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Chicago to Mackinac Race Preview
When the starting guns begin to fire at noon on Saturday, July 22, a fleet of 296 boats will get underway in the 93rd edition of this annual sprint up Lake Michigan. Among the swarm of sailboats that will be churning up the waters off the waterfront of the Windy City are three super-charged entries bent on rewriting the outright speed record for this 333-mile course. Though such a feat is not likely to be in the cards this year because of the moderate winds expected to grace the course, Larry Ellison's dark-hulled ILC maxi Sayonara, Bob McNeil's 75-foot Zephyrus, and Doug Baker's maxed-out sled Magnitude should make this a contest worth following.
The vagaries of the weather that usually settles in over Lake Michigan for this contest are well-documented, and long-time participants agree that it's really anyone's race once the gun goes off. Because of that factor, there are at least another 13 entries with the horsepower to come out ahead. Twelve of these will be racing against each other in the Great Lakes 70 Class; the last is Paul Sammann's 68-foot sled Blondie. For Dick Jennings, the owner and skipper of the Great Lakes 70 Pied Piper, the start on Saturday marks the 40th time he's competed in the Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac Island. When it comes to this event, he's an acknowledged authority. In 1987, his 68-footer set the existing course record25 hours, 50 minutes, and 44 seconds. That year Jennings and his crew, which included legendary sailmaker Lowell North, deconstructed a record that had stood for 76 years prior to their fortuitous charge up the lake. He's well aware that his record sits in jeopardy this year, but equally aware that there are more factors than horsepower at play. "It all depends on the weather," explains Jennings, "but the organizers are now allowing boats into the race that are much more powerful than Pied Piper was allowed to be back in '87. So if we get the right weather, there's the potential for probably half a dozen boats to set a new record."
The feeder race from Port Huronthe Millennium 600gave Mackinac race watchers a glimpse of what could happen in the Chicago race if the weather were to cooperate. Magnitude, making good use of her oversized kite and 35-foot spinnaker pole, charged down the lake from Mackinac Island and covered a distance of 286 nautical miles to Chicago in just 26 hours. Just over two hours behind her was Peter Thornton's Holua. Paul Snow, the navigator on board Pied Piper, called it a "wild race." He recalled the last 12 hours with "winds of 25 to 35 knots and 20-foot waves to surf down at 20 knots."
Despite the high-profile aspect of so many would-be record breakers, there's a lot more to the Chicago to Mackinac Race than just who crosses the finish line first. In fact the bulk of the fleetsome 234 PHRF and Open Division boatslikely won't see the Island until well after the leaders are tied up and their crews celebrating. There are also four one-design classes in the mix, which should see stiff competition among themselvesthe Farr 40, the J/35, the J/105, and the ubiquitous Tartan Ten, the latter with 24 entries. In the aggregate, this race is about experience. It's about finding a lane off the starting line and figuring out what initial strategy will pay. It's about hitting the shifts as you move up the enormous expanse of Lake Michigan and close on the Manitou Passage, and about navigating Grey's Reef and getting through the Straits of Mackinac. It's also about seamanship, weather, camaraderie, and history. So log on to SailNet, and have a look at the official website for the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac Island; there's a button for it on the homepage. You can follow 50 of the entries that are equipped with SASCO's tracking transponders, and SailNet will be posting reports from correspondents aboard four boats in the race: Bill Biewenga and Dobbs Davis on Zephyrus, Randy Draftz aboard the Tripp 47 Goblin.com, Dave Gerber aboard the Farr 40 Flash Gordon, and Susan Davidson on the J/35 Sociable. You'll find their reports at the event's official website (www.sailnet.com/chicagomackinac). Enjoy the show.