Clawing their way to the finish line

BEVERLY, Mass. (AP) — Lynch Park was the scene of a chaotic blood sport Sunday afternoon, as lobster boats screamed through the mouth of the Danvers River, whipping up waves that battered the rocky walls of Woodbury Point.

Wait … lobster boats? Let’s start over.

A quad of four lobster boats — known not for their speed, but for their capacity to haul loads of lobsters, pots and gear — lined up and waited for the signal from harbormaster staff to put the pedal to the metal, maximize engine torque and … slowly get going.

“They do get competitive,” said a chuckling Larry Ridge, an avid fan of the lobster boat races who has watched them for all 22 years of the event’s history with Beverly Homecoming. “One of them, every once in a while, tries to cut another one off.”

The boats slowly picked up speed as the sound of diesel engines under maximum load resonated through the air. One of the boats burped out a cloud of black exhaust and gradually moved to the head of the pack. The rest lurched up and down, rising and falling in the wake.

“It’s fun. It’s unusual,” said Ridge, who was accompanied by his wife, Fran. “Where can you go and watch lobster boats race?”

He raised his hands into the air. His eyebrows rose.

“Right?” he asked.

Fran and Larry Ridge had prime seating picked out as they watched from the grass overlooking Woodbury Beach. But there weren’t many seated around them.

“Every year, there’s less and less,” Fran said, shaking her head. “Even the Homecoming events, they have events every day. It was always packed.”

And that’s a shame, they noted, given what could be at stake for those who race.

“They’re working boats,” Larry Ridge said. “If they break an engine, they’re out of business.”

North Shore lobstermen do have a competitive streak, which makes the contest fun.

“They’re very competitive during the season,” Larry said, “but they all get together for this.”

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