Something in the Water
<h1 class="main-title">Something in the Water</h1><div class="dek"> A berth on one of this year's 300 Chicago-Mac boats brings on good times and old memories </div> <div class="author"> by Tim Murphy </div> <div class="article-extra-right"> </div> <p><span style="font-weight: bold;">Walk the docks of the Chicago Yacht<br /> Club's Monroe Station on a busy Friday in mid-July, and there,<br /> wire-tied to the transoms of many of the boats, you'll find signs that<br /> read "Walter Heinichen, 48" or "Gene McCarthy, 51" or "John Nedeau, 57."</span><br /> And if the numbers seem curious at first, they certainly won't for<br /> long, for on these docks the lore behind the numbers pervades every<br /> conversation. They're notches in the belts for sailors who've devoted<br /> summers by the dozens to rollicking in that great movable feast that is<br /> the Chicago-Mac, the annual 333-mile race to Mackinac Island.</p><p> The names on the signs belong to members of the Island Goats Sailing<br /> Society, whose minimum entry requirement of having sailed 25<br /> Chicago-Macs suggests other lifetime accomplishments: that these<br /> sailors have been on and off watch some 250 times; that they've<br /> probably sailed through 50 or 100 thunderstorms; and that they've spent<br /> over 60 days and 8,000 miles sailing from Chicago to Mackinac. But the<br /> name confers more than dignity alone; it also recognizes the musky<br /> whiffs that so likely emanate from those who've accomplished so much in<br /> sailing.</p><p> The mere existence of the Island Goats Sailing<br /> Society tells you something about the Great Lakes, and probably about<br /> Chicago in particular. For some reason-maybe it's the short sailing<br /> season, or maybe there's some divine madness that flows like fluoride<br /> in the Lake Michigan drinking water-one thing is clear: These sailors<br /> are as besotted a bunch as you're likely to encounter anywhere. Sure,<br /> Annapolis and Newport can duke it out for yachting-capital honors. New<br /> Zealand and Sweden can tout their sailorly per-capitas. But for sheer<br /> love of sailing, you'd be hard-pressed to find a higher density in any<br /> crowd.</p><p> "This is my 15th Mac," says Chicagoan Jan Promer,<br /> sitting beside me on one of the several crowded school buses that run<br /> up Lake Shore Drive to Monroe Harbor from the Field Museum, where a<br /> meeting was held for the afterguards of this year's 294 entered boats.<br /> <br /> "There are nine people on our boat," Jan says, "and we have 177 Macs<br /> among us." In two weeks, she plans to race from Port Huron to Mackinac,<br /> on Michigan's eastern side. Then it'll be back to work for a short<br /> spell before she's off to the Azores to help a friend sail his boat to<br /> Portugal.</p><p> For this race, Jan is sailing on the Sydney 38 <span style="font-style: italic;">Eagle</span>; my berth is aboard the C&C 115 <span style="font-style: italic;">Guaranteed. Period.</span><br /> By the time we part, we've established that we're fellow competitors in<br /> Section 3, so Jan says, "I won't tell you 'Good luck.' But have fun!"</p><p> I've been among these people for only a couple of hours now, and already it seems impossible not to.</p><p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">A Long Fetch</span><br /> I've never sailed in the Mac before, but in truth I already knew<br /> firsthand some of these things about Chicago sailors. In a sense, I am<br /> one-at least insofar as being nearly drowned twice in the local waters<br /> confers some of the rights of membership.</p><p> I was 8 and we lived outside Chicago the year my parents bought our first boat, a MacGregor Venture 25 called <span style="font-style: italic;">Lilas</span>.<br /> Upon taking ownership, my folks promptly loaded my little sister and me<br /> in the car and hitched up the trailer and took off for Lake Geneva in<br /> Wisconsin, thinking-presciently-that a first stab at this sailing thing<br /> might be safer on a lake less Great than Michigan. It was after<br /> midnight by the time we arrived, and we kids were zonked. My folks<br /> bedded us down in the settees of the boat, still on its trailer. Next<br /> they set about learning, in the dark, how a person rigs a sailboat. I<br /> don't remember much about that night, except the steep incline of the<br /> launch ramp, then the sudden loud voices and the bustle as lake water<br /> in the cabin rose up over the sole and my parents realized we were<br /> sinking.