A large crane hoisted Thomas Hodyna high into air over the Saginaw River.
Hodyna, an employee at Skipper Bud’s, 1809 S. Water St. in Bay City, was ascending to the top of the mast of the sailboat “Falcon.” In his hand, he held a wind vane, an instrument for showing the direction of the wind that sits atop the mast of a sailboat.
Gale Muehlfeld of Muehlfeld Builders Sign Service operated the crane, a job he said he does every spring and fall at Skipper Bud’s.
With the wind vane in place, Hodyna and fellow Skipper Bud’s employee Tony Martin moved onto the next boat, raising masts and helping prepare the vessels for the opening of another racing season on Saginaw Bay.
That season begins Wednesday, May 20, said Bill Coberly, 71, of Beaver Township, who has been racing on the bay for more than two decades.
Coberly said the Wednesday night races are hosted by the Bay City Yacht Club and continue through mid-September. He explained there are two sets of races — the Jib and Main Series for larger sailboats and the Lightning Class for 19-foot sailboats.
“The Lightning Class generally will have anywhere from seven to 10 boats,” Coberly said. “For the Jib and Main Series, they’ll run as high as 35 boats, but generally around 25 take part. It varies based on who’s available.”
Coberly said although the races are run out of the Bay City Yacht Club, they are open to anyone, not just yacht club members.
“There are boats that come from all over the Bay City area — Bay City Yacht Club, Saginaw Bay Yacht Club and many of the other local marinas,” he said.
Jim Ferency, who has been racing for 41 years, was also at Skipper Bud’s on Tuesday preparing his sailboat for Wednesday’s race. He said Saginaw Bay offers quality racing.
“This is a great spot to sail and we’ve got a pretty good sailing community,” Ferency said. “Big open water and you could go as far as you want.”
Actually, the races involve a set of three buoys that mark a 3.5-mile course. The direction of the race is determined by wind conditions. Boats leave the dock at the Bay City Yacht Club around 6 p.m. and racing generally begins around 7:20 p.m.
Coberly explained that a handicapping system is used in the Jib and Main Series to compensate for the different sizes of boats that participate. The boats in the Lightning Class typically are all 19 feet long and thus, no handicapping system is used.
Ferency said sailing, for him, is less about winning and more about getting outside and on the water.
“Sailing is about nature,” he said. “The thing I like about sailing the most is that every time you go out and sail it’s never the same.”
He said there’s no feeling in the world like having the wind in your sails.
“No motor, it’s the water and the wind, the halyards banging on the mast,” Ferency said. “It’s just awesome.”