Tuesday, July 31, 2018

J/Teams Love Chicago Mackinac Race

J/145 sailing Mac RaceJ/105 & J/122 Get “Mac Double”, J/111 Two-peats!
(Chicago, IL)- This year’s 110th edition of the Chicago to Mackinac Race was truly the “Tale of Two Cities”, the beginning and the end. The Chicago YC warned the sailors to play it safe off the Chicago city-front starting line as the fleet took off in 20-30 kt northerly winds and steep 5-9 foot “breaking chop” (no such thing as “waves” in the traditional sense of the word). It was boat-breaking and people-breaking stuff as the boats pounded to weather off the starting line. Virtually 100% of the fleet took off on port tack headed out into the middle of southern Lake Michigan in a NNW winds, it was the closest tack to the rhumbline of 19 degrees. By early light on Sunday morning, the wind had moved into the NNE quadrant, prompting most of the fleet, again, to tack nearly in unison onto starboard as closest fetch to Point Betsie. Thereafter, the most successful strategy was continuing to tack on the shifts up the middle of the lake. Perversely, by the time the teams hit Point Betsie late Sunday, they continued to sail to windward through the Manitou Passage to Grey’s Reef, albeit in 8-14 kts of breeze. Even then, there was no reprieve as the wind kept swinging East and the boats that rounded the reef were sailing with wind on the nose!!

J/111 sailing Mac RaceThe huge eighteen-boat J/111 class saw, yet again, Dave Irish’s NO SURPRISE win class by nearly 45 minutes over the second place ROWDY skippered by Rich Witzel. Third was a newcomer on the Chicago-Mac J/111 podium, Tom Dickson’s WARLOCK. Rounding out the top five were John Kalanik’s PURA VIDA in fourth and Len Siegel’s LUCKY DUBIE in 5th place.

There was a relative newcomer that stood atop the podium in the nine-boat J/120 class; winning was Mike Fozo & Robin Kendrick’s PROOF from Grosse Pointe Farms, MI. A familiar team took the silver, Chuck Hess’ FUNTECH Racing, and in third place was John Harvey & Rick Titsworth’s SLEEPING TIGER. The balance of the top five was Curtis Kime’s VICTRIX in 4th and long-time class leaders, Mike & Bob Kirkman’s HOT TICKET in 5th position

Racing in the J/109 has often produced some of the closest racing the Chicago-Mackinac Race sees year to year. This year was no exception. After nearly sixty-hours of sailing, the top five boats finished only 20 minutes apart- in other words, they could all see each other! Winning by a mere 43 seconds (!!) was Bob Evans’ GOAT RODEO over Jim Murray’s CALLISTO. These two teams have been going at it “hammer & tong” for the last two years, trading off the top spots. Just 8min 40sec later, David Gustman’s NORTHSTAR took the third spot. Another 1min 40sec back in fourth place was Chuck Schroder’s CHASE. Then, just 7min 38sec further back in fifth place was Chris Mallet’s SYNCHRONICITY!

J/105 sailing Mac RaceThe fourteen-boats in the J/105 class saw one of those rare events in long-distance races, back-to-back wins in both Mackinac Races in the same year (Bayview and Chicago)! That honor goes to Mark Symonds’ famous PTERODACTYL, clawing their way north like a raptor for 48 hours upwind and persevering until the end! Congratulations, an amazing achievement in yacht racing! A half-hour behind them at the finish was Clark Pellet’s SEALARK to take the silver and the bronze spot on the podium went to another familiar crew- Gyt Petkus’ VYTIS. The rest of the top five included Ross & Judith McLean’s ESPRIT d’ECOSSE in 4th and Mark Gannon’s GANGBUSTERS in 5th place.

Mackinac Cup Division
Section 2 saw the famous bright-red J/145 MAIN STREET sailed by Bill Schanen’s family from Port Washington, WI race to a fourth place in a very tough big-boat class.

The fourteen-boat Section 3 saw great performances from two J/133s; Bob Klairmont’s SIROCCO 3 from Lake Forest, IL took the silver while Tom & Beth-Ann Papoutsis’ RENEGADE took the bronze! Doug Petter’s J/130 WILLIE J finished sixth.

