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Challenge at every turn determines winners at 95th Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race

by Barby MacGowan 24 Jul 2019 11:03 PDT 20-24 July 2019
Clockwise from left: Earth Voyager, winner of Division III for Multihulls, at the finish line; Division I winner Stripes at rest with fleet on Mackinac Island; class start on Lake Huron - Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race 2019 © Martin Chumiecki / Bayview Yacht Club

While last year was a drifter, this year was anything but for the 202 boats competing in the 2019 Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race. The 95th running of the longest consecutively held freshwater race in the country started Saturday, July 20 at noon on lower Lake Huron and served up a "little bit of everything" on its way to the finish line at Mackinac Island.

"It included reaching, running, a lot of beating, and a pretty nasty storm thrown in on Saturday evening," said Bill Martin (Ann Arbor, Mich.), the skipper of the Santa Cruz 70 Stripes, which won its Class B and took overall victory in Division 1 after sailing the Cove Island Course of 259 nautical miles. Stripes turned in an elapsed time of 32:09:33, finishing just before 10 p.m. on Sunday night. By just over two minutes, it corrected out over second-place finisher Equation, a Santa Cruz 70 owned by Bill Alcott and Tom Anderson (St. Clair Shores, Mich.). "We and Equation were in sight of one another the entire race; it makes it fun when you have somebody you can race against that closely, and two other Santa Cruz 70s were right there, too."

Martin now has 51 of these races under his sailing belt and attested to a good mix of challenging conditions being more typical of the event than not, especially since the Cove Island course takes a radical hitch from the northeast to the west roughly halfway through. "The beat after Cove Island Buoy (the turning mark) was pretty darn tough; it was an honest 100 plus miles with winds in the mid-20s for a while. It had been a spinnaker reach/broad reach up until then, interspersed with the entertainment of the storm."

According to Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race Chairman Robert Nutter, the storm dumped torrential rain for three hours straight and harbored gusts in excess of 30 knots. "There were some breakdowns, but most everyone persevered and enjoyed a great race with average wind speeds of 15-20 knots."

On the 204 nautical mile Shore Course, Paul Van Tol and Bruce Vandevusse (Grosse Pointe, Mich.), co-owners of the C&C 35 MKII Eliminator, recorded an elapsed time of 42:02:57 to arrive at 7:23 on Monday morning and claim victory in Class N as well as overall in Division II.

"It was a tough race, physically," said Van Tol, whose sons Christopher and John co-skipper the boat. "Lots of upwind work and a couple of holes, especially in the aftermath of the storm when the wind got sucked out. Our strategy was to sail the shortest course and I think we probably did that."

He described angling hard to the left at Harbor Beach to stay close to shore when boats to the right had lost their wind and then his team's decision to go around Middle Island when Comfortably Numb, a Beneteau First 42 in another class, was about 3 half miles ahead of them. "In the lee of the island, our speed increased, and when we came out from around it Comfortably Numb was only one mile ahead of us, and we chased them all the way to Mackinac."

Van Tol has sailed the Bayview Mackinac Race 36 times; this is Eliminator's 34th time to sail and 17th time to claim a class victory.

First to the island, finishing on Sunday at 5:37 p.m., was the Greene Formula 60 Earth Voyager, which finished the Cove Island Course in 27 hours, 47 minutes and 8 seconds to become overall winner of Division III for Multihulls. "That was pretty quick time, but we've done it in 14 hours before, so we're always looking to one-up ourselves," said Todd Howe (Rochester, N.Y.), who co-skippered with his brother Ryan and jokingly added that being first to the island has its advantages: "...getting drinks without waiting in line and showers and sleep before the other boats come in."

Howe said his crew, which included his father Ray (who built the boat and has sailed the event with his sons since 1995 when multihulls were first allowed), had shortened sail some 40 to 50 miles into the course to repair a failed mainsail track. "We actually had no mainsail up when the storm hit. We saw 35 knots, and after the storm passed there was zero wind for what seemed like an eternity."

In the end, Earth Voyager averaged speeds of 21-22 knots for "hours and hours of very fast sailing."

Added Howe: "The top three boats in our class finished within 71 seconds of each other on corrected time, so I think we had to be the closest in finishes of all the classes."

A total of 20 classes sailed in three divisions at the 2019 Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, which prides itself on being one of the most spirited events on the Great Lakes. On Friday night (July 19), participants lined the Black River with their boats to participate in Boat Night. They paraded to the start on Saturday morning to the cheers of spectators lining the shore. After finishing on Sunday and Monday, skippers and crews found their way to the Pink Pony (an iconic bar on Mackinac Island) to get a delicious Bell's Beer once they cleaned up, and Tuesday afternoon they attended a giant awards party and concert on the grounds of Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel.

Sponsors for the 2019 Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race include Bell's Brewery, Grand Hotel, Luca Mariano Premium Whiskey, Gill Marine, Coral Reef Sailing Apparel, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Pentastar Aviation, North Sails, Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry, NôMI Sparkling Water, Aitken & Ormond Insurance, Frankenmuth Insurance, Chippewa Hotel- Home of the Pink Pony, Sharpe Travel Services, Legal Copy Services, Sykes & Webster - The Burton Families, Bayview Yacht Club Foundation, Detroit Sports Media, and Marx Layne. Supporters are Freighter's Eatery & Tap Room, Futuramic Tool and Engineering, Harken, and Thomas Hardware Company.

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