A Kennebunkport Tradition of Model Boat Racing

Twenty model boats raced around a 600-yard course on Memorial Day of 1916 while their owners chased them in rowboats occasionally adjusting the sails from their boat without lifting the model out of the water. Artist Louis Norton came in first sailing a little schooner he had built himself called “Gosum.” Norton’s Turbat’s Creek neighbor Harry Brooks came in second, and Lloyd Nunan placed third. The next official race was scheduled for July 4, 1917, but it was postponed for lack of wind. “Since that time,” wrote Bertha Smith, the editor of Kennebunkport Items, “there have been several scratch races at Turbat’s Creek and Mr. L.D. Norton’s “Gosum” has shown her stern to them all.”
There were no model schooner races in the summer of 1918 when a regular-sized fishing schooner, the Robert & Richard was sunk by a German U-boat in the waters off Cape Porpoise during WWI. The July 4th race was declared a big hit in 1919. Stephen Shuffleburg took first place and defending champion, Louis Norton came in second. A Kennebunk River Championship race between Louis Norton with his Gosum II and Dick Elliott with the Sheeted Ghost was announced for late summer 1919 but I was unable to find a post-race report.
On July 5, 1920, the “Lilliput Fleet from Turbat’s Creek” held a race off Gooch’s Beach. There were more than a dozen little vessels entered but a northwest wind kept the whole fleet almost at their beam-ends over the entire course. Eventually, Louis Norton finished first, Richard Elliott second and Earl Brooks third after a dash on the wind brought the tiny cup defenders perilously near the Fishing Rocks.
In early 1939, Harve Sinnett bragged that his model schooner Puritan was the fastest playboat along the Maine coast. His fellow Cape Porpoise fishermen took exception to the claim. They set up a formal race in Cape Porpoise Harbor on Friday, July 21, 1939, with Sea and Shore Fisheries Warden Dwight Underwood officiating. The event was well attended but as a writer for the Biddeford Journal noted, “it was like watching the Yankees play croquet.” Frank Wagner won the race with his 65-year-old model sloop. Harve Sinnett backed out of the race at the last-minute preferring to critique the other contestants from the wharf.
“The boys down around Cape Porpoise just can’t believe that Frank Wagner’s 65-year-old sloop is the fastest model fish boat in these parts and are demanding that a real showdown be held in the harbor next Sunday.” Wrote a reporter for the Biddeford Journal. The second race of the 1939 season was described as The First Annual State Championship. Gov. Lewis O. Barrows thought it would be a good way to promote the Maine fishing industry. He offered a trophy for the State Title. Frank Sinnett’s model schooner won the title on Sunday, September 17, 1939. Pete Thompson came in second. Frank Wagner’s old sloop was unable to finish the race because of a badly leaking hull. Harve Sinnett did enter this race, but he was disqualified for passing the first buoy going the wrong way.
The second annual Maine State Championship was held on August 24, 1940. Policeman/Lobterman, Freemont Ridlon came in first with his schooner the Wendell L. Wilkie. Capt Frank Nunan came in second and John Wakefield came in 3rd. There were numerous collisions during the 1940 race and Earl Stone’s schooner ran ashore on Goat Island.
The third and final annual State Championship was conducted on August 24, 1941. Frank Sinnett won, John Wakefield came in second and Freemont Ridlon came in 3rd. Six fishermen participated in a second less official race in September 1941 that was won by Freemont Ridlon.
World War II brought the State Championship races to an end but in 1993 the next generation of Cape Porpoise fisherman revived the model schooner races. “We try to follow the traditional rules,” Ed Hutchins explained. “No radio controls and hulls must be less than 50 inches long.” Ed Hutchins won in 1993 with the schooner he built, Christina Mae. In 1994, he won again with the same schooner. Chip Howarth placed 2nd sailing G.W. Nunan, and Bump Hutchins came in 3rd with Southern Cross.
The most recent official model schooner race was the only one I had the great pleasure to attend. It was held in Cape Porpoise Harbor on August 31, 2003 as part of Kennebunkport’s 350th Anniversary Celebration. Cecil Benson fired off the cannon to start the race. Ed Hutchins won with the Christina Mae for the third time. Chip Howarth placed 2nd again but this time with Schooner Pieces of Eight. Bob Nelson took 3rd place with China Cat.

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