Day 47: Yacht Races

DSC 1258 Day 47: Yacht Races
Photo by Mel Libby.
Lots and lots of yachts! The Chicago to Mackinac Yacht race is one of the most thrilling events in Michigan.  A couple thousand sailors from around the world all gather in Chicago with their sailing yachts to participate in the world’s oldest annual freshwater distance race.  Hundreds of sailboats set off on a journey from the Windy City all the way to Mackinac Island, Michigan. And once all the sailors arrive from their long journey on the water, Mackinac Island turns into a huge party.
DSC 1310 Day 47: Yacht Races
Photo by Mel Libby.
The first Chicago to Mackinac adventure was in 1898; it was an informal race and only included five boats. There was another race in 1904 but it wasn’t until after World War I that the race finally become yearly. 2011 marks the 103rd annual Chicago to Mackinac yacht race. Over the years multiple things have changed in the race. For example, a handicap system has developed in order for all of the boats to race against each other. Through a series of mathematical calculations, each boat is handicapped in order to determine how fast they are able to make the journey in various conditions. For example some boats are given a head start which allows the race to be fair. This year, the changes the Mackinac Committee focused on were hardware and the tracking website. This made it easier for racers to stay updated with the race.
DSC 1325 Day 47: Yacht Races
Photo by Mel Libby.

The trek from the start line in Chicago, just off the Navy Pier, to the finish line on Mackinac Island, passing Round Island lighthouse, is 333 miles. This year’s race included 355 sailboats and roughly around 3,500 crew members.  Based on their handicaps, each boat is placed into a group of about 8-30 similar boats, each starting at a specific time. Starting right off the Chicago light house, each sailboat goes under full sail to begin the over twenty hour journey to Mackinac. Each boat is required to use their sails only; if their motor is started it means automatic disqualification. This means that even at night the crew members are required to sail, having lights and instruments for safety and also working in shifts to allow sleeping and eating.

Because it is considered an amateur race, no prize money is awarded. Of each group a winner is determined and is given a plaque, flag to place on their boat, and bragging rights for next year’s race.  In addition this year’s presenting sponsor, the French Champagne, Veuve Clicquot, presented each group winner with etched bottles of champagne. However, the overall winner’s names are engraved into a trophy that is displayed at the Chicago Yacht Club. For final times and other information regarding the Chicago Yacht Club, click here.

DSC 1271 Day 47: Yacht Races
Photo by Mel Libby

The Chicago to Mackinac yacht race coincides with another yacht race on the Great Lakes. The Port Huron to Mackinac race begins two days after the Chicago race is over.  The Bayview Mackinac race also attracts sailors from across the world and will be celebrating its 87th annual race. This race begins in Port Huron, Michigan and ends on Mackinac Island. The Bayview race this year is sponsored by Michigan’s own Bell’s Brewery.  For more information regarding this race and events, click here.

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Although yacht racing embraces a fun, passionate atmosphere, in reality it is a very dangerous hobby. Most experienced sailors will agree  that safety is the most important aspect of sailing. Around midnight during the Chicago yacht race, a severe thunderstorm rolled across Lake Michigan, engulfing several participating sailboats in torrential rain, lightning, and over 60mph winds. This storm tragically took the lives of two very experienced sail boaters from the sailing vessel WingNuts. Our condolences go out to their family and friends.

A brief statement from Commodore Joseph S. Haas, “On the behalf of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, the Board of Directors and Flag Officers, we express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the crew of WingNuts. The crew of this boat exemplified the spirit of the Chicago Mac that is steeped in tradition of family, friends and passion for the water.” ~Mel Libby, Regional Director

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