The youngest crew in the annual Mackinac Race are, from left, Leo Buchanan, age 10; Stuart Fletcher, age 11; Ryan Hexter, age 11; Colin Hexter, age 8; Tommy Caulfield, age 8; and Daniel Gerhardstein, age 8. photo by Renee Landuyt.
July 10, 2014On July 12, 233 yachts will fill the marinas of Port Huron eager to commence the 90th annual Bayview Mackinac race.
This race is the second longest freshwater sailing race and recognized as one of the toughest in the world.
The grueling 30- to 40- hour marathon race is recommended only for the most experienced of sailors. One of the legacies of the Mackinac races are the titles bestowed upon experienced racers.
The "Old Goats" are sailors who have competed in the race 25 or more times, while the "Grand Ram" title is reserved only for sailors who break the 50-race mark.
This year, Tom Caulfield and his "Green Horn Kids," or first time racers, intend to do something never attempted in the race's long history. Caulfield, with the help of four other dads, plan on not only bringing their sons, ages 8 to 11, but completely handing them the reins.
"This is their race," Caulfield said with a beaming smile on his face.
He grew up in Grosse Pointe and learned to sail in the Crescent Junior Sailing program at age of 9.
This is the same program his son, 8-year-old Tommy, is in.
"We have some of, if not, the best, organized junior sailing programs in the country, right here in our backyard," Caulfield said. "But I feel there is a void with regards to getting these kids onto bigger boats."
With that in mind and his own inner-passion for competitive racing, Caulfield set out to create a transition for the children.
Initially, he was met with resistance from many of the experienced sailors who he first ran his idea by. Not being one to give up so easily, Caulfield turned to some of his fellow fathers he knew with children as excited about sailing as his own and this time was met with much more support.
In seemingly no time at all, he had support from dads throughout the community, offering their boats, gear and themselves to crew for the race.
"Support from the local sailing community once they found out what the kids were doing has been awesome," Caulfield said. "Boat owners from all over have been offering us their safety gear, life rafts and all sorts of things."
Once they had their crew picked and boat selected, a beautiful 49-foot Benetau cruising boat christened "Christina with a Sea II," it was time to start preparing. Through the winter, Caulfield and the other fathers put the boys to work, fixing the boat and preparing it for the summer. They attended training classes and visited sail lofts.
Teaching the boys how to properly operate a big boat safely is important to Caulfield and the crew, but it's not the only thing they are after.
"Teaching these guys how to work as a team, support one another and help each other achieve their goals is what I'm excited about," Caulfield said. "As dads, we're there to get them to the island safely. The boys sail the boat, trim the sails and make the decisions. It's meant to be a hands-on educational program."
Another great thing is the attention these children are starting to garner. Local Channel 4 meteorologist Andrew Humphrey met and interviewed the "Green Horn Kids" and also agreed to provide them with up-to-date weather predictions on race day.
What the boys are most excited about, though, is the recognition they're getting from the Detroit Tigers.
As part of a yearly promotion of the event, Bayview has the four Detroit sports teams, Tigers, Lions, Pistons and Red Wings, select a boat at random to compete as a kind of race within the race, in what is known as the Pro Team Challenge.
This year, the Tigers selected the "GHK" boat and if they pull off the victory, the Tigers would host them at a game.
While that is very exciting for the children, Caulfield knows it's not about winning that is important this year.
"Even if we're the last place boat, and one of the kids turns to me and says, 'I want to do this next year, we've won," Caulfield said.