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  Topic Review (Newest First)
07-29-2007 01:05 PM
Valiente This was posted elsewhere on Sailnet last week.
07-29-2007 11:26 AM
Lake Michigan Claims Another

A forty footer sinks after lossing keel after Mac Race. Lesson learned don't go into a channel that is 6-9 feet deep with 6-8 foot waves. Opps!
See artical below. I have pictures but the site would not upload them? they are all 640x480 under 45k .jpg's ?

By: Holland C. Capper
Onekama, MI

When a mariner sails between two piers marking the entrance to a harbor he does not expect his life to be placed in jeopardy by an unmarked and uncharted shallow sand bar. But that is the very situation in the entrance to Portage Lake, Michigan and it caused the tragic sinking of the Sail Yacht "Barracuda" out of Chicago, IL.

Barracuda is (or rather, was) a 40-foot sail yacht owned by Steve Pelke, a member of Columbia Yacht Club in Chicago. Mr. Pelke has sailed most of his life and is an experienced yachtsman. He and his crew raced in the 99th running of the Chicago to Mackinac Race (the MAC). They were one of 305 boats in this year's race.

After the race Pelke and two of his MAC crewmembers, Mary Aspegren and Don Desimone, began to sail the boat back to Chicago. On Wednesday July 18 they sailed to Charlevoix and on Thursday, July 19 they headed for Frankfort, MI. The weather that day was cloudy with a stiff wind out of the northwest. If was a good day for making time going south and many MAC racers were doing so. As the day wore on the wind and waves increased to the extent that by 4 PM it was blowing 30 to 40 mph and the waves were building to 8 feet and occasionally more.

By the time Barracuda got near Frankfort they had come a long way, they were tired and wanted a safe place to spend the night. But Frankfort has a rule that forbids rafting (i.e., tying one boat alongside another) and they were turned away. Given the wind and weather conditions it is not known why Frankfort did not relax its no rafting rule and permit Barracuda to spend the night in a safe harbor.

Next, Barracuda tried to get into Arcadia, However, they touched bottom attempting to do so but were able to return to deeper water and thus keep going.

The next port was Portage Lake. There is no warning that the entrance between the two piers to Portage Lake has not been dredged for several years and is now only three or four feet on the edges and about six feet in the middle. Recent Charts show a depth of 12 feet across the entire entrance and there are no notices to mariners about the shallow condition that has existed for more than two years.

The crew of Barracuda was anxious to find a safe harbor before dark. It was now about 8:00 PM; they had sailed all day under difficult conditions and it was time to get off the Lake. They consulted their Cruising Guide and found no warning there. They called a local Inn Keeper and he told them to stick closer to the North pier and "they would be fine."

About two miles off the Portage Lake entrance Barracuda's main sail ripped and so the crew took the sail down and from then on they were under power alone. As Pelke approached the entrance the wind was around 35 knots from the northwest and the waves in the Lake were 6 to 8 feet and in the channel between the two piers, as high as 6 feet. (Some witnesses thought the waves in the channel were 8 feet). Barracuda grounded in the sand just inside the entrance and almost immediately was turned broadside to the wind and waves. A horrible pounding ensued which lasted nearly two hours as the boat and crew were lifted by the pounding waves and then dropped with crashing force to the bottom of the channel. Pelke attempted to motor his yacht to safety but no force on earth could move Barracuda from its grave in the shallow bottom.

Immediately after grounding a mayday emergency radio call was made to the Manistee Coast Guard. They sent four young men in their rubber rescue boat but given the dangerous condition in the channel there was little or nothing they could do.

Throughout their ordeal the crew of Barracuda was frightened to death. The wind and waves were so severe that they could not be rescued from their boat. If they had attempted to jump off into the water there was considerable danger that they would be smashed to death by the boat; their situation was horrible. Mary Aspegren called her children on her cell phone. After a brief introduction to their plight she said: "I do not know if I am going to make it. I love you. Get up here as soon as you can." They arrived at 3 A.M.

Meanwhile, rescue efforts by volunteers were launched. Jim Mrozinski, owner of Onekama Marine and his son-in-law, Ted Bromley risked their lives in a valiant effort to save Barracuda and her crew. Mr. Mrozinski had just come home from a meeting when a fellow Committee member pounded on this door and told him of the emergency in the channel. Mrozinski immediately drove out to the north point to determine first hand the situation. He then drove to Ted Bromley's house, gave him a quick briefing, and the two of them hurried to the Marina and set sail in their 26 foot tug for the entrance. Conditions on Portage Lake were relatively calm but the Channel entrance was a different matter. During their rescue efforts the Tug almost turned over three times and Bromley was nearly swept overboard two times. Ultimately they were able to pull Barracuda into deeper water, where the battered keel fell off enabling the three crew to be safely taken aboard the Coast Guard rubber boat without injury.

The Corps of Engineers and the United States' Congress have failed to provide adequate funding to dredge Portage Lake Channel and many other channels on Lake Michigan. All of these channels will become dangerously shallow if not dredged on at least an every other year basis. These unmarked shallow channels put innocent mariners at risk, and also Coast Guard personnel and equipment is at risk. Heroic volunteers are at risk And finally, the entire Manistee County community is suffering economic loss because the Channel between Lake Michigan and Portage Lake is not being dredged as required by law and is not safe for visiting yachtsmen or fishermen.

(This article was written by Holland C. Capper, MHS 1950. A retired Naval Officer and attorney, he is a 40 year sail yacht racing veteran. Capper has raced 39 Chicago to Mackinac races. He keeps his 33-foot boat in Portage Lake. His boat draws 6 feet. Getting in and out of the channel is a concern. Capper lives with his wife Bee at 9603 Herkelrath Rd. Onekama, MI 49675 phone 231 889 7212 e-mail: )
Jason McPeak
S/V Irish Rover
1981 Ericson 36RH
Racine, WI

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