What, you saw Australia II but not the chowder race?
The sum-muh was busy in Friendship hah-b'h, and the several hundred fishing boats again adroitly avoided outright discourtesy to the vacationing mahogany. Said mahogany again got in and out without serious mishap. But the carping of Newport dominated the yachting news as the daily yawn-teaser reports regaled us with more of the same about nothing much. Why do the recurring tilts over the America's Cup consume us so? Here in Friendship we have the annual chowder race every Labor Day weekend, an improbable gathering of anything that can run up a sail, and to date no important publication has sent a man to find out what yachting news really is.
It is my good fortune to own a saluting cannon, an antique. It makes a big noise. Since I am notoriously a fresh-water man, this cannon is my pass into the fraternity of waterfront salts, and they come every year in mid-August to invite me to be the official cannoneer for the chowder race. This gives me a seat on the committee boat, and I touch off four blasts. One is a warning, one is for five minutes, one is the start, and one is the winner. The summer is then over, the Maine coast again belongs to the fishermen, and I can take my cannon home and clean it. Black powder clings, and it's something of a job to clean the thing.
Years ago, when lobsters were brought ashore by sail, the Friendship Chowder Race was good fun for the fishermen. The gaff-rigged sloops of the lobster fleet were easy to sail, and a Sunday afternoon race out-of and back-into the harbor brought all the sloops to the line with good-natured competition embellished by the jolly insults of the skippers.
There was nothing like the America's Cup to reward the winner. He got, and still gets, a can of fish chowder - the only trophy.
But today the fishermen have motors, and the chowder race has become a frenzied effort by the recreational boaters, a farewell appearance for the summer people. They go home thinking, I suppose, that Maine closes up after they leave, whereas to the nonsummer boaters of town the chowder race is just the beginning - they know that September and October give us the bright, clear sailing days when the sky is high and the horizon far.
'Tis a pleasant excursion for me to attend. The committee boat is the Maude, named for a gifted artist of town who attends and is the offical hostess. Her husband runs the boat, which is a ''stinkpot.'' Also aboard are the timekeeper, the observers, perhaps a guest or two of the Maude's owners, and myself with cannon.
I try to be nautical, and sometimes remember that the string I pull is a lanyard. When I have pulled the lanyard three times and the race is under way, the Maude up-anchors and we cruise about so the observers can make sure the boats turn the buoys. When the winning boat sorts itself out and is on the way home, the Maude returns to anchor and I load my cannon to signal the finish.
Unlike the high-toned race for the America's Cup, this chowder race is open to the world and just about anything can enter. There are always several jokers in swimsuits who stand up on these sail fishes. If the swells are good, a sail fish will capsize about every 50 yards. Several sloops and modified sloops will compete, and a favorite with sailors and spectators is the ''Friendship cat,'' a trim little catboat said to be authentic only if built in Friendship by Doug and Paul Lash. They sail like a dream, and Doug and Paul will make you one for just under $5,000 - which is peanuts compared to Australia II, and little enough for all the fun you'll have. You might even win a can of fish chowder.
Also as compared to the America's Cup contest our Friendship Chowder Race has no grievance committee. If you get mad about something, don't let on. If you surmise the start of the chowder race is a wild scramble for position, catboat, ketch, and sail fish all in the same class, you are right, and grievances could develop. Too bad. Our chowder race is meant to be a good time, and how can you have a good time with everybody finding fault?
The chowder race ''rain date'' is next year.