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An interview with Chris Clark on the 2020 Bayview Mackinac Race

by David Schmidt 8 Jul 08:00 PDT July 11, 2020
Racecourse action at the start of the 2019 Bayview Mackinac Race © Images courtesy of Martin Chumiecki/Element Photography

When it comes to Midwest distance racing, there’s little question that the Bayview Yacht Club’s Bayview Mackinac Race is one of the most competitive freshwater races afloat. The 219 nautical mile course regularly challenges sailors with a wide variety of weather systems and occasional storms that test seamanship, leadership and each crew’s ability to quickly adjust to highly dynamic circumstances, while also delivering plenty of on-the-water competition.

This year, however, the novel coronavirus is also testing the race’s ability to roll with a highly complex pandemic.

While plenty of other distance races, including the Newport Bermuda Race and the Chicago Mackinac Race, opted to cancel racing amidst the pandemic, the Bayview Yacht Club still plans to run their signature Bayview Mackinac Race (July 11), albeit with some careful changes to help keep sailors safe and healthy.

I checked in with Chris Clark, race chairman of the 2020 Bayview Mackinac Race, via email, to learn more about this exciting freshwater distance race.

What’s been the hardest challenge about organizing a distance during a major pandemic?

Managing expectations in a world of ever-changing requirements. As anyone who has ever managed a regatta knows, in regular times there many challenges. Our goal is to comply with all State and Federal regulations and try to put on safe race for everyone involved.

Have you and the other organizers had to change any aspects of this year’s Bayview Mackinac Race due to COVID-19? If so, can you explain?

Just like everyone else, [we’ve reduced] the size of gatherings. No skippers meeting, all information is now online, [and we’re having] virtual weather briefings. No race packets to pick-up, we’ve created digital documents for all the boats. Sailor [will] need to pick-up their Yellowbrick Trackers from Bayview Yacht Club, [but] it should be fast and efficient, reducing gatherings.

There will not be the typical award’s party on Mackinac Island this year. Awards will not be held on the Island-we are working to determine when, where and how they will be distributed at a future date.

We have worked very hard to reduce the number of volunteers needed for pre-race and on the island post-race. [Overall,] we have reduced the number of volunteers on the Island by over 75%. This was accomplished in many ways, one is by utilizing YellowBrick Tracking to record finish times. In the past, we had a trailer with volunteers recording every boat that finished the race.

Due to lack of ability to reach agreement with the Michigan [Department of Natural Resources] this year no boats will be tying-up on the island as part of the event. We are providing the boats touch-and-go access on other docks.

Congrats on fielding an impressive number of entries, given the realities of 2020. How do these numbers stack up to non-pandemic years?

We expect the number of boats to be down approximately fifty percent.

Where do most of these boats come from? Are you seeing more out-of-town boats showing up, given that so many races have been cancelled this year?

In the past we would expect to see boats and crew from across the country, [but] this year most boats are from the Great Lakes, with a heavy focus on Michigan.

What kinds of onshore social-distancing practices will the event employ? Also, how do you plan to enforce these policies?

With the lower number of boats there will be a lot less sailors. Port Huron, where the race starts, has cancelled all their festivities including the Blue Waterfest, so downtown Port Huron will not have the same foot traffic.

This year there will be no social events sponsored by the race, it will be all competition.

What kinds of safe-play tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Are we talking about standard-issue things like face masks, hand sanitizer and limited crew numbers, or will crews also be expected to self-quarantine ahead of the race? Also, do you expect that sailors will arrive with their usual levels of competitiveness, or is the spirit of this year’s race more about getting out on the water for some friendly racing?

[A] Bayview Yacht Club member and emergency room doctor has developed recommendations that are posted online as race communications for all competitors to read and follow.

Sailors want to race, to get out on the water and compete against each other, [and] I expect the same level of competition we have had for every Bayview Mackinac Race.

How will any potential protests be handled? Will all competitors be “in the room”, or will any red flags be handled via video conference?

Video Conference after the event is over.

In your mind, what are the best aspects and challenges of this racecourse? Also, what are typically the trickiest bits of the racecourse for navigators, tacticians and skippers?

Cold water and warm air always cause significant [wind] shear, and it’s compounded [by] heating effects along the shoreline.

The Chicago Yacht Club cancelled their 2020 Race to Mackinac given COVID-19 concerns. Did you and other event organizers experience any pressure to cancel the Bayview Mackinac Race? If so, what was the reasoning for moving ahead with your race?

We work closely with Chicago Yacht Club and their unique set of issues are different from ours.

Any advice for other organizers who are interested in trying successfully and safely administer long distance sailboat races in the COVID-19 era?

Be patient and flexible.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

As we move forward, again we ask all the sailors and boat owners to be flexible. We are working very hard to stay in constant and immediate communication with everyone involved.

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