While we counted down the last few minutes to our start, an emergency situation suddenly appeared. During a tack away from the line, we lost a hat overboard. At this critical juncture ahead of the start time, the call went out to get the boat hook to execute the pre-start hat retrieval. Meanwhile, the clock counted down. With some quick crew work and careful maneuvering at the helm, we tacked back, the boat hook reached out and grabbed the hat, and the boat snagged a clean start with seconds to spare.
This was just one more demonstration of the many good reasons to get out for beer can racing on the Estuary. We’d joined Kame and Sally Richards and partner Bill Bridge along with a full complement of 16 crew aboard their Express 37 Golden Moon. Oakland Yacht Club’s Wednesday night Sweet Sixteen beer can races run from late April through late August. While everyone likes to win, beer can racing comes with a generally accepted desire to be a little more chill (as outlined in the Beer Can Ten Commandments) while you pursue your shot at victory.
About 35+ boats spread across six classes start right off the deck of OYC, with first gun at 6:25. There’s solid representation from the active, classic Columbia 5.5 fleet to a broad assortment of PHRF boats. When the pretty Bermuda 40 Lioness started, we recalled that it’s been a long time since we’ve been on a race course with a yawl. The rig isn’t in fashion for more modern boats, but it does bring back good memories of when they were often winning races around the world.
The Estuary includes great strategic challenges as you search the Oakland or Alameda side for the right blend of wind and current. This often leads you close enough to Jack London Square restaurants that you could grab a beverage right off the deck.
One of the great features of Bay Area sailing is that you can often choose your sailing conditions. For example, If you enjoy the warm, gentle sailing of San Diego Bay, you’ll enjoy sailing the Estuary. The cold fog line is usually far away, the strongest breezes only produce a mild chop, and, being surrounded by land, the air is warmer. Since the boats are all in local marinas the starting line is usually just minutes from their slips.
Despite the slight tactical detour for hat retrieval, Golden Moon went on to sail a nearly flawless race. During pre-start, we had enough time to do four or five practice jibes with an asymmetrical kite tacked to the end of the spinnaker pole. The practice determined that jibing was not going to be a hindrance. With Kame Richards at the helm, Golden Moon slipped into the lead while working to stay in the darker water and between the nearby challengers and the next mark. The Express 37 Mudshark and the J/124 Spirit of Freedom were the strongest threats, requiring us to balance the covering moves when they split.
OYC’s series is just one of many opportunities to get out on the water on summer evenings. A full schedule of Bay Area beer can series is available here. From there, you just need to assess your drive time and preferred sailing conditions to choose the series that suits you.
The Golden Moon crew went on to win their class and then continued on to pick up a couple of the race marks. The OYC race committee offers any boat picking up marks on their behalf a pitcher of beer for each mark retrieved upon return to the clubhouse. Golden Moon was able to celebrate the evening with a couple of pitchers of golden ale.