The performance by J/teams in Section 4 was simply a tour’d’force! It was a sweep of the Top Five! Leading the way were three J/122s dominating the podium. Yet another “Mac Double” was recorded, with Matt Schaedler’s BLITZKRIEG again blitzing their second Mac Race for a win (the first was Bayview-Mac class & overall win). The silver went to Bob Mampe’s GOTTA WANTA and the bronze went to Matt Songer’s EVVAI. Fourth was the J/44 CHEEP’N’DEEP II sailed by Randy Kuhn & Jim Richter from Lake Forest, IL. Fifth went to Bruce Pierce’s J/122 HOLLIGAN II from Toronto, Ontario. In short, all five J’s sailing in the section cleaned house!

Chicago Mackinac Trophy Division
Last year’s Section 7 class winner and Overall Chicago Mackinac Trophy winner sailed fast and smart, yet again, but this year it was not enough. A bit of luck may have helped their good fortunes in this year’s tough race, but Jim Mitchell & Bruce Danly’s J/109 TOA had to settle for the silver in class this year.

Like their colleagues in Section 4, nine J/crews (three J/88s and six J/35s) nearly swept their podium, too, taking four of the top five. Second went to Ricky, Bobby, & Kelly Jean Reed on their J/35 OB LA DI; third was Ben & Mandy Wilson’s J/88 RAMBLER, fourth was Larry Taunt’s J/35 BAD DOG, and fifth went to Mitch Weisman & Vanessa Gates’ J/35 THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER.

Finally, in Section 9, David Hughes’ J/100 BARRACUDA from Chicago, IL took fourth place.

Sailing on the J/109 TOA was Richie Stearns from Chicago, IL. Here is Richie’s dramatic report on what happened in this year’s Mac Race.

“The flags on Mackinac Island are at half-mast again. Another sailor has died from the fury of Lake Michigan. Five years ago, a squall packing winds over 100 knots ripped though the fleet, killing two sailors. This time it was just the raw power of Lake Michigan.

There are so many ways to enjoy the sport of sailboat racing. Big boat, little boat, Buoy racing and more. Unlike many sports that want to tell everyone they are extreme, sailing is just the opposite. We revel in the beauty of working with and against Mother Nature and marveling of the beauty of it all. Sailing is often a serene, almost boring sport. But, distance racing always has the possibility of being one of the most extreme sports in the world. The fact that you don’t know exactly when it is going to turn extreme compounds the danger.

The forecast for the race was rough. The Coast Guard and weather people at the skippers meeting warned that conditions were bad and suggested it may be worth each boat considering if it would be too much for their boat and crew. Many people in the world and even the U.S. don’t understand how big the Great Lakes are and how violent the lakes can be. It is hard for many to imagine a fresh water lake such as Lake Michigan that is over 300 miles long, 90 miles wide, and a thousand feet deep in some areas, with 1,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water in it (that is 1 quadrillion gallons). Shipping gets shut down in the winter partly by ice, but partly because of the rough conditions.

To attest to the fury they can bring, there are thousands of sunken ships scattered in the bottom of the Great Lakes. A 12-foot wave on the ocean is big, but they are spread apart, they are swells. On the lake, the 12-foot waves come at you and they are spaced roughly 100 to 120 feet apart. They were not all 12 to 15 feet, but they were relentless. Remember, the 730-foot Edmond Fitzgerald got broken in half by Lake Superior.

On Saturday morning, the gale was building and near gale force winds would continue for 18 hours and even when it dropped to below 20 knots the next day, the conditions were tough and 18 knots seemed light.

I sailed a modified J/109 “TOA” for the second year. Last year we were the overall winner of the race. We started with a reefed main and a #3 jib. Our start was at noon; it was a beat with port tack favored and the fleet headed Northeast towards the Michigan shore. The rhumbline is 200 miles at 18 degrees to Point Betsie on the Michigan shore. Then, you continue to the Manitou passage. We had three crew that got sick for a while and one that would stay sick for the next 48 hours. However, other boats had many more. I estimate 1/2 of the sailors got sea sick of varying severity and over 60 boats dropped out. The wind was over 20 Knots at the start and the 109 did very well in the waves. Every so often, a good load of blue water would pound he boat and soak the crew, but the water was warm and, of course, being fresh made it slightly less miserable. There was intermittent rain just to make sure we didn’t get too comfy.