</p><p> Fortunately, my family's sailing career improved<br /> dramatically after that first outing, but I was always an ambivalent<br /> sailing kid, often frightened of the water. We spent all our summers on<br /> Lake Michigan, sailing first out of Chicago's Burnham Harbor, then out<br /> of New Buffalo, just across the Michigan state line. I loved anchoring<br /> off those spectacular beaches that stretched on for miles and miles out<br /> of sight, and climbing those towering sand dunes, and watching the hang<br /> gliders leap so thrillingly off the edges of them. But the sailing? I<br /> could have done without that. Especially the heeling.</p><p> For five<br /> years we sailed that Venture hard, until one snowy October day when we<br /> sank it for keeps. A gale was blowing waves longways down the<br /> 300-mile-long lake and stacking them up on the end we'd committed<br /> ourselves to crossing: an 85-mile passage from Michigan back to Chicago<br /> for winter hauling. I was in the cabin when my dad and two others<br /> decided to abort and return to New Buffalo-never mind that our ride had<br /> dropped us off and driven back to the city. When the fateful wave came,<br /> I'd already donned a life jacket; my dad was in the cockpit wearing a<br /> harness with its tether passed through an eye splice at his end and<br /> clipped in across the boat. From a long way off I could see that wave<br /> coming, a single cascading breaker that was out of step with the rest<br /> of the train. Slowly <span style="font-style: italic;">Lilas</span><br /> lifted, and as the boat canted, all I could see out the ports was<br /> white-then the world inverted and became a deep, translucent green.<br /> Sitting wrong side up, with the shocking-cold water rising and the<br /> hatches closed, I thought the strong smell of gasoline was the<br /> strangest thing.</p><p> Somehow, and I truly don't know how, I popped<br /> to the surface and reached under the icy water to grab a handrail. On<br /> the other side of the boat, my dad was being half-drowned by his<br /> harness and struggling to find me. He eventually wriggled out of his<br /> trap, and as the waves were onshore, we all four made our way through<br /> the surf to the beach and the waiting ambulances that took us to a<br /> hospital in Michigan City, Indiana, where I first learned the word<br /> "hypothermia."</p><p> Twenty-five years have passed, and since then<br /> I've lived aboard boats and worked aboard boats and sailed across<br /> several oceans. The one thing I haven't done-till now-is go sailing<br /> again on Lake Michigan. Yet the more I think about these Chicago<br /> sailors who keep coming back year after year to this event, the more I<br /> understand something about that source from which we've all drunk. For<br /> without a doubt, that snowy day my dad took me sailing in October 1979<br /> made me a sailor for life.</p><p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">The Duluth Mafia Meets the X-Factors</span><br /> It's sometime before dawn on Sunday morning, July 17, a little more<br /> than 12 hours into the 2005 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, and I<br /> find myself thinking about that last sail on Lake Michigan and how<br /> tonight's conditions could hardly be more different.</p><p> "We're<br /> getting slobbered on," says Gerry Gavin quietly. Through the haze, we<br /> can barely make out the running lights of two or three boats-which is<br /> odd, because somewhere out here are 290 more that we can't see. Every<br /> few minutes, a low thunder of jets to the west suggests Milwaukee.<br /> Condensation drips from a point-six-ounce chute that occasionally fills<br /> just enough to lift its sheets out of the lake. Sodden black flies<br /> collect in the scuppers, and the speedo reads triple zeros.</p><p> And yet, for no clear reason, the mood among my mates is bright. We are<br /> nine aboard the 38-foot C&C 115, a band of mostly strangers who<br /> were brought together by Lands' End Business Outfitters. Having<br /> sponsored the whole event, the Lands' End marketing team also wanted to<br /> put a boat in the race. The first thing they did was tap Randy Adolphs<br /> to run the boat. Some 20 years ago, he'd skippered boats-a Frers 44, an<br /> Alden 54, a custom Frers 80-for Gary Comer, the man who founded Lands'<br /> End and who won Star-boat championships before that; now Randy directs<br /> the company's in-house fitness center. And so the first seed was<br /> planted. </p><p> A photograph hangs in Randy Adolphs' office of him<br /> as a younger man at the helm of one of Gary Comer's boats, holding an<br /> infant son in his arms. David Adolphs, now 22 years old and an avid<br /> JY15 sailor, traveled from northern California to go sailing with his<br /> dad-an impulse I can certainly understand.