2006-07-15 / Top News

Port Huron Regatta Leads Off July Yacht Races

By Bernie Nguyen

This July will see hundreds of sailboats and yachts come into Mackinac Island Marina as participants of the three main Mackinac regattas sail into port at the finish of each race. The races begin on the weekend of July 15 with the Bacardi Bayview Race to Mackinac, and continues with the Mackinac to Manitoulin Race July 19 to July 21. The longest sailing event of the summer, the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, is scheduled for the weekend of July 22.

Between 250 and 300 boats are expected to participate in the Bacardi Bayview Race to Mackinac, said Bayview Race representative Angie Bournias. Boats will set sail from Port Huron on Saturday and, with favorable winds, will begin arriving at the Mackinac Island Marina on Sunday.

"We have a record number of entries in the cruising class and the shore course in general," said Lance Smotherman, the chairman of the Bacardi Bayview Race. Since the 204nautical-mile Shore Course, which takes boats northwest up the coast of Michigan to the Island, is usually the course taken by smaller boats, Mr. Smotherman explained that more everyday sailors will be participating in this year's race. Larger boats take the 253-nautical mile Southampton Course that takes racers northeast to Southampton, Ontario, before looping around to Mackinac Island.

"I think we're going to be bringing a more diverse group to the Island," he said.

The smaller boats registered by July 10 are 27 feet long, in both single and multi-hull designs. The largest in the fleet will be the 86-foot-long Windquest, which Mr. Smotherman said is one of the most technologically advanced boats in the world.

The Port Huron-to-Mackinac Island race has been run for 82 consecutive years, Mr. Smotherman said, making it a great racing tradition for sailors all around the country.

"Racing in the Great Lakes is an extraordinary experience," he said.

The upcoming Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac will celebrate its 98th running as the world's longest freshwater race. The regatta covers 333 miles in Lake Michigan to the Straits of Mackinac and poses special challenges to its participants, ranging from weather conditions to strategy and planning. It is expected to bring about 300 boats to Mackinac's harbor.

The CYC appoints a chairman every two years to oversee the Race to Mackinac. This year's chairman, who will retain the position for 2006 and 2007, is Bob Smith, who has been a member of the CYC Mackinac Committee for four years and created and published the Chicago Mackinac Safety Regulations to keep "the Mac" up to date with safety guidelines.

Mr. Smith said that while last year's race started out slow, he hopes that this race will be an exciting example of the best that racing has to offer. The weather presents a significant challenge for racers and different tactics are required to master each of the four components: the open part of the lake from Chicago to the Manitou Islands, through the Manitou Islands to Grays Reef, from Grays Reef to the Mackinac Bridge, and the finish that takes boats through the Straits to Mackinac Island. In addition, the length of the race guarantees that sailors will be on the water for at least two nights, adding another dimension to the difficulties of manning a boat with a crew and provisions.

"All sailors hope we have a safe but very fast race," he said, explaining that if the fastest boats start arriving by late Sunday and early Monday, they will have had perfect conditions the entire way.

He also hopes to increase audience interest and thereby encourage future participation. Plans for this year's race include video streaming on the Race to Mackinac web site.

This year's Chicago-to-Mackinac Yacht Race will also differ from past regattas in its technologically up-to-date tracking system. Kim Flagstad, a dedicated Mackinac racer who skippers her own boat, also owns Flagship Integration Services, which, in 2002, developed a transponder with GPS reception and two-way transmitting. The new device, updated for 2006, allows accurate tracking of boats positions and real-time access to race information, making it much easier for fans and captains to keep up with new developments.

David Rowe, who sits on the Mackinac Island Yacht Club's executive board as treasurer, said he expects about 25 boats to participate in the Mackinac-toManitoulin Race, which will be held July 19 and July 20, and that boats may still register. For the last two years, he added, about half of the fleet was from the U.S., while the other half were Canadian boats.

Concern over the State of Michigan's economy has led to anxiety over the races' usually steady economic impact on Mackinac's season.

Mr. Smotherman said he hopes that the yacht races will help to offset the effects of a weakened economy on Mackinac.

"We're going to bring 3,000 sailors up to the Island," he said. "We're going to eat and drink and have a lot of fun when we get there."

Mary McGuire-Slevin, director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, is looking forward to that.

"Everybody is really happy to see the boats," she said. "Without the yacht races, I don't think we'd be open all year."

"They're going to sail," Mr. Rowe said. "Yacht racers are pretty dedicated."

No obstacles are likely to keep boaters from racing, he added, especially since many sailors are so enthusiastic about the Mackinac series of races.

"Chicago is the pinnacle of the races," he said of the upcoming regattas. "It's a tradition of racing."

Mr. Smotherman agreed. "It is a passion that you have for doing this sport," he explained. "So if you're going to be a racer, and you're going to participate, you will participate no matter what."

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