Please select your home edition
Edition
Giacomo Yacht Sale

A Sad Day on Mackinac Island

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 19 Jul 2011
WingNuts Event Media
Distance racing is truly a strange sport. Boats can start at similar times and—depending on their speed and the direction that they sail—experience completely different sets of conditions. Such was the case with this year’s Chicago—Mackinac Race.

As reported earlier, this was a case of the 'rich getting richer'. The boats that arrived on Mackinac Island early earned two important things: a great elapsed time and a ticket out of the horrendous storm that ravaged the fleet during this classic 333-mile distance race.

Sometime just before midnight (Mackinac time; 2300 hours Chicago time) a savage storm lashed the still-racing fleet with winds in excess of 50 knots; sheet lightning and lashing, horizontal rain and hail. Unlike most microbursts that are heavy on intensity and light on longevity, this particular storm had the legs to go for miles.

On the island, the storm lasted for well over an hour, with Main Street turning into a river.

For some boats, this intensity/durability combination proved disastrous. At least one boat was dismasted, many boats dropped out, and—horrificallyWingNuts, a Kiwi 35 capsized, putting all sailors in the soup.

Here’s the official press release from the Chicago Yacht Club:

---

As of Monday, July 18, it has been confirmed by the U. S. Coast Guard and it is with great regret that the Chicago Yacht Club acknowledges the deaths of two sailors who were competing in the 2011 Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac.

A severe thunderstorm crossed Lake Michigan around midnight EDT last night. Wind gusts were reported at 52 knots with waves of 4-6 feet.

The Coast Guard was notified at 12:40 am via VHF radio by crew members from one of the competing boats 'Sociable' that another of the competing boats, WingNuts, had capsized in these severe conditions. Five sailors were pulled from the water on arrival to the scene and one other sailor was later rescued. The six sailors were rescued by the crew of Sociable.

The accident occurred approximately 13 nautical miles northwest of Charlevoix, Michigan, and 10 miles east of South Fox Island.

The Sociable skipper called all boats for assistance on Channel 16 and ten boats in the vicinity immediately abandoned the race to join in search efforts for two missing sailors.

The two lost sailors were WingNuts skipper Mark Morley, 51, and Suzanne Bickel, 41, both from Saginaw, MI. Mark Morley had 44 years of sailing experience, including six Chicago Mackinacs and 85 qualifying races. Suzanne Bickel had sailed in two previous Chicago-Mackinac Races, with 16 qualifying races.

In a brief statement Commodore Joseph S. Haas said, 'On the behalf of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, the Board of Directors and Flag Officers, we express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the crew of WingNuts. The crew of this boat exemplified the spirit of the Chicago Mac that is steeped in tradition of family, friends and passion for the water.'

This tragic disaster is by the first sailing fatality in the Chicago-Mac’s proud, 103-year history. A very experienced crew aboard WingNuts over-powered by the storm’s ferocity.

Also by all accounts, Sociable crew performed miracle work by rescuing as many crewmembers as possible. Their seamanlike actions and their proper response to a horrific situation is the stuff of legend. The fact that the capsize happened almost on the rhumbline meant that there were another 10 boats standing by very quickly. The Coastguard were rapidly on the scene as well.

Our deepest condolences go out to the family’s of the WingNuts crew, and our heartfelt gratitude goes out to the Sociable crew. While no one EVER wants to find themselves in the position of Robert Arzbaecher and his Sociable crew, I can only hope that I would have handled the situation as competently and selflessly as Arzbaecher and company.

Please take a few quiet minutes today to consider the enormity of this situation, and fragility of the human experience.

