Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Stormy, Windy Chicago Mackinac Race

J/111 NO SURPRISE wins class- Chicago Mackinac RaceJ/Crews Dominate Several Classes
(Chicago, IL)- The 108th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac had 121 boats race the Mackinac Cup Division and 121 boats race the Chicago-Mackinac Trophy Divisions in their annual 289nm race from the Chicago waterfront north to Mackinac Island.  The race was incredibly wet, wild, blustery, squally, with thousands of lighting bolts flickering across the sky (your basic garden variety quadruple vertical flash to horizontal pulsing flashes flickering across the skies looking like a “live” nervous system).  Some updated NOAA Weather Services warnings indicated threats of severe thunderstorms that had popped up over Wisconsin with damaging winds up to 60 knots.

The first line of thunderstorms hit the Racing Division after 1700 hrs Saturday, causing the fleet to go left of the rhumb line before scattering as the storm hit.  The second set of storms approached around 0100 hrs Sunday morning, carrying well past 0400 hrs.  While wet, they did not bring nearly the same winds as the previous front. Lynn Kotwicki aboard the J/120 HOT TICKET explained that she couldn’t keep track of the number of sail changes, while Jim Calto from the J/111 ROWDY reported a double-reefed main and surfing down the waves with soaked foul weather gear from the inside out. Then, at approximately 1450 hrs CDT on Sunday afternoon, it was reported to the United States Coast Guard a 48 footer was sinking inside the Manitou Passage after their rudder broke off. The crew deployed a life raft and all ten crew boarded safely. Several boats in the vicinity stopped to assist the crew, including the J/122 EVVAI skippered by Matt Songer from Marquette YC and the J/88 BLUE FLASH sailed by Scott & Sean Grealish from Portland, OR.

As has been the case in the past, the weather prognosticators were nowhere near what was actually happening on the water during the race.  The basic strategy was to work as far north as possible after the start, from Saturday evening into Sunday morning.  At that point, a micro-Low warm front would pass through with occasional showers, during the night, move on to the east and a southeast breeze would fill in behind it of 7-12 kts as it moved away.  The breeze would “backfill” from the west, stronger, as the front progressed eastward.  Then, during Sunday the breeze would progressively veer into the southwest, filling in strongest from the northwest side of the lake at 19-18 kts and progress southeast.  Later on Sunday, a cold front would pass through with intermittent showers and thunderstorms and behind the front the breezes would shift into the Northwest at 8-13 kts.

Because of the forecast, the strategy employed by many boats was negatively impacted by what actually happened on the water.  After the start, the fastest boats went straight north, none of them dove west to the IL/WI shoreline, nor farther to the east of rhumbline.  Around 1700 hrs, a micro-low developed quickly into a significant squall line that crossed the lake, forcing the fleet to rapidly dump their Code 0’s and other reaching sails to reefed mains and #4 jibs; the wind shifted from a 6-9 kts easterly of 90 to 120 deg to a NW gale of 25-35 kts for a brief period of time, shredding sails for a lot of boats!  Less than an hour later, the fleet was bobbing in leftover storm waves, seeking any wind to move along using light spinnakers and Code 0’s- with breezes filling in from the West, Southeast, and everything in between.  Ultimately, by 2100 hrs, the breeze stabilized into the southeast, but shifting and varying in intensity with every thunderstorm that swung across the fleet- fluctuating in direction from 170 to 215 deg.  As a result, the tacticians had to be vigilant, as the boats that did best kept gybing on the lifts to head faster up north.  Those who did not were getting passed quickly.

By Sunday morning, it was evident that boats who did best, stuck to the “go north” strategy at every opportunity they had.  The big issue for most of the fleet is that they all got “stuck” east of rhumbline during the night; the result of using the original “rhumbline” of 18 deg, not 0 deg based on the recommended pre-race strategy.  By afternoon Sunday, most of the fleet was experiencing a fast race with breezes from the 180 to 215 deg range.  For a period of several hours, winds in the Manitou Straits were ranging from 20 to 33 kts.  By the time the fleet arrived at the “gateway” to the Mackinac Straits, the 2nm Grey’s Reef turning point, the wind had diminished dramatically, fog set in, and the breeze swung into the westerly quadrant at 4-8 kts.  The weather conditions proved to be beneficial to the eighty-four J/Teams (1/3 of the fleet) that were sailing in the race.

