Chicago to Mackinac Race 2013

Chicago to Mackinac Race 2013

This is the 105th time Chicago Yacht Club has run this race, and the entire public  is invited to Navy Pier July 13, 2013 from 10am – 2pm to see the official parade of “Mac” boats, also known as the “Ashore Thing.”   You will be able to cheer on your favorite boat (or pick one) and see the competitors as they head out to the start area.  Bring a picnic basket and the family.  An announcer will describe each boat as they take their turns passing the end of the pier on their way out to the starting line.  There will be a lot of fun family oriented activities for all ages.  Officially With  318 boats registered, there is a lot to see, hear and learn about!

The race is some 333 miles, where boats commonly take about 1-3/4 days to make the journey racing non-stop around the clock.  Non-sailors commonly ask us, “How do you see at night?”  The answer is no different than you going out in the backyard or camping at night, there is always ambient light.  All boats on the water are required to have running lights turned on at night (just like lights on a car that distinguishes what direction they are moving).  There are rules of the road that are intended to keep boats from crashing into one another.  You can view a list with answers to some of the more commonly asked questions about the race at

Is the race addicting?  There is one man from Michigan who will be sailing his 66th, and a Chicagoan who will be sailing his 60th race.  Five are in their 50’s, twenty-nine in their 40’s, sixty-three in their 30’s race and so on.

But why do it?

There is no prize money, it is all for the pleasure of competition.  Boats in the top positions receive a “brag flag” that they hang from their mast, and later receive a wall plaque.  That’s it for prizes.

So why do it?

This will be my 37th race and my reasons include that it is one of the best ways to get away from it all.  The entire world is unplugged.  The boat is loaded with ready to go meals (we eat well), most are pre-cut in bite size pieces, just warm on a propane stove and slide down the hatch.  You have one job, keep the boat going as fast as possible when on shift.  Shifts run four hours on, four hours off, around the clock.  You’re only working 12 hours a day, the other hours are for eating, minimal hygiene, and sleeping (in bunks).  Sailing, eating and sleeping – what a great life!

The sites along the way include lighthouses, other racing boats, cargo ships, calm, storms, shooting stars, satellites, stars, sunrise, sunset, fish jumping, Northern lights, hot, cold, wet, points of land – Big Sable, Little Sable, Point Betsie,  Sleeping Bear, the Islands of Lake Michigan, Cat Head Point, Grey’s Reef, sailing under the  Mackinac Bridge and of course Mackinac Island.

You may have heard of Mackinac Island or visited there, it is a real gem.  Motorized vehicles are outlawed (except emergency vehicles rarely seen).  The only way to get around is by foot, bicycle (lots of rentals available) or by horse carriage.  Horse tours and horse run taxis are readily available (with 500 horses on the Island).  If you want snappy Chicago service, stay in Chicago.   If you want to call a horse drawn cab for 5:30 for a 6:00 dinner one mile away – you’ll be kidding yourself.  Horses move at their pace, not yours!  You better call it for 5:00 and hope it is there at 5:30 – be very flexible.  You are stepping into a time warp, things run at a much slower pace, much more relaxed, the pressure to get in and out of businesses doesn’t appear to exist.  They enjoy your company at stores and restaurants and make you feel at home. Chicagoans need slow down, take a deep breath, relax and enjoy a different pace from what they are used to, it will be a better experience for you when you come with the right attitude.

There are many places to visit on the Island, an 8 mile paved road around the perimeter is right at the water’s edge and is one of the most beautiful bike rides, or runs, you’ll ever take.  There’s a butterfly museum (one of the first), Skull Cave, an airport you can walk up to airplanes and inspect, one of the oldest bowling alleys (the pins are about 1/2 the size and manually set – bring your kids – wink wink!).  The longest porch in the world is found at the Grand Hotel, and behind the Hotel is a carriage museum, not marked, but the public is welcome to enter.  There are two 18-hole golf courses, and fudge.  Lots of fudge.  It is the Island’s biggest industry, it seems like every other shop makes homemade fudge and you can watch them make it in a copper kettle and cool it on marble slabs.

The Island is steeped in history, Fort Mackinac controls the waters separating Lake Michigan from Lake Huron and was fought for between the British and the Americans.  Tours of the Fort are fascinating. 

You might have seen Christopher Reeves starring in a movie in 1980 called “Somewhere in Time” which was filmed on the Island, it shows him driving a car around, which had to receive a special permit to do.  Going back a bit further, Esther Williams starred in a 1947 movie “This Time for Keeps” filmed at the Grand Hotel.  These films could give a hint of the flavor of the Island.

So the race to Mackinac is an excuse to step back in time, disconnect from electronic world, sail your days away and really enjoy the experience.  That’s why I do it.

Once you spot your boat at Navy Pier, or the one you wish to root for, you may follow the boat on its race up Lake Michigan.  Each boat has a tracking device installed for everyone to watch the progression including – family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and stalkers (just kidding) to follow the boats (click on the “Race Tracking” tab).  New for this year, you will be able to download the Iphone or Android app for the race and subscribe to follow the race on your smartphone or tablet free of charge.  A select number of boats in the fleet will be equipped with two way trackers that allow them to tweet happenings on the boats- this will allow you to live vicariously and experience ‘a bit’ of what it is like to do the race.

Your yearning for the sea, the wind and spray in your face can start with lunch at Navy Pier, very affordable and the door is wide open for the public to come and see.  The myth that sailing is expensive and exclusive continues to be a fairy tale.

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