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Lake Michigan brings challenges, exacts a toll: Day 1 update on the 110th Mac


The cruising sections sailed Friday in the 100th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, one of the more eventful Macs.
Matt Knighton

Some variation of the action verbs, beating or banging, were slung around in the days leading up to the start of Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. With good reason, sailors eyed all sorts of weather forecasts.

It looks like a good number of the 306 boats in the 110th Mac will take a beating from banging into northerly winds fetching waves the length of Lake Michigan for good chunk of the race.

The race committee reported a man overboard on Imedi, later identified as Jon Santarelli, around 3 p.m. Saturday, five nautical miles off the start. By 6 a.m. Sunday, 31 boats, 10 percent of the fleet, had retired. That is reminiscent of 2017 when 98 boats, nearly a third of the fleet, retired after a beating on Saturday night last year.

The cruising sections sailed Friday afternoon from Chicago on the 333 statute miles from Chicago to Mackinac Island, Mich. The bulk of the fleet, the racing sections, set sail Saturday. The first boat should arrive Sunday afternoon or evening.

“If you sail across the lake from Chicago, there should be some relief from the waves on the eastern shore [by Michigan],’’ race chairman Sarah Renz said Thursday.

By Saturday, virtually the entire fleet was headed toward the Michigan shoreline for relief from the winds and waves.

Because every boat now is tracked and plotted in real time on either the YB Races app or through the CYC site, it makes fascinating viewing to see what choices are made, especially for somebody like Renz.

“I love looking through the courses of the boats after the race,’’ Renz said.

She is more than a figurehead when it comes to the Mac. The former All-American sailor at the College of Charleston has sailed 15 Macs in many roles, skipper to tactician to crew. She will be sailing on one of the faster boats, Merlin, a 40-year-old precursor to the fabled Great Lakes 70s.

Now, anybody who knows weather knows about anything can happen or change.

Even though some of the race will undoubtedly be into wind and waves, Renz, who does some driving, said “Driving through the waves, they can be in a nice pattern. You can get in a nice pattern. You have three or four hours [at the helm].’’

A sort of natural rhythm with the water.

“I think the cruisers will have wonderful conditions to push them past Milwaukee,’’ Renz said.

By Saturday evening, the lead cruiser, Infinite Diversion, was only 117 nautical miles from the finish. and hugging the Michigan shoreline. Shortly afterward, Infinite Diversion retired.

Renz thought some of the bigger faster boats, such as Windquest or Il Mostro, will catch and pass the cruisers as conditions become tougher this weekend.

“I was a one design sailor, you just sailed around a course,’’ Renz said. “The challenge the Mac provides to sailors is that you are sailing against boats unlike yours and everyone else and playing the conditions for two or three days.’’

All boats are handicapped for the Mac.

“You want to be able to sail well in light conditions and tough conditions,’’ Renz said “We will do like tough conditions. It makes Lake Michigan one of the most challenging in the world.’’

The challenge is on.

Renz ended her interview Thursday by saying, “As long as people are safe, it will be good.’’