Bayview Mackinac Race - The Sailor's Own Stories....
The Twisted Tail of the Savage Winged Lizard
by Mike Cazabon, "Pterodactyl" - 2003 PHRF B Champions
It started six years ago when, having been stood up by the boat I had campaigned for nearly a decade (it was in pieces), I placed an urgent ad on the BYC website. It started off: "Let me help you win the Mac Race…". After our sixth place finish, I told Mark and his then-partners that they had just purchased a rocket ship!
Fast-forwarding to last year, when I "Goated" (my 25th attempt to win this $%^&*#@ race), Beth Pasikowsky insisted that I come back at least one more time. I informed her that I had promised my wife, Catherine, some 20 years ago, that upon becoming an Old Goat, I would no longer do this race and we would take, in her words, "a real vacation". Thus, I connected Beth with Catherine and proceeded rapidly to the other side of the party grounds on Mackinac Island. This action was taken out of fear that the forthcoming explosion would injure me. Much to my surprise (and Catherine's), Beth agreed to fly us up and provide bed and breakfast lodging on the island - this was Catherine's "price" for my return.
During the winter, Mark Symonds' new partner, Mike Leslie, (joined by the Thee Rev) went nuts with a saws-all and relocated the engine. Other upgrades included new hardware, new deck coating and tons of other improvements. Mike is amazing.
Mark & Mike also purchased a sorely needed AP1 Genoa. Pterodactyl was sprouting her wings.
As you read the following, keep in mind that, for the first time in my experience, each watch left the boat exactly where the next watch expected it to be. Each watch left the other one set up to succeed. The teamwork and camaraderie on this race was second to none of my 26 Port Huron-Macs or 15 odd Chicago-Macs. We were a well-oiled racing team.
Lady Catherine and I arrived in Detroit Friday. Due to a gross miscommunication, there was no one to pick us up. Our most excellent friend, Nancee Armstrong, drove from Port Huron to Metro Airport to fetch us. Wading through the aftermath of a fatality accident on I-94, we arrived in Port Huron some 4 hours later. After staying at Nancee's house that night, we arrived at the boat Saturday morning. I joined Mark and Woody at the skipper's meeting where we were briefed on the winds and water temperatures.
Due to the unusually late spring, there were parts of Lake Huron that were still only 40oF! We were told that the winds would simply not go there as it was too cold. So we all agreed to stay away from those regions. The weatherman clearly stated the winds would be out of the west for the start, clocking to the southwest, south, back to the southwest, and finally winding around to the east and northeast on Sunday and Monday. Like fools, we believed him. We all agreed to stay west of rhumb early, going as fast as possible in the north direction, then jibe to the NGS mark. The reason for going hard north was to separate from a high-pressure center passing to our south.
Upon reaching the starting area, we found the winds to be out of the east! Now, most folks would have changed their plans. However, Woody, Mark and me as well as the rest of the crew, all agreed to stick with the original plan as much as possible, changing it slightly as needed on the fly. This may have been the first time I have been on a boat where all people involved in the brain trust, as well as the other owner and the remainder of the crew, agreed with something. This was scary.
We picked the leeward (western) end of the line and I set Thee Rev up (he was driving) to start a little late, but at full speed. Most of the fleet was fighting for clear air at the windward end. Our end was populated by a J-44 (Sagitta), an Olson 40 (Screaming O) and a couple other boats. We quickly pushed to leeward of them, sailing through their lees. I was now driving and proceeded to come up on Sagitta, now carrying an asymmetric spinnaker. Much to everyone's surprise, we passed them, crossed their bow and sucked their spinnaker inside out. Hehehe! That was fun!
The wind started backing from the east to the southeast, so we popped our spinnaker a short while later. We headed north, which took us west of the northeast rhumb line. Things were looking good. The wind continued to wind through to the south as the watch wore on (see table 1). Around this time, the Turbo Sleds & GL 70's passed us. These behemoths ranged from 68-77 feet long and go like bats out of hell. But for some, this was only the first time they passed us.
