2017 Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race
History of the Race
Saving the Bernida
Bayview Yacht Race's 1st Winner, Bernida, Is To Be Restored in St. Ignace
Restoration Project Serves as Beginning of Straits Maritime History Program
By Ryan Schlehuber
The Mackinac Island Town Crier
It has been almost 80 years since the 32-foot sloop Bernida won the first Bayview Mackinac Yacht Race in 1925, a blustery 261-mile contest from Port Huron that left all but four of the 12 contenders crippled. Bernida (pronounced bear-Ny-dah), skippered by Russ Pouliot, crossed the finish at Mackinac Island in 49 hours, 50 minutes.
Now she is returning, first to St. Ignace for restoration, next to race the race again, but this time she will sail for the Mackinac Island Yacht Club. The celebrated sailboat was purchased in Frankfort earlier this month by Woodbluff resident Bart Huthwaite, who was to have it trucked to St. Ignace Tuesday, August 31, for restoration over the winter. He contributed $10,000 to the purchase and relocation and will donate the boat to the Mackinac Island Yacht Club's Great Turtle Foundation, which will raise the estimated $100,000 needed to get the boat race-ready. "The sole idea for this is to retain, protect, and reenact maritime history of the area," said Mr. Huthwaite. He said "he wants to compliment Mackinac State Historic Parks" upland history of the Straits with a maritime history.
Once Bernida is restored, it will be used as a promotional tool for preservation and education of Great Lakes maritime history, traveling by truck to schools and yacht clubs and other venues. This ship-out-of-water "will be a museum on wheels," Mr. Huthwaite said, a museum that will come to the people. Another plan is to offer sailing and maritime history programs to area students aboard the Bernida, which in the summers, will be at home in the water.
The project to save and restore Bernida was sparked when marina employee Toby Murray, whose family has strong and long Mackinac ties, read a newspaper article about the boat lying in disrepair in the Frankfort warehouse. He pondered the fate of the sloop for four years before he and Mr. Huthwaite arrived at the present plan for restoration. Bob Lucas, owner of the Smoke Stack Junque Shop, had kept the wood-hulled boat in his warehouse for more than 10 years, hoping to restore it but lacking the cash to do so. Messrs. Murray and Huthwaite convinced him to sell it for $7,500. Now, everyone is happy, including Bob Schafer, the chief executive of Mackinac Tall Ship Company, who has agreed to do the restoration. Mr. Schafer has been trying to convince officials in St. Ignace to let him construct a boat building facility at the old rail dock there so he can build a half-dozen two-masted schooners, some Mackinac boats, and create a nautical entertainment attraction and student education program.
Bernida, which over the years has had her hull decorated to celebrate the Michigan State University Spartans, complete with Sparty decals at the bow, was to be deposited at the rail dock Tuesday for all to see. This winter, master boat-builder Michael Kiefer of South Haven will lead a team of Mackinac Tall Ship Company shipwrights in her restoration. The Great Turtle Foundation, according to Mr. Huthwaite, wants to restore the boat to its original 1921 design and prepare it for the 81st annual Bayview Yacht Club race and the 2nd annual Mackinac Island-to-Manitoulin Island Yacht Race next summer. Bernida was designed by George Owens, a professor of naval architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as a sloop-rigged, R-Class boat. It was built at George Lawley and Son boat yard in Boston in 1921. Much of the boat's mahogany hull needs to be restored, said Mr. Huthwaite. He said the boat was in salt water for the first three years of its existence. New sails are needed, as well. The largest task, however, is implementing modern marine safety features to comply with federal and state marine regulations and Bayview Yacht Club racing regulations. Other than the new safety features, said Mr. Huthwaite, the boat will be restored to its original authentic detail. A Web site dedicated to the restoration of the Bernida is being created and artist John Manikoff of Mackinac Island will create a painting of the sailboat during its glory days.