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Kapos: Drama at the Mac race when boat sinks

Mark Bremer, captain of the City Girl sailboat, rescued the crew from another boat and dropped out of the Race to Mackinac.

Mark Bremer, captain of the City Girl sailboat, rescued the crew from another boat and dropped out of the Race to Mackinac. | Shia Kapos/Sun-Times

A gust of wind buried the nose of the WhoDo sailboat into a wave during the Race to Mackinac a few weeks ago. Churning waters heaved the boat first onto one side and then the other.

“We had two knockdowns right in a row and the force ripped the rudder out of the hull,” said Russell Madsen, one of the 10 crew members aboard.

Skipper Michael Gilburt called out for everyone to grab life jackets, and Madsen went down into the boat to send a Mayday distress signal. Water rose from his ankles to his knees by the time the call was finished.

Mark Bremer, captain of the City Girl sailboat, heard that call.

“We were about a half-mile away, so we went to help,” recalls Bremer, an avid sailor and president of Stax, a strategy-consulting firm in Chicago. Without thinking twice, he pulled out of the race to go help WhoDo’s crew.

Bremer’s City Girl sailboat arrived within minutes. Other boats were there to help too.

By then WhoDo’s team was about to climb onto rafts. Bremer’s team pulled them aboard and they all watched the WhoDo slowly sink.

From the time WhoDo lurched to the time its crew boarded Bremer’s boat, only 10 minutes passed.

“It all happened really fast,” says Bremer, who left the race to deliver the stranded crew to Leland, Michigan.

WhoDo’s crew, mostly from Michigan, was experienced and Madsen says the boat “was in tip-top shape.”

“The night before there were storms and we pulled through that without a problem,” Madsen said. The daytime winds shouldn’t have been difficult. But once the rudder broke, everything changed.

Bremer, who has spent much of his life sailing Lake Michigan, says everyone at the scene remained calm despite the drama of a boat sinking.

“Thunderstorms and the weather can be scary, but sailing is a great sport and a safe one if you’re prepared and have the right equipment,” he says. “We just felt really fortunate to be close to them and to be there at the right time.”

Once they were rescued, WhoDo’s crew found some humor in it all and joked about being rescued by a smaller boat — Bremer’s is a 30-foot boat while WhoDo is a 48-footer.

At Obama’s vacation spot, politics meets golf

As President Barack Obama‘s presidency winds down, friends and supporters — Chicagoans included — savor celebrations that bring them together with the first family. But politics is never far away.

You saw that last week when the biggest names in pop culture, sports and business feted the president on his 55th birthday. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stopped by too.

Mingling with Beyonce and retired NBA star Grant Hill were Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Ariel Investments CEO John Rogers; Henry Crown and Co. President Jim Crown and his artist wife, Paula Crown; businessman and pal Marty Nesbitt and his wife, Dr. Anita Blanchard, the ob/gyn who delivered both of Obama’s daughters.

Celebs with Chicago homes were there too, including actress-singer Jennifer Hudson, tennis great Billie Jean King and actress Gabrielle Union, wife of the Bulls’ Dwyane Wade.

This week, the first family is unwinding at Martha’s Vineyard, their last vacation there while Obama is president. The family has vacationed at the Vin, as locals call it, every year of his presidency but for 2012, when he was campaigning for re-election.

Like the glitzy birthday party, this year’s retreat will be a combination of celebration and schmoozing.

Most likely joining the Obamas will be close friends Eric Whitaker and Cheryl Whitaker, both Chicago health care professionals who have known the Obamas for years. Valerie Jarrett, an aide to the president and the family’s closest ally, also will likely pop up in pictures documenting Obama’s last stay on the island as president.

Clinton will hit the island, too, for a fundraiser.

Jordan Vaughn, who works with the Hillary for American campaign, emailed potential donors with a note about the fundraiser and a sentimental nod toward the role Martha’s Vineyard has played in the Obama administration.

“I know how much it means to our community to have time with him on the Vineyard,” Vaughn wrote, referring to Obama. He continued with a political pitch encouraging friends to make time for Clinton too.

Read more from Shia Kapos at shiakapos.com