAY and Station Rockland, as well as Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 15 from Rockland, to make the event was a resounding success.

Rockland lobster boat races
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Lobster boats line up in front of
THUNDER BAY, which served as the
PATCOM for the races.

The Sector’s Captain Stephen Garrity, Commander Brian Downey, Chief Earl Sorensen and Sharon Machon-Ames, along with Lt. Thomas Crane, commanding officer of the THUNDER BAY, played key roles in helping guide the Rockland Lobster Boat Race Committee through the critical marine event application process prior to the event, which included identifying a suitable and safe race course.

When all the planning was finished though, and the green flag came down to commence the racing, it was up to the active and auxiliary Coast Guard units in Rockland to ensure that safety remained the top priority throughout the lobster boat races.

The THUNDER BAY assumed the role as patrol command (PATCOM) for the races, as the cutter positioned itself just south of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse where the start boat and competing lobster boats assembled prior to each heat.

But the crew of the THUNDER BAY wasn’t alone. For on this day, Station Rockland’s 25-foot rigid hull inflatable under the command of BM3 Ruben Colon (with CWO3 Curtis Barthel, the Station’s commanding officer, aboard as well) and two Coast Guard Auxiliary facilities (SASHE and FANCY FREE), worked in seamless fashion with the cutter in patrolling the multiple aspects related to the event in Rockland Harbor.

USCG Auxiliary helps maintain safety during the races
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Coast Guard Auxiliary facility SASHE
was tasked with maintaining the western
boundary of Rockland Harbor to the
southern point of the anchorage during
the lobster boat races

In addition to ensuring a safe race course, the Coast Guard also patrolled the anchorage area where over 100 spectator boats were rafted-up, as well as the waters right up against the breakwater where it was paramount to make certain that onlookers were maintaining a safe perch above the dangerous wakes from racing lobster boats. The City of Rockland’s Police Department and Harbormaster, as well as Maine Marine Patrol, also assisted the Coast Guard in these safety aspects as well.

Lt. Thomas Crane of the THUNDER BAY explained the value of the Coast Guard Auxiliary on race day, noting, “In short, the Auxiliary served as an excellent Force Multiplier for the Coast Guard. It was essential to have the two auxiliary boats on scene with us during the Lobster Boat Races. If the Auxiliary were not there, CWO3 Curtis Barthel of Station Rockland would have needed to have all his boats underway to support the event. That would not have left a boat in an immediate status for search and rescue.”

CWO3 Barthel echoed Lt. Crane’s sentiments, noting, “The big thing is that I am required to maintain one rescue boat at all times. If the Auxiliary was not there, and I had to have another boat on scene, we would have been forced to leave the scene of the event had a search and rescue (SAR) case came up.” CWO3 Barthel went on to say, “The other thing the Auxiliary helped us avoid was crew fatigue. If I would have had to have two boats underway, it would have diminished my SAR capabilities later in the day.”

USCG Auxiliary helps keep boaters safe during races
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

USCG Auxiliary facility FANCY FREE
keeps recreational boaters out of
harm's way just off the lighthouse.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary thus played a vital role on race day and can be quite proud of the fact that their presence not only helped make the marine event a memorable occasion for participants and spectators alike, they’re volunteer dedication to duty also proved to be invaluable to the active units and the Coast Guard’s mission of waterborne safety.

Lt. Crane explained the Auxiliary’s role during the lobster boat races, saying, “We tasked the Auxiliary with maintaining the safety zone surround in the Race start from our anchored position.”

Lt. Crane went on to say, “We had the FANCY FREE on the eastern side of the course ensuring no vessels crossed the line from our position to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. SASHE was tasked with maintaining the western boundary from our anchored position to the southern portion of the anchorage area where Station Rockland’s 25-foot Security was maintaining law and order.”

Station Rockland maintains order
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Station Rockland's 25-ft rigid hull
inflatable (in the distance) maintains
law and order with the rafted
spectator boats as the lobster boat
races were in high gear.

FANCY FREE never missed a beat as they patrolled the waters just off the lighthouse, and along with the crew of the 17-foot Zodiac from THUNDER BAY, intercepted incoming boats, schooners and jet skis who were unaware of the lobster boat race event that was underway. The Auxiliary facility SASHE performed the same duty, meeting unsuspecting recreational traffic that was departing from Rockland Harbor’s shore-side piers before they could venture into harm’s way.

The 1st annual 2007 Rockland Lobster Boat Races was a spectacular event that promises to become the finest race course for lobster boats in the State of Maine in the years ahead. The fact that the success of the inaugural race enables the marine event to boast of a bright future is thanks in huge part to an exemplary example of “Team Coast Guard” in action on the part of Sector Northern New England, THUNDER BAY, Station Rockland and Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 15!


USCG Thunder Bay's Zodiak
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

THUNDER BAY's 17-foot Zodiac helped
keep spectators safe on the breakwater
by making sure they were high enough
on the stone wall and away from the
lobster boat's incoming wakes.

USCG Thunder Bay's 17-foot Zodiac
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

THUNDER BAY's 17-foot Zodiac
heads back down the breakwater
to the south end to help
FANCY FREE keep recreational
boaters out of the race course.

USCG Auxiliary & Thunder Bay's Zodiac
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

USCG Auxiliary facility
Zodiac intercept a recreational boater on
the east side of Rockland Breakwater.

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
offered a front row seat to
watch the lobster boat races

Created: July 2007