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Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race - Freshwater adventure on tap

by Kirsten Ferguson on 18 Apr 2014
German Fuchs of Lima, Peru (shown here sailing his J/111 Challwa) will skipper Wally Cross’s J/111 at this year’s Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race Photo courtesy Challwa
Affectionately known as the 'Bayview Mack,' the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race—hosted by Detroit’s Bayview Yacht Club—promises to deliver in more ways than one this year when it commences at 11:30 a.m. Saturday the 12th of July. First, almost 170 boats have registered and there are dozens more in the queue, so sheer numbers of entrants will impress when the mental chess game of sailing over 200 nautical miles from Port Huron, Michigan to Mackinac Island begins. Second, this will be the race’s 90th edition, which insures that celebrations will be notched higher for one of the oldest, most venerable freshwater distance races in the world.

Each year the Bayview event alternates with another 'Mack' race (Chicago) as to who goes first on the racing calendar, and this year it is the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac that leads by one week the charge of racing sailors (split into classes for PHRF Racing, PHRF Cruising, One-Design, Double-handed and Multihull) to the Great Lakes. 'What’s cool is that they are two completely different races,' said veteran Bayview racer Wally Cross, explaining that the weather system on the Great Lakes is affected primarily by winds coming across the country from California. 'In that regard, the Bayview Mack, which starts in lower Lake Huron, is typically more upwind and poses more tactical challenges.'

The Baview Mackinac also is shorter and has a choice of two courses: the 204 nm Shore Course, which runs along the eastern shore of Michigan, and the 259 nm Cove Island Course that takes its fleet more eastward to a buoy off Cove Island in northeast Lake Huron before a left-hand turn delivers the boats westward to Mackinac Island and a finish marked in the Round Island Channel.

Cross says he’s 'almost embarrassed' to reveal he has raced the Bayview Mackinac 45 times (he was 13 when he started), yet there are over three dozen sailors like him who have been inducted into the Society of Mackinac Old Goats (for sailing the event 25 or more times) and are on their way to becoming Grand Rams (for sailing 50 or more times).

'Compared to the Trans Pac or other distance races where you check out for a week, the Bayview Mackinac is a borderline sprint event where if you’re on a really quick boat like our J/III, you can finish by Monday morning,' said Cross.


For personal reasons, the Bayview Mackinac will be extra special for Cross this year, as his Peruvian friend German Fuchs will be skippering Cross’s J/111 Utah, changing the name temporarily to Challwa, the name of Fuch’s J/111 back home in Lima. 'I have sailed with German and his crew in Peru and I’ve been waiting to reciprocate. He’s bringing himself and five others, two of which are young sailors who have never traveled outside of the country.'

Cross said Fuchs has been finding it hard to comprehend this decades-old adventure, started in 1925, that has become so legendary because of the fresh water it crosses and the destination that lies waiting at its finish.

'What I like most about Lake Huron,' said Cross 'is that we take water from it, run it through a filter and drink it, and on the race we hydrate our food with it – it’s an efficient way to race. Then there’s Mackinac at the end. It’s a gorgeous little island that supports Lake Huron and Lake Michigan on both sides. There are no cars, just horses, and if you wish you can stay a few days after you finish and just be transported back in time. It’s the whole experience, not just your time racing on the water.'

Wind and wits counted most in last year’s race, according to Race Chairman Art LeVasseur. 'Due to brisk winds, we had our fastest race in 25 years, with most of the 200-boat fleet finishing on Sunday evening and early Monday morning, when typically some of the slower boats finish on Tuesday morning. Of course, we can never promise conditions, but each year the race manages to become—no matter what the conditions—an epic overnight race.'

For more information and to register by the entry deadline of June 1, click here or contact Regatta Chair Art Levasseur at mack_chair@byc.com.

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