Countdown to the 109th CYC Race
to Mackinac - July 15, 2017

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Stories of the Mac

 

A Key Turning Point in the Mac Race

By Patrick McBriarty, children's author, bridge historian, & author of Chicago River Bridges
 

Passing Gray’s Reef Lighthouse is an important milestone during a Chicago-Mac Race.  Rounding this light sailors begin to believe they actually are getting close and will make it to Mackinac Island.  The lighthouse at Gray’s Reef was commissioned on April 1, 1937, just in time for the 29th running of the Mac Race known as the "Big Blow."  That year of the record forty-two starters only eight finished, as late Saturday afternoon a northwester blew through building to 60-65 mph winds and 20 to 30 foot waves by dusk and forcing many boats to withdraw.  The gale scattered the fleet as only a few could make the safe harbor in Ludington.  Of the thirteen racing entries only the 10-meter sloop Revenge completed the race with a total elapsed time of 75:24:51.  Rubaiyat a 43-foot cutter owned by Commodore Nathaniel Rubinkam in the cruising class was the first to finish at 5:15 am on Tuesday.

The lighthouse at Gray’s Reef replaced a lightship that had been approved and funded by Congress in 1889.  The federal funding allowed construction of three 100-foot-long, wooden-hulled lightships by the Blythe Craig Shipbuilding Company of Toledo, Ohio.  After sea trials the lightships equipped with steam propulsion and fog signals were installed on October 24, 1891 at Simmons Reef, White Shoal, and Gray’s Reef replacing iron buoys anchored at each.

Situated at the northeastern end of Lake Michigan, the Gray’s Reef Passage is a narrow channel between Gray’s Reef on the west and Vienna Shoal on the east.  It is the only navigable opening for deep-draft vessels east of Beaver Island and the Manitou Islands.  This navigational challenge is one of the last major hurtles on the way to completing the Chicago-Mac Race as once through the fleet turns the corner to sail east toward the Straights and Mackinac Island.

Gray’s Reef has been the site of many shipwrecks over the centuries and known by that name for so long the naming origin is unknown.  The earliest known reference to the reef comes from a Detroit Tribune article of May 14, 1864 reporting: "Vessel on a Reef.  The schooner Starlight grain-loaded from Milwaukee, arrived at the port late on Sunday night in a leaky condition.  While on Lake Michigan, in thick weather, she struck on what is known as Gray’s Reef… and before getting extricated threw overboard about 1,000 bushels of wheat.  During the remainder of the passage to this port she was found to be in a leaky condition, and fearing damage to her cargo, her Captain protested as above represented.  The cargo is consigned to Cleveland, to which point she has proceeded."

This is just scratching the surface in the rich history of the Chicago Mac Race, a race that continues to contribute to Chicago’s and Great Lakes maritime history.

 
About the Author
Patrick McBriarty is author of the children's picture books Drawbridges Open and Close, Airplanes Take off and Land, and City Railways Go Above and Below about how things work. His first book was the three-time, award-winning history Chicago River Bridges and he narrated and co-produced the companion documentary Chicago Drawbridges. For more details checkout: www.PTMWerks.com and www.ChicagoDrawbridges.com.
 
 

Mac Memories

 
Over the past few years, we've asked Mac sailors to share their favorie "Mackinac Memories." Sailors submitted their essays into a contest and the best of those are published here. These stories help contribute to the rich history of this great tradtion.  
 

Glider: The Fastest T-10

By Craig Warner
 
During the last 24 years I have sailed in 22 Mackinac Races; I now look forward to my 23rd. I often reminiscence upon all that I have experienced while sailing the Mac. There is so much to tell, it would require volumes. My most vivid memory, however, was my time onboard a T-10 named Glider in the 1987 Mac.  2007 marks the 20th Anniversary of our overall win in the Mackinac Race. I was a crewmember onboard Glider skippered by its owner John Huff. Also onboard were Ned Sher, Steve Hamming, Jonathan Foot, and Bob Frunk. I can recall the race like it was yesterday. Preparations were in full swing the prior weekend. John relishes the thought of dismantling and reassembling his boat, baking under a hot sun and removing the headliner to get at electrical wiring was always a dreaded event. Race day was upon us before we knew it. Brisk winds from the south made it a sure bet that it would be a fast race. Little did we know how fast! Weather data in those days was hard to get. I was still flying in the United States Marine Corp so the morning of the race I paid a visit to the weather shop at NAS Glenview and got a detailed briefing. The surface wind forecast called for winds from the south-southwest 20 to 30 knots for the next 36 hours. Prior to the race John and I had a little parley about tactics. There are those in this race who have a love affair with taking flyers and heading off to places unknown. Some of these options were put to me and I dismissed them as shear folly and made a convincing case to remain on the rhumbline. I could see a real yearning in John’s eyes to head off towards Michigan so I stuck to my guns and many times throughout the race I had to restate the need to stay on course. 
If you have seen the start of a Mackinac Race it is a sight to behold. Three hundred boats maneuvering prior to their start will get your attention. To the uninitiated it looks like mayhem. To those in the know it is a carefully choreographed stratagem to place their boat at a predetermined point on the start line at exactly the right time. The Mackinac start is visually stunning, breath taking, and heart pounding!
 
