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Cruising Division sets sail in 111th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac

by Laura Muma 13 Jul 10:28 PDT 12-13 July 2019
2019 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac Cruising Division start © Ellinor Walters

The Cruising Division set sail Friday in better-than-forecasted conditions, a sign that the 266 competitors hope bode well for the weekend ahead in the 111th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac presented by Wintrust, despite a light-air forecast.

Friday's sunny skies and a 10-13 knot Southeasterly breeze gave Peter Thornton's stunning 104' ketch, Whitehawk, a chance to stretch her legs and glide north. Thornton transitioned to the Cruising Division this year after going out with a bang in the 2018 CYCRTM when his Volvo 70 Il Mostro took line honors after a grueling race.

The Racing Division begins today between 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m., comprised of 10 sections designed to stagger out the speed differentials between the smaller boats like Tartan 10s and J/Boats, to the more-powered TP52s, Santa Cruz 70s and the Multihulls.

All the boats will pass by Navy Pier to officially check in to the 2019 America's Offshore Challenge in one of the largest annual Parade of Boats. From 10:30 a.m. - 1 p.m., Chicago Yacht Club is hosting its annual Parade of Boats send-off party at the Pier with live commentary and a great chance for family and friends to cheer on their competitors before they embark on the 333-mile (289nm) adventure up Lake Michigan.

Weather or Not: Racers are Ready

The 266-strong fleet of racing and cruising boats have been finalizing preparations all week in preparation for any - and every - type of weather that Lake Michigan may send their way. The past two years of strong winds and unexpected storms has challenged the sailors, but that is also part of what brings them back or entices the first timers to tackle the race known as America's Offshore Challenge.

According to Race Meteorologist Chris Bedford in the Friday weather briefing presented by NAUTIC-ON, this year may end up becoming more of a mental challenge. With a stubborn high-pressure system sitting on top of the Midwest, a light-air race is predicted.

Regardless, Jim Lidbury and Dhamithe can't wait to get out there. The two began hatching the plan to do the Mac last year on Arsakularanatna's C&C 110 Zen, and it was an easy sell for fellow Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club member Anthony Ngal to jump on board.

"For us, this is an exotic race," said Lidbury. "We are all first-timers except for Dhamithe. Our group has sailed offshore around the world, but we all know of the Race to Mackinac and how special it is. We can't wait to experience it."

Safety First

Safety has been top-of-mind for CYCRTM. The organizers implemented new requirements based upon recommendations from the Chicago Yacht Club's Safety Enhancement Committee and an overall review of offshore racing safety regulations.

Now, 50 percent of crew are required to hold a valid certificate in an Offshore Safety at Sea course. All minors are required to have a valid certificate, as well the Person in Charge for each boat. This has been a recommendation for the Race in years' past but has moved to a requirement for the 2019 Race. In addition, 75 percent of all crew must have participated in a Crew Overboard drill.

Race Chair Sarah Renz appreciates how the sailors have rallied around the increased safety protocols. "Ensuring that our sailors have the skills and knowledge to take care of themselves and help their fellow competitors has always been a focus of the Mac Committee," she said. "We have had tremendous response from the sailors and teams in support of safety, and it's shown in the high attendance levels at our safety seminars and clinics to educate boaters on proper life jacket maintenance and hands-on training."

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