Bayview Mackinac Race - The Sailor's Own Stories....

That Very First Mackinac Race
by Kathie O'Sullivan

Well, this year will be my twelfth Port Huron-Mackinac race. And although I still love doing the race every year, there has just never been that electrifying feeling of excitement that I experienced on my first race in 1993.

I had done a little sailing and some racing in the past, but I had just started racing regularly in May of 1993. I wanted to do the Mackinac so badly that year, but didn't think there was snowball's chance in you-know-what that anyone would allow me, with so little experience, to come along.

To my surprise and delight, Tom Podgorski, who owned the Tartan-10 Wild Thang at the time, invited me to come along about a week before the race. I was ecstatic!

Letting go the docklines was exhilarating. Waiting for the drawbridge in the Black River and hollering greetings and good luck's to people I knew on the boats around me made me feel like I was part of some rare and privileged group (which we are, in a way).

As we motored up the St. Clair River, I thought I was going to crawl out of my own skin with anticipation and excitement. Even though I had grown up boating on the Great Lakes since I was a baby, I had never been out of sight of land, and never been out overnight. I felt like I was going on a great camping trip to the moon!

That year turned out to be one of the fastest Mackinacs in the history of the race. We were doing the shore course. If I remember correctly, we popped the chute just before Harbor Beach. There was still some light in the sky as we were passing Harbor Beach. And I don't think we ever took the shoot down until about 10 miles before the finish line.

After the sun came up on Sunday morning, we found ourselves in some very eerie, patchy blowing fog with big following seas. We were surfing at some incredible speeds, while trying to keep Jack Otrompke in his Tartan-10 Demon Rum, whom we had passed in the night, from passing us again. I still have some really great pictures of those big seas and weird fog and Jack screaming up our transom.

And, to the amazement of the experienced racers onboard, we were also north of Rogers City Sunday morning. We ended up crossing the finish line at 10:30PM on Sunday night. I think there were only 8 or 10 other boats there already. People were walking around stunned. No one could believe that any of us could have finished this early.

That turned out to be a miracle for me. I had taken a big chance going on the race, because I had to be at work on Tuesday morning. One of my crewmates, Charlie Fishman, had chartered a six-seater plane to pick us up on the island, because he had to be in the office Tuesday morning, also. Firstly, I had worried about not finishing in time to make it work. Secondly, I had figured that even if we did finish in time, I was going to have to jump on a plane and leave and miss all the revelry. By finishing on Sunday night, I got to enjoy some of the camaraderie on the island, before flying out at 4:00PM Monday afternoon.

And the excitement didn't stop there. As we were getting ready to land at Pontiac-Oakland Airport, our pilot realized that our landing gear would not come down. It was just like in the movies - doing the fly-by of the control tower so they could confirm that our gear was NOT down. Then the pilot had to crank them down by hand with a handle located in the floor of the plane right next to my seat. And another fly-by to confirm they were down, but we don't know if they'll remain locked in place. So we landed with a full contingent of fire engines and ambulances screaming up the runway behind us!

No, I don't think I will ever experience that level of excitement again on a Mackinac race, but I have found a pretty good substitute for it. And that is having other first-timers on board. I get to relive the magic through them all over again. Life just doesn't get any better!

Kathie O'Sullivan


If you have any stories or anecdotes about your racing the Mackinac Race or even some old racing pictures that you would like to share with us, please send them to mac-history@intercreate.com.

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