Last summer I had the unique, fun, opportunity to be part of the crew on a sail boat in the Thursday night “Beer Can Races” in Newport Harbor. My neighbor at the time, Suzanne, has been sailing for years and is the captain, I guess you’d call her, of a beautiful large sailboat…I’m not sure the exact size (…and Suzanne would not be happy that I don’t have the specs) but it’s under 40 feet with a little galley and place to sleep. It’s gorgeous, with it’s unique magenta hull and magenta lips printed on it’s main sail.
When Suzanne asked me if I wanted to go I was so excited! We ventured out a bit after 5 pm to get to the start around the 6 pm starting time (they start the really big boats first and go down in size/class from there.) It was so much fun just meandering over to the start, past the Harborside Pavilion and the Balboa Island Ferry. Then as we passed the check in/start boat it was time to jockey for position at the start….WOW!!!
Let me back up a little and give you a little history and explanation of the name “Beer Can Races.” They are historically very informal weekday races, as opposed to the very competitive ones that take place on the weekends out in the ocean. Legend has it that the name came from the inexperience of the racers who didn’t know about markers and just followed the trail of beer cans thrown over board by their competitors out front. I have no idea if that’s the real reason?…but I have no other reasonable explanation. Basically, just fun races on a Thursday night from mid- Balboa Island down the channel past Lido Island and back.
Well, as we jockeyed into position for the start we did some heavy tacking (or zig-zagging) back and forth across the harbor, missing other boats by inches. It was crazy and it was exceptionally windy this particular Thursday night! There were 4 or 5 experience people on the boat and I really thought I might just sit in the back and go from side to side as we tacked and just watched my head as the boom went by. That was not the case!! Suzanne instructed me to sit on the side of the boat with my legs dangling and one of the guys sitting next to me would let me know when to get up and go over to the other side of the boat, repeating my leg dangling and keeping my body on deck, my arms behind the wire “railing” (I’m sure there’s a more technical term for that.) As we tacked back and forth the guy next to me says “follow me” and “get ready to go” to which we both crouched down in preparation for going over to the other side of the boat. At this point the boat is deeply pitched toward starboard and as he says “GO!” I had to run up and hold onto the mast in order to keep from literally falling over the starboard side of the boat…and he had to hold on to me to keep me from falling. It was a literally frightening, but as we sat back over on the port side it was such an adrenaline rush…and I knew, with this wind, there was more to come. Yikes, it was hairy getting down that channel, but so much fun! The sail back up the channel was a bit more relaxed and I just had to stand with my body against the boom just helping to keep the sail forward as the wind died down a bit. What an amazing ride! When we were done with the race, we leisurely sailed back to our dock as the sun was setting and then sat eating hors d’oeuvres and enjoying some wine.
You cannot direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails!