Grosse Pointe News

Sean Cotton, Owner • Anne Gryzenia, Publisher • Jody McVeigh, Editor In Chief • Meg Leonard, Associate Editor

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Bayview-Mackinac race preview

Sailors just call it Mackinac.

Boats setting sail in the 2020 Bayview-Mackinac Race. Photo courtesy of David Stoyka

As in, “Are you doing Mackinac this year?” “Are you still doing Mackinac on this or that boat?” “Mackinac is going to be great this year.”

No matter what you call it, the 2021 Bayview Mackinac Race is unquestionably one of the most anticipated events of the summer for the sailing community. Mackinac never loses its fascination.

“The wind is always moving,” said Greg Thomas of Grosse Pointe Park, the 2021 race chairman. And the sailors love the challenge. 

“They know how to make these boats go and they know how to smell out the wind. Those are the two things you need to do,” Thomas said. “If you can increase the probabilities of getting that right, you increase the probability of winning.”

But in the end, Thomas said, the difference may be the smallest of margins. 

“After all those miles, all those different directions, different sails, you can end up five seconds apart,” Thomas said. 

As of last Sunday, there were 183 boats entered in the 2021 race, a huge increase from the 107 boats who ventured out for the 2020 race. Sponsor Bayview Yacht Club is proud of extending its streak of consecutive races to 97 races by not canceling the race last year.

This year’s race is expected to be more “normal,” Thomas said, with the number of boats and the approximately 2,000 sailors up to pre-pandemic levels. 

Boats and crews are coming from across the country. In addition to the usual hometowns in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota — the Great Lakes states — there also are boats from Arkansas, Connecticut, California, New York, Texas, Vermont and Florida.

“We didn’t go last year because of COVID and I’m looking forward to doing it again,” said Gary Graham of the City of Grosse Pointe, who owns the C&C 35 Contender. “This will be my 40th.

“It’s the high point of the summer,” Graham added. “It’s the distance of the race, the challenge, the destination. It’s a great place to end a race.”

This will be a bittersweet year for Contender, who lost a longtime crew member, Steve Stapleton, to COVID. That will make the race a lot more poignant, Graham said.

“The crew has been struggling to fill that spot,” he added.

Detroit’s own Atwater Brewery and the Mackinac Race Foundation are the presenting sponsors this year. New sponsors include Faygo Beverages, Flagstar Bank, Lake Huron Medical and the Sika Corp. 

All the boats will sail one course this year, the Shore Course, due to Canadian waters still being closed to American boats. Usually there is a second, longer course up to Canada’s Cove Island near Georgian Bay for bigger or faster boats.

This is the first time all the boats have been on one course since 1971. That also means the Canadian boats that are loyal Mackinac competitors are unable to come.

The big boats will probably finish Sunday on the shorter Shore Course. In fact, Thomas said, a lot of boats may finish Sunday. 

Eliminator is a C&C 35 Mark 2, has done the Cove Island course 15 times and the Shore Course 20 times, said Chris Van Tol of Grosse Pointe Park, whose family has owned the boat for 37 years. 

There are several directions you can sail on the Cove Island Course, Van Tol said, so the fleet tends to spread out. On the Shore Course, the strategy tends to be what time of day to head toward the shore and when to get off the shore, Van Tol said. 

There’s limited docking space available on the island because the DNR would not let Bayview rent the harbor, since they were following pandemic capacity limits when the race was planned last winter.

Consequently most boats will end up docking in either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace. Crews on boats that finish in those two marinas during the night will have to wait until morning for the ferries to resume running to get to the island. 

“This will be my 17th,” said Erik Gutermuth of the City, who will be on board the C&C 35 Shamrock. 

“It’s all about the people,” he said. “I really enjoy sailing with the people we have on the crew. You couldn’t find a better group of people to sail with. It makes everything fun.”

There are a couple of changes this year. One change that started last year and is continuing is there will be no race committee marking finishes on the island. Instead Bayview will use a combination of the boat’s position and time on the tracking device each boat carries and a photo skippers must take of their navigation screen as they cross the finish line. 

“That’s the wave of the future,” Thomas said. “More and more of these major regattas have gone to tracking devices.”

Also there are no marks. All marks are virtual marks, Thomas said. 

“Technology makes everything a little more irritating and a little more efficient,” Thomas said.

Asked what are the most competitive classes, Thomas quickly replied, “All of them.”

But he added the relatively new class of J-111s and the older J-35/T-35 class are very competitive. And, of course, the big boats are always competitive.

Mostly the sailors are just happy to see the race returning to “normal.”