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Race to Mackinac’s 110th sailing begins Friday

Cheap Thrill sails against the Chicago skyline. |
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A second VHS antenna seems an odd thing to require in the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.

Until you think about it. The Mac is not a Saturday sail out of Belmont Harbor and back. It’s 333 statute miles from Chicago to Mackinac Island, Michigan.

The 110th sailing of the world’s oldest freshwater distance race begins Friday afternoon with the cruising sections. The racing sections set sail Saturday.

Tim Snyder said there are 67 required items for the Cheap Thrill, the Tartan 10 he and his wife, Nancy, own.

Snyder will be sailing his 30th Mac; Nancy, her 29th. They are the sixth married couple to be Island Goats (25 Macs or more). Nancy was the 14th woman. They have been to the podium 14 times in the T10 section and won eight

“We have certain things we use once a year for the race for Mackinac,” Snyder said.

They have a storage locker for some of it. They have a cooler for food, though they mostly use prepackaged food. A stove is required, but it’s mostly used for making hot water.

A hand-held radio is required as a backup. Both the main radio and the handheld have builtin GPS.

“I can push a red panic button on radio, and it will broadcast our boat and location, much more precise than 15 or 20 years ago,” Snyder said.

The PFDs for the Mac have a higher required amount of buoyancy.

“And it has to have a whistle,” Snyder said. “A five-dollar whistle is a lifesaver in the night. And a light. Right now, we are checking that they work.”

These are not cavalier things. Lake Michigan can be savage. Last year, storms Saturday night forced nearly a third of the fleet (98 boats) to retire. Looking at the forecast, Snyder thought north-northeast winds and waves make another weather-impacted Mac likely.

“Even 6- and 8-foot waves on Lake Michigan are still shaped like the steep chop on inland lakes,” Snyder noted. That’s different than the swells on the ocean.

Another requirement is the ability to steer if there is complete rotor failure.

“We have a drogue that is essentially a sea anchor,” Snyder said.

The boat may then be steered by essentially braking on one side or other.

A scuba diving knife is required in the cockpit, ready and available.

“Everybody must have a locking knife you can open with one hand,” Snyder said.

That’s in case of going overboard and becoming tangled, the knife allows people to cut free.

Informal requirements build on the technology side. Many boats have satellite phones and data capacity. It’s the third or fourth year that Cheap Thrill is equipped well enough to be able to tweet from anywhere.

Some things remain the same. Their crew includes Aimee Smith, doing her seventh Mac with them.

“We have had people sail with us for 20 years,” Snyder said. “Another friend has done it off and on for years. We prefer people with whom we have sailed overnight. We select among friends who enjoy sailing. We need to have some chemistry.”

Paula Bersie, Abigail Gavrila and Spencer Klingman round out the crew.

The Snyders sail competitively most weekends, another way of prepping for the Mac.

“We are fairly committed to it,” Snyder said. “It takes that kind of commitment. Practice is a function in sailing actual races.”

Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac

What: 110th sailing of the world’s oldest freshwater distance race, 333 statute miles (289.4 nautical miles), from Chicago to Mackinac Island, Michigan

Who: More than 2,500 sailors from 39 states and 16 countries, 306 boats

When: Cruisers begin at 3 p.m. Friday. Racing sections sail Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m.

Course: Starts east of Navy Pier, ends at the line between the lighthouse on Round Island and the race committee trailer on Mackinac Island

Tracking: cycracetomackinac.com, click “Race Tracking”

Tracker App: YB Races

Twitter: #CYCRTM

Facebook: facebook.com/CYCRTM/

Spectators: (land): “Ashore Thing,” boats pass east end of Navy Pier, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, michiganavemag.com/ashorething. (water): Mac start can be stunning from a boat on Lake Michigan

Monohull record: Pyewacket, Roy Disney, 23:30:34, 2002.

Multihull record: Stars and Stripes, Steve Fossett, 18:50:32, 1998.

Island Goats: Sailors with at least 25 Macs

Memorable years

1898: Five yachts started Aug. 6 in the Race from Chicago to Mackinac Island. Vanenna won in 51 hours.

1904: Second Race to Mackinac.

1905: First female skipper, Evelyn Wright, and her all-woman crew sailed the sloop Lady Eileen. Slowest race: Mistral’s elapsed time was 94 hours, 10 minutes.

1908: Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson entered his 81-foot racing schooner, Valmore, and the era of the big schooners began.

1909: For the first time in local yachting history, progress in the Mac was reported back to Chicago by wireless telegraph.

1911: Gale year (80 mph). Commodore Baum’s Amorita established elapsed-time record (31:14:30) that stood for 76 years.

1912-13: After the gale, race was shortened to end at Harbor Springs on Little Traverse Bay.

1917-1920: Suspended during World War I.

1933: Chimon, a schooner owned by Henry K. Hill from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club of Toronto, was the first foreign yacht to win the Mac.

1937: Year of the Big Blow, a 65 mph northwestern gale. Only eight finished from a fleet of 42.

1957: The mighty Mackinac Bridge erected over the Straits of Mackinac.

1960: Island Goats Sailing Society established by Hobart “Red’’ Olson. Minimum qualifications? Raced at least 8,325 miles from Chicago to Mackinac Island (25 or more Macs).

1970: Gale year. A northerly knocked 45 on the nose for 16 hours, at night exceeding 60 mph. Out of 167 starters, 88 withdrew. Ted Turner–racing his America’s Cup Boat, American Eagle — publicly retracted calling Lake Michigan a “mill pond.’’

1979: Goats admitted first “nanny goat’’: Anne Juell.

1987: Dick Jennings’ Santa Cruz 70, Pied Piper, set record of 25:50:44.

1993: Motorola lent 12 Traxar Global Positioning Systems to selected yachts.

1998: Steve Fossett made the 100th anniversary special with his Stars and Stripes setting the elapsed record (18:50:32) in the exhibition multihull division.

2000: Mackinac Island was put in a state of emergency as power was lost just before the bulk of the fleet arrived.

2002: Roy Disney’s Pyewacket set Mac record (23:30:34). A cold front shifting northerly broke booms, dismasted one boat, capsized the 44-foot multihull Caliente and caused at least 15 boats to withdraw.

2008: 100th sailing of the Mac. First time 100 percent of the fleet had GPS coverage.

2011: The first racing related deaths came on a freak storm near the finish around midnight on Sunday July 17. WingNuts capsized northwest of Charlevoix, Mich., and its skipper Mark Morley and Suzanne Bickel, both from Saginaw, Mich., died

2017: Notable for 98 boats, nearly a third of the fleet, retiring because of weather and waves