Keeping it Casual in Chicago

Published on August 7th, 2017

People participate in our sport when the commitment needed is worth the investment. It is a simple formula and can explain why participation has suffered in many traditional events. But addressing the variables – heightened competition, course type, length of day, social component – can make a difference as is being realized on Lake Michigan.


The Chicago Area Sail Racing Association is a newly formed organization, consisting of Chicago five major racing yacht clubs – Burnham Park Yacht Club, Chicago Yacht Club, Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club, Columbia Yacht Club, and Jackson Park Yacht Club. CASRA, as it is known in Chicagoland, is heavily focused on growing participation in Chicago sailing.

To that end, CASRA partnered with Westrec Marinas, which manages the Chicago harbor system, to offer six races – free of charge – to all Westrec slipholders in Chicago. The races feature pre-set and easy to follow courses, primarily using the large water cribs off Chicago’s lakefront. Most races are about seven miles in length, last between one and two hours, and offer spinnaker and jib and main division.

Skippers and crews need not worry about a complex starting sequence or a congested starting line. Boats may cross the start line anytime between 12:30 PM and 1:00 PM. Race committees will note the start time and finish time, and simply use the elapsed time for scoring purposes. Sponsoring clubs offer a fun post-race party, with plenty of awards.

CASRA and Westrec are already seeing solid results.

The first race, sponsored by Burnham Park Yacht Club, attracted 15 boats. Kraken, a 1970 Cal 25 owned by John Coakley and Brendan Blewett, scored a third place finish in section. “We started beer can racing in the newbie section 2014,” said Coakley. “This is a great opportunity for cruisers to get involved in racing. The open start time is easier than having to stage for the start and the cribs as marks were very easy to navigate to as they can be seen from great distances.”

Another new competitor, Chris Albanis, is also loving the concept. “I felt empowered getting to be at the helm at the start, which is the most stressful part of a race. The more casual format also allowed me to bring friends who have sailed before, and are considering racing moving forward. The Burnham Park Yacht Club race committee was great, and gave every finisher a cannon! The competitive spirit was definitely there but to a point that is comfortable for us non-hard-core racers.”

In the series’ second race, sponsored by Columbia Yacht Club, 21 boats hit the starting line in an 8 to 10 knot sea breeze. Steve Salk, skipper of Full Circle, a Dufour 50 that participated in the series for the first time. “It gave us a chance to do some racing in a fun, casual environment. We’re already planning on participating in the next race.” Nick Berberian, an avid power boater, got his first taste of driving a racing boat aboard Full Circle: “That was fantastic. I can’t wait to do it again,” Berberian exclaimed.

The next event in the Casual Series is on August 12 as part of the 25th Anniversary of Chicago Yacht Club’s iconic Verve Cup. “We are thrilled to involve casual racers in the Verve Cup,” noted Verve Cup Race Chairman Ted Towey. “We’ve got some terrific prizes and a great party planned for them this weekend.”

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