Glider’s start was all that and more with winds over 20 knots we set the chute right at the start line. Our start strategy worked. No one was on our air, the chute filled smartly and we were off on a once in a lifetime adventure! The first few hours were spent separating us from the
fleet. Our boat speed was superior to all. John is a taskmaster, as he steered words of encouragement could be heard, OK he yelled at us not to slack off but keep pushing the boat. We were soon in amongst the prior sections, which fortunately, did not interfere with our progress. The winds were steady and our VMG was well over 7 knots. The closest T-10s were well behind us but not that far. Near sundown the big boats, which started behind us, began to make their presence known. John, never letting an opportunity slip by, came alongside of a few of them and surfed their wakes. The skippers did not care for our close proximity, but the crews seemed to enjoy our surfing antics. This went on for some time, and it put us even further in front of the other T-10s. Prior to splitting the crews into the night shifts Ned prepared the first dinner, a Glider tradition of Kentucky Fried Chicken and an extra ration of slaw for me. What could be better?
 
Three men on duty for four hours manned the night watches. We were fortunate to have five-experienced helmsmen on board. With so many helmsmen we were able to always have a fresh driver at the helm. This gave us a distinct advantage over other boats not so effectively manned. Night sailing is where we stepped up our efforts. The wind was steady, and it was time for my shift to go below. Before I did I took a moment to enjoy some the awe-inspiring visuals that only the Mac Race can provide. The sky was dark with no city lights to disrupt the view. I looked at the heavens and there seemed to be more stars than darkness. Scanning the horizon in a 360 degree sweep around Glider I could see hundreds of navigation lights of our fellow competitors, the view is still fresh in my mind.
 
I’ve done 19 Macs on T-10’s; I am still trying to remember just how much sleep I was able to get (very little). The first night was no exception. About two hours into the shift the winds lightened. Navigation was my prime responsibility. Even when off duty I was constantly aware of our position and progress. The crew on deck started talking about heading up to keep a higher speed. That was all I needed to hear. I was up on deck in a heartbeat! I looked at the wind and boat speed and told the crew to stay on course. The winds had lightened but not enough to deviate from our course. Glider stayed on the rhumbline still moving along at 7 knots. At 0400 my watch was back on deck. It was still dark but the pre-dawn illumination of the eastern horizon was evident. By 0600 we had settled down to our routine and Glider had logged over 130 nm. The Michigan coast was starting to become visible. I was steering, enjoying a fruit cup in one hand the tiller in the other. John was preparing breakfast using the T-10’s state of the art cooking facilities. Then it hit! I felt a good 30-knot puff strike us from behind. The fruit cup went by the board, and I gripped the tiller with both hands. The boat rolled from side to side. John dropped a few eggs on the cabin floor and decided it was not wise to continued cooking. We chocked down the spinnaker and the boat took off at the speed of heat. The wind grew and brought with itgood waves from 4 to 6 feet. Soon Glider was surfing them with ease. We would be at the crest of one wave surf down its front side and up the backside of the wave in front of it. Our main sail was all the way out, but our boat speed was so great that the apparent wind would come so far forward that the main would luff! We were sailing mostly by the lee (a thing that T10’s love to do in heavy air) right on course. Anyone steering held the tiller firmly and was totally dialed in, watching the waves ahead, feeling the boat, and striving to keep Glider under the chute. The crew massed its weight on the stern trying to keep the bow from taking green water. There was so much stress on the spinnaker sheet that it took four wraps on the primary winch. We then lead the sheet to an aft winch so that we could trim the chute from the stern. This was tiring and exhilarating! The boat’s fractional rig in this heavy air was just the ticket for this sort of stuff. The boat showed incredible stability given the conditions. At one point our knot meter read over 17 knots and our VMG was over 10 knots! This intensity went on for 17 hours! We blew right by Point Betsie and Sleeping Bear Point. The waves were breaking on the shoreline and that shoreline was very close. No other T-10’s were challenging us at this point, one mishap and all that could rapidly change. We rocketed through the Manitou’s and were treated to the spectacle of other boats wiping out. We saw big boats doing 360’s and shredding chutes. Some were even coming back toward us as they sought to regain control of their boats. All of Glider’s hands were on deck. I told John that at the present speed we would be at the island before midnight. He thought I was crazy but then he said, "This has never been done before!" We approached Grays Reef and were once again watching boats having a rough time it. Since the start of the race we were attempting our first gybe with over 30 knots of wind, it went off without a hitch. We rounded the New Shoal buoy and pointed Glider right at the bridge. Our hearts were pounding a mile a minute and the adrenaline was pulsing through our bodies. Constant shouts to adjust trim, raise and lower the pole and change headings to avoid other boats continued to the end of the race. John kept saying, "Do you see any other another T-10’s?" I replied, "We do not need to look at them they can look at us!"
 
