Pacific Northwest Sailors Take on a Tough Chicago-Mac at 23 knots in Blue

This year’s 333-mile (289 nm) Chicago Mackinac Island Race sailed last weekend was, once again, a tour of extreme conditions. Two life-saving rescues had to be performed in the fleet. From very nearly deadly to drifting, the crews from all those boats competing, whether they finished or not, have tales to tell. The Paul Bieker-designed 41-footer Blue was more than a Northwest design; a good portion of its crew was from the Northwest including Brian Huse, Kathryn Meyer and Kris Bundy. Brian graciously offered up a report between Macs (they’re doing the Port Huron Mac as well), and at the end of this post I’