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J/crews prevail in light, challenging Chicago Mackinac Race

by J-Boats 30 Jul 2023 16:45 PDT
2023 Chicago Mackinac Race © Stephen R Cloutier

The annual pilgrimage by land & sea to the fabled Mackinac Island took place last weekend on Lake Michigan. This year's 289.0nm Chicago Mackinac Race started by Saturday noon and wave after wave of boats headed north under brightly colored spinnakers. 207 boats started and, yet again the 63 J/Teams accounted for one-third of the fleet- by far the dominant brand. Three one-design fleets sailed the race- J/111s, J/109s, and J/105s. Then, seven offshore divisions included multitudes of J/Teams.

Similar to what happened in the previous weekend's Bayview Mackinac Race, the nice Saturday breezes continued from the generally southerly direction into Sunday evening along the Michigan shoreline between Big and Little Sable Points for most of the fleet. Thereafter, late Sunday into overnight Monday morning, the breeze dissipated everywhere in the northern part of the lake. the dreaded Manitou Passage yet again living up to its notorious reputation as the "Mac-breaker back-breaker" for many teams that had difficulty coping with the vexating wind conditions. The winds stayed light even as teams made it through Grey's Reef and were on their final 35.0nm leg through the Mackinac Bridge to the iconic finish line off the island.

There were several notable performances amongst the J/crews. The J/145 SIC PARVIS MAGNA took 2nd in the Mackinac Cup Overall and won her Section 3 by 4+ hours corrected time! And, the J/109s in the Chicago Mackinac Trophy Overall took 1st- LIQUID LOUNGE II, 3rd- SMEE AGAIN, and 4th- NORTHSTAR! Cool! Here is a breakdown of the various sections.

J/111 Class- 12 boats

Not surprisingly, the J/111s never let each other out of sight... it was a tough one-design battle all the way up the lake, playing gybing angles, trimming code Zeros to every nuance of a cat's paw puff... all the way to the finish. After 46 hours of racing, Scott Sellers's NO SURPRISE came out on top by a mere 5 mins finishing Monday morning at 11:27 AM! Taking second was Colin Caliban's NO QUARTER and earning the bronze medal was Brad Faber's UTAH. Rounding out the top five was Blane Shea's STRIKING BACK in 4th and Mark Symonds's PTERODACTYL in 5th place.

J/109 Class- 13 boats

Like their 111 colleagues, the J/109 teams also had several past Division winners as well as Overall Fleet winners in both the Bayview Mac and the Chicago Mac races! Winning overall and winning the division was Jim Caesar's LIQUID LOUNGE II! Needless to say, they were "over the moon" excited and delirious about their amazing performance! Second went to the quartet on SMEE AGAIN (George Miz, Peter Dreher, Mark Hatfield, and David Neenan). Third place was shocking close, just 23 seconds behind as they cruised across the finish line was David Gustman's NORTHSTAR! Rounding out the top five were Bill Hamilton's PHOENIX in 4th and Charlie Schroder's CHASE in 5th position.

J/105 Class- 9 boats

Well, the J/105 class may never see such a dominating performance in the history of the Chicago-Mac Race anytime soon. Somehow, Josh & Laura Lutton's KINSHIP sailed away as if there was no competition, other than the J/109s and J/111s that were keeping them company! Finishing just behind the top J/111s and J/109s on Monday at 4:24 pm, they won their class by a mere SEVEN HOURS!! What? Impossible! Yup, not a typo. Second went to Judith & Ross McLean's ESPRIT d'ECOOSE finishing late Monday evening at 11:12 pm! Third through fifth places went to previous J/105 divisions winners- Clark Pellet's SEALARK in 3rd, Gyt Petkus's VYTIS in 4th, and Jon Weglarz's THE ASYLUM in 5th.

Division 5 Doublehanded- 5 boats

Without a doubt, all five J/Teams swept the Doublehanded class! After global domination the past two years in this division by the J/88 EXILE, it was Justin Acker & Ted Lockwood's J/88 McQUEEN that took class honors by a large margin of nearly 30 minutes handicap time. Taking the silver was Andy Graff & Scott Eisenhardt's J/88 EXILE, while finishing third was Dan Floberg & Brian Hayes's J/88 MISTY.

So, here's the SHOCKER... the Doublehanded teams are NOT counted in the Chicago Mackinac Trophy Overall! Guess how they would've faired against their friends and colleagues in their J/112Es, J/109s, J/105s, and others? FIRST and THIRD Overall! Yup... the J/88s McQUEEN and EXILE with corrected times of 2:03:35:56 and 2:04:02:22, respectively, would have swept the podium with the J/109 LIQUID LOUNGE II in third place! LOL... cool stuff.

Section 3- 13 boats

The "big boat" division had an interesting match-up between two J/145s- Bill Schanen's bright red MAIN STREET and the trio of Nick Gibbens, Rich Murphy, and David Normandin on SIC PARVIS MAGNA (previously, the navy blue KATANA). However, with MAIN STREET leading, she abruptly retired... we hope the Schanen family and friends are OK. Instead, it was the J/145 SIC PARVIS MAGNA that ended up winning the division!