</p><p> To put together the<br /> rest of the crew, Randy contacted his old sailing buddy, Gerry Gavin, a<br /> former Lands' End employee who'd spent an earlier career selling North<br /> Sails from its Wisconsin loft. Gerry proved to be our tactical guru.<br /> Among other good decisions, one of his first was to call in a trio of<br /> pals from Duluth, Minnesota: Chris Juntunen, Susan Mattis Turnham, and<br /> Keith Stauber. These three, having sailed competitively together and<br /> against each other for decades, will come to be known collectively as<br /> the Duluth Mafia. They keep the boat tight and efficient and fun.</p><p> Then there are the X-factors among us: four, including me and young<br /> David, who'd never met the others before the eve of the race. To fill<br /> the other two slots, Lands' End held two competitions: one from among<br /> its employees, and one from the public. Kari Rekoske is a Lands' End<br /> technology manager who recently returned to the Midwest after having<br /> lived for long stretches in Norway, France, and Texas, where she sailed<br /> often.</p><p> The celebrity among us is Elizabeth Scheyder, winner of<br /> Lands' End's "Thrill of the Mac" essay contest, announced last February<br /> and open to the entire U.S. public. Her essay, selected from 680<br /> entries, gained her a spot on the boat. During a pre-race parade before<br /> Navy Pier, her name was announced to the applause of the Chicago crowd<br /> gathered there, and all through the starting sequence-two hours of<br /> controlled chaos as nearly 300 boats divided into 14 sections set off<br /> at 10-minute intervals toward the north-crews of other boats kept<br /> shouting over to us, "Hey, which one's the winner?" </p><p> In fact,<br /> Elizabeth and I have a lot in common. For one thing, we're the same<br /> age, 39, and we were the same age the year our dads made lifelong<br /> sailors of us.</p><p> "For a bookish 13-year-old," her essay begins,<br /> "it had been a good Christmas-books, clothes, and even a science-fair<br /> kit. 'Just one more present,' my dad said. 'You know we're going to<br /> spend this summer at the shore, so the last present is in the garage.'</p><p> "When I reached the garage, I was amazed at what I saw: a small<br /> sailboat, bright orange, on a trailer. My dad's face was beaming almost<br /> as brightly as the colors on the boat. 'It's a Sunfish,' he said, 'and<br /> we're going to learn to sail this summer!'"</p><p> For her, the hook<br /> was set. Elizabeth mastered the Sunfish in a week and, by her account,<br /> spent a magical summer poking into every corner of New Jersey's<br /> Barnegat Bay. Her father bought a series of larger boats, and by the<br /> time she was in college, he'd bought a 41-foot Morgan that they'd<br /> planned to sail often together. But a few months later, he died<br /> unexpectedly.</p><p> "The boat was sold," she wrote. "I didn't sail much after that."</p><p> With Sunday morning's sunrise comes the breeze, and now Elizabeth and the rest of us are going sailing for sure.</p><p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Humming Toward Mackinac</span><br /> The first time we hear the Five-Knot Hum is just into our 1000-to-1400<br /> watch-a lovely harmonic that resonates up through the C&C's<br /> rudderstock. After such a long and drifty night, that hum is an<br /> unimaginably happy song.</p><p> Off to port through the morning's remaining haze, we identify <span style="font-style: italic;">Stripes</span>,<br /> one of 10 Great Lakes 70s, the ultralight-displacement granddaddies of<br /> the fleet. "Either we're doing something really right," says Gerry, "or<br /> they're doing something really wrong." </p><p> When <span style="font-style: italic;">Stripes</span><br /> disappears, and for several hours afterward, we are utterly alone on<br /> this crowded lake. A warm southerly builds all through the morning.<br /> Five knots, six knots, seven knots: Hour after hour under a full main<br /> and three-quarter-ounce spinnaker, our boat speed rises as we steadily<br /> knock off the miles toward Point Betsie, our first waypoint on the<br /> Michigan shoreline. </p><p> I share a watch with Keith, Susan, and<br /> Kari. Through the four-hour hitches, Keith keeps us belly-laughing with<br /> short quips and intricate tales whose taste spectrum runs from bawdy to<br /> positively uncouth. Six times he's won the San Juan 24 North American<br /> championship, yet he's quick to point out that he isn't a professional<br /> sailor. He drives an ore train for the Canadian National railroad, and<br /> in this yachting crowd, he readily touts his blue-collar credentials.