Section 2 had two J/145s and for the second Mac Race in a row (Bayview then Chicago), the big fast reaching machines won their class, this time is was the Schanen family’s turn on their bright red boat- MAIN STREET from Port Washington YC- skipper was Bill Schanen, famous for publishing their large format sailing magazine- SAILING! Joining Bill as crew were Erin Schanen, Jean Schanen, Bill Schanen IV, Will Schanen V, Dan Branson, Mike Burt, Joseph Fillingham, Scott Fruechtl, Nick Hayes (the famous sailing writer from Milwaukee), Jamie Hummert, and Dale Peters. Chris Saxton’s VORTICES from the Detroit, MI area that had won class in the Bayview Mackinac Race narrowly missed the magic “double” for the two Mac races, instead settling for 4th in class.

Taking the silver in Section 3 was the J/130 WILLIE J (Bert Vanderweele from Macatawa Bay YC).  
Section 4 saw J/Crews take three of the top ten, with Robert McManus’s J/130 EDGE from Milwaukee YC finishing 3rd place, Randy Kuhn & James Richter’s J/44 CHEEP N DEEP II from Chicago Corinthian YC placing 4th and Bob Klairmont’s J/133 SCIROCCO 3 from Chicago YC in 10th place.

Section 5 was easily one of the most competitive divisions in the entire race, featuring well over several dozen class winners and at least a half-dozen overall Mac Race winners!  Taking J/Class honors was Rich & Lori Stearns & Ben Lumpkin’s brand new J/112E sport-cruiser, MARY GAIL from Chicago YC- Richie reported hitting 16.8 kts for a cruising boat while flying down the Manitou Straits! The J/112e MARY GAIL was 2nd in class.  Third place was Mitch Padnos’ family crew on the J/122 SUFFICIENT REASON from Macatawa Bay YC.  Then, fourth was Matt Songer’s J/122 EVVAI from Marquette YC.

After winning their section in the Bayview- Mackinac Race the previous weekend, it was a good bet the J/109 TOA sailed by a family crew from Chicago could be a repeat class winner in Section 7 Class with a good shot, again, at the overall honors in the Chicago-Mackinac Trophy Division.  After the storms and the fog cleared from the race course, there was no question the J/109 TOA crew was fast, smart and well-sailed!  The team of Bruce Danley & Jimmie Mitchell not only won class easily, but also took a third overall in the Chicago-Mac Trophy Division!  Their team consisted of Bruce’s son Clay, the brother’s Peter & Will Holz, Simon Minoprio and Rod Keenan from Auckland, New Zealand, and Jimmie’s brother Mike.  Second in Section 7 was another family crew on the J/35 BOZOS CIRCUS- the Metcalf family and friends- Jack, Chris, Bruce, Christopher Metcalf along with Earle Atwater, Bob Glennie, Ally Haramia, and Charles Nodus. Matt Beer’s J/33 RETRIEVER was 5th in class.

J/88 Blue Flash crew- Chicago-Mackinac RaceThe battle of the 30-footers in Section 8 was full of drama.  Perhaps the craziest scenario for any boat to entertain in this year’s Chicago-Mac Race was to see Scott & Sean Grealish’s BLUE FLASH from Willamette SC in Portland, Oregon (seen right on Mac Island beach) to stop sailing and lead assistance to a sinking boat while leading both class and the fleet overall on the leaderboard at 1500 hrs.  At that time, they had punched the “MOB button” to provide safety assistance to the sinking OD48 and stood by for over an hour until the US Coast Guard had cleared the crew.  At that point, they resumed racing, much to their detriment in the overall standings.  The simple reason was that the epic conditions that had produced the broach/sinking of the OD48 had diminished dramatically in that hour that BLUE FLASH stood by as a “good Samaritan”.  In other words, instead of planing away at a steady 10-15 kts in 20-32 kts winds, BLUE FLASH sailed away in just 15-20 kt winds and averaging 8-12 kts an hour later.  To make matters tougher for them, as the wind died into the evening hours, they got stuck up under the famous Hog Island “wind hole”, necessitating a near 80 deg gybe to rhumbline course to Grey’s Reef.  Prior to their “standing by”, BLUE FLASH was 6th boat-for-boat against the top J/111s and only 12nm behind the J/111 NO SURPRISE- winner of the J/111s and 7th overall!

