It's five o'clock, on any Thursday evening during the summer, and Mission Bay Yacht Club's parking lot is jammed to capacity. Thursdays Night Thing, more commonly referred to as TNT, is an informal yet very competitive racing event. Each year on the first Thursday of May the event starts and continues full tilt until the final race following the Labor Day weekend. What started out as a friendly duel some time about 1970 has grown into a major mid-week club affair.

Boat trailers, ten deep, are lined up before the club's two hoists. During the next hour fifty yachts will be launched from trailers or backed out of their slips to be readied for the race's start at 6 o'clock. Mission Bay supports seventeen active classes of small boats plus the larger ocean racing yacht s. Each fleet is able to participate.

A unique feature of TNT are the activities which precede the starts. A micro-social event for non-sailors has evolved over the years. The start line, positioned only 20 to 30 yards from the tower-house, attracts a throng of kibitzers. While the competitors are preparing their boats, spectators start arriving to throng around the tower house deck's railing and beach front seats facing the start line. Onlookers arrive clutching bottles of beer, glasses of wine, soft serve ice cream, stop watches, binoculars and other essential paraphernalia required to view the race's starts.

At 5.57 a three minute warning horn sounds. Precisely at 6:00 the first fleet crosses the starting line to the blast of the starter's horn. Every three minutes thereafter another fleet starts until thirty to forty minutes later the last class is finally underway. Each race's start is seriously critiqued by the throng ashore. Discussions vary as to the favored end of the line or the best strategy for getting a starting advantage. These arm-chair experts are quick to respond to any sailor's infraction at the line. Cat-calls are shouted to offenders as well as encouragement to the less-than-skilled sailors.

The fastest class of yachts start first by the third or fourth start they have completed the first upwind leg and are descending back toward the starting line spinnakers flying.. It's a sight of exceptional beauty. The entire area, in front of the viewing deck, is crammed with the multi-colored spinnakers intermingling with the stark white sails of the yachts waiting for their starting time.

Usually, the last to start is the handicap fleet. All yachts that don't have a minimum number for a class start and the larger in-water boats are lumped together to compete under local handicap allowances. This is also where the newer designs like the Hobie 25 and the Ultimate 20 are tested against more conservative hulls. Fifteen or more yachts vie for position at a line that is really too short for this number of boats. So a sailor in a Lido 14 might be jammed between a twenty-seven footer and a thirty-two footer as all vie toward the best start.

After the final start the throng ashore disperses. Some retire to the beach picnic tables and open baskets spreading the table for the arrival of the hungry sailors. Others find the club bar more to their liking. The galley prepares a typical summer single item menu. Of course each meal must be finished off with soft-serve ice cream.

The evening ends when the yachts are lifted once again onto their trailers Sailors, tired and wet, head for a suitable libation and food. Trophies are presented By ten o'clock all has returned to the domain of the ubiquitous night Heron and the lonely security guard.