Bayview Mackinac Race - The Sailor's Own Stories....
The Mackinac Race
by Mono D’Angelo
The Port Huron to Mackinac Yacht Race
As a veteran sailor for over 25 years, I have raced in many regattas around the world. Included among them has been the prestigious Port Huron to Mackinac Yacht Race. Long considered the premier-yacht-racing event on the Great Lakes, I have participated numerous times in this tradition filled regatta on boats ranging from 32 feet to 45 feet. The race itself generates emotions that range between sheer ecstasy to terrifying fear. One such race in 1986 stands out in my mind as the epitome of such emotional swings.
Aboard our 32 foot yacht, Chula, were seven men, all having had sailed this race in the past, so we felt our crew was ready to take on Lake Huron. We would live aboard Chula for 3 days, in very cramped quarters, so the proper blend of sailing skill and cooperative attitude was critical. Chula, a Peterson/Chance 32, was small as far as Mackinac boats go, but was solidly constructed and very seaworthy. The skipper was responsible for making sure everyone could endure the rigors of this event without losing control of their emotions or physical ability to go on, so everyone chosen was well experienced and known to him for their sailing abilities.
The race is a physical challenge as well as a mental one. You don’t sleep well, often times cannot eat well, and after 24 to 36 hours, you sometimes cannot tell whether you are sleeping or awake while lying in your bunk. You mind begins to play tricks on you and most veterans understand that but you still suffer the fatigue it brings. Rest is important and it is essential that everyone take the time to sleep and eat as often as possible.
The race began Saturday morning in warm, muggy conditions, with light winds and the chance of thunderstorms. The most challenging aspect of the Mackinac is the night sailing, and as we transitioned from daytime to nightfall, the spectacular sunset forewarned us of impending severe weather. After the last light of the sun had vanished, the night was as black as I had ever seen it. There were no stars or a moon to light the way as the squall lines headed for us. The thunder could be heard long before the telltale streaks of lightning could be seen rattling across the sky. The breeze suddenly dropped from 10 knots to zero, and we waited for the storm's arrival. Each man handles this moment his own way, but all experience some degree of anxiety and fear. The squall line could soon be heard roaring across the lake like a freight train, bearing down on us as 40 knots (about 50 mph), but Chula was ready. As the first wave of wind and rain hit us, the force of the wind rolled Chula over at about a 40-degree angle. The helmsman shouted out instructions, reminding everyone to “ keep one hand for the boat”, as he struggled to maintain a safe angle to the violent wind. The rain was accompanied by some hail and extremely fierce bolts of lightning, making this terrifying moment seem to last forever. The sheer spectacle of this natural event was incredible and as we fought to keep Chula under control, we were all humbled by the power of this natural force.
These storms, fortunately, only last about 20 to 30 minutes and after this one passed the weather forecast indicated we should not see any more such monsters in the middle of the night. We resumed racing Chula hard again, having survived this natural spectacle and sailed on towards the Cove Island Light, considered the halfway point of the race.
We rounded Cove Island Light about noon on Sunday, and the weather forecasts were correct. The weather was perfect for sailing this time of the year. As we headed west, 120 miles from the finish line, the wind shifted to the northeast, allowing us to fly our spinnaker, the biggest sail on the boat. The sun had warmed up the day and the breeze filled in and Chula was moving beautifully through the deep, royal blue waters of northern Lake Huron. As night again began to fall over the fleet, we knew it would be very different from the last.
As the final rays of the sun faded away before us, we could see stars for the first time, lots of stars. There were more stars than I had ever observed before during this race. As the night wore on, the number of stars seemed to grow beyond belief. They illuminated the lake surface, casting a bright, sparkling light over the rolling motion of the water. The visibility was almost like daylight conditions, with clear views to the horizon, enabling us to see many of the boats in the race. Half the crew had taken to their bunks for some much needed rest, while the rest of us watched in wonder at the natural beauty only found in the middle of this vast, fresh water ocean. As we sailed under almost perfect conditions, one of the crew would shout in amazement, as shooting stars became almost common place events every few minutes. But the best was yet to come.
On the eastern horizon, a red glow was observed growing in intensity. At 2:00 AM, it was much to soon for the sun to be coming up, and we quickly realized it to be the moon passing through the earth’s horizon. As it finally cleared, it became a fiery red sphere, hanging behind us like some kind of strange looking lantern. No one aboard had ever witnessed this natural phenomenon in the past, and by now the sleeping crew below had heard all the commotion and climbed up on deck, only to be stunned by the beauty of this rare event. As the moon continued to rise into the sky, the already brilliantly lit lake took on a surreal glow. The size of the moon, as it turned from red to it’s more natural grey/white tone, seemed to be enormous. The craters and features on it’s surface were clearly visible to the naked eye and it was difficult to remember we were still in a yacht race as the beauty of this natural event was a bit overwhelming.
As we approached time to change watch, the entire crew was now on deck. The boat was still sailing very fast, in almost perfect sea conditions, and our privileged view of such natural beauty was intoxicating. No one wanted to go to sleep and miss such a superb sailing experience. So we all stayed awake and laughed and sailed Chula through a night like no other any of us had ever experienced before. And as I sat there, awestruck by the majesty of the night sky, I could not help but think about how we fit into the scheme of life and how small the earth is in the concept of a never ending universe. It was quite humbling to realize what small specks we are on this endless cosmic tapestry and I wondered how many millions of people before me must have witnessed this breathtaking view since the beginning of time and shared the same thought.
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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