Section 4- 11 boats

This division had several J/Crews that have been on the podium multiple times. In the end, Tom Papoutsis's J/133 RENEGADE took the silver, with Greg Thomas's J/130 PENDRAGON grabbing the bronze medal! Not far off the pace was Randy Kuhn and Jim Richter's J/44 CHEEP N DEEP II in sixth.

Section 5- 11 boats (J/120 class)

Unsurprisingly, the remarkably well-sailed and campaigned J/120s swept their class. It seems to be a tradition with the hard-charging J/120 teams from Detroit. Winning bragging rights for the next year at Bayview Yacht Club bar was Mike & Bob Kirkman's HOT TICKET over their buddies Mike Fozo & Robin Kendrick's PROOF. Taking third place was Charlie Hess's FUNTECH RACING.

Section 6- 13 boats

The division that could've provided a surprise performance didn't. The three J/122s and J/111 in this class have all done extremely well over time. In the end, it wasn't in the cards for these J/crews accustomed to winning both divisions and Mac Races overall. This year, Lenny Siegal's gorgeous J/122E LUCKY DUBIE got a hard-earned bronze medal to at least hop aboard the podium and take a battle flag! Just 2 minutes behind them was Matt Songer's J/122 EVVAI to take 4th and yet another 18 minutes back was Doug Evans's J/122 ELBOW ROOM to take 5th.

Section 7- 16 boats

This race ended up being the "tale of two tapes", so to speak. I- Exit Stage Left. II- Muddle Thru Manitous. The two husband & wife teams on J/112Es- Todd & Heidi Patton's BLONDIE and Tim & Cathy McGuire's ELEVATION are both well-sailed boats. Both boats have already won their divisions in races this summer, with the McGuire's ELEVATION enjoying a "two-peat" of winning their Bayview Mackinac division last weekend.

So, what would happen in the Chicago-Mackinac Race? Well, the "tale of the tape" on YB Tracker showed ELEVATION checking out the Canadian shoreline for better fish perhaps? Who knows. It's not often in the annals of Chicago-Mackinac Race history that just 3 boats in the entire fleet, literally, "exit stage left" and go around the entire Manitous/ Beaver Island chain for tens of miles more sailing to take a pure lottery bet on either winning the race overall, or winning their division, or enjoying the idea of a "hail mary" strategy and finish absolute DFL. Most navigators and strategists would put that decision-making process in the "beyond DFL" category. It has been done, but very rarely pays off. In the case of ELEVATION, it was a 2 min. 16 secs difference over their fellow J/112E BLONDIE. Bragging rights? Perhaps. Lucky? Yes. Makes for a great story. In fact, here is how Tim McGuire, skipper of ELEVATION, described their decision-making process as they approached Point Betsie:

"Just before we entered Manitou Passage, we looked very carefully at the HRRR GRIB model pressure and wind forecast for the next 24 hours. It showed us that it was going to shutoff in Manitou Passage and stay consistent on the outside.

So, we formed (3) plans:

  1. Go around the Manitou islands and back in if the forecast changed to show wind in the passage.
  2. Continue around Fox island and again check HRRR and make the same decision to rejoin, or,
  3. Continue around Beaver island and play the wind and current in the Straits.
At #1 nothing had changed, we still saw the wind shutting off between the passage and Gray's reef, so we continued.

At #2 the SAIL GRIB software was having a very hard time picking under Beaver or around, see the pic I snapped of SAIL GRIB at that moment.

At #3 what convinced us to go around Beaver was wind developing in HRRR from the North Shore (Michigan Upper Peninsula) between 8 to 10:00 AM.

So, we're decided "We're not here for 2nd, 1st or nothing!" and I decided Go!

We'd hoped to run straight across the top but we were aware that could fall apart and it did. (This is the odd dip in our path).

We then turned back slightly to get to the predicted breeze from the North. There was about 45 inutes up there after we avoided the temptation to ride down some temporary puffs that we slowed down to 1 kt for awhile.

We thought we had completely blown it at that point. But the predicted wind showed up albeit an hour late. That gave us a straight line run at ~140 degrees TWA right under the center of the bridge at 7-8kts of boat speed. That was not enough to catch NOTORIOUS, but we held our position on our sistership!"

Section 8- 15 boats

This division has won many a "screwball" Chicago-Mac in the past. These teams weren't that far off depending on the way the cards fell for wind conditions at the front of the fleet versus the back of the fleet. In the end, it was Ray Douglas & Kristine Maybach's J/109 COURAGEOUS that won the class by a mere 3 minutes over their colleagues on Ben Wilson's J/99 RAMBLER! Fourth place went to Joel Carroll's J/105 LITTLE HOULIGAN and fifth place to the US Naval Academy's AVENGER! The top J/35 in 7th place was Daniel & Jill Leslie's NOMATA (a true family boat- the Leslie's (Dan, Mike, Madison, Taylor & Indigo), and Amedeo's (Jack & Kaitlin).

More Chicago Mackinac Race sailing information here.

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