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The Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac - All set to go Friday and Saturday

by Barby MacGowan 14 Jul 2021 05:11 PDT July 16-17, 2021
The Beneteau 37 Endeavour, which will have one of the youngest participants aboard, 13-year-old Charlie Gallagher © Photo supplied by Gallagher family

With 240 entrants, the Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac presented by Wintrust (CYCRTM) promises once again to be a spectacle worth taking in, as it returns to Lake Michigan and Lake Huron this week.

Cruising and Performance Racing Divisions start the race at Chicago's Navy Pier on Friday (July 16) and Saturday (July 17), respectively, with organizers suggesting the window of 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday as the best public viewing opportunity. In 10-minute intervals, starting at 11 a.m. and ending around 2:40 p.m., seventeen "sections" for ORC, One-Design, Multihull and Doublehanded boats will start their 289 nautical mile journey to Mackinac Island - an annual trek that, over more than 11 decades, has become the stuff of legend in sailboat racing. (Friday's starts for three sections of cruising boats will run from 3-3:30 p.m.)

"Every year you start in the same place and finish in the same place, and you see familiar things at both ends, but everything along the way is different in the sense that Mother Nature will decide what you experience," said Race Chair Martin Sandoval.

Sandoval, who has completed 19 Chicago Macs, has entered his Beneteau 36.7 Karma in this year's race with his brother Lou listed as co-skipper and a team that includes 19-year-old daughter Caroline, a first timer, plus 5 other crewmembers. "It's hard to be involved with all the work that goes into organizing this race and then sit on the sidelines," said Sandoval, who served as Event Chair last year, as well, when the race ultimately had to be cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.

Sandoval added that sailors in this race run the gamut from world champions to America's Cup and Olympic sailors to local racing enthusiasts. There are pros and amateurs alike from across the country and around the planet. "I continue to hear from the sailors that, like me, they are looking forward not only to the race but also to the camaraderie... being with whatever teams they've chosen to join."

For renowned sailor Dawn Riley, team and boat preparation is the key to success in this race, and this week's training with her crew aboard the 86-foot OC86 - which is representing the Oakcliff Sailing organization she runs in Oyster Bay, N.Y. - has taken precedence over all else, even her taking time to reflect on last week's announcement that she is to be inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

"OC86 (a MAX Z86 formerly known as Windquest), is a massive boat that the DeVos family has bestowed upon us, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of our sailors," said Riley, explaining that her Oakcliff charges are possible future pro sailors trained in all aspects of big boat management, preparation, operation and racing. "We're sailing with 22 crew: four coaches including myself, seven supporters and 11 trainees who are in large part the reason why our average crew weight is 162 lbs. compared to the normal 190 lbs. We will be rotating grinders a lot!"

Riley said she hasn't kept track of how many Chicago Macs she has done but was 16 when she started. It's true all ages get involved. This year's oldest competitor is 93-year-old Gene McCarthy, who will be sailing on the Tartan 10 Island Goat Express, and one of this year's youngest is 13-year-old Charlie Gallagher who will sail with his father Matt Gallagher and mother Emily Gallagher aboard the family's Beneteau 37 Endeavour.

"It will be a pleasure to do it again since we didn't sail it last year," said the younger Gallagher, who counts this as his third race with his family. "This year I feel like I can be of more use on the boat than in the past, because I'm bigger, stronger and more mentally developed."

The young Gallagher first sailed when he was two days old, and first sailed on his own when he was four. He recently started a sailing team at DePaul College Prep, which he will attend in the Fall. The team will use the Chicago Yacht Club's fleet of 420s.

Gallagher's favorite thing about the race is going past the two Manitou Islands, about 229 miles into the race. "I think, 'I made it this far, I can do the rest of it.'" His least favorite thing is the encounter with flies when the wind dies.

"It's a serious offshore race," said father Matt. "There will be wind, there will be drifting, there will be sun, rain and flies. Relative to an ocean race where weather systems tend to last a little bit longer, when you get to the middle of this continent you get everything in rapid succession, which is part of what's fun and not fun about the race. You get everything Mother Nature has to throw at you over the course of two or three days."

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