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Managing a successful Beer Can Series

Published on July 2nd, 2020

Just because you don’t campaign across the country, doesn’t mean you can can’t be competitive in your local beer can series. Quantum’s Carter White* talks about his experience with beer can series racing and how to get the most out of your local sailing.

I have been “beer can racing” since before I could drink beer. I was lucky enough to grow up with a Dad who loved racing and owned a J/24. I started racing with my Dad on weekends at various regattas then graduated to taking my buddies out and sometimes just on my own for our Thursday night racing at Portland Yacht Club.

Back then there was no one-design weeknight racing locally, but now we have J24s on Wednesdays, Etchells on Tuesdays and PHRF on Thursdays. Originally Thursday night racing wasn’t scored and again this year due to COVID-19 it is back to being not scored. You do the race just for the pure joy of sailing and racing.

I find that sometimes the weeknight racing can be more stressful than some of the large regattas that I travel to and have realized it’s usually because I haven’t put enough emphasis on preparation. It’s just a bad habit that I have gotten into but it’s one I am trying to break every week, with a goal to not take weeknight racing too seriously but just enough so that the activity has some structure.

I also have learned from my wife, Molly, who uses all the following strategies which can help make your beer can racing a fun success. She has been managing a successful race program for years on a Frers 41 and Farr 30. Some of the same crew has been sailing on both boats over the last 15 years or more. She also has a crew list of over 25 sailors, who can jump into any position on short notice.
Create a Schedule & Build a List

Putting together a season long schedule takes time and effort, but it’s important to set expectations as early as possible as summers fill up fast and it’s stressful for crew and owner alike to not know what’s going on. Even if some events later in the season are still in the planning stages, getting them on the radar and gauging interest is key.

There are a few options out there for managing this online, two popular (and free!) ones are Doodle (a scheduling tool that makes it easy for team members to show their availabity and comment to the group) and Google Sheets (another free service that behaves a lot like an Excel spreadsheet, but allows group editing in the cloud).

Make sure to build your list of crew. Write down every potential crew member you might know on a piece of paper. It’s great to get a visual and is a good exercise to do with your current crew. You can never have enough resources/sailors.

Usually we send out the notice to crew and potential crew as soon as the season schedule is posted from our local sources, but that can be way back in March and we don’t start sailing until May so there is often a weekly check-in for the weeknight racing and a monthly check-in about the weekend racing. This is all done via email and usually at a similar time each week so the crew can remember to check their schedules. Also due to COVID-19 this year the schedule was, and is, a moving target so there has been more communication as well as discussions about masks and safety protocol.

Prep the Boat
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when prepping the boat. Getting the team together to work on the boat not only expedites the process, it is also a great way to create a sense of ownership in the program. If it’s a new team or there are members who don’t know each other well, parlay prep time into a team dinner or barbeque (see more on team building below…)

Pro tip – It’s also a good idea to use these times to discuss the season’s shore crew responsibilities. Click here for a great article about how to build a great shore crew.

Team Building & Participation
Creating a sense of team and camaraderie among the crew will go a long way towards having a successful and enjoyable season. Team gear emblazoned with the boat/team name is a great way to build a strong bond. This year many boats are having team buffs made to use as face coverings. Having a steady crew participating each week is important, but don’t forget that beer can racing is also a great way to introduce new people to sailing, such as coworkers, friends and family. If you’re struggling to find crew, talk to other boat owners, your local yacht club and/or junior race team to find people eager to participate.

Participation isn’t just limited to the boat — don’t forget to invite your spouse, kids and whoever else wants to join the after-race, social-distance-friendly gathering at the yacht club or other favorite spot. Also, since the season is short here in Maine we organize crew gatherings on the same night of the racing usually once a month throughout the winter. This helps the crew learn more about each other and just have fun while keeping the energy going until the season starts again.

Have Fun & Learn Something
Most beer can racers show up to the dock after a long day at the office. Make sure to breathe, turn up the music and relax. These races are about having fun, socializing and introducing people to new experiences. Yelling and ill-tempers should be kept to a minimum, if not completely banned from these races. Take this time to try team members in different positions on board, so everyone gets a better understanding of each other’s jobs…except the owner, who, in my experience, should never be allowed in front of the mast, or bad things happen.

While these races may not be as highly competitive as a championship regatta, they can still be rewarding for both the owner and team. Take some time to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the entire team and set goals that are realistic and meaningful to the team. Feel free to have some fun with these goals as well, with a mix between goals that are based on results, participation and humor.
Bring Enough Beer

This one is simple enough… Bring. Enough. Beer. (Of course, use good judgement and be responsible, but if it’s your thing, bring enough beer.)

*Updated and re-vampped version of the May 2017 Quantum article.

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