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Nuts and bolts, well, antenna, radios, safety of the Mac: The race to the north

Some of the crew--(l-r) Aimee Smith, Nancy Snyder (at the helm), Abbey Gavrila, and Whitney Key (not crewing this year)--on the Cheap Thrill in 2016.
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A second VHS antenna seems an odd thing to requirein 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, Mich.

The 110th sailing of the world’s oldest freshwater distance race begins this 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 hi 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 six- and eight-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.’’

Cheap Thrill against the Chicago skyline.<br>Provided
Cheap Thrill against the Chicago skyline.
Provided