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North Sails LOFT NEWS

July 12, 2019

TWO GREAT RACES MEET ON MACKINAC ISLAND

Chicago-Mac and Bayview-Mac: What’s the difference?

The parties on Mackinac Island are fun for supporters and racers alike.

Every summer, there are two annual overnight races on the Great Lakes to Mackinac Island, and for the uninitiated they might tend to blend together. Both finish at the top of Michigan. They’re both in July, on back-to-back weekends; which race goes first alternates from one year to the next. And they both provide enough of a tactical challenge to keep sailors coming back, year after year.

One such veteran is Karl Kuspa. He’s sailed both races enough times to be an “Old Goat” (25 or more), so we asked him to compare the two. As a past commodore of Bayview Yacht Club, he’s careful to first express his own preference. “The Bell’s Beer Bayview to Mackinac Race is by far the superior of the two races,” he states firmly—tongue slightly in cheek. He also explains that whichever race starts on the second weekend each year sees a definite spike in entries, because Mackinac Island is halfway to the other city. “If you race from Bayview to Mackinac, you’re a little less than halfway through your delivery to Chicago. And vice versa.” 

Favorite part of a race to Mackinac Island

Karl says his favorite part of either race is going out to the starting line. “For the Chicago race, boats do a little parade in front of Navy Pier, in front of a crowd of a couple thousand people, with an announcer identifying the boats and whatnot.” Leaving from Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit, competitors first have to navigate up the St. Clair River to get to the start off Port Huron. It’s a slow trudge, against a three-knot current, “but the shoreline’s lined with people—they estimate three, four hundred thousand. It is really cool to see the enthusiasm, people who may have never even stepped on a sailboat, showing up to watch these boats make their way out to the starting line.”

Bayview Mac race start
After navigating up the St. Clair River, the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac fleet ties up in Port Huron to await the start.

Great Lake Sailing

A sailboat race start is a sailboat race start, Karl says, but once underway the two races are tactically different. “On the Chicago race, you tend to sail one of the two shorelines. When do you go inshore to get the better thermals, and how soon do you have to break away from the shoreline before the nighttime doldrums arrive?” The shoreline breezes may play a part in the Bayview race as well, but the longer Cove Island course “takes boats away from shore, so it becomes more about positioning for the prevailing weather.”

At 333 miles, Chicago is the longer of the two races—and there’s no shorter option for the smaller boats. For Bayview, the Shore Course is about 220 miles while the Cove Island Course is about forty miles longer. 

Both races offer plenty of tactical challenges, as well as a chance to test a boat’s legs.

Both races often have a “restart,” Karl explains. For Chicago, it’s usually at the Manitou Islands. “The shorelines get much closer together because the Manitous are pretty good-sized, and they affect the thermal breezes. A lot of times there’s a dead zone, so it recompacts the whole fleet back together. A lot of Chicago races are won and lost in the Manitous.”

The equivalent reset point on the Bayview race is the Cove Island turning mark, which requires a ninety-degree course change. “You could have a strong off-the-wind leg, and then turn the mark and have a long beat after that. A lot of boats that lead at Cove Island don’t lead at the finish, because they might be optimized for one point of sail but not do as well on the second half.”

race finish at Mackinac Island

Finish festivities on Mackinac Island

This year, Karl is not sailing either the Chicago-Mac or the Bell’s Beer Bayview-Mac; instead he’ll be on the dock to congratulate his wife when she finishes her 25th Bayview race—and then the couple plans to apply for Old Goat status together. (Nancy will be one of only a couple dozen women on that list.) But first, Karl is going to enjoy the pre-finish party. “They have activities on the island for significant others,” he says, “so I’m going to the big porch party at the Grand Hotel on Sunday, with all the wives and girlfriends. I’m looking forward to it!”

Parties on Mackinac Island after races

Images courtesy of Element Inc.