|Coast Guard Always Ready|
102nd Chicago Mac Race
As a power boat journalist of many years, covering the 333-mile Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac in-person has always been tempting, but never easy. I participated as a crew member on two Mac races much earlier in my career; the last race was the most memorable, but yet one of the most disappointing, as we finished the race as the pickle boat. It was then that I decided to concentrate on the art of writing cruising stories.
However, sometime in late June, I started thinking about doing a Mac race story as an observer aboard the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) vessel that would trail the ﬂeet. With special permission from the USCG 9th District in Cleveland, Ohio, to obtain a story on the event, it was a done deal. I was given permission to ride aboard the Cutter Hollyhock for the three- to four-day trip to Mackinac.
Aboard the 225-foot USCG Cutter Hollyhock, I was to witness the start of the 102nd Chicago-to-Mackinac race and remain aboard the ship until the end of it. The Hollyhock, a relatively young ship of ﬁve years, had recently undergone an elaborate upgrade in many of its electrical and mechanical functions to prepare it for its multipurpose duties on the Great Lakes. It is a buoy tender and ice cutter equipped with a Caterpillar 8-cylinder engine that is able to deliver formidable 3,100 horsepower. Docking in tight corners is as easy as using a joystick, thanks to its Westinghouse 460 hp bow thruster and 550 hp stern thruster. It has a respectable speed of 16 knots and needs six ofﬁcers and 41 enlisted personnel for its operation.
“The Mac,” as the race is affectionately known to its fans, is the oldest and among the most prestigious freshwater sailing races. The 102nd race signed up 360 boats with 3,500 participating sailors. The entire ﬂeet is assigned to different sections, depending on the boats’ characteristics, and overall size or length overall (LOA). Starting at 11:30 a.m., Saturday, July 24, from the smallest to the largest boats, 16 different sections crossed the starting line.
Then ﬁnally came the Turbo section with nine of the largest boats in the entire ﬂeet. The last section in the ﬂeet darted across the starting line like it was a mad Indie 500 participant. Steady and stiff 18-knot winds pointed directly north, assuringly blowing in answer to racers’ prayers. Nothing better could be hoped for than ideal racing conditions, releasing the spinnaker and letting the wind propel the vessel.
The winds remained steady from the south until midnight with nothing unusual reported. Then a change in wind direction during the morning hours resulted in a near 180-degree shift to the northwest. The wind speed remained at 13 knots throughout the morning hours. Evidently the winds were still workable, except for those boats that were too close to the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. Tacking can prove necessary, even as it adds hours to the precious elapsed time.
There were three competing boats in the Turbo section that caught my eye: the Beau Geste, an 80-foot boat from Hong Kong; the 85.5-foot Windquest; and the 70-foot Runaway. Earlier in the day, I had tracked their progress using a global positioning system aboard the ship. The information was also accessible to friends, families and anyone else on shore that was following the race as it unfolded. The Beau Geste was slightly ahead of the Windquest and the Runaway. With prevailing winds remaining steady, a swift calculation informed me that one of those boats should reach the Mackinac Island ﬁnish line by 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. on Sunday night.
On Sunday, an unexpected situation presented itself. One of the many sensors onboard the Hollyhock sent out an alarm indicating that it detected considerable oil leaking from the four propeller blade seals surrounding the driving shaft. The rate of the oil loss, coupled with the amount of oil available, necessitated aborting the trip to Mackinac Island, thus forcing us to pull into the nearest port, Ludington, Mich.
And so I had to abandon my intention of covering the race from start to ﬁnish, and deal with the change in plans as the ship docked in Ludington.
From then on, I followed the race in much the same fashion as others on shore, by checking the Chicago Yacht Club’s web site for updates.