Now, before I continue, there is something you should know. The Pterodactyl is possessed. By what, I don't know, but whatever it is, it likes me. This is why Beth was so insistent that I return. I enter some strange symbiotic relationship with the boat. It tells me things. Sounds weird? You bet. But ask people that have driven her. They know. For instance, I went down at 1800 and fell into a deep sleep. I was snoring (so complained my watch-mates). Then, at 2000 or so, I awoke with a start and stuck my head up. I could see shore. Woody and I had a brief discussion where I proposed a jibe. He agreed as the wind was getting fluky. Just after we did, the wind jumped about 10 degrees to the west and continued to move throughout the evening. Why did I wake up? The boat called. Spooky, but it works for me.
As it turns out, the Turbo Sleds and GL 70's continued into shore too far. They hit light air and struggled to come out. They sailed past us again! We had passed these rockets! Some, not believing their experience, went back for more punishment, and we passed them a third time! This unbelievable event underscored the importance of staying way out in the lake. Sure, we ate up a lot of miles, but they were much faster miles.
We took over from the other watch and continued on port jibe with winds increasing to 15 knots, gradually coming parallel to the rhumb line. As the wind increased, we really began to move fast. With all the work Mike Leslie, The Rev, and Mark Symonds did this winter, moving the engine and adding a sail-drive, the boat made new sounds. As I nailed a wave and got a sustained 9.8-knot surf, I started looking around for lightning as a low rumble shook the boat. No lightning. It was the roar of the Pterodactyl! When John Skiles relieved me, he heard the noise on his first 9.5+ knot surf. He asked me if there was a storm coming. "No, its just the boat roaring". Skiles and I started laughing our butts off! Around 0100 Sunday morning, Skiles & I began debating the merits of a jibe. The wind was hinting that it was about to back again. Eventually we agreed to wait for watch change at 0200.
As Woody & company took over, we banged a jibe, initially heading quite high of the mark. As the wind backed, it increased to around 20-24 knots. We were rapidly approaching the NGS mark. The boat was set for a jibe as we neared. All hands were on deck for the rounding. Then suddenly, the boat was screaming at me for a Number 2 genoa. We debated the issue and, with less than ½ mile to the mark (we were doing around 10-10.8 knots at the time), the wind quickly clocked to the southwest. Mike Leslie & company did an amazing job getting the Number 2 on deck, hooked up and raised.
We were screaming into the mark with several other boats in the dark of night. Mike, et. al., dropped the kite, we jibed and took off like a raped ape. We took it very wide, then came up tight around it, rounding first in our class, boat for boat. The boat ahead, the very well sailed Epic, came way up, closing the door on us. Thee Rev took us low and fast through their lee. The boat behind, a Mull 55 named Dolphin, went low of us. Then the magic happened. The Rev, realizing Dolphin owes us 30 seconds per mile (meaning it was faster than we were by 30 seconds each mile), maneuvered us into their quarter wake. By doing so, we drafted on them, much like NASCAR drivers do with the leader. We shot away from our competition at speeds in excess of 9 knots!.
Another boat rounding minutes behind us was Sagitta. The J-44 should lay down that water line and really hum on a jib reach. This was her strong suit. But the tow from Dolphin just opened the distance between us. Soon Sagitta was several miles behind as well as the other top four boats.
Eventually, the wind backed enough for the Red Watch to hoist the Number 1 genoa. When we took over at 0600, we were still within reach of Dolphin and well ahead of Sagitta. A couple of Class A boats were barely visible ahead. As we were steaming along in 24 knots of breeze, doing 9+ knots, I saw the Class A boat "Undaunted" stand up and luff sails. What the hell was going on? Just as I was calling for binoculars, Dolphin throws it in "Park". Rats. We started to head up (pointing more southerly), but it was too late. From Sagitta's position, they adjusted in time and skirted this sudden hole to the south. The wind had gone from 24 knots to 4 knots in 150 feet! Sagitta pulled abeam just as the wind came back up to around 15 knots. Weird. By 1000, we were glad to hand the boat over to the Red Watch. They chided us about letting Sagitta gain all that ground. Oh well. During their watch they changed from Number 1 to spinnaker several times, occasionally changing spinnakers, hitting dead spots and using the staysail to search for wind, only to find it moments later. By 1400, they were beat!
