2005-07-30 / Top News

Mackinac to Manitoulin Caps The Racing Season

By Karen Gould

Racers from Port Huron camp out at the Mackinac Island Marina. The 225-foot U.S. Coast

Guard Cutter Hollyhock, based at Port Huron, followed racers to the Island.

Racers from Port Huron camp out at the Mackinac Island Marina. The 225-foot U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock, based at Port Huron, followed racers to the Island. Sails were hoisted signaling the beginning of the last of three area yacht races when the Mackinac to Manitoulin international island-to-island sailing competition left Mackinac Island Wednesday, July 27.

Special docking logistics and customs both played a part in this second annual fledgling regatta. The St. Ignace City Marina hosted some participants, since the Mackinac Island Marina was still booked with sailing vessels just completing the Bacardi Bayview Mackinac Race that ended Tuesday, July 26.

About half of the racers arrived from Canada and a U.S. Customs officer was on hand in St. Ignace to clear the arriving sailors. Sailors were not allowed to get off their boats until it had cleared customs.

Skippers took a ferry from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island on Tuesday for a pre-race meeting in preparation for Wednesday’s 10 a.m. start. Twenty-two boats were expected to race, and last minute entries were also accepted.

This international race began just east of Mackinac Island’s harbor and ends at Canada’s Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest freshwater island. The race, said David Rowe of the Mackinac Island Yacht Club, “is more taxing on skippers, navigators, and crew members than any of the other Great Lakes races.”

The 130-mile course requires precision navigation, cutting through water laced with rocks as large as a house, he said. Racers will be sailing the entire length of the North Channel, west to east, in less than 24 hours, and to add to the challenge, they will be sailing at night, he said.

Sailors need to stay in deep water to avoid the large boulders as only several areas are marked.

In this race,” said Mr. Rowe, “sailors have to follow charts very, very, closely.” Most people who cruise the North Channel take one to three weeks to complete the adventure, he explained.

While the Mackinac to Manitoulin regatta starting line is at Mackinac, two other July Great Lakes races had their finish lines at the Island. The 97th sailing of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, which ended Tuesday, July 19, had 291 boats completing the 333-mile course. The 81st Bacardi Bayview Mackinac Race began with 265 sailing vessels.

Clearly the baby of the three races in terms of size, distance, and longevity, the Mackinac to Manitoulin regatta is temporarily limited to a maximum of 30 boats because of capacity at Canada’s Little Current Bay yacht club. Little Current, the future intended finish line, is undergoing a waterfront development project with limited dockage, but the project is expected to be completed by next year, making it possible for the race to be opened to more boaters.

To accommodate the construction project, this year’s race has two legs. Crews left Mackinac Island and sailed overnight east through False DeTour Passage, entered the North Channel and ended in Little Current Thursday, July 28, where they cleared Canadian customs. The second leg began the next day and took them to the finish by sailing west through North Channel to Gore Bay Friday, July 29.

The race is sponsored by three yacht clubs, Mackinac Island, Bayview in Detroit, and Little Current in Ontario. Mr. Rowe noted that Little Current has a population of about 1,200 people and the town is so enthusiastic about the race, they have had banners made and hung on city lamp posts.

“This is a big event for them and their intent is to have more people come to their community,” he said.

Information on the race can be found at www.lcuc.ca/race.

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