It's the Great Pumpkin Race, Charlie Brown
The weirdest regatta in Maine takes place in Damariscotta over Columbus Day weekend.
You might expect to find a lot of things in the water off the coast of Maine. Boats, brave swimmers, humpback whales — they all frequent our miles of coastline. But go to Damariscotta on Columbus Day weekend, and you’ll find something big, round, and orange jetting around in the water.
No, the clock has not struck midnight. And yes, those are giant pumpkins in the water. Welcome to Damariscotta’s Great Pumpkin Fest and Regatta, where giant pumpkins take to the shores of the Damariscotta River for a day of racing and inevitably wet fun.
This year marks the fourth anniversary of this festival, but it wasn’t always so formal. The idea came about when Buzz Pinkham, the owner of Pinkham’s Plantation, a landscape and garden center in Damariscotta, was reading a book on what to do with giant pumpkins. One of the suggestions was to build pumpkin boats. (A handful of pumpkin regattas are held across the country and throughout the world.) “I said to my buddy, Bill Clark, ‘We gotta do that.’ ” Recalls Pinkham. “He looked at me and said ‘I’ll grow pumpkins, I might even make a boat, but I’m not getting in it.’ ”
The first year Pinkham and Clark didn’t know whether they could pull off their plan and certainly didn’t expect spectators. “We built a boat, and we snuck into town, and we were going to launch it to see if it would work,” explains Pinkham. “Well, riding through town with a pumpkin and a outboard motor attracts attention.” Almost one hundred people watched that first year. The second year, a couple of hundred more viewed the spectacle. Last year there were thousands of spectators lining the water’s edge and the town streets.
The festival events have expanded accordingly and now include pumpkin displays — carved and painted by local artists — as well as some tasty pumpkin-flavored treats such as pancakes and ice cream. And, of course, there are the aquatic events. The regatta is divided into three categories: paddle boats, motorized boats, and super-modified boats (think pumpkins outfitted with fiberglass and hydrofoils). Ensuring that the boats float and move is half the battle and perhaps of less importance than the decoration. Anything from pirate flags and garden gnomes to fluorescent paints and elaborately themed designs — complete with captains in costume — are encouraged and can be spotted riding low in the water. Last year even the Damariscotta police were on hand, armed with speed guns to help set the Guinness World Record for the fastest pumpkin boat: ten miles per hour. Due to an untimely emergency, the police were unable to make it official, but the stage is set for this year.
“Last year everybody was pretty excited in town,” explains Clark, who is also the head of the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization, which promotes “the sport of growing giant pumpkins” across the state. “It brought huge amounts of business to Damariscotta. But, he warns, “the whole thing depends on if 2008 is a good growing season.”
And growing a six hundred to eight hundred pound pumpkin is no easy task. “That’s the ideal size,” says Clark. For a captainable pumpkin, that is. Last year the state’s largest pumpkin was quite a bit heavier, weighing 1,028 pounds. (Pinkham and Clark’s pumpkin was even larger, at 1,266 pounds, but was disqualified due to a crack.) “I probably spend four hours a day during the week and eight hours a day on the weekends working on the plants,” admits Clark. Reasonable, considering a pumpkin can grow twenty to thirty pounds a day, and the plant in its entirety can span from four hundred to eight hundred square feet. In hopes of increasing participation in the regatta and in giant pumpkin growing in general, the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization gave away more than five hundred seedlings last spring. They hope to see more massive pumpkins in the river as a result. Pinkham is right: “Pumpkin mania is catching on here in Lincoln County.”
IF YOU GO: The Great Pumpkin Fest and Regatta runs through Monday, October 10 through 13 in downtown Damariscotta. For a schedule of events contact the Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce at 207-563-8340. To read about how to grow your own giant pumpkin, click here.
- By: Kathleen Fleury