By nightfall, we were in first place in our section and 3rd overall. By that time we were over half way across the lake, there was a small wind shift, so boats started tacking to starboard into the middle towards the Wisconsin shore. With all the crew on the rail (less one) we pounded our way north. At night, it is easy to go slow and not realize it. In those conditions, you are reefed and the jib is on an outboard lead to keep the helm under control. It is hard enough to sail in big seas, but at night with 30 knots and rain and no boats to steer off in front, it is easy to sail the boat slow. When I sailed it was useful to light up the tell tale on the stay to make sure I didn’t steer way to low. When you steer high you luff, but steering too low, you don’t get the power sensation since you are so de-powered. We did not have good apparent wind numbers and that could have been our downfall.

Sometime during the night, we lost our 2-mile lead and lost another 3 miles. In hindsight, we sailed a persistent knock for too long and missed a 15-degree wind shift. We sailed the starboard tack until 4:30 in the morning. Then, we tacked towards the Michigan shore again. By watching the tracker, something happened around sunrise. TOA had a big lead and started pointing 5 to 10 degrees lower than Mad Cap the second-place boat. New driver? Bad trim? We will never know, but for 6 ours we lost a lot of ground and by 10 in the morning, our 2-mile lead was now 3 miles behind.

There is a bit of a distance-racing lesson here. Make sure your instruments show apparent wind angle and know what your target speed is. If you don’t have that apparent wind at night, you need a telltale on the stay illuminated to make sure you are in the ball game. Also, when you change helmsman, sit with the new person for a while to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Twenty-four hours into the race, it was still a beat. We were on the Michigan shore near Big Sable point and we had dropped to third. The reef was out, it seemed like we were sailing well, but we were falling further behind the two leaders. Winds continued to diminish throughout the night, but we remained on a beat. We were treated to a spectacular rainbow/moon combination before sunset, which lasted for over an hour before the sun finally disappeared.

At 2:30 am Monday, we entered the Manitou Passage. By that time, the wind had lightened up considerably to around 13 knots. We were still on a beat and in the passage, but you are well protected from the waves by the Manitou Islands. Earlier in the race, we knew we were behind because we had had cell phone coverage. We were able to check again and found out we were back in second.

It is about 80 miles from the entrance of the Manitou Passage to Grey’s Reef lighthouse. Given the change in angle of the course we thought we might have more of a reach. Sadly, the wind shifted and we were still on a beat. The winds continued to lighten as we approached daybreak. We were entertained by a spectacular fog show. The fog just rolled in near land and as we left it, you could see tops of the sails of our competitors above it looking like shark fins.

By the time we got to the lighthouse at Grey’s Reef, the wind had died. We had a Code 0 up to “beat” to the lighthouse. In the Grey’s Reef passage, you have Islands to port and Michigan to starboard. It opens up to fairly big area maybe 15 miles wide. It would just be our luck to have the light air turn into a beat to get around “can 3” which is a few miles up the reef. After the can, you take a 90-degree turn into the Straights of Mackinac. Once again, the wind shifted and it turned into a light air beat. The straights are 20 miles to the Mackinac Bridge. It was light and boats played both shorelines. We chose the North side, it turned out a northerly came in, and we could put a spinnaker up and creep to the Bridge. With a mile to go to the bridge, the wind stopped again, and we used the wind seeker to get under the bridge. The wind seeker is a cool sail, it goes up the forestay and is super light, and it is fully battened with really light battens. It is amazing how well it takes shape in no air. The beating continued under the bridge to the finish line. After 60 hours, the race was over.

There were parties and seeing friends at the bars, but the fact a fellow sailor had died in the race, and the flags were at half-mast, subdued the celebration, as we all realized it could have been any of us.”
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