This year’s Chicago Mackinac Race was up to its usual tricks again, offering the fleet the dilemma of starting off with breezes in the NE to SE quadrants, with a hole forming in the middle of the rhumbline on late Saturday evening after the start, and then forcing teams into choices of staying west of rhumb and playing anticipated pressure arriving from the west or heading across the lake towards the classic eastern shore 'dunes acceleration' of southerly breezes and playing the 'point strategy' going up the Michigan coastline before rounding Pt Betsie halfway into the race.
Chicago Mackinac Race 2014
Then, the choice again was whether to hang outside and north of the Manitou Islands or stay the rhumbline course inside and south, the more direct route to Greys Reef before the 35nm sprint down the Straits of Mackinac to the finish line.
No matter what fleet you were sailing in, it seemed everyone had slightly different variations on the three main choices on the menu from a strategic standpoint. What was self-evident was that all five one-design J/Fleets all had variations on those themes and no one could point to the 'perfect' race. Nevertheless, 10 of the top 25 boats in the Mackinac Cup Division were J/Teams in a fleet of 135+ boats; J/111’s again took three of the top six overall!
For the Level 35 Division, Bad Dog (Larry Taunt) and Touch of Grey (Larry Schell) were virtually glued together the entire race, matching each other’s tactics all the way up to the finish line at Mackinac Island. Both stayed west of rhumb all the way up to Pt Betsie and both took the rhumbline track inside the Manitous to Greys Reef. In the end, Bad Dog took second in class and edged out Touch of Grey in third place.
As one of the earlier classes to start, the J/105 class simply took off up the Illinois - Wisconsin shoreline as one huge pack. Like most other boats in the area off Racine to Milwaukee, the big hole emerged over rhumbline around 11:00pm and their class rapidly evolved into two schools of thought— one group kept heading north along the Wisconsin shore while another pack took off on starboard tack west of rhumbline. It was the latter group that took first and second in class and both of them also went inside the Manitous on the way to the major turning point at Greys Reef. Leading the fleet home was Here’s Johnny (John Moore), followed by Buzz (Mark Gurney) in second, then Pterodactyl (Mark Symonds) third, Green Flash (Jane Enterline) fourth and Vytis (Gytis and Tomas Petkus) in fifth place.
The fleet of nine J/109s followed a similar course of action as their J/105 colleagues. The leader was established between the 11pm 'shutdown' and the new breeze that filled in by 3:00am from the SE around 175. The boats that could maintain headway in two-five kts winds dramatically lengthened, or newly established, their leads over the fleet at that time. As one of the top three boats, Northstar (Dave Gustman) made the most of the situation and established a jump on the fleet they never relinquished. Behind them the balance of the top five juggled positions all the way to the finish with Momentus (Kevin Saedi, George and Robin Simkins) taking second, followed by Callisto (Jim Murray) in third, Driven 2 (Jim Milliken) fourth and Slapshot (Scott Sims) fifth.
Having started quite a ways behind the J/109s and J/105s, the J/111 class roared up the lake in the building Easterly breeze under jibs and by late afternoon were already setting their mind-numbingly fast Code Zeros to continue to rapidly catch the fleets in front of them. By 11pm when the wind shutdown, the top three boats were Impulse (Miz, Dreher and Hatfield) in first, Wind Czar (Rick Lehmann) in second and No Surprise (Dave Irish) in third. For the next three hours, the boats all juggled positions with half the fleet gybing early in the new SE breeze and headed for the Michigan shoreline, another group continued to struggle north in hopes of more breeze. Emerging from the 'mix-master' at midnight was No Surprise in first with a pack of boat hot on their tail spread across just behind them. At sunrise, Kashmir had leapt in second followed by Wind Czar in third and Impulse dropping to fourth.
