Race to Mackinac

What makes this annual, 333- mile, freshwater race from Chicago to Mackinac, Island so exciting?

The world's longest annual freshwater race which will be presented by Lands' End Business Outfitters will take place once again on July 16, 2005.
This is the 97th running of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac but this year actually marks the 107th anniversary of the Race's founding in 1898. Several years passed between the first and second running of the race and in other years the event was suspended for a period following the United States' entry into World War I. Two other years also did not count toward the total number of Mackinac races, as the race did not end at Mackinac Island, but rather at Harbor Springs, Michigan.

To understand the allure of the Race to Mackinac, one could contemplate these things:

Is the outcome of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac always unpredictable?

Is it the biggest and sleekest boat that always wins?

Does it depend on the wind speed or the skill of the sailors?

Is it the choice of the food (nutrition) that helps keep the crew strong and alert?

What elements really dictate the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac Island Mich.?

We could start by asking an "Island Goat." You're probably wondering who or what is an Island Goat? This name and distinction is given only to those who have sailed in the Chicago to Mackinac Race 25 times or more. The formal name is the "Island Goat Sailing Society." The name was supposedly derived from the reference of sailors having been in a boat so long they smelled like a bunch of goats. However, don't let the title fool you, these brave souls have sailed and surpassed a milestone of 8,215 miles on Lake Michigan in roiling, calm, choppy, menacing water; whatever nature would throw at them, all for the passion and love of the sport.

The vagaries of the weather that usually settles in over Lake Michigan for this contest are well documented. In July 1925, 21 yachts started the race. Within the first 12 hours, six boats were blown back to Chicago. In 1937, sailors encountered winds with gusts up to 65 knots, which calculates to winds of about 75 miles per hour. In that race, only eight boats finished what 42 started. In 1970, called "the year of the big blow" a northerly wind gusted head on, into the noses of hardy, Mackinac competitor sails for 16 hours and then continued into the night with winds over 60 miles per hour. Out of the 167 yachts, over 50 percent of the boats took refuge in safe harbor, crippled with broken masts, ragged sails, and seasick crew.

One of the most challenging Mackinac races in history occurred in 1911. On Saturday afternoon, 11 boats holding 142 crewmembers set forth from Chicago to . Mackinac in an uneasy southeasterly breeze. Overnight, temperatures dropped to freezing, the breeze turned into a blow and soon became a gale. To add to the discomfort, nature threw in a rainstorm, soaking everything from stem to stem. As night fell, the gale escalated to hurricane force, with gusts peaking at 80 miles per hour. The wind, rain and waves played topsy-turvy with the yachts and the race of 1911ended with the loss of a legendary, mahogany hulled, sail boat, by the name of Vencedor. The huge waves thrashed the boat mercilessly and plunged it between two boulders on one of the many Great Lakes reefs. The crew was rescued without injury, but the battered Vencedor was reduced to fragments. Despite the terrible storm, good news prevailed and the invincible spirit and love of the competition helped all 142 men who sailed that regatta arrive safely ashore at Mackinac Island, surviving the worst summer storm ever recorded. This type of perseverance is part of the fascination of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.

Island Goat, John Beckstedt of Wilmette, Ill. said he had raced in the fastest Macs in 1987 and 2002 and one of the slowest in 1989. Beckstedt reported strong winds propelled the pace in the first two and then a virtually non-existent wind calmed the pace in the latter.

In fact, the Chicago to Mackinac competition is not always full of blustery drama. Just last year, the 333-mile regatta was clocked in as one of the slowest in history. In a competition that is famous for squalls, storms and winds that sometimes toss sailors overboard, last year's participants found it hard to fight off boredom when the breeze suddenly disappeared around midnight of the first day of the competition. The light, almost nonexistent, winds made for exhausting, intensive sailing as the race dragged on for four days for many with only 226 boats finishing and 96 withdrawing. Last year the first boat across, finished in a whopping 32 hours and 56 minutes, as compared to the record set in 2002 with a time of 23 hours and 30 minutes and 34 seconds that belongs to Roy Disney's boat, Pyewacket.

However, in the midst of all the inevitable excitement and grueling hours on Lake Michigan, one thing remains stable for all who participate; everyone must eat in order to remain strong and alert for those unpredictable moments. Conrad Rieckhoff, the official caterer to the Chicago to Mackinac race pre-prepares food and stores it in airtight, resealable packages to insure convenience and freshness. His company, Seafare by Calihan Catering, acknowledges that keeping food at the right temperature and from sloshing around is a huge concern. One might think there would be a limited menu considering the type of packaging restrictions, however, Seafare's Mac race menu includes pastries, fresh fruit, lobster bisque, grilled beef tenderloin, chili-glazed shrimp, even a chilled gazpacho that gets occasionally garnished with a splash of Mount Gay Rum. Mount Gay Rum has been a sponsor to the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac for 11years and has been cherished as a Chicago Yacht Club favorite. Considering the menu, the food alone just might well be another incentive to set sail to Mackinac!

One of the most significant changes in sailing has been the advancement of communications through technology. Once upon a time, a chart, compass, barometer, a hardy boat and sails were all you needed to steer a good yacht to its destination. Sailors in past Mackinac races used telegraphs as their main source of communication. Today, technology has helped improve the communication access for sailors and people tracking boats in the race. The Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac has endorsed FlagShip Integration Services Inc., Web technology experts, who are sponsors, as well as participants. FlagShip will be responsible for all transponders and race tracking during the 2005 competition. Their company has upgraded the communication systems for the Mackinac race and devised groundbreaking technology that sailors everywhere can utilize. For the Chicago Yacht Club race to Mackinac, FlagShip has created stand-alone internet kiosks where sailors can check their email,.print out the latest race information and find out the local weather patterns in Chicago and out across Lake Michigan. They have improved upon the previous Web tracking system by creating a much smaller transponder that operates on its own rechargeable, self-contained battery and contains a built in GPS. It also provides two-way communications and transmits signals twice as fast as last years model. FlagShip's innovative system will make it easier for the public to track the progress of Chicago to Mackinac racers on the internet.

"The Mac" as it is affectionately called, has been a prestigious Chicago Yacht Club tradition for over 100 years. The race has been around since 1898 and attracts competitors from all over the world. Sailing in "The Mac" is daring, competitive, fun and exciting. These are the elements that dictate the Chicago to Mackinac Race. It represents the spirit of adventure and the quest for challenge that lives in all of us!