Wildwind 2016 660x82Protector - 660 x 82Ancasta Botin Fast40 660x82

Related Articles

A Q&A with Kimball Livingston about San Francisco high school sailing
I emailed with my friend and colleague Kimball Livingtston to learn about San Francisco’s latest sailing revolution. I started hearing whispers of shifts in the San Francisco Bay high school sailing scene a couple of months ago. A few inquiries led me to my good friend and colleague Kimball Livingston, a world-class sailor, scribe, and StFYC staff commodore who isn’t one to keep his seaboots dry when the topic turns to opportunities for the next sailing generation. I caught up with KL via email to learn more.
Posted on 13 Jun
A Q&A with Andrew Howe about winning the 2015 Marion to Bermuda Race
I interviewed Andrew Howe, the 2015 Marion to Bermuda Race’s winning co-navigator, to learn more about their race. In 2015, skipper Greg Marston and the crew of Ti, a 1967 Alden Mistral, racing under celestial rules, were the overall winners of the Marion Bermuda Race Founders Division, beating boats that were enjoying GPS accuracy. On the eve of the 2017 edition of the race, I reached out to Andrew Howe, the team’s co-navigator, to gain perspective on this impressive win and hear about his 2017 plans.
Posted on 7 Jun
An interview with Allan McLean about the 2017 Marion to Bermuda Race
I interviewed Allan McLean, the Marion to Bermuda Race’s executive director, to learn more about this biennial event. The 2017 Marion to Bermuda Race is set to kick off on Friday, June 9, so I caught up with Allan McLean, the race’s executive director, via email to learn more about the race’s history and evolution, its challenges, and the special America’s Cup experience that awaits Marion to Bermuda sailors upon reaching the Onion Patch.
Posted on 5 Jun
An interview with Ray Redniss about the STC’s annual Block Island Race
I caught up with Ray Redniss, the Block Island Race’s longtime PRO, via email to learn more about this classic event. I caught up with Ray Redniss, who has served as the PRO for the Block Island Race and the Vineyard Race (September 1, 2017) for the past twenty-plus years, via email to learn more about the state of this classic, early season New England event.
Posted on 22 May
An Q&A with Jeremy Pochman about 11th Hour Racing’s impressive efforts
I interviewed Jeremy Pochman of 11th Hour Racing to learn more about this forward-thinking environmental non-profit. 11th Hour Racing is doing some of the most forward-leaning environmental work in the entire marine sphere, and I wanted to learn more, so I reached out to Jeremy Pochman, 11th Hour Racing’s Strategic Director and Co-founder, to ask a few questions. All sailors are strongly encouraged to give this interview the time it deserves.
Posted on 15 May
A Q&A with Don Adams about Sail Canada’s plan to win Olympic medals
I caught up with Sail Canada CEO Don Adams to hear about Team Canada’s High Performance Plan for winning Olympic medals. Sail Canada, Canada’s national sailing authority, is implementing a new High Performance Plan with the aim of improving on their recent Olympic sailing performances. I caught up with Don Adams, CEO of Sail Canada, to learn more about this ambition plan for helping Canadian sailors win Olympic medals while also helping to inspire younger generations to pursue the Olympic-sailing dream.
Posted on 8 May
America's Cup - Southern Spars AC50 build for Emirates Team NZ + Video
The Peter Blake skippered Steinlager 2 put Southern Spars on the map 27 years after Steinlager 2 put Southern Spars on the map with her unequalled clean sweep of the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race, Southern Spars were called on to build Emirates Team NZ's America's Cup Challenger. Here's a look behind the scenes at the composite engineering process Southern Spars employ on projects ranging from Volvo OR spars, to Olympic bike wheels to an AC50
Posted on 1 May
She’s still here with us, and now we can be there for her
Of the many endearing qualities in Lisa Blair, the one that is paramount is her effervescence. Of the many endearing qualities in Lisa Blair, the one that is paramount is her effervescence. Yet it is what lies behind that which could be her most incredible characteristic. Sometimes you can almost overlook her steely determination, but not for long when you start talking with her. Catching up with her live from Cape Town surely was a vivid reminder of not only what this sailor can accomplish
Posted on 24 Apr
Gladwell's Line - Timeout in Bermuda and a decision OTUSA will regret?
With Emirates Team New Zealand's AC50 now in Bermuda and being re-assembled, it is time to take a breath With Emirates Team New Zealand's AC50 now in Bermuda and being re-assembled, it is time to take a breath from what has been a hectic couple of months, both in Auckland and Bermuda. The third major Practice Session has concluded in Bermuda. This was conducted almost entirely if winds of around 16-25kts - starting to get close to the top end of the range for the AC50's.
Posted on 20 Apr
America's Cup - Glenn Ashby on hitting the AC50's sound barrier
These boats are incredible. The performance that can be achieved in light airs is the amazing thing. The big difference between the AC72, the America's Cup Class, used in the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco and the smaller AC50 to be sailed in Bermuda, lies in their light and medium air performance. 'These boats are incredible. The performance that can be achieved in light airs is the amazing thing. In 7-8-9-10 knots of breeze, you are sailing at 30kts at times.
Posted on 18 Apr