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

A Sailing Son's story

My father, Murray, and I both had our first Mackinac races together. It was 1971. I was 15 and he was 48. We both had precious little sailing experience, even less racing, and absolutely none offshore. We didn't go on someone else's boat, we did it on his, a brand new Redwing 30'. Don't let that 30' reference fool you. The boat had long overhangs and sailed more like a 26' or 27' than a 30'. I really don't think either of us had any clue about what we were in for.

Not at the time, but certainly since I have attained middle age, I have come to realize what an intrepid decision that was on the part of my father. It is so easy once you hit your forties to focus on the tasks at hand-raising your family, paying tuition, doing your job, staying healthy, saving for retirement-that it is all together too easy to not take up any new hobbies, much less hobbies that are difficult, complex, time consuming, and yes, maybe even a little dangerous.

We survived that first race and 26 more together. Neither of us will ever forget being the last boat around the Cove Island Buoy in 1972, the first year it was run after a 40 year hiatus. We had a stake boat back then, the Tamarack, a retired Coast Guard cutter owned by sailmaker John Chandler, and it picked up its anchor and left after we rounded just before a beautiful Monday evening sunset. Yes I said Monday evening. Just rounding the Cove.

We had to race the race 10 times before we won it, in 1980, then in an Ericson 37'. Our elation caused my Dad to do what so many sailors do when they smell a drop of success, and he went out and bought a new boat, the current Pendragon, a Contessa 43'. The next year brought the blow of 1981, and no one who raced that race will ever forget it. I never would have believed that waves could get so big and steep if I had not seen it with my own eyes. Just so none of the sailors would forget, Mother Nature gave us another dose in 1985. I am still not sure which was worse. I do know that the Northern Lights of 1981 almost made it worth. Truly spectacular.

In 1995, Dad and I would both do our "Old Goat" races together. What a privilege, doing 25 consecutive races with the man who dared take on the Mackinac Race at age 48. Countless memories, but still only one win.

We got around the Cove Island buoy well in first, but with the likes of Ricochet and Great Whisper, great friends and fierce competitors, not far behind. When the sun came up on Monday morning, we were close to Bois Blanc Island, maybe 10 to 12 miles from the finish, and probably 4 miles in front of the second boat. And the wind quit. I mean the water was like jello. And we sat. And we watched as 4 competitors sailed up from behind, hugged the shore of Bois Blanc, grabbed what little thermal there was, and beat us over the line. We corrected to 5th, and I was disconsolate.

Over dinner the next Thanksgiving, my dad asked if I wanted the boat. He was 73 and I think it was just getting a little difficult for him. After some reflection (keep in mind that I had been painting boat bottoms for 27 years at that point and I was getting a little tired too), I recalled that he had started Mackinac racing at age 48 and here I was at 40 years almost to the day.

I called my friend and a man who I had then done 24 consecutive Mackinac Races with, John Trost, and asked him if he would take half the boat. I had spent so much time sailing with him that I wanted to assure that he would be there in the future should I take up the mantle of ownership. He said yes.

So the 1996 race brought some firsts. My dad's first as a non-owner, and John and my first as owners. Other than the procedural quirk, nothing changed. Except that we won. I still remember John standing on the dock that year and telling Dad that he didn't know why he didn't win more often, because John had won every year he owned a boat.

And then my dad said, "I'm done". Standing right there on the dock, maybe 30 minutes after we finished. I asked, "What do you mean"? He said, "That's it. That was my last race." 48 plus 26 is 74. That's a hell of a Mackinac record.

I am sure we probably had some more discussion about it, but not a bit of me trying to talk him out of it. I understood. He is a resolute man, and just as he was bold in sailing that first race, he was going to be bold in getting out. And he was.

Just so you know, he is still around, and he still races. Only now he does it by following us on the websites, sitting on the lawn on Thursday nights, and generally being the biggest fan we could ever possibly have.

Greg Thomas


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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