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The world’s silliest racing festival

Boats made from beer cans are about to battle it out in the Darwin Beer Can Regatta.

By Simon Webster
Published: 07 July, 2017

Beer can boats are just the tip of the ice bucket at Darwin’s Beer Can Regatta this weekend. As well as watching the mayhem unfold on the water (and the beach), you can enter a thong-throwing competition, fly a kite, build a sandcastle and eat some fabulous Asian street food. Whatever floats your boat!

A very Darwin event

Darwin Beer Can Regatta, Darwin, Northern Territory

The people of Darwin have a reputation for being a bit eccentric. They also enjoy getting out on the water. And they have been known to enjoy a cold beer or three. So it should really come as no surprise that boats made from empty beer cans (and other drink containers) make up the fleet in the annual Darwin Lions Beer Can Regatta.

What started out as a novel way to clean up beer can litter in 1974 is now a highlight of the calendar in Australia’s tropical Top End, with more than 16,000 people expected to turn up to cheer on the contestants. “It’s monstrous,” says one of the organisers, Des Gellert, who has been attending the regatta since 1981. “People come to have a look and have a laugh. It’s crazy – it’s a day of mayhem.”

The regatta takes place on Sunday 9 July from 9am-5pm at Mindil Beach, Darwin. Entry is by gold coin donation with proceeds going to charity.

Not just about beer

There have been a few changes to the Beer Can Regatta over the years. One major shake-up came in the 1980s, when beer companies inconveniently changed their cans from steel to aluminium. Alas for beer can boat builders, these new, lightweight cans crushed at 28 knots, which meant the days of attaching outboard motors to boats were gone. These days it’s paddle power that gets contestants around the course.

In another departure from the original event, today the Beer Can Regatta is about much more than beer cans (and drinking from them). Vessels can be made from any empty non-glass drink containers (a brilliantly designed milk carton boat famously won everything in 2002) and there is plenty of family-friendly fun to be had.

A family festival

Darwin Beer Can Regatta, Darwin, Northern Territory

The emphasis at the Beer Can Regatta is very much on being a family-friendly event. Kids can enter a race for boats made from soft drink cans and take part in running races, a sandcastle competition, tug-of-war battles and more. This year, the Adelaide Kite Flyers Association (AKFA) will be attending, so families can have a go at flying some pretty cool kites, too. Children are also invited to join in one of the event’s perennial highlights: the men’s and women’s thong-throwing competitions. (Don’t worry: “thong” is Australian for flip-flop or sandal!)

Wild on the water

Henley on Mindil, Darwin Beer Can Regatta, Darwin, Northern Territory

As well as awards for the best boats and the main beer can boat race, there are a couple of special events that competitors take very seriously (well, as seriously as you can). In the Henley on Mindil (named after another classic Northern Territory event, the Henley on Todd), boat builders compete in carrying their craft across the sand. It’s a popular race among those who put their boats in the water – only to realise they don’t float. Then there’s the grand finale: the Battle of Mindil. In this boat race in which anything goes, expect flour bombs, water sprays and lots of foul play.

Marvellous Mindil Market

Mindil Beach Sunset Market, Darwin, Northern Territory

Darwin has some fabulous markets and Mindil Beach Sunset Market is probably the most famous of the lot. From late April to late October – Darwin’s dry season – more than 300 stalls offer arts and crafts and some sensational Asian street food (Darwin is right on Asia’s doorstep, after all). Plus there’s live music and other performances in a spectacular beachside setting. For the Beer Can Regatta the stalls are open all day. So enjoy a laksa and a cold drink while you watch the beer can boats do battle. It doesn’t get much more Darwin than that.

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