Racing Boats Made From Beer Cans At Australia’s ‘Top End’

Darwin's Beer Can Regatta raises funds for the Lions Club
Kraig Becker

Tucked away in a remote corner of Australia’s Northern Territory – known as the “Top End” in the local vernacular – sits the bustling and vibrant city of Darwin. A bit of a hidden gem for travelers, Darwin boasts warm, tropical weather all year long, not to mention some of the most spectacular sunsets that you could ever hope to see. Visitors can elect to relax on a tranquil beach, sail the open waters of the Timor Sea or venture deep into the vast and wild Outback in search of crocodiles and wallabies.

Deftly blending that famous Aussie-hospitality with a laid back vibe that is all its own, the city has a unique feel to it that is unlike any other you’ll find on the continent. While Darwin is a growing city that is likely to play a vital role in Australia’s economic future, its inhabitants certainly know how to leave work behind and have a good time. Nowhere is that more evident than the Darwin Lion’s Beer Can Regatta, an annual event that is equal parts beer bash and charity fund raiser, with a hefty dose of nautical mayhem mixed in for good measure.

As the name implies, this regatta features boats made almost entirely out of beer cans, which the owner and his friends have no doubt put a lot of effort into emptying. Those cans are then combined with a variety of other materials – such as PVC pipe, plastic water jugs and whatever other buoyant items they can find – to create a mostly-seaworthy vessel that is capable of competing against other entrants both in aesthetic value and speed out on the water.The actual regatta takes place on Darwin’s popular Mindil Beach on a Sunday in July. The most recent version was held a few weeks back and featured a variety of boat designs that both amused and impressed the substantial crowd that gathered to take in the festivities. Notable entrants included the “Crocket Ship,” which bore a more than passing resemblance to the crocodiles that are so common in the Northern Territory, and the “Grog Monsta,” a massive boat constructed from more than 50,000 cans that came equipped with a powerful water cannon designed to harass any would-be rivals.

The Beer Can Regatta is an all-day affair that includes a number of activities both on and off the water. For instance, kayak races allow youngsters in attendance to get in on the action while a spirited tug-of-war competition gives teams a chance to flex their muscles. A thong-throwing contest (the shoes not the underwear) is also quite popular with this year’s winner managing to toss his footwear an impressive 51 meters.

An entrant into Darwin's Beer Can Regatta
Kraig Becker

But the real highlight, of course, is the competition between the crews of the various beer can boats. Throughout the day they challenge one another to a variety of races in the waters just off Mindil Beach, earning prizes as they go. The enthusiastic crowd cheers them on while some of them get an early start on building their own boats for next year by emptying a few cans on their own.

Those preliminary races are just a warm-up for the real competition, however, as it is the Battle of Mindil that caps the competition and determines just who is the true champion of the event. During the battle the teams search for “booty” hidden under the water while using water cannons, flour-bombs and balloons filled with tomato juice to rain down destruction on their foes. The first few minutes of this final competition are pure chaos as the boats attack each other with little regard for finding the hidden treasure, which is simply represented by a plastic bottle tied to buoy hidden out on the course. In order to win the battle, the “booty” must be claimed and then taken to shore and delivered to the starters’ table. That gives other teams an opportunity to steal the prize for themselves, although, by that point of the competition some of the boats wouldn’t exactly be described as ship-shape any longer. Once the booty has been placed in the hands of the judges, the Battle of Mindil is over and the champion of the Beer Can Regatta is crowned.

While the event is a raucous affair that features plenty of eating and drinking, it is all done for a good cause. Sponsored by Darwin’s chapter of the Lions Club, the Beer Can Regatta is used to raise funds for a number of local causes. For 40 years the Regatta has brought the city together while managing to raise thousands of dollars that go directly back into community projects. The premise of racing boats made primarily from beer cans may sound silly, but it has some serious implications for the city.

The date for the 2014 Beer Can Regatta has yet to be decided but you can bet that next year’s competitors are already planning their entries. After all, if you want to launch a winning boat, you need to start emptying beer cans early.