DAMARISCOTTA – It won’t be timbers that’ll be shivering when the pumpkin boats sail away this morning for the Columbus Day Great Pumpkin Regatta at Schooner Landing, it will probably be their captains.
“We’re going to sail them on an incoming tide,” “Commodore” Buzz Pinkham said Sunday. “That way we know we can get them back. We don’t want to see them get swept out to sea.”
Schooner Landing is a restaurant.
Growing giant pumpkins is old hat for Pinkham and his pals, but sailing them is another thing altogether.
Pinkham, owner of Pinkham’s Plantation Greenhouse and Landscape Center on Biscay Road, made his first pumpkin boat last fall. Although it was completely experimental, the launching attracted a crowd, the boat stayed afloat, and the Columbus Day Great Pumpkin Regatta was born.
“I was the first captain,” Pinkham recalled of his maiden voyage. “You definitely want to stay on center. You do not want to get out of line too much. We kind of went low-profile last year because we didn’t know if it would sink or tip upside down.”
What they learned was that pumpkins are surprisingly buoyant and relatively easy to maneuver, he said. The real problem is finding enough 600- to 800-pound pumpkins to build a fleet of boats.
On Sunday, Tom Lishness of Windsor and Bill Clark of Bristol were hard at work crafting boats out of giant pumpkins. It’s a pretty simple job. First they cut and hollow out a 2-foot-by-2-foot “cabin” and then attach a plywood “deck” to the pumpkin with 8-nch bolts. On Monday the group plans to outfit their boats with 2 to 9 horsepower outboard motors. The only other additions are gas tanks and sand bags for ballast. Clark fashioned his boat from an 812-pound orange pumpkin. Lishness crafted “Moby Gourd” from a 712-pound white pumpkin.
“You’ve got to sit down,” Commodore Pinkham advised his sailors. “I don’t know if it’s really advisable to stand in it.”
Pinkham said that growing giant pumpkins has become a popular hobby over the past few years. It started in Nova Scotia in the 1970s when a grower found seeds from a St. Louis World’s Fair of the 1920s that had set a record at 400 pounds.
Pumpkins from that seed stock continued to grow larger as farmers refined their techniques. They trade the seeds among themselves, and giant pumpkins now are being grown all over North America and Europe. Pinkham grew a 1,099-pound Atlantic Giant this year, and a 1,550-pound pumpkin set a new record at a Rhode Island fair last week.
Pinkham said it takes care and diligence to raise a giant pumpkin. After a grower finds seeds with the genetic predisposition to size, the plants must be tended daily. He said growers use “controlled pollination” using pollen from giant males to pollinate the females. He said growers close and tie off the petals of the female flowers to prevent unwanted pollen from coming in contact and damaging the gene pool.
“It’s a lot of work,” Clark said. “Put it this way: I’m out here four hours a day during the week and eight hours a day on the weekend tending fruit. This is my fourth year doing this, and I finally made the half-ton club.”
At one point this season, Pinkham’s 1,099-pound pumpkin was growing at a rate of 25 pounds a day for four straight weeks. “You have to do that to make 1,000 pounds,” Clark said.
Pinkham said pumpkin regattas are held all over North America and Europe and hopes that the Damariscotta Columbus Day Great Pumpkin Regatta becomes an annual event. He said merchants could sponsor artists to carve 400- to 500-pound pumpkins while growers throughout the state produce the giants needed to make into boats.
“We’ll be celebrating Columbus Day, and perhaps we’ll be seeking a new world,” Pinkham said.
The Giant Pumpkin Regatta begins at 11 a.m. Monday, Oct. 9, at Schooner Landing on Main Street in Damariscotta. For more information about the regatta, contact Schooner Landing at 563-7447. For information about the Maine Pumpkin Growers Association visit mainepumpkins.com.