We took over with the 0.6 oz. (lightweight) spinnaker up. Thunderstorms were around us. We decided to head a bit north to skirt the storm. The wind began to build. By 1600, we were flying at 11 knots with no waves to surf on! The low frequency roar was incredibly loud! The wind increased to 30 knots! I was having some real fun driving the Lizard in this stuff!
As we were screaming along (literally), Mark said "Caz, I hate to burst your bubble, but we need to change spinnakers". This statement probably came as yet another panel in the staysail exploded into threads. Fortunately, we had the old 0.6-oz spinnaker up. So, I say to Mark "This spinnaker was old when you bought the boat 6 years ago. Let God take it down!" And so we went on to set the race speed record for the boat. As the Red Watch woke up, Woody looked at the GPS and reported our estimated time of arrival at Mackinac Island was 10 p.m. tonight! Had the wind held, we would have broken the course record for PHRF B by 7 hours! Well, this didn't happen. Indeed, almost as soon as Woody said it, the curse was on. The wind began to fade, just in time to hand off the boat to Red Watch.
Dinner was served around 2100, so we woke early. There was still no wind. Woody reported they had a little here and there, but at this point, there was nothing. Sagitta was still with us as well as Dolphin and Undaunted. Leslie hooked up the laptop to the sound system and we all gathered in the cockpit to watch "SuperTroopers". Kinda cool watching a movie during a race. Needless to say, this didn't last long. About 4 scenes into the movie, the wind started to pick up as we bid good night to Red Watch.
All night long, Skiles, Symonds, Dr. Beaker, Tack and I worked the boat hard. I cannot recall how many sail changes tacks and jibes we made, but it was mind-boggling. Around 0130, the Northern Lights put on a mild display and Skiles got his wish - a shooting star & the aurora borealis! He was a happy camper!
In anticipation of a north or northeast breeze, we wandered ever further north of the rhumb line. At 0200, we handed off to Red Watch and they were thrilled we were in this spot. Soon, the wind filled in from the north and slowly clocked and built to the northeast. By 0600, we were rocking along with the spinnaker up. The wind continued to clock. We jibed and headed back toward rhumb. Then it backed again and we banged another jibe (point 7).
As the sun came up, we could no longer see Sagitta. This was not a good thing. Dolphin, Undaunted and Margaret Rintoul (GL50 boats) were with us, so we felt that we weren't sucking too bad. By 0800, Mackinac Island was in sight. I called for all hands on deck as we roared into the Straights of Mackinac under spinnaker and what remained of our staysail. We heard Majic call in. The clock was started. They owed us 1 hour and 24 minutes. We were 3.6 miles out and flying at 8+ knots. Skiles was finding wind to the north. So we jibed to starboard for a while. As the angle to the line became sweet, we jibed back to port. Moments later, the blessed sound of the finishing gun came. We had beaten Majic by an hour on corrected time!
Since we heard no one else radio in their finish, Woody opened up the ancient bottle of champagne and sprayed everyone. We made fast the sails and headed in to the front row of Mackinac Island harbor docks! But the joyous celebration screeched to a halt as we came in to find Sagitta tied up and clean! When did she finish? Did she save her time on us??? Quickly, Mark ran over to find out. She had finished only 32 minutes ahead of us. We beat her on corrected time by over a half hour! The next hurdle was boats we gave time to. The worst case in the fleet was 39 minutes. The time expired. Surprise called in & we had her beat. Then it sank in.
Soon, the tired minds were clouded with an ethanol haze. We partied like no tomorrow.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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