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

A Mac Memory Of "A Foggy Finish"

The year was around 1950 and the yacht was "Copperhead" a 48 foot Phil Rhodes cutter owned by Charles G. Seyfang of the Toledo Yacht Club.

To appreciate this recollection one must remember that in this era there was no GPS or even an effective LORAN navigation system for yachts. Copperhead carried a surplus aircraft Bendix automatic radio direction finder which looked great with its "tear drop "antenna mounted on the doghouse roof and it even seemed to work at times, (especially in clear weather) and of course the usual dead reckoning tools ; compass, speedometer, charts and plotting tools; that were the hallmarks of dead reckoning navigation which was the standard of that time.

Sailing under the CCA (Cruising Club of America ) handicapping rule, Copperhead raced in Class A against such famous competition as "Escapade", "Red Head", "Revelry", "Orient", "Last Straw", and five or six of the famous Sparkman-Stevens designed New York 32's.

After the traditional noon start from Port Huron the race, while not particularly fast, turned into a Mackinac sailors dream. Late Sunday afternoon found us off Presque Isle hardening up for the beat to the finish. As darkness set in so did the fog. The air was very light and the fog became more dense by the hour. Navigating by compass and speedo we updated our D.R. plot every fifteen minutes. Sometime after midnight our plot showed us just north of the channel between Mackinac and Bois Blanc islands. Not knowing just where the channel was we elected to sail back and forth for fifteen minute stretches to hold our position and await better visibility. After several passes the fog bank, while staying heavy on the water, cleared above and over the top of the fog we saw a semi circular green halo which had to be the Mackinac light. Taking a bearing on the center of the halo gave us a course to steer to the finish line.

We dropped our soggy number 1 genoa, hoisted a dry and lighter number 2 in its place and started in.. Still unable to see the light structure or the island we burned several fusees hoping to be seen by the race committee on shore. The race committee heard our voices but were unable to see the yacht or the fusees. The committee shouted to us to keep talking and they would and did fire a finish cannon when they thought we had crossed the line. We continued on perhaps a hundred yards or so and still unable to see anything off the boat we dropped the sails and set the hook.

As the fog lifted, sometime after dawn, we found ourselves 150 or 200 yards off a stone pier. WHEW!!!! If you don't think that today's GPS and chart plotters aren't the greatest improvements of the present, I know of nine old timers who will argue with you.

Bob Bollin


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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