Southland Sailing : Midweek Races Have Party Atmosphere

Participation is down at most Southern California weekend regattas and races, but not so the midweek summer party races.

Popularity is still growing in such events as California Yacht Club’s Sunset series on Wednesday evenings, Long Beach Yacht Club’s Wet Wednesday series and Balboa Yacht Club’s Beer Can, Thirsty Thursday and Champagne series. All involve large sailboats from 20 to 50 feet or bigger.

The CYC and LBYC races start in the ocean outside the breakwaters and finish inside the bays in front of the clubhouses. Both clubs had initial turnouts of more than 120 boats last Wednesday night.

The oldest of all the midweek races are Balboa Yacht Club’s Beer Can series in June, Thirsty Thursday series in July and Champagne series in August. They started in 1960 with a single race--a result of a wager between owners of two large boats berthed at the Newport Harbor Yacht Landing in the north Lido channel--which consisted of a run down the bay, around the bell buoy outside the harbor entrance and back to the starting place.


It has long been forgotten who the contestants were or who won, but before the summer was over, more than 100 boats, ranging up to 75 feet, were racing inside the narrow confines of the harbor to the amusement and amazement of bay-side residents and occupants of large moored yachts who organized parties every Thursday evening to watch.

Such racing also became insurance underwriters’ nightmares as the big yachts split tacks and screamed for sea room.

Despite the dangers--all were experienced skippers and crews--there was never a serious accident. The Beer Can series got its name when a crewman on one of the yachts clamped an empty beer can on a spar being used as a weather mark.

By the third year the starting line was moved to the large turning basin at the east end of Lido Isle, with Newport Harbor Yacht Club running the event with some semblance of safety.


To further organize the event, Balboa Yacht Club took over the running of the “summertime madness,” dividing the fleet into classes with various starting times and laying down rules. The Harbor Department also got into the act, specifying where the sailors could and could not race.

Even so, the popularity of the Beer Cans, as the series has come to be known, has never decreased. More than 100 boats turned out for the inaugural race Thursday.

The Beer Cans are party races for the skippers and crews as well as the spectators along the bay, but many sailors take the races seriously, hoping to win one of the many trophies offered at the end of the season. It is not unusual for skippers to have a boat full of guests along with experienced crewmen.