Hosted annually by the Chicago Yacht Club, the Race to Mackinac has become somewhat of an allure to sailors locally and around the world. It is undoubtedly one of the top bucket-list races for many.
Stretching out over 333 miles of open water, the race is widely known for its unpredictable weather, challenging conditions, and massive storm systems that can develop out of nowhere. For those unfamiliar with the power of the Great Lakes, it can be easy to dismiss this inland body of water as nothing but a mere pond with calm breezes and lazy gulls. This was certainly the opinion of famed yachtsman Ted Turner prior to his participation in the 1970 race.
“The uninitiated often have trouble comprehending the behavior of this sea. Lake Michigan sailors tend to be touchy on this subject, especially when visitors assume that sailing here amounts to idyllic meandering in gentle breezes on pondlike water. This accounts for the popularity of the story of “Ted’s Excellent Adventure in the Chicago Mackinac Race.”
The story delivers its lesson so perfectly that some might suspect the tale is apocryphal or at least enhanced as many times- told sailors’ yarns tend to be. But not so. Its veracity is confirmed by reliable witnesses, including Bruce Kirby, former Olympic sailor, designer of the Laser and other admirable sailing craft, and one-time newspaper reporter.
Kirby was a member of the crew of Ted Turner’s 12-Meter American Eagle in the 1970 Chicago Mackinac race. Turner, the reigning celebrity sailor of the era, was the center of attention in Chicago before the race and, as was his wont, had a lot to say, including, “Yeah, I’m really scared.” This, according to Kirby, was his mocking response to a local sailor’s warning that Lake Michigan could turn nasty in a hurry.
It was Turner’s first Chicago Mackinac race and it would prove to be one of the roughest in history. Halfway up the course, Eagle collided with a ferocious weather front with conditions not unlike today’s forecast (though with somewhat smaller waves). Sustained north winds recorded at more than 60 knots shredded Eagle’s sail inventory (she was down to one usable sail) and steep seas abused the crew and the wooden boat mercilessly.
In the midst of the mayhem, Kirby shouted to Turner, “What do you think of lake sailing now?” Turner shouted back, “I hereby publicly retract anything and everything I have ever said about inland sailing.”
[Excerpt from “It’s Not a Pond or a Lake, It’s Really a Sea with a Mean Streak” By Bill Schanen, Sailing Magazine]
Starting just off of Navy Pier, competitors will have a choice of one of three common routes. Either take the rhumb line, hoping to minimize the distance sailed, or take a risk with a potentially big reward by skirting along with either one of the coastlines to the East or West. Either way, the fleet will converge as they pass through the Manitou Islands on the Northern side of the lake. From there, it’s a dash to Grey’s Reef Light before making way to the towering Mackinaw Bridge. From there, it’s a final stretch to historic Mackinac Island where the welcoming committee and spectators alike will gather for the post-race festivities and inevitable drinks at the Pink Pony.
Representing David Walters Yachts in the 112th running of the Mac will be Team DWY aboard the Italia Yacht 9.98 'Vichingo'. Follow along with the race on Yellow Brick Tracking.
Check out the inaugural series of Chasing the Dream - Offshore Racing with Italia Yachts for a look behind the scenes at what it takes to compete in the Chicago to Mackinac Race! Episode 1 will be released on August 5, 2021, on the David Walters Yachts YouTube Channel. Subscribe now for the latest updates and video releases!