We went under the Mackinac Bridge and could clearly see the island. None of us had been below since sunrise, if we were tired our bodies did not feel it. We had target fixation, and there was nothing that was going to prevent Glider from reaching the finish line. As we approached the island we were overtaking boats that should have been hours ahead of us. The race committee’s searchlights pierced the dark and illuminated the finish area. The signal cannon’s constant detonations announced each boat as it completed the race. Even with yards left to go there was no let down. The report of the cannon and the acknowledgment from the race committee signaled our finish. It was still before midnight and we were done. Glider entered the harbor, and we scanned it looking for other T-10’s. None were in sight! The fleet arrived so early that the harbor had not yet been cleared of cruising boats. We tied up at the coal docks. At the sign-in we realized that we had won the T-10 section! Upon hearing the news we spliced the main brace at one of the local bars and went back to the boat and crashed. We got up at sunrise and realized that the harbor was empty. Quickly we brought Glider in and grabbed a slip near the harbormaster’s office. We then headed off to have breakfast. During our morning feast a reporter from the Chicago Sun Times came over informing us that Glider was the over all winner! The news left us stunned. We were the first and only T-10 to this date to have accomplished this feat. John was in a state of denial; he quickly recovered and ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon, and we toasted our success.
 
Twenty years have passed since Glider’s great victory. Those who sailed the ’87 Mac will always remember the great winds and fast passage. Pied Piper a GL70 broke the previous speed record, which held for 76 years! I will always remember how fortunate I was to have sailed with five friends who drove a T-10 faster than ever before. Glider made the 333-mile race in 34 hours 30 minutes and 09 seconds (this is our uncorrected time), and won the Mackinac Trophy for her first place overall finish! Since 1987 many a T-10 has tried to match Glider’s record. In futureMackinac Races, until the last T-10 sails its’ last race, others will seek to break the record. I wish them luck, but I do not believe the record can be surpassed. In 1987 there was a unique combination of talented crew, obliging weather, and a boat with no equal. The combination of these factors allows me to state with confidence that Glider’s record will never be broken, and GLIDER WILL ALWAYS BE THE FASTEST T-10. 
 
About the Author
Craig Warner lives in Vernon Hills, Ill. and is a veteran of twenty-two Mac races, nineteen on T-10s and three on J-105s. He is a former Soling skipper and former Vice President of the United States Soling Association. He served as an Officer in the United States Air Force and United States Marines and is currently a Captain with Continental Airlines, piloting B-737s, with over 20,000 hours of flight time. Craig will be awarded a $500 Lands' End gift card for his winning essay, courtesy of Lands' End Business Outfitters. 
 
 

Mosquito Mac Log 2002

By Steve Laughlin
 
It’s July 18, 13:50 CDT, Chicago, Illinois, 2 nautical miles east of Navy Pier. 270 boats go off in waves, smallest to largest. The Chicago to Mackinac Island race is underway. At 333 miles this armada is starting the longest fresh water yacht race in the world.
 
On the social side, the race separates two of the summer’s best parties, the first at Chicago Yacht Club and the second at the island’s Pink Pony saloon. For a lot of sailors the race represents 333 miles between hangovers. Many races have been lost in the yacht club’s party tent. Conversely, many more races have been won in the distilled atmosphere of the Pink Pony. After a few rum drinks it seems as if two thirds of the crowd has won.
 
At 39 feet our boat, Mosquito, a Farr 395 will start after two thirds of the fleet. The last group includes Roy Disney’s crew, in his hot new 85-foot custom flyer Pyewacket. They’ll go on to smash the 15-year old course record of just under 26 hours by nearly two hours. Based on the forecast, we’re sensing throughout the fleet that many personal records will fall.
 
