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Stage set for 111th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac

by Laura Muma 20 Jun 10:09 PDT 12-13 July 2019
2018 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac © Matt Knighton

The entry deadline has passed and final preparations are under way for the 270 entrants racing in the 111th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac presented by Wintrust (CYCRTM), which begins Friday, July 12 for the Cruising Division, and Saturday, July 13 for the Racing Divisions.

New this year is the Point Betsie Team Race Challenge Trophy, which will be awarded to the top three-boat team with the best combined finish across their divisions.

The race known as America's Offshore Challenge™ has a diverse fleet that will traverse the 289-nautical mile course up Lake Michigan. Thirteen states and three countries are represented, and boats range from 27' (Perry Fortune & Ryan Farrell's express 27 Air Force) to 105' (Peter Thornton's Whitehawk from Chicago Yacht Club). More than 2200 sailors are coming from as far as Hong Kong (James Lidbury's C&C 110 Zen, from the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.)

America's Offshore Challenge has lived up to its reputation in recent years with exceptionally challenging weather conditions, and while the competitors are eagerly anticipating "champagne sailing" this year, everyone is preparing the worst.

"We have an incredible fleet of competitors joining us for the 111th edition," said Sarah Renz, chair of CYCRTM. "The countdown is on and our team is hard to work to ensure this is a race to remember, from the pre-race kickoff in the great city of Chicago, all the way up to iconic Mackinac Island and Tuesday's award celebration."

New this year is the Point Betsie Team Race Challenge Trophy sponsored by the Storm Trysail Club, adding another level of friendly competition to the racing. Twenty-two teams have registered for the inaugural challenge, made up of three boats from three different divisions. The team with the best combined placement will be the inaugural winner of the Point Betsie Trophy.

Lore and Legacy: Doug DeVos Races his 40th CYCRTM with a New WindQuest

With 39 Chicago Mac races under his belt, Doug DeVos is no stranger to the challenges on Lake Michigan. For his 40th race, he will be onboard his TP52 Windquest for the boat's first-ever distance race. The team recently transported the boat from Europe after the Super Series, splashing it in Lake Michigan just time to take the victory at the Chicago NOODs earlier this month.

There are now four TP52s in the Great Lakes, and they are all gunning for line honors should conditions suit. But, DeVos cautions, "You never know what you're going to get on this Race, that's for sure.

"It's Lake Michigan and it's always unique. Last year's conditions were very difficult and very rare, then the year before that we had to retire. But, I also remember other years when there was no wind and it took until Wednesday to finish. The race is unpredictable, and that is another reason we all keep coming back."

DeVos always looks forward to passing by the iconic landmarks up the course. "Seeing Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Manitou Passage along the Race, and of course turning that corner and seeing the Mackinac Bridge. It's all pretty special."

Rough and Rowdy: Richard Witzel Prepares To Push the J/111 Rowdy on the Racecourse

As one of the largest fleets this year with 16 boats, many of the J/111s will also race in their World Championships later this summer, also hosted by the Chicago Yacht Club. Rowdy, owned by Richard Witzel is one that will be doing both.

For two years running, Rowdy has finished second in its section, and according to Roland Rayment who has been on the boat with Witzel from the beginning, "We try hard and put a lot into it. The past couple years we've been nipping at the top finish, so hopefully this is our year."

Rayment predicts the J/111 could very well win overall should the sweet spot of 15-20 knot Southwest/east conditions present themselves. "With the right conditions, the J/111 can't be beat; no question it will win the Mac Race."

Racing to Cuising: Steve Sickler Swaps Division with Dakota

This year will mark Steve Sickler's 41st CYCRTM, but it will be his first year competing in the growing 37-boat Cruising Division on board Dakota, a Beneteau First 47.7. He previously raced the Mac on board his Santa Cruz 70, Mirage, in addition past years on Tartan 10s, and other racing boats.

Another first for him this year will be to vie for the new Point Betsie Trophy, as a member of Team HotDuDakota with the Santa Cruz 52 Sin Duda and the Farr 40 Hot Lips.

"There really are three parts to this Race," Sickler said, when asked about his racing strategy. "The first one is getting to Point Betsie, and you really want to stay in touch with your section up to there. The second section is through the Manitous, which offers the opportunity to make some night moves on your competition. And more than once, we passed a couple of boats literally yards from the finish line at Mackinac Island in the light air that often comes at the finish. So, you can't give up before the miracle happens!"

For the 2019 edition, he is most looking forward to a "simple cruise... no 30-knot headwinds this year! I'm hoping that the weather gods are in our favor for a pleasant reach up to the Island. The last three Mac races had some tough spots."

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