Stories from Mackinac 2004
With nearly 600 boats entered in the Bacardi Bayview Mackinac Race and Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, we decided to call out for a few behind-the-scenes stories from this year's races. And to spice it up, we thought we'd make a contest out of it.
The stories below show the many sides of yacht racing. Some triumph, some heartache, some humor...all providing memories for life. Only a few could win, but we think they are all winners.
* From Tommy Meier, Chairman of the 2004 Bacardi Bayview Mackinac Race (edited to our 500 word contest limit): I have sailed 33 Bayview Mackinac races and 18 Chicago races, but this year I didn't sail either one. I decided not to because I wanted to see the whole race instead of just one boat's part of the race. As Chairman of the 2004 Bacardi Bayview Mackinac Race, I wanted to "take it all in."
One of the most wonderful thing happened on that Friday. I met a man I communicated with by email since last February. This man has never seen a sailboat in his life. He wanted to travel from Kentucky to see a sailboat and wondered if I would take the time to show him a boat before the race. This man has been deaf since birth and just wasn't sure what was going to happen. I knew he was coming with a "speaking" friend, so at least there would be someone to help him. Low and behold, here he was, right where we said we would meet.
I arranged to have him go for a water taxi ride up and down the Black River to see all the boats from a birds eye view. They went up against a Great Lakes 70 and he reached out and put his palm against the hull. The man had excitement in his heart and joy in his eyes. I'm sure he could "feel" what this sport of ours is all about. When they got back, I was told that he had the biggest smile on his face.
When my wife Tammy and I were out on the starting boat, I have to admit that I really missed not being "in" the race. I have never been on a starting boat; I was too busy sailing. I never have seen the finish line operations, scoring, check-in, and seeing the first boat arrive Mackinac Island. It takes nearly 200 people to not only run this race, but this "event" as well. I wanted to be part of all of it.
I missed being out on the water and listening to the same stories I have heard year after year. By the way...sailors are just like fisherman, the waves get bigger every year. I missed the racing part, but I gained so much more this year than I think in any other time I raced. I doubt I will ever get another chance to greet the skipper of Genuine Risk as he docked his boat. I won't get another chance to bring coffee to the finish line people at 3 in the morning. I won't get another chance to stand up on that stage and give out the prizes. My mission in running such an event was to give out the prizes. Just get to that point, because that is why we do it. My prize was already given to me, the greatest fresh water classic...the Bayview Mackinac Race.
Back to top
* From John Nedeau Jr., Windancer (Great Lakes 70 class): The 2004 Chi- Mac was special in two ways aboard Windancer. Owner, John Nedeau, was racing his 58th Chicago - Mackinaw. For the crew there's something special about participating with a "Goat" who has been doing Mac's longer than any of us have been on this planet. Remarkably, a class or section win in this classic has been elusive for John. The results were no different this year. But one thing is for sure - John will be back next year for #59.
A special moment occurred during the race when the crew paid final respects to recently deceased Lyman Nedeau. His ashes were spread off Beaver Island (his birthplace). For anyone who had the pleasure to know Lyman - you can only smile in his memory.
A longstanding delivery crewmember aboard many Windancer's - Lyman was known for an incredible affinity with the Great Lakes. He spent his childhood living on Beaver Island fishing for a living. At 16, he was shipwrecked while working on the freighter Salvor. An early fall gale claimed the Salvor between White Lake and Muskegon. Most who were aboard perished in the surf. Lyman and 2 other crew climbed the superstructure of the Salvor that extended above the surface. Waves pounded them for the better part of 2 days before he and one other were rescued by the Coast Guard. Regrettably, the third member of the trio died of exposure.
The experience left Lyman more passionate than ever about what was to be experienced while on the water. On the countless deliveries many of the Windancer crew shared with him - Lyman would stand watch from sun up until sun down and whatever watches he drew during the night. His storytelling is legendary - always laced with colorful expletives, but somehow honest in a way that was forever endearing. Suffice to say our lives are richer because of Lyman Nedeau.
Back to top
* From Joe Hummel, Spirit of Adventure (edited to our 500 word contest limit): This year marked my 6th Chicago-Mac, working the bow on a C&C 37. She’s not the fastest boat on the lake, but we sail hard and enjoy the company of good friends. We also enjoy a few creature comforts when racing the Mac, things like boots, cushions to sleep on, and hot food. One of our goals for this year’s Mac was to avoid the disaster of 1999, when someone forgot to fill the propane. The task of propane fulfillment fell to me.