<br /> Susan is a computer consultant who campaigns a J/22 and a San Juan 24;<br /> she was a 2000 finalist in the U.S. Women's Sailing Championship. We<br /> quickly come to appreciate her keen eye for anticipating the particular<br /> ways that hell is most likely to break loose. With a skill that looks<br /> like intuition, she keeps the cockpit clear, the lines ready to run,<br /> and her mates prepared for the next move.</p><p> By late afternoon,<br /> over the horizon and just off the bow, we catch a new suit of sails.<br /> When we finally draw near enough to see sail numbers, with our<br /> binoculars we find ourselves looking down the barrels of another pair<br /> of 7x50s aimed straight back at us. The boat is <span style="font-style: italic;">Ozymandias IV</span>,<br /> a North American 40 that won Section 6 in the 2003 Mac. It belongs to<br /> Kim Flagstad, whose company, Flagship Integration Services<br /> (<a href="http://www.flagshipis.com" title="www.flagshipis.com">www.flagshipis.com</a>), provided the transponders to 75 boats, which send<br /> hourly position reports to computer screens back home.</p><p> In<br /> fact, I spoke with Kim at some length before the race, and she's as<br /> boat-mad as anyone out here. She was 38 years old and running her own<br /> technology company the first time a friend took her out sailing. "I<br /> used to golf," she said, "but I always found I took my business with me<br /> on the golf course. Out here, you're in a different world and away from<br /> all that." She sailed her first Mac in 1997 as crew on <span style="font-style: italic;">Ozymandias IV</span>. It wasn't long after that when she bought the boat and put together her own winning crew.</p><p> The presence of the transponders, which transmit via ORBCOMM satellites<br /> and come with their own power supply, raises an interesting question<br /> about the tactical information each boat can fairly receive. Kim<br /> reckons 20 percent of the fleet has the technology on board to reach<br /> the Internet.</p><p> "The rules of sailing clearly state that no<br /> communication to a boat is permitted if it isn't generally available to<br /> all race participants," she said. "But the Internet is a ubiquitous<br /> data platform available to anyone who wants to make the effort to<br /> access it. Hence, it's legal."</p><p> For us aboard <span style="font-style: italic;">Guaranteed. Period.</span>,<br /> we don't know these particulars in the rules, which doesn't stop us<br /> from debating them. Upon closing with the Michigan shoreline and<br /> re-entering cellphone range, we choose to err on the conservative side<br /> and continue northward, oblivious to our own standing in the fleet.<br /> Meanwhile, the breeze all Sunday afternoon and evening is everything a<br /> sailor can wish for. My mates and I spend our sunset watch and Sunday's<br /> first dark hours savoring the simple beauty of pure boat speed. Later,<br /> we fall asleep to a new sound altogether: It's the Nine-Knot Hum, a<br /> harmonic in the steering system that's even lovelier than the midday<br /> Five-Knot Hum had been.</p><p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Never a Dull Moment</span><br /> Before a broach, there are signs: the wild yaw, the unusual heel, the<br /> raised and accelerated voices from the cockpit. During ours, on Monday<br /> morning, Kari and I are in the coffinlike aft cabin trying to sleep.<br /> For my part, old memories die hard, so I'm still wearing my inflatable<br /> life vest (the manual model; I don't want it to pop till I'm out of the<br /> boat.). By this time, we're dead downwind with 20 knots of breeze in<br /> the chute, and we're hearing cheers of "Thirteen!" from the guys<br /> watching the speedo. That being well over the boat's theoretical hull<br /> speed, and with our helmsman threading a needle downwind, aerobically<br /> working the helm to avoid a spinout or a jibe, the guys on deck have<br /> called everyone aft, even those of us sleeping below. By now, the lake<br /> around us is manifestly crowded, each boat racing inside the islands of<br /> northern Lake Michigan and setting up for the half-mile-wide channel<br /> through Gray's Reef.</p><p> At 0620, we hear "Mayday, Mayday! There's<br /> a catamaran capsized near Gray's Reef." Several boats divert to give<br /> aid, and within minutes reports indicate that all three crew have been<br /> recovered safely. Still, over the next four hours, boats that haven't<br /> heard the earlier reports call in sécurités and Maydays to report one<br /> or several capsized trimarans, giving the impression that the narrow<br /> passage through Gray's Reef will be littered with inverted multihulls.