J/29 sailing under Mackinac BridgeIn the end, the Grealish’s J/88 BLUE FLASH won their class and were closely followed by Ben Wilson’s RAMBLER from Chicago YC in second place.  Bruce Santerre’s J/92 SPLIT DECISION from Lake City YC finished 9th, Boyd & Janice Jarrell’s J/88 SLOT MACHINE was 12th and John Madey’s J/92 CYCLONE from Chicago Corinthian YC was 13th.

Perhaps the ultimate sleepers in this year’s Mac Race were the boats sailing in Section 10.  Given the right conditions, this section can often produce the overall Chicago-Mac Race winner.  Ironically, in this year’s event, it produced the top two boats overall- FLYING BUFFALO and PROVIDENCE!  Taking third in this class, unsurprisingly, was Scott & Kimberley Petritz’s very well-sailed J/29 TFWB RELENTLESS from Grand Traverse YC.

The fifteen boat J/111 one-design section saw an enormous battle between the top six boats going well into Sunday afternoon.  Leading for quite some time at dawn was Kevin Saedi & Raman Yousefi’s MOMENTUS.  They were battling with Dave Irish’s NO SURPRISE from Pt Betsie onward.  Dave Irish skippering J/111 No Surprise in Chicago-MacAbout two-thirds the way up the Manitou Straits to Grey’s Reef, NO SURPRISE gybed away on a shift to then gybe back and grab the lead with less than 5nm to go to Grey’s Reef Lighthouse.  From there into the finish off Mackinac Island, NO SURPRISE was undeterred and, remarkably, stretched a 300 yard lead at Grey’s Reef into a one hour, twenty minute elapsed time win!  As a result, they not only took the class win but also finished 7th overall.  Mounting a remarkable bid to chase down the leaders was the trio of George Miz, Peter Dreher & Mark Hatfield on IMPULSE.  Sitting about 10nm behind at dawn on Sunday, they managed to break free from a battle with Brad Faber’s UTAH, John Kalanik’s PURA VIDA and Rich Witzel’s ROWDY to take a 6nm chunk out of the top two boats between Pt Betsie and Grey’s Reef.  In the end, it was not enough to overhaul them, but IMPULSE did close the distance dramatically with the MOMENTUS crew, crossing the line just 3 minutes behind, to finish 2nd and 3rd, respectively.  Rounding out the top five was Faber’s UTAH in 4th and Kalanik’s PURA VIDA in 5th place.

Another good battle took place amongst the 8-boat J/120 class.  In the end, it was Mike & Bob Kirkman’s HOT TICKET taking class honors with Mike Fozo & Robin Kendrick’s PROOF in second, the trio on J-HAWKER (Dave Sandlin, Ken Brown, Ken Schram) in third, Ed Vermet & John Hughes’ NAUTI BOYS in 4th and John Harvey & Rick Titsworth’s SLEEPING TIGER in 5th position.

The J/109 Division saw the 11-boat fleet seesaw back and forth all the way up the lake.  As a result of the luck of the draw regarding who was east vs. west of rhumbline on Sunday morning, it was evident those reaching fast up the lake in the building SSE breeze were sailing much faster than those inshore.  Taking advantage of those conditions to win class was Doug Evans’ TIME OUT from Whitefish Bay, WI.  Second was Jim Murray’s CALLISTO, third was Dave Gustman’s NORTHSTAR, fourth Peter Priede’s FULL TILT, and fifth was Charlie Schroeder’s CHASE.

The Level 35s had spirited competition amongst the seven J/35s.  Winning class was a family affair aboard NOMATA!  Skipper Jack Amedio sailed with Kaitlin Amedio, four Leslie family members (Indigo, Mike, Ed, & Dan), Mory Matias, Roxanne McGinn and Mike Milsna. Taking second was another J/35, Dave Timmer’s HAT TRICK and 4th place was Steve Dorfman’s ON EDGE and 5th was a past Chicago-Mac winner, Larry Schell’s TOUCH OF GREY.

Winning the largest one-design class in this year’s Mac Race was Mark Gurney’s BUZZ in the J/105 Division.  With 21 boats, it was going to be a tough road to the finish line as so many teams have won so many events over the course of time.  So close was the racing that the first six boats all finished within a half hour of one another.  Behind BUZZ by just 7 minutes was Dave & Matt Pierce’s CAUGHT IN TRAFFIC, third was Carter Williams’ CREATIVE DESTRUCTION, 4th Sandy Curtiss’ ROCKING HORSE and 5th Ken Ganch’s GONZO.  For more Chicago to Mackinac Race sailing information