The gun sends our division on its way, 18 degrees magnetic to be specific. You can never underestimate the importance of knowing where you are and where you’re going on a 333-mile race, where the shoreline is out of view most of the time. My boat partner, Dave Radtke, is below in the cave-like quiet of the nav station hunched over a highly technical array of Brooks & Gatehouse instruments, a chart plotter and a sophisticated performance software package integrating NASA level data into our laptop. Commander’s weather service has just e-mailed us a detailed forecast. It includes the kind of information that’s used to predict Traveler’s Advisories, to help people avoid the very weather we’re seeking. 
 
By contrast, I’m sitting at the helm squinting into the sun, wondering if the other Farr 395s just off our starboard side are going to get on our wind. Unbeknownst to Dave (I don’t want him to think I lack confidence in his gadgets) I’ve got the course headings written on a sheet of notepaper in my pocket just in case NASA falls out of reach and we’re suddenly on the dark side of the moon.
 
Eight other Farr 395s are our principal competition. One is moving ahead upwind giving us dirty air. We crack off to keep our speed up. This gives us a wider wind angle calling for a sail change. We go from jib to our Code Zero spinnaker, a much fuller, more powerful sail. We leap forward, our boat responding to the increase in sail area.
 
We’re going the wrong way, but we’re going there fast. We’re heading due north, which is 18 degrees off course. This could be a problem in the long run, unless you’re hungry for a Sheboygan brat. Our early race strategy is to give more priority to speed than direction. Point Betsie on the northwestern end of Michigan is our first objective. But it’s a day away, and things can change. Let’s go fast.
 
Our division is sub-dividing into two schools of thought. The stay on course group is going the right way more slowly. We’re in the fast crowd, hoping our little romp won’t produce regrets and denial in the morning. Our weather forecast suggests we stay west to greet a predicted storm front and get into the strongest winds first. The others are sticking to the conservative model. They sail the rhumbline, or shortest distance. Creativity versus pragmatism: the storyline of my professional life in advertising.
 
The next six hours are perfect sailing punctuated by a spectacular sunset. Usually the breeze fades with the sun, but not tonight. At 10PM an ominous rumble gets our attention from the west, the direction weather comes from. More rumbles. But how can the front have gotten here so fast? Can our ultra-geek forecast be off by 24 hours?
 
The answer comes to us in a Grand Finale of artificial thunder. Pulsing light just over the horizon tells us Festa Italiana in Milwaukee is signing off for the night with a fireworks display. The weather will wait for tomorrow night, the Italians will go home happy and we will return to La Dolce Vita, Lake Michigan style: moonlight, a following breeze and flat water.
 
Sunday morning dawns with us well across the lake closing in on Michigan. We had long ago changed to our largest spinnaker. We’re smiling. There’s more optimism on our boat than on a baseball team during spring training. This is our fastest sail configuration. The only problem is that in really heavy winds this spinnaker is like a wild mustang at the end of a lariat. Big puffs make it want to go in any direction but the one you do.
 
By Sunday afternoon, we’re in heavy air and we’ve got a very wild sail on our hands. With 30 knots of wind we’re at the raggedy edge of control. Sails routinely blow apart in this kind of wind. All seven crew are as far aft as we can go. We’re working hard to keep the bow up. The boat is going so fast, we’re catching the waves ahead of us. Every now and then the view over the bow looks like one of those scenes from submarine war movies, except we don’t want to shoot this particular scene. We have other plans. Our race strategy includes staying on the surface as much as possible.
 
We get intimate with the surface with a sudden broach. A puff lays the boat down sideways. Sailing is a team sport, but a broach is an individual struggle for survival. Will the boat come up? Will the life raft inflate? Is the water cold? Will my personal flotation device, float? Gee, the cockpit looks like a hot tub with all that water swirling around in it. And, finally, is everyone else ok?
 
This particular Sunday afternoon drive through the country is anything but leisurely. We’re occasionally doing 14 knots of speed in 30-knot winds and 10-foot waves. Off to starboard (our right) there’s a boat that’s lost it’s boom, sailing under jib alone. The contrast is remarkable. We scream past acknowledging their "we’re ok" wave with the thought that it’s a good thing because the prospect of turning around is far more frightening than tumbling on.
 
As dusk comes on Sunday night, the front announces its arrival in the form of a roll cloud.
 
Even in the half-light of dusk, a roll cloud is easy to spot. It’s a sausage shaped, roiling layer of wind and spray hurtling across the surface. There’s every shade of gray behind it with an eerie greenish patina over it. If we had a root cellar, it would be time to go to it.
 
Instead, we’re feverishly preparing to douse the spinnaker. Fortunately, our crew’s experience pays off. The horse is in the barn.
 
