Annapolis sailors launch beer-can boats in tiny regatta

Fundraiser captures imagination, competitive spirit

August 20, 2011|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

Pieter Schneider's research and planning paid off every time his boat hit the finish line. The 7-year-old had studied pictures of fast boats in magazines to design his catamaran, made of four aluminum cans and two plastic cups, with a paper plate sail.

His model took first place in the Root Beer class of the Chesapeake Outdoor Group's 12 oz. Regatta Saturday. The fundraiser, held at the Port Annapolis Marina, drew more than 40 racers Saturday who had designed sailboats using 12-ounce cans — Budweiser or Bud Light for adults, and root beer for anyone below legal drinking age.

The event, which has run for eight years and raised thousands of dollars for local charities, grew out of a serendipitous moment during an Outer Banks vacation.

Regatta chairman Ron Katz and a group of friends had unluckily rented a beach house during a nor'easter. One day, he and a few others watched a beer can blow off a second-floor deck and land in the pool below. The winds shot the can across the water.

"We all looked at each other and said, 'We can make this thing go faster,'" Katz said.

They spent the rest of the trip scouring the house for construction materials. "Literally people spent all day at the dining table," he said. "We took a washed-out vacation and make it a race every day for happy hour."

The regatta has evolved to maximize creativity and sportsmanship. Starting a week before the competition, racers could pick up a 5-gallon bucket with all the materials they were permitted to use, including a six-pack.

When constructed, the boats had to fit inside the bucket, although this year the Grand Prix class could have rigs that expand during racing.

The outdoor group built a shallow 24-foot-long pool in an outdoor pavilion with a bank of electric fans to provide steady wind for the vessels — although they would vary the speed for different races. A video camera was set up on a tripod for instant replays of any close-call finishes, to minimize whining.

The fundraiser, which this year benefited Annapolis Community Boating, drew a varied field of competitors, including longtime sailors and professionals in maritime industries.

"It's an intellectual endeavor. It's just the sailor's version, which involves beer cans," said Steve Eagley of Annapolis. The financial planner, who has raced sailboats for 15 years, helped his daughter Norah with her Root Beer class boat, named Ting.

He also built a Grand Prix catamaran named Frank, using a heavy piece of metal to fold the metal from the cans into keels.

"You wouldn't even recognize it as a beer can," Eagley said.

Isabella Scott, 11, applied knowledge she had learned at sailing school to design Wumbo, a ship with three hulls. "I knew since it was downwind to try to create as much sail space as possible and to cut down on drag," she said.

But even though the Crownsville resident and her older brother constructed it with three compact disc keels, it usually veered off course.

"Ours is pretty unpredictable," she said. "It keeps turning and going in all kinds of directions."

Pieter, the Root Beer class champion, named his boat "Cinghiale" — Italian for wild boar — after his favorite dish during a Tuscan vacation.

His father, Tod Schneider, a former Grand Prix winner himself, said his son learned the different parts of the boat and how they contributed to speed. "He spent a good hour sketching out the designs," he said. "It taught him really about how a boat works."

They had tested his boat in the bathtub at home. But after trying it out in the race pool, the Schneiders realized it was prone to tipping in the wind. They added plastic cups at the bow of each hull as well as 1 oz. weights at each stern, "which was just what we needed," the father said.

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