When it comes to sailboat races, there is no other in the U.S. that is more personality-packed than the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, which starts Saturday, July 18 (first class at 11:30).
To begin with, 250 teams are entered; that’s a number many race organizers would die to show on their rosters, yet it’s one that doesn’t surprise host Bayview Yacht Club as the event grows in popularity. Additionally, the teams get to sail either a 259 nm Cove Island Course (for faster, bigger boats) or a 204 nm Shore Course (for all others) over fresh water from lower Lake Huron to a finish on Michigan’s magical horse-and-carriage island of Mackinac.
The celebration at the end of the race, including a giant awards party at the Grand Hotel’s Woodfill Park on the Tuesday after the start, is only matched by a week of pre-race festivities in Port Huron, including Friday’s famous Boat Night, when the entries gather along the banks of the Black River for last-minute fun with fellow sailors. On the big day, the fleet parades to the start with thousands of spectators set up on shore to watch, just as if it were the Fourth of July and fireworks were next on the agenda.
“As a sailor, I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Race Director Peter Wenzler, who has 32 Bayview Mackinac races under his sailing belt. “The Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race is a major event for Port Huron and the region here. It coincides with the Bluewater Festival, and our boats in the race are the centerpiece of that week. Besides the bands and partying on both sides of the river the night before, when you leave on Saturday morning, you hear bagpipes playing at Port Huron Yacht Club, and on the opposite shore, groups of people are sitting there, holding up score cards like you would for a diving competition.
“Motoring out to the start, you tend to hug the Canadian shoreline, because the current is ripping under the Bluewater Bridge, and as you’re doing that, just 50 feet away on the shore are literally thousands of people who have come to see all the colors, the boats, the crews…hooting and hollering, waving you off to sea. Then, of course, there’s Mackinac Island at the other end; it’s just an idyllic place to be in the middle of summer: the harbor scene is awesome, there are no cars…. There’s a reason why sailors build their whole summer around this event.”
This is the 91st running of the annual competition, and 2015 counts as extra special, since it’s the Bayview Yacht Club’s 100th anniversary. That milestone has contributed, in part, to an unprecedented 38 first-timers having signed up.
“We heard about the 100th last year at the Chicago Mackinac Race,” said Bob Arzbaecher (Milwaukee, Wisc.), a veteran of that race, which is held on Lake Michigan and precedes the Bayview Mac in odd-numbered years and follows it in even-numbered ones. “We have a very active fleet of Beneteau First 40.7s on Lake Michigan, so we decided that since we had done the 100th of the Chicago Mac six or seven years ago, we should also support the 100th of its sister race.”
Five Beneteau First 40.7s from Lake Michigan, including Arzbaecher’s Sociable, will join two others plus an additional nine boats that are similarly rated in Class D (Cove Island Course). “On Sociable, we’re all homegrown sailors from Wisconsin. We’ve never really gotten to sail against the Michigan-based 40.7s, so we’re really excited about meeting those teams and doing that.”
Three Melges 24s are entered for the first time, but it is for a different reason: it is the first time they’ve been allowed to sail here. One might argue that at only 24 feet, these feisty sport boats are unsuitable for such a distance race as the Bayview Mac, and previously any boat shorter than 27 feet was indeed excluded. That has all changed for this year, however, and Greg Semack (St. Clair Shores), skipper of Vapour Trail, is especially fired up about competing in Class L (Shore Course), which has a total of 19 entrants.
“We’ve done a whole lot of conversion to comply to the safety rules,” said Semack. “The biggest thing was adding an external bilge pump system; we normally don’t have that or anything electrical like a radio, lights, etc. It has been six months of planning and prepping, but there’s not one of the Melges 24 teams that isn’t excited about it. This is something that’s going to be memorable through-and-through.”
Semack, whose five-person crew includes his 23-year-old daughter Ansley, said the end goal is to see the Melges 24s take 1, 2 and 3 for class finish positions. “The forecast looks like it could be pretty favorable for us as a whole,” said Semack. “If it’s medium wind speeds out of the southeast or southwest where we can run with spinnakers, we’re fast, and nobody in that class can compete. Our start time is 12:40, and we could be there by Sunday dinnertime…but one or two in the morning on Monday might be more realistic (laughs).” The bulk of the fleet customarily arrives on Monday during daylight hours.
With the Melges 24s being the shortest boats in the regatta, Doug and Dick DeVos’s (Macatawa, Mich.) 86’ Windquest is the largest, sailing in Class A with 15 others that include last year’s winner Natalie J, a TP 52 owned by Phil and Sharon O’Neil (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.); Peter and Christopher Thorton’s (Bay Harbor, Mich.) Il Mostro, a Volvo 70; and Bill Alcott’s (St. Claire Shores, Mich.) Equation.
Also looming large will be Rick Warner’s (Marine City, Mich.) ORMA 60 Arete in Class 00 for Multihulls. Along with the Mulithull class, there are a total of ten Racing classes, three Cruising classes and two Double-handed classes. Racing in their own classes for one-designs are J/120s (10 boats), Beneteau First 36.7s (13) and C&C 35s (14).
While approximately 82% of the fleet sailed the Shore Course last year, the fleet is more or less split down the middle this year, due to changes in policy that allow the bigger boats only to sail the Cove Island Course.
more info ……………bycmack.com
by Barby MacGowan, Media Pro Int’l