This front hits us like a freight train. Under main alone, we’re still flying through the water at up to 11 knots. And we’re going the right way. Wind gusts exceed 40 knots. At what point does our mast break? Luckily, we avoid the most intense wind. This time around, it’s the neighbors who’ll be replanting trees.
 
Just as suddenly, the front passes. We go from the sensation of taking a shower together under a fire hose to simply sailing fast in a drizzle. We’re two thirds of the way down the track south of Beaver Island and off the northwestern shore of the lower part of Michigan. This is the Manitou passage to Lake Huron. We sense the real race is just beginning.
 
It’s dark, it’s wet and the wind is still blowing 20 knots. But any crews who are intimidated by the weather will lose a mile every ten minutes they hesitate.
 
Our bowman is up to his armpits in waves fastening the number 2, medium air jib. This will be the first of so many sail changes in the coming hours; we lose memory of them all. I go off watch, but rest is out of the question. 
 
My first job is to re-pack the big spinnaker so it can go back up soon. I notice that in the urgency of getting the large spinnaker doused it now has a hole in it I can walk through. We’ll need this sail. I begin the task of taping the hole together with special rip-stop sticky tape. That done I start re-packing sails as old ones come down and new ones go up. Sail changes are coming so fast I feel like I’m working in a hotel laundry and there’s a convention in town.
 
I come up from my shift in the laundry into the convention itself as the boat begins its approach to Grey’s reef, a notoriously tricky passage that has claimed many wrecks through the centuries. It seems like the entire fleet is converging here.
 
We have 18 miles to go to the Mackinaw Bridge then four to the finish line. The bridge lights are eerily visible in a misty sky with no discernible horizon. Even after 15 Macs the immensity of the bridge brings a sense of awe.
 
As we emerge out the other end of the busiest mile and half of the racecourse, we are neck and neck with a fellow Farr 395.
 
This is the essence of distance racing. In the vastness of this open water, the known universe is now reduced to our boat and a single competitor. Yet, the white noise of wind and water and the total darkness of the night make us an abstraction to each other. What’s wonderfully real and sharply focused on both boats is the fact that at least one place in the standings will be determined by who can shake off the fatigue of 33 hours of heavy wind and light sleep and win this duel.
 
Our competitor seems to sense that we’re moving a little faster or they decide to separate further up wind in anticipation of a wind shift. Sailing upwind gives them a temporary speed advantage, but later on sailing back down to course will be slow, unless the wind shifts. We stay put on the lower and slower course. It’s the exact opposite of our early race strategy. Now that the end is in sight and the course is getting short, risks are to be avoided. We dig in.
 
The wind frees up a little to their advantage. We both put up reaching spinnakers. They ride the wind down ahead of us by a few boat lengths.
 
As we pass the bridge, there’s one opportunity to pass left as the wind moves further aft. We quickly switch our larger spinnaker and jibe away. They’re up with theirs just as quickly. Thrust, parried. We will be crossing their path on a final jibe to the finish line.
 
With a little luck and a friendly current, we glide across the finish line several minutes ahead. We have no idea how we did against the rest of the fleet, but beating this one boat across the line has made this fast, furious Mac race extra special.
 
As Dave steers the boat across the finish line, I look up at our repaired spinnaker, it now looks like a cannon ball passed through it in close combat. We’ve finished the fastest Mac race any of us has ever sailed, and the big sail has the scars to remind us of it.
 
We later learn that our finish is good for second place in our division all just minutes behind. The leader finished two hours ahead, an incredible performance.
 
The Pink Pony can wait. Shortly after tying up in our slip at the island, we share a reward gratefully accepted by all of this year’s competitors, regardless of their order of finish. Sleep.
 
 

Sibling Sailing

By Melissa H. Farrell
 
 
It is a general truth that no story exists by itself – instead they are piled up and interconnected so that one single event is like a tiny drop in the vast ocean of human experience. In this way, it would be futile for me to recount the history of how Banshee began racing the Chicago-Mac and the background of each traveler. Instead, suffice it to say that one summer my father surprised us with a J-105, the first boat that we have owned capable of attempting this challenging race. Actually, it is the first boat that is not a floating fortress of early fiberglass technology and (ahem) canvas sails.
 
With this new toy, my dad (the consummate family man) decided that he would gather his favorite team of coastal and dinghy sailors - his children. So we set off in the summer of 2004 as a crew of six: my three siblings and me, ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-six, Dad and our cousin, Mike Graham. It sounded like a great idea until the first race lasted eighty-four hours. One morning I woke up early for my shift to brush my teeth and wash my face, more as an effort to feel like a human than for personal hygiene. Using a foot pump to splash my face with the same lake water that serves as a urinal, and brushing my teeth simultaneously to save time, I heard my father yell down from the helm, "What is this, a spa? Get up here!" There should be a special award for those of us who race with family.
 