Emails flew, precise directions were sent, and finally, a few days before race day, I grabbed the tank, drove it dutifully to the appointed hardware store, watched the gentleman fill the tank as he has filled 1000’s before, then returned to the boat where I lovingly reconnected the tank. I tested the stove, lighted all burners, lighted the stove, and convinced myself all was well. Hot food would be ours.
On race day we headed upwind into 3-4 foot swells, not the best conditions for our C&C. As the day progressed, the waves subsided, as did the wind. We settled in for a long fight, and cooked our first hot meal: chicken/veggie kebabs, fresh corn bread, and salad. After a long first night with little wind, we heated some quiches for breakfast, a specialty of the skipper’s wife. Darn tasty. Then came the skipper’s call for coffee. What a splendid idea I thought.
"Hey, the burner won’t light." A minor panic spread over me. "Is the tank open? Power on? Safety switch on?" Yes to all three. "Cycle the power and try again. How about a different burner?" Nothing. How could this be? I had filled the propane, I had tested the system, and it was working just minutes earlier. Was the quiche somehow to blame? Nothing would bring the propane system back to life. The tank felt full, and pressure still registered. The solenoid connections in the propane locker were checked and rechecked, the tank fitting was removed and reattached. My heart sank, and all eyes turned to me. I was doomed.
The abuse was relentless (all in good fun of course), jokes about the size of my "tank" and my lack of stamina when "cooking." Then came the calls for an appropriate nickname, which lead to hours of fun as we slogged our way up the course in the little wind we could find. While the frozen chili and lasagna thawed on deck, the crew settled upon "Doby," the Harry Potter character who can’t handle the simplest of tasks. It doesn’t help my case when I have to go up the rig to retrieve a blown spin halyard.
85 hours later, we reach the island, enjoy ourselves at the Pink Pony, and all is forgiven. The mystery of the propane tank? Turns out a bag of trash, thrown into the lazarette in front of the propane locker, dislodged a wire that disabled the system. The moral of the story? Let someone else fill the tank.
Back to top
* From Tracy Hixon, Rover (edited to our 500 word contest limit): Arghhhh!!… #*@%%5 IT! The skipper of T-10 Rover finally loses it. His hat was the recipient of a rare show of ultimate frustration as it whipped on to the deck. The crew was now silent as our tiny bit of momentum came to a leaden halt through the extremely light air spinnaker gibe.
Previously, we had patiently endured a parking lot off of Manistee for what seemed like hours, and then a creeping 1/2-mile journey over 4 hours into heavy dew. We lost our nearest T-10 competition as we skated into a cruel hole, we steeled our nerves through a long night of freighters highlighting the slow moving fleet on the rhumb line to Grays Reef, and woke up at dawn all alone. But this was the final straw, losing headway at the Grays Reef Light trying to make the turn into the passage (photo).
We had been racing almost 69 hours, and at the rate we were going before we parked, it looked like another 17 hours to go. Alas, the rum party was looking out of the question. As we were admiring the beautifully clear northern lake water, and the fascinating texture of the not so very far away rocky shoal bottom, we realized we were drifting away from our course mark rounding and towards the beckoning lighthouse with its attendant ominous horn and fetid cormorant aroma. “Uhhhh…let’s get an anchor out, guys.”
The prospect of a diverting activity galvanized the disheartened crew. We set anchor and looked around us as the few remaining boats ahead were slipping away, and the ones behind were nowhere to be seen. How odd to be so alone at this critical mark of the Chicago-Mac course! “Where is everyone?” With a big grin, our watch captain said, “Hell, I’m going swimming,” and in he went. Soon afterwards, the rest of us took turns enjoying a quick and bracing dip.
As the crew drip-dried in the cool, bright morning sun, we felt a whisper of breeze and quickly pulled anchor. After some experiments with headsail and spinnaker, we finally regained momentum with our good ole classic plastic 1979 T-10 “Rover.” This was the boat’s and half the crew’s first Chicago to Mac race, and we really wanted to finish!
Eventually our 5-hour adventure with the reef, the close passing freighters, and the ominous spectre of the lighthouse came to an end as we turned the corner towards the last long stretch before the bridge. We finally found some freshening breeze as a couple of our friends that got shut behind the great wind door of Mac 2004 motored by and cheered us on through the sloppy Huron waters. I almost had tears in my eyes from the friendly encouragement. We were going to finish!!
We never did make the rum party, but after learning of our 3rd place in T-10 section on Rover’s first trip to the island, after all the holes, anchoring, and close encounters with a lighthouse…celebrations were in order!
Back to top
* From John Beckstedt, Contumacious (edited to our 500 word contest limit): The former champion of her section in 2003, Contumacious, a Tartan 10 owned by a good friend of mine from Zurich was up for the repeat performance. In preparation for this and the Chicago-Mac, new North 3DL sails had been ordered.
