The annual Fiesta "morning after" seine boat race, organized on a new format this year, went to the Coast Guard again Saturday in a disputed, near photo finish.
But with the Fire Department arriving 23 minutes late for the start and the police claiming a false start by the Coast Guard's bear-backed, 10-man team, the result might not become official until after an arbitration hearing.
"Everything involving the Fire Department ends up in arbitration," quipped one wag on Pavilion Beach.
The Coast Guard seine boat did get off to a two-stroke lead before the Police boat, behind scuttler Jeremiah Nicastro, got its oars in the flat, calm low-tide waters.
The 10 a.m. start was pushed back to nearly 10:30 with the delayed arrival of the firefighters, who offered no excuse. Damon Cummings, one of the town's best oarsmen, speculated a minimum manning problem might have arisen.
But Interim Fire Chief Phil Dench, who was coaching from the boat, denied that and claimed that the police intentionally gave the firefighters the wrong starting time. He also cited a broken oar as the reason the firefighters' boat finished last.
Otherwise, the three boats moved away from the beach smoothly and took the turn at the flags nearly simultaneously. Only the return trip, with a crowd of about 100 on the beach cheering and wise-cracking, the boats headed back nearly neck-and-neck-and-neck.
It was the first three-team race in recent years. In past Fiestas, the Navy and Coast Guard tested each other before the public safety departments hooked up. Last year, the Coasties and police were winners.
But with the Navy AWOL — they sent no visiting flagship to Fiesta for the first time in a while — the two races were subsumed into one.
"It's too close to call," reported play-by-play man and patrol boat captain, Police Lt. Joseph Aiello. "You just gotta watch the bows on the beach," he reported into the police radio.