Cruising Division: First Wave of Mackinac Racers Prepare For The Worst
With less than 3 hours until the start of the Cruising Division for the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, presented by Wintrust, conditions look to launch the fleet north today only to run straight into a low-pressure system in the next 24 hours that will throw variable wind conditions at the teams as they try to navigate a particularly extremely tricky race to Mackinac Island.
This low-pressure system – the same that plagued the Pacific Cup in San Francisco many days ago – must have an affinity for great offshore races, as it has now traveled nearly 2000 miles to its current position just West of Chicago.
This weather system is the single most important factor in this year’s running of the classic Race to Mackinac, because its position affects every part of the race.
"With the Low moving directly over the race course after the start of the Cruising Class, the fleet can expect a huge wind shift and the confused, square waves that come out of it," said race meteorologist Chris Bedford. Bedford thinks the heavier, more seaworthy boats will have a distinct advantage in the potentially tall waves.
"The boats that can handle bashing into big waves will have more wind and potentially a faster trip up the lake," he explained. At the same time, the sea state in the middle of the lake could be truly awful, and Bedford said he’d expect some retirements just from seasickness though perhaps not as many as the lumpy 2017 race.
"Last year saw a lot of boats pulling out with crew issues, but those lessons have been learned and I think you’ll see crews far better prepared for the big upwind," Bedford said.
No boat in the entire 43-boat strong Cruising Division is bigger or faster than Joseph Haas’ Infinite Diversion: The flag blue 63-foot cruiser/racer has been the first cruising boat to cross the finish line every year since she joined the CYCRTM fleet in 2013. Chicago Yacht Club Commodore Leif Sigmund recently defected from decades of strict one-design racing to join Haas and his crew, and he says he’s never looked back.
"Cruising division boats are the real thing: They’re not stripping their boats to get a marginal advantage over their competition or sacrificing comfort for ratings," said Sigmund, who explained that many of the boats – including Diversion – will leave Mackinac next week for extended cruises amongst the picturesque shoreline of the North Channel and northern Lake Michigan – and they’ll go with the exact same equipment load they had during the race.
While only equipment failure could keep Haas and the Commodore from taking Line Honors for a 6th straight year, the ultimate prestige comes to the winner under the ORR rating system. With 2017 overall Cruising Division winner Trois Vignes taking the year off, the podium is wide open for a new champion in 2018.
Last year’s CYCRTM Director and frequent competitor (with wife and entire family), Matt Gallagher knows a thing or two about racing in the cruising division, and he sees this year’s race for the big boats.
"Cruising Division gets a lot of guys who retire from racing and they’re still amazing racers," explained Gallagher, who sees some of those one-design veterans doing well at the finish line on Mackinac Island.
Elsewhere in the Cruising Division, Chicago Yacht Club’s Tom Falck could buck the conventional wisdom and take the overall Division win this year aboard his Tartan 3700 Intangible, another boat known for her upwind chops. Falck and his crew have won the division several times before and similar to others, he spends the weeks after the Mac race cruising aboard the boat with his friends and family, which Gallagher says is "really what the Cruising Division was built for." Falck hedged his bets as well; he’s got the 2017 Division winning-skipper John Palmer (Trois Vignes) aboard, who could be the first sailor in CYCRTM history win back-to-back Cruising Division titles aboard two different boats.
Whoever wins, it can be certain they will need to do the best job of managing the difficult weather pattern and squally, possibly extreme overnight conditions the first night, while avoiding breakages, flooding, and the worst of the big waves on Sunday. We wish them all luck.