It all starts with the inevitable return of the rental cars to Sarnia, Canada the morning of the Bayview Port Huron Mac Race with the trip across the Blue Water Bridge. Half the crew took two cars back. It was clear they wouldn’t return before we had to leave the Black River so half of us went in search of the other half to a port on the Canadian side. It gets interesting when the Marina has two names, is also on a river and the cab driver can’t help except to say where the water is or isn’t. Thank God for cell phones.
Our very anxious skipper had flown in from Zurich, with his impatience steadily growing. This climaxed when the perfectly rested and catered crew of the 86’ Windquest showed up, exited their vans in uniform, untied and left the dock. Our crew, now left by the cab driver, was fortunate to see another crew member we sent out as a spotter and came running to the boat as fast as they could across two blocks of empty boat yard.
All that rush got us out to the start where the wind was infrequent at best. In light air to no air our start was priceless, only to hear the dreaded two guns of postponement. The second start was not as good as the first but all things considered in a dying wind, the Mac had started.
As the wind built to a steady 20kts and a true beat, we tacked back to starboard from the unfavored port tack (out into the lake) and our lower shroud pulled out of the deck, blew the chain plate and tore a hole in the deck. Hey, it’s a Mac race. Again, thank you who ever invented Duck Tape. The crew took up the task of trying to jury rig the chain plate and about 40 minutes later and way off course we were back in the race.
A day later we hit Bois Blanc Island again in dying breezes, finishing 4th in section and 6th in fleet. We didn’t win but felt good that we had reclaimed almost three hours from the call in to finish just behind them. It was a beat all the way; persistence and my 6th Port Huron Mac down with the Chicago Mac next.
Back to top
* From John Beckstedt, WIZO (edited to our 500 word contest limit): Finally my 25th Chicago-Mac race, where at the end I would become an Island Goat. The forecast was for NE breezes to turn SE and then SW. Oh joy, another beat. Having just beat about 250 miles (in the ’04 Bayview-Mac), I was less than excited. Our yacht WIZO, a 39’ Erickson, was an early 70’s IOR design that doesn’t like to beat.
With obligatory side bets placed and boat call at 8:30am, all that was missing was hooking up the inverter. My electrical engineering buddy Steve, who has been my excellent mast man for years, just needing to connect two wires. But alas, no Steve. We absolutely needed to leave the dock at 10:30am to make our start. At 10:00am Steve calls to say his ride had failed him but he had another and would be there in 40 minutes. Tight, but no problem. By 10:45am, still no Steve.
Fortunately, we have Don, another Air Force trained electrician on board, but he blows the inverter fuse and kills the batteries. It’s 11:00am when one guy goes to NAPA to get a blast charger/starter. Now the boat is at least 15 minutes late for an organized start and two crew are missing. Things are going down hill fast. The NAPA crew and Steve arrive back almost together at 11:20am. The batteries aren’t salvageable without a long charge. Off to my boat partner’s car to get his wife’s car battery to start the engine. Why didn’t we think of that 40 min. earlier? It’s a Mac race.
It’s now 11:40am and our starting gun is 4 ½ miles away at 12:20pm. We didn’t know WIZO could do 6.8 knots in seas but she got us there. We hit the line with 11 minutes to spare, gears in idle, engine running to charge batteries we started. I couldn’t have asked for a better start. All that and WIZO was second across the line.
Since we couldn’t point with the fractional rigs, we covered about 17 of the other 26 boats to lead the left side until dark, turned on our running lights and tacked to port into the lake just south of Milwaukee. At dawn I tried battery to start the engine to recharge, but there was nothing. We were going to Mac without power. Thanks to the Mac committee and offshore rules for auxiliary running lights.
Fast forward, an oxymoron for sure this year, 85 hours later, four yachts had finished and WIZO sadly finished 8th out of 12 finishers with several correcting over WIZO at the end. Sadly, 54% of WIZO’s section sought to drop out. WIZO, finishing without power, had to sail to the dock at 1:00am Wednesday morning. I asked for a Master Mariner award for sailing into the dock without power and was told to “come to the race headquarters tent and pick up your award.” It was a used D-cell battery.
Whose up for a beat?