<br /> Afterward, we'd learn there was in fact just one incident: the Corsair<br /> 31 trimaran <span style="font-style: italic;">Emma</span>.</p><p> With so much going on and with the end of the passage so near, it's<br /> difficult to sleep. Instead, Kari and I tell each other stories. Hers<br /> are bittersweet. Before this trip, she'd done most of her sailing with<br /> a man named Doug, her husband of 25 years, whom she lost to cancer just<br /> over a year ago. He was an adventuresome guy, a professional diver, and<br /> the two of them had spent their years traveling all over the world<br /> together. On his gravestone she put four letters-"NADM"-for his<br /> favorite expression and the motto that governed their shared life:<br /> Never a dull moment.</p><p> "I can really feel him with me out here," she says. "He would have loved this."</p><p> As if on cue, the yawing and the unusual heeling and the shouting commence. Seconds later, the boat is on its ear.</p><p> It's a broach of the "disaster narrowly averted" variety. We don't<br /> jibe, thank Neptune (though, for a few hairy seconds, that seems the<br /> likeliest outcome.) And Susan saves our bacon not once but twice: in<br /> real time, as she dives from her midships settee and stops a full<br /> coffee pot and larger pot of chicken stew from adding their slippery<br /> contents to our already tossed salad of a cabin. More important than<br /> that, though: She'd planned for this event four hours earlier. Thanks<br /> to her, every line that's cast off on deck runs free the first time.</p><p> From this moment on and for the rest of the passage into Mackinac, all<br /> our drama is of the sustained and thrilling variety that besotted<br /> sailors live for.<br /> <br /> "Geez, it's blowing near 30 up here in<br /> the Straits," says Randy, as we and a half dozen other boats scream<br /> through Gray's Reef. "No wonder those boats ahead don't have their<br /> kites up."</p><p> We douse our chute just after 0900, round New<br /> Shoal, and steer east toward the center span of Mackinac's impressive<br /> suspension bridge under main and jib-a move the crew will come to<br /> regret. Near the bridge, the wind moderates and drops to lightish on<br /> the eastern side. We get another chute up, but probably too late.<br /> Before noon and just over 46 hours out of Chicago, we cross the finish<br /> line with Elizabeth Scheyder at the helm.</p><p> How did we do? Among<br /> my mates, the answer to that question is mixed. In fact, we took third<br /> in our section-but a tantalizing two minutes behind the second-place<br /> finisher. The boat that beat us for that spot was none other than the<br /> Sydney 38 <span style="font-style: italic;">Eagle</span>. Jan Promer's blessing-"I won't tell you 'Good luck.' But have fun!"-has landed spot on.</p><p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">That Familiar Feeling</span><br /> Walk the docks of Mackinac Island's inner harbor on a busy Tuesday in<br /> mid-July, and there among the rafted boats you'll find any number of<br /> the sailors who've just arrived from Chicago. Perhaps you'll meet some<br /> of the 200 members of the Island Goats Sailing Society. Or maybe you'll<br /> run into 96-year-old Karl Stein, veteran of 30 Macs, or 9-year-old<br /> Bruce Lye, who with his dad has just completed his first. Chances are<br /> good that you'll find the Duluth Mafia or the X-factors. Every one of<br /> these 3,000 sailors has reasons, private or public, for making this<br /> trip the hard way. Whatever those reasons are, they probably don't<br /> sound entirely different from what Elizabeth Scheyder wrote last March<br /> in the essay that brought her to the island.</p><p> "Something about<br /> the first twitters of spring this year, and the brighter sparkle of the<br /> river as I walk across the bridge to work each morning, has stirred<br /> that familiar feeling inside me. I smile to myself as my doodles reveal<br /> it-I must go sailing again!</p><p> "So my boss, my students, my<br /> friends-everyone will have to do without me occasionally this season,<br /> because I'm going to find a club nearby and get on the water again. My<br /> skills may be a little rusty, but I know they'll come back. I'll<br /> definitely be ready by July, sailing on again, for the thrill of the<br /> Mac!"</p><p> _________________________________</p><p> Tim Murphy is <span style="font-style: italic;">CW</span>'s<br /> executive editor. For more about the 2005 Chicago-Mac, including<br /> Elizabeth Scheyder's full essay, visit the Chicago Yacht Club website (<a href="http://www.chicagoyachtclub,org">www.chicagoyachtclub.org </a>).</p>
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