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A favorite for generations: 95th Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race starts Saturday

by Barby MacGowan 17 Jul 2019 16:38 PDT 20 July 2019
Left: Avatar crew for 2018 and 2019 – (l to r) Andrew Morlan, Gregg Anderson, Meggan Pope, Jim Vogler, Pete Crosby, Eric Steck, Daniele Littera, Andrew Moeller. Right: Suez crew from first race in 1925. © Andrew Morlan and Bayview Yacht Club

Even though it is 95 years old, the Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race is showing no signs of slowing down. The longest consecutively run freshwater race in the country starts this Saturday, July 20 with 202 boats on the starting line.

The fleet, representing nine states in the U.S. and two provinces in Canada, has been divided into 20 classes in three divisions. The largest boat on the roster is Peter Thornton's (Key Largo, Fla./Bay Harbor, Mich.) 105' ketch Whitehawk, which will be sailing the 259 nautical mile Cove Island Course, while the smallest boats are two Morgan 27s: Jamjam, skippered by James Morphew (Milford, Mich.), and Defiant, skippered by Pete Fitzpatrick (St. Clair Shores, Mich.). They will sail the 204 nm Shore Course.

The race starts on lower Lake Huron and finishes at Mackinac Island to the north.

"We've come a long way since the first race in 1925 when 12 boats entered," said 2019 Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race Event Chair Robert Nutter, adding that even through the Great Depression and World War II, the race has carried on. "It's now a can't-miss event on the Great Lakes sailing schedule, and it has been enjoyed by generation after generation of sailors."

Andrew Morlan (Grosse Pointe Park, Mich.) remembers in 2005 when his dad became an "Old Goat," a symbolic acknowledgement of participation in 25 Bayview Mackinac Races. Andrew had been racing with him aboard the family's Santana 35 Avatar since 1987 when he was 18.

"Now I'm an Old Goat, getting ready to do my 33rd race," said Morlan, whose father retired from racing in 2013. Two others on Morlan's eight-person Avatar crew are Old Goats as well: Jim Vogler of Grosse Pointe Park, who will be sailing his 32nd consecutive race on Avatar, and Drew Moeller of Bangor, Maine (formerly Detroit), who has sailed a dozen or more of the Bayview Mackinac races on Avatar. Morlan's wife Meggan Pope has crewed for him at least 13 years.

Morlan's favorite Bayview Mackinac Race was in 2004 when both his father and his brother (also an Old Goat and retired from the program) were aboard. "We arrived at Thunder Bay Light, which was just past the mid-way point of the race," said Morlan. "We found ourselves in a three-boat race, literally. There were no other boats in sight, and we were duking it out with two other boats in our class, along the shore for 80 miles. The lead continued to change back and forth, and we got into a tacking duel at the end. We came out on top and won our first Mackinac that way; we ended up second overall in the division."

There are six Santana 35s in the race this year that will sail with four Tartan 10s in Class M on the Shore Course. One of the Santana 35s - Shape, normally skippered by Chris Benedict (Plymouth, Mich.) - seems to always be Avatar's toughest competition. This year, as Morlan's father did, Chris Benedict is stepping aside to allow another generation its turn at the helm while he crews. At age 28, Cameron Benedict, Benedict's son and crew of 14 years, will be the youngest skipper in the regatta.

"Nothing is more humbling than sailboat racing and nothing more rewarding either," said Morlan. "You're fighting against other boats, the weather, the current, dehydration and sometimes even black biting flies, but when you've finished it you feel like you have accomplished something worthwhile, and if you can do it with your family and friends it's all that much better."

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