Somewhere along the coast of southern Michigan, heartbreakingly close to Chicago and two days into the race, we found ourselves anchored in place for at least four shift changes. Early that Monday morning (as we contemplated mutiny), we saw a boat charging towards us through the flat water, teeth bared and ready to strike - wait, was that my imagination? Nope. It was the Tartan 10 Jaws, threatening to t-bone us at full speed with a bare rig. The boat veered away at the last minute, and through the chilly air we heard her hail, "There is nooooooo hoooooope!"
 
The best part about that long and freezing race was seeing the northern lights dance across the entire sky – it was beautiful and eerie, and I have not seen them since. Whether it was for pride or lack of experience, we stayed in the race to the very end and managed to beat the three boats that had retired early. As we pulled into the harbor of Mackinac Island just after the bars closed on Wednesday morning, we did not even bother to leave the boat. Dad ran to the tent to grab his bottle of Mount Gay, and we headed across the Straits to Mackinaw City to wait for our ride; the five crew members drank mugs of rum with emergency Cokes while our fearless captain chugged it straight from the bottle. The ground crew (Mom) pulled up at 5am, roused from her bed but managing to pack a cooler of beer for the drive home – earning her stripes as the MVP of Team Banshee. 
 
The following summer proved to be a more exciting race, with the high winds that flipped Emma and sent most of us to her (belated) rescue. We were cruising towards the Straits when we saw her, and took down our sails to run our first rescue mission. I cannot describe the rush of adrenaline with the feeling that we were the first to arrive at the boat. We eventually figured out that the crew had already been picked up, but not before we saw an empty (yet terrifying) survival suit float by.
 
A few hours before we spotted Emma, we were passing Beaver Island and my dad was reminded of a story from one of his first Macs eighteen years earlier. He told us how the boat got too close to St. James Harbor, the wind was blocked by the land mass, and they were stuck there for hours as they watched the boats further out fly by. As he recounted the story, we noticed that we were sailing towards the island as if answering the call of the sirens...and the wind was slowly shutting off. As soon as this was pointed out, we jibed back and immediately regained our former velocity.
 
Throughout that race, we had been involved in a very exciting chase with the inevitable class winner that year, Gigi, and we ended up finishing within a few minutes of her to take second. It was a huge boost to finish so well after our sad race the previous year. The ride through the Straits that Monday morning was one of the most exciting moments in our history of this race. My brother Graham was on the chute, and within minutes he had transformed into a roaring, cackling powerhouse reminiscent of Lieutenant Dan from "Forrest Gump." We had Big Mike on the main and my youngest brother, Patrick, on the vang, and the rest of us hiked as hard as we could through the spray for three hours. At one point we turned around to see the spinnaker of a 40 ft boat literally explode from the mast into three pieces – it was amazing. We set our first speed record at 15.9 knots in about 20-25 knots of breeze, and we were one of the few boats who could carry a chute at such a hot angle to the finish. That year we had plenty to celebrate, and even made it on the CBS Mac Special when we accepted our flag at the awards ceremony. I have never seen my dad so proud.
 
Our third Mac brought a new addition to the team: a good friend of the family, Corky Weber, was invited as the seventh person and official "buffer" on our family boat. Corky’s great attitude and sailing background make him a perfect fit, but most importantly for my accident-prone family, he is a doctor.
The decision to add a seventh could not have come at a better time – the 2006 Mac brought a massive thunderstorm, 30+ knot winds, and 8-10 foot waves. Luckily, that winter Dad had bought a pilot-quality weather tracking computer that was dead-on in confirming that we were, in fact, in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. As the waves picked up on Sunday night, I was acutely aware of the three inches of fiberglass that protected me from the raging water as I pretended to sleep; after hearing my brothers & Dad complete a terrifying jibe, I threw on my foulies and joined the crew on deck. I have never been seasick in my twenty-six years of sailing; that night, I was closer to tossing my cookies out of pure fear than I am willing to admit. As the crew clung to each other on the windward cockpit bench, Banshee raced and roared her way through the waves. I had one arm tightly around the primary winch and the other arm even tighter around my youngest brother: Mom will kill us if we lose the baby.
 
Throughout the night, as our broaches became less and less frequent and Lieutenant Dan resurfaced to fly the spinnaker, my dad and Mike took turns surfing the huge waves to a record speed of 21.9 knots. It was incredible. We watched the lightning flash all around us and as the sky lightened around 4:30am, we saw for the first time how huge the waves actually were...and quietly prayed for it to get dark again.
 
