Bragging Rights Racing

Thursday nights in the summer are all right for beer-can battle sailboat racing.

Beer-can racing
The international one-design J/24 class is one of the world’s largest, with more than 5,000 boats and 50,000 members. Herb McCormick

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In almost every hotbed of sailing that I’m aware of, summer weeknights are reserved for semi-serious sailboat racing that almost universally is conducted under the same banner: the beer-can series. The suds and the sailing are equal partners in the enterprise.

My late, great sailing pal Rob Moore, the longtime racing editor for the San Francisco yachting publication Latitude 38, went so far as to create a canon for the exercise. He titled it “The 10 Commandments of Beer-Can Racing.” The sailing newsletter Scuttlebutt publishes it annually as a tribute to its author and to underscore the point he makes in the opening salvo: “Thou shalt not take anything other than safety too seriously.”

Here in Newport, Rhode Island, you can find yourself a beer-can race on Narragansett Bay every Monday through Thursday from May through September. For more than three decades, with basically the same core crew of knuckleheads (skipper Ian Scott, Sailing World editor Dave Reed and New York Yacht Club communications director Stuart Streuli), my Thursday evenings have been devoted to racing a J/24 called Crack of Noon.

Beer-can racing
Win, lose or draw, the summer beer-can races are about making fun memories with friends. Herb McCormick

The international one-design J/24 class is one of the world’s largest, with more than 5,000 boats and 50,000 members. Broken into regions, Newport’s local Fleet 50 has produced multiple J/24 world champions and launched the careers of many famous America’s Cup racers, including Ken Read, David “Moose” McClintock and Ed Adams. On Crack of Noon, that means we’ve spent many Thursdays gazing at the transoms of professional-caliber squads sailing away from us. Beer, my friends, is a welcome salve on such occasions.

The great thing about sailboat racing, however, is that even when you’re getting waxed, you’re learning. The simple act of trying to eke out every last tenth of boatspeed, making maneuvers as quickly and efficiently as possible, and trimming the sails continually with every minute change in windspeed and direction just make you a better all-around sailor. And every race—and I’m talking in the hundreds here—is different. It never gets boring.

And the sunsets? Every single one is a keeper.

All that said, after all this time, I have to admit: You’d think we’d be better at it. Our Thursday night beer-can forays have led to more ambitious J/24 regattas, including North American and world championships, and I can testify that our presence (and results) have struck fear into absolutely nobody. But even then, it’s always a blast to go racing with the boys.

And every now and then, this much is true: We nail the start, correctly call every shift, find that extra gear upwind and down, and take “the gun.” Victory! The lager always tastes better on those rare occasions. But even when that doesn’t happen, the cooler is always full and topped off with ice. For on Crack of Noon, we may lose the race but never the party.

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