Practice race - 2015 J22 North American Championship
For the next hours, the four boats played a game of 'cat and mouse' along the eastern side of rhumbline along the Michigan shore. By Pt Betsie, Impulse had jumped back into second followed by Wind Czar in third and Kashmir in fourth. The standings jumbled again as a late-arriving pack of four boats from way out west of rhumbline headed by Martie Roesch’s Velocity stayed out and rounded the Manitous outside and to the north. That plus the fact that Kashmir took one more fateful gybe into shore before Pt Betsie dropped them into fifth. Meanwhile, the battle between Wind Czar and Impulse was finally settled when an enormous 35 degree header rolled in from 175 degrees at 15-17 kts and Wind Czar jumped back into second place. From there on end the 'die was cast' for the top five, No Surprise sailing an excellent race to win class and take second overall in the Mackinac Cup Division. Second in class and fourth in fleet was Wind Czar, followed by Impulse third in class and sixth in fleet. The balance of the top five was Velocity fourth and Kashmir fifth.
The J/120 Class report is courtesy of Frank Kern (owner-skipper of Carinthia). He reflects what others had done from a tactics - strategy standpoint during the race. Here is Frank’s commentary: 'This week the Detroit area fleet moved on to Chicago with seven of the eight J/120 fleet participating. The race began with an eight knots wind out of the northeast with the fleet flying genoas for the first few hours on the Illinois shore. When the spinnakers went up as the wind shifted to the southeast the J120s spit with half sailing out in the lake and the other half continuing to sail up the shore towards Wisconsin. On the left was last week’s Bayview Mackinac winner Bob and Mike Kirkman’s Hot Ticket initially in the lead, Canada Sarnia based Irresistible 2 owned by Gerry Hines, Dennis Dettmer’s Perversion, and Frank Kern’s Carinthia. To the west was Jerry Bresser’s Flyin’ Irish, 2012 winner Henry Mistele’s Night Moves, Chicago based Frank Giampoli’s Jahazi, and new entrant John Hughes and Ed Vermet’s Nautiboys. As the racers approached Point Betsy, Irresistible 2 was leading the fleet with Carinthia sailing much farther west on Lake Michigan.
Practice race - 2015 J22 North American Championship
Much of the fleet was sailing the Michigan shore in pursuit of shore breeze. Hot Ticket was no longer in the lead and Perversion was in second, Carinthia in third. At the Manitou Straits, the majority of fleet passed through and Carinthia passed through farther north, south of the Fox Islands. As the wind was stronger on the outside and using a hotter angle, Carinthia gained the lead at Greys Reef. She managed to finish 54 minutes ahead of the next J/120s but the battle was not over.
Irresistible 2 was 1.3 miles ahead of Perversion with the two yachts gybing to the finish. Perversion managed to take second place by one second at the finish line. Flyin’ Irish was fourth, Night Moves was fifth, Hot Ticket sixth, Jahazi seventh, and Nautiboys eighth.'
In the big handicap divisions, the J/145 Main Street sailed by Bill Schanen and family from Port Washington, Wisconsin finished fourth in Division 2. The Cup Division 3 fleet had two good performances, the J/130 Edge skippered by Bob McManus took fourth and the J/133 Scirocco 3 sailed by Bob Klairmont took fifth.
The J/122s battled it out this year in Division four and basically sailed a match race from start to finish. Both boats ended up east of rhumb after the 11pm to 3am black hole and proceeded to match each other off the Michigan dunes, but never taking advantage of any of the 'point acceleration' strategies. In the end, Matt Songer’s Evvai got the upper hand early and never let go, taking fifth in class and 21st in Mackinac Cup division overall. Mitch Padnos’s and Tracy Brand’s famous Sufficient Reason (the 2013 Overall and Class Division winner) had a rougher go of it this year and settled for eighth in class.
In the Double-Handed Division, the J/29 TFWB Relentless sailed by George and Scott Petritz sailed well, finishing late afternoon on Monday to take second overall in their division.
In Chicago-Mackinac Trophy Division six, it was the Mac 'debut' of the J/88 Hokey Smoke sailed by Richie Stearns. Their strategies were similar to most of the fleet, starting due north and staying west of rhumbline until the infamous Racine 'hole' between 11pm to 3am. However, Hokey Smoke gybed earlier than most and ended up in less pressure along and just east of rhumb as they approached Big Sable dunes on the Michigan shoreline. Nevertheless, Stearns and crew sailed very fast, capturing not only second in Division but managed 13th overall.