We bravely carried our spinnaker all night long, but took it down for a few hours on Monday to give the crew some much needed sleep; at this point, we were used to the rocking of the boat and massive waves. As we rested in the cockpit and attempted to eat, we heard a tiny little "whoo-hoo!" coming from the stern. We looked up to see Big Mike’s back to us as he was relieving himself and a wall of water twice the size of him threatening to break over our stern. It was hilarious.
 
Last summer, my older sister Meaghan could not race with us because of a scheduling conflict with her MBA program. We unanimously voted for Katie McGauley, a veteran sailor and friend from Harbor Springs, to temporarily replace Meaghan. That year we were fast off the line and started in high breeze and great conditions – our little red chute was pulling ahead of the J105 fleet, and for over two hours we kept up a steady and promising pace. And then the wind died, never to be seen again. It was at this point that someone went down below to make a quick lunch for the crew, and was shocked to find a dozen bananas in our food supply – known to be bad luck on a boat. We decided that the only way to reverse our misfortune was to eat every single banana on the spot; it may have temporarily solved our wind problems, but the race in general was a disappointment.
 
As we face the 100th Mac Race and our fifth as a family, I would like to highlight how amazing it has been to share this time with our team of ever-improving sailors. I have a new respect for everyone that I have raced with – the skill and the lack of panic that have turned the most dangerous times into great adventures. I have a deep appreciation for the abilities of each of my siblings, and have become closer to them because of the ‘gotcha’ scenarios into which our parents are fond of putting us – throwing us into stressful situations has, against all reasoning, made us inseparable. And a word for the "buffers" – I apologize for our sibling clashes, but thank you for your bravery in electing to sail with four volatile and outspoken Farrells and one idealistic parent.
 
It really has been a great ride.
 

Mackinac Rob

By Bert Vander Weele
 
 
It was around the summer of 1958 on a Sunday morning when vacationing at our cottage north of Little Point Sable when I noticed all the sailboats on the horizon. I asked my dad, why are all those boats out there? Being from Portage, Michigan, a small suburban city just south of Kalamazoo, we were not familiar with the Mac. Sorry, but it will always be Chicago-Mac to me. As the morning aged, I walked along the beach and encountered another cottage owner who had been around a lot longer than us.
 
Did he know why all the sailboats were out there? "It was the Chicago to Mac weekend," he quickly responded. As a 7 year old, I had about 20 more questions for him. Computers? What were those? If you wanted to find out something, you had to look in an encyclopedia or ask a boatload of questions, as I did.
 
It took several months and several conversations before my curiosity was satisfied. I credit my mother for my interest in sailing. She gave me books, and told me about our Dutch heritage and how our families had sailed in The Netherlands. The same fellow who told me about the race the year before thought it would be fun to put a sail rig on a canoe. My dad went out with him once in about three-foot waves and 15 knots of air on a hot July day, and he spent the whole time bailing with a big sponge. He only did that once and refused to let me give it a try.
 
A few years later, another neighbor bought a Super Porpoise and I watched him sail with his dad and then some by himself. I couldn’t stand watching any more and asked whether I could go with him. It was blowing pretty well that day and he needed the extra weight. After about two weekends of sailing with him, he let me go out by myself. My first single-handed sail...I was 11.
 
Two years asking my dad if I could get a boat of my own finally got me a response. One day he brought me the newspaper want ads. There it was...a used Super Porpoise for sale. I could call if I had the money. The price in the paper was $450. I had $300.
 
My dad worked during the day at the then Upjohn Company and also farmed on ours and rented land. I had been selling sweet corn and baling hay, but had not figured a boat would cost so much. I still laugh about that. He said to call and we could at least take a look at it. The owner was a fireman with the city of Kalamazoo. He worked 24 hours and then was off for 24 hours. We set a time to meet the following week.
 
I mentioned the fireman part because we found a boat that looked better than when it was new. It had about 50 coats of varnish and the top side was so shiny that when a fly landed, it would slip onto its back and fall off.
 
As I looked fondly at the Super Porpoise, my dad talked to the owner. Finally, I asked the logical question...what is the least you would take for it? Thinking back now, I never asked my dad what he talked about, but I can only imagine. He made me work hard but always made certain there was time for play.
 
The owner hemmed and hawed for what seemed like forever, but said he really couldn’t take much less than what he was asking. By now this 11year old was just about in tears, and not because I thought it would get me the boat. Dad pulled me aside and said, "offer him $400. and see if he’ll take it." I’ll give you the $100.
 
My strategy changed a little from that point. My dad had barely got the words out of his mouth when I blurted out, "Will you take $400? He said "yes" and I was the owner of my first boat.
 