Back to top
* From Greg Freeman, Salsa: I'm the navigator on a J/130 named Salsa. Salsa is owned by Pete and Sue Stott. As you know, the boat to watch and watch for during this race was Genuine Risk. About two hours or so into the race, we're all sitting on the rail, beating North and looking at the fleet begin to spread out. Naturally the conversation turns to the big boats. Where are the GL70's going? Where's the tri - Earth Voyager, and where is Genuine Risk? At about this moment, we look astern and there she is, charging right at us at about twice our speed of seven knots. Coming on and she looks like the bow sprit is going to hit our backstay. Well of course they don't and they slip to leeward by about a half a boat length, one of ours, not one of theirs. As they power through our lee, Randall Pittman, who's sitting on the rail next to the helmsman hollers out, "Hey, that's my old boat!" (It's true, he owned Salsa before Pete Stott. Salsa was named Jalapeño at the time.) Pete, who's driving from the low side, hollers back, "Hey, that's my next boat!" Cracked up both crews. And, it was pretty much downhill for the rest of the race from there.
Back to top
* From Jeremy Burns: Once upon a time, we were sitting on the rail of our tall rig, shoal draft Catalina 30, heading up the Michigan shoreline, trying desperately to force the pig to make windward progress. Ten boatlengths forward, ½ a boatlength to weather… it was going to be a long night.
It was 10 pm, the first evening of the Port Huron – Mac ’04; and after a light and variable start the wind had filled in hard out of the north with no letup in sight. Seas quickly built down the length of the lake. Despite the unfavorable conditions (upwind and pointing are not in this tub’s vocabulary), we were managing to consistently hold over 6 knots of boatspeed, tacking our way up the lake on the lifts and headers.
It was one such header nearly 2 hours earlier that had forced us back out into the middle of the lake. As my shift came to an end near 11 pm, we finally picked up the expected veer and headed back in on starboard towards Harbor Beach. I went below and crashed on the windward bunk.
I was shaken awake at 2 am by the captain - time to relieve him and take my next shift. We had been running a ‘3 on / 3 off’ individual rotation with 6 guys, but the captain wasn’t tired yet so he went back above. Bleary-eyed, I stumbled on deck in the pounding waves and wind to join the other 3 and was met with some bright shining lights. Very bright, in fact.
“Where are we?” I asked, still disoriented. This couldn’t be a freighter.
“There it is – we made it all the way up to Harbor Beach on a big lift, moving fast!” said the new helm who had just taken over driving.
‘Hmm, that’s really close’ I thought.
As the last wave dropped out from under us, a shotgun blast rang out from below the waterline. Time stopped for an instant.
“TACK!” someone yelled as the helm went over hard, but everyone was already reacting, diving for the lines. I blew the jib sheet, we pivoted in our own length at full speed; I heard the winches grinding in behind me. Tense seconds passed… and the lights of Harbor Beach slowly rolled away.
Our now-thoroughly-awake navigator popped his head out of the companionway and simply said, “I told you guys to tack when we got to 20 feet of water. But, I guess that didn’t happen did it??”
The moral of the story? Four foot drafts don’t sail well in under 5’ of water on a rocky coastline with a sea running.
The chartplotter would later confirm our navigational oversight. We were too far south of the harbor entrance. Fortunately, we landed right on top of a big rock, without damage, and somehow managed to miss all the rest as we headed back for deep water.
In retrospect, it was one of the best executed tacks all race.
Back to top
* From Doug Rogers, Captain Blood: I hope my luck changes soon!!
Last Sunday myself and the crew of Captain Blood, our Schock 35 were preparing our boat for the mac. Anything not needed was taken off and I was going over all safety gear and making sure the crew understood how to use and find everything.
Well it was time to go over liferaft deployment. Just having the raft inspected I noticed the pull line to deploy was stuffed inside the bag and I could not tell which end was attached to the boat and which end was attached to the firing pin. I told the crew I would pull gently and if I felt ANY tension I would stop and try the other end. 50 - 50 chance. Well I felt no tension but I did hear a loud hiss and in less than 10 seconds we had a 10-man life raft fully deployed on the docks at the Chicago Yacht Club. It was so funny I could not be mad. The crew thought it was a beautiful raft and was impressed with all the oars, strobe lights and various items attached.
Well, ok, I will get it repacked and certified right. Not in this industry. Repack and certify a raft in one week. Oh NO!!! I have to rent a 10-man raft for $650.00 and then have mine repacked for $400-$500.
God, I hope my luck improves before the start of the mac. My crew is going to chain me to the helm and not allow me in front of the traveler. If I so much as look at the stove they will shoot me!!! The only thing my crew said was we are glad you did that and not one of us.
Word to the wise, if you plan on checking your raft, do it well before the event so you can have it serviced and not rent a floating piece of rubber that will cost you as much as a reasonable hotel room for 5 days.
Back to top
Click here for original contest rules.
Click here to send this to a friend.