Countdown to the 112th CYC Race
to Mackinac - July 18, 2020


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Frequently Asked Questions


How long is the race?

At 333 statute miles or 289.4 nautical miles, the Race to Mackinac is the oldest annual freshwater distance race in the world. The race starts just past Navy Pier in Chicago and finishes between the lighthouse on Round Island and the race committee trailer on Mackinac Island, Mich.

When was the first Race to Mackinac?

The first Mac Race was held in 1898 as an informal race of five boats. Vanenna won in 51 hours.
The second Mac wasn't until 1904, and it was then held intermittently until after World War I. Every year since 1921 has seen the running of the Race to Mackinac.

How many boats participate?

There are approximately 330 boats with more than 3,000 sailors in the annual Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. Participation is by invitation from the Chicago Yacht Club.

What do the winners receive?

The Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac is an amateur event, so no prize money is awarded.  The Section winners receive a plaque, a flag and of course, bragging rights. The overall winners have their names engraved on the permanent trophies that are displayed at Chicago Yacht Club.

What is the record for the fastest race?

Pyewacket, a Reichel Pugh 75, owned and skippered by Roy Disney, set the monohull record in 2002 with an elapsed time of 23 hours, 30 minutes and 34 seconds. This broke the 14-year record of 25 hours,
50 minutes and 44 seconds established by the yacht Pied Piper, a Santa Cruz 70 owned and skippered by Dick Jennings. For multihulls, the record of 18 hours 50 minutes and 32 seconds was set in 1998 by Steve Fossett on Stars and Stripes, the catamaran previously sailed by Dennis Conner in the America’s Cup.
The race usually takes most of the fleet between 40 and 60 hours to finish.

How can big boats and small boats race against one another?

Boats are handicapped by a mathematical rating system that predicts how fast they should be capable of sailing under a variety of conditions. Applying these ratings to each boat’s elapsed time on the racecourse determines which boat sailed the best relative to its rating, and therefore determines the winner. This allows the entire fleet to compete.

How does the race start?

The fleet is divided into sections based on rating. Each section has anywhere from eight to 30 boats of similar ratings and starts the race at a specific time. The Cruising Division begins at 3 p.m. on Friday. The rest of the fleet starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, and continues every 10 minutes until the last section departs at approximately 3 p.m. A cannon is fired at the specific start time for each section. The objective is to cross the starting line under full sail immediately as the starting gun for each section is fired. Boats crossing the starting line too early are required to turn back and restart — a significant penalty.

What do the boats do at night?

The boats race around the clock until they reach Mackinac Island, so sailing at night is required. Running lights and lighted instruments are required for navigation and safety. Additionally, the crew will work in shifts, or "watches," so that there is time for rest.

What do the boats do during storms?

Storms are common on Lake Michigan. The boats continue to race during storms, but are required to be equipped to handle them. Generally the procedure calls for shortening sail area (called "reefing") and making adjustments to minimize the chance of damage to the boat, equipment and crew.  Each crew member is equipped with a life jacket and safety harness.
There have been a number of stormy Macs throughout our history. See Memorable Macs for more information.

How does Chicago Yacht Club address safety for its competitors?

The Chicago Yacht Club prides itself on organizing a safe, fun race that is backed by a culture of safety and education. The CYC works closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and many other support groups to actively educate its sailors on safety. We strongly recommend that at least 30 percent of each crew have recently attended a US Sailing Safety at Sea Seminar. The Race to Mackinac committee also distributes an e-newsletter called Thursday Safety Series to all skippers and crew as part of its ongoing education efforts. 


What is an Island Goat?

Racers who compete in 25 Chicago to Mackinac races are invited to join the exclusive "Island Goats Sailing Society" (IGSS). The IGSS was established by Hobart "Red" Olson in 1959. Originally named for their appearance, aroma and behavior upon reaching Mackinac Island, these salty veterans represent an elite chapter in the heritage of the Race to Mackinac. Island goats have raced at least 8,325 miles from Chicago to Mackinac Island. For a list of all goats, visit

How can spectators find out where the boats are during the race?

Spectators may visit during the race and click on the "Race Tracking" link to watch real-time GPS positioning of all the racing boats. Follow us on Twitter @RacetoMackinac, on Facebook at and YouTube. Racers will be tweeting from the Lake using the hashtag #CYCRTM. Additionally, results will be posted and updated on the website as the racers finish.
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