So how does this relate to the Mac? I had dreamed from the first time I had seen all those boats that one day I would get a chance to race in the Mac. The following year the boats stayed way out in the lake as they slipped past our cottage, but the year after that, they were within 10 miles of shore...so was I.
 
The morning started out like many Sunday mornings on the Mac., light air from the south. By noon it was picking up and the boats were beginning to show up, coming in for the off-shore breeze. I rigged my Super Porpoise and started sailing toward the fleet.
 
By the time I arrived, the boats I had seen were almost out of sight to the north, but others had taken their place. I yelled and asked how they were doing and they yelled back, "What the @#$%#$%$%*&$#$% are you doing out here? Get the #@#$%&%@#$ out of the way."
 
Thinking back, I would say that was my first exposure to sailing rules as interpreted on a race course! By then I’m a teenager and sailing all summer long, but with no idea there are sailing fleets and organized races. I have only a guy with a Sunfish to race against. We would anchor a plastic Clorox bottle about a mile out and race around it.
 
When Pentwater was going through its first growth spurt, I drove in and berthed there was the Northern Light, an Americas Cup boat from the 1930s. A friend whose grandfather had a cottage on Pentwater Lake became a crew member on the boat. He got me on board for a few Sunday afternoon sails. Then the word came she was going to do the Mac. I had been dreaming about it for years, and now I actually knew someone who was going to sail in it.
 
I didn’t get to sail with the Northern Light and pretty much gave up trying. I had gotten married and was also working for The Upjohn Co. My dad passed away and Lake Michigan was so high I couldn’t get the boat in the water in front of the cottage. I had never lost my desire to sail in the race, but thought that chance would never come.
 
In 1978 I was standing at the cashier’s window at work (I can still see that as if it were yesterday) when one of the men who worked in one of the Upjohn buildings I took care of came to the window. We acknowledged each other when the cashier asked the $64,000 question: What are you doing this week-end?
 
He said he was going on a sailboat race. My ears picked up and I said, "Where?" He said, "Chicago to Mac." I’m not sure how long it was until I asked, " Do they ever need extra crew?" "Maybe," and he would call me that night at 6.
 
I prayed the phone would ring and it did! Crew were needed and if I wanted to go, be ready the following afternoon for the trip from Holland to Chicago. So my first true sailboat race was a Chicago to Mac. I was 27. I don’t believe many people can say that there first sailboat race was Chicago-Mac, and I bet even less were farm kids from Portage.
 
I can remember everything that happened on that race from start to finish. Sunday morning I received an extra biscuit and 2 extra pieces of bacon from Cookie (yes the cook) cause he thought I needed the extra energy. We woke up Sunday morning not knowing where we were for sure. Remember, this was before GPS and plotters. It was RDF’s and dead reckoning. Our navigator was a pipe smoker and the smoke was billowing out of the nav station. He did that when he was excited or nervous.
 
I looked toward shore and to my surprise we were right in front of our cottage 10 miles out. Reluctantly I said, "I know where we are." They all looked at me like who does he think he is. I pointed out the sand dunes and what we called the 3 sisters which are 3 hills between Pentwater and Ludington. Fred the navigator said there should be a radio tower at such and such degree and sure enough there was. He said "the kid’s right" and I was one of the team from then on. A few years later I was given the nick name Mackinac Rob by the crew. Our section went up the lake together. We flew the spinnaker for the first 32 hours then went to a No. 3 with a reefed main. From Grey’s reef to the bridge we made 8 sail changes. We finished just behind Bay Bea and just ahead of Northern Light with my same old friend on it which had said he would save us a slip. It was a story book ride like no other.
 
You can’t describe the way the stars look from the middle of the lake on a moonless night or trying to get through the Manitou’s in the middle of the night with 15 knots of air on the nose and 100 boats around you. Anyone who thinks they can describe this race to someone who’s never been on it has missed an awful lot. I’m sad to say that I have forgotten more of the details than I can remember. One thing is for sure, it’s the greatest fresh water race in the world!
 
This year will be my 28th and I have been an old goat since 2005. I have seen a lot of things out on that old lake that I love, but the respect I have for it only get stronger, and the love for it will never die. I was here for the 75th but won’t be for the 125th. I know I’ve kept my guardian angel pretty busy for the past 35 years because we’ve been in some tight spots. The only thing I’d change out of all of it, is to have started sooner in life and had my dad alive for one of them. I’d like to be able to expose more kids to sailing.
 
I ‘m still working on that and hope to have a grandson or daughter out on the water before I die.
 
Thanks for the memories. Dedicated to my parents & Bruce Hutchinson, who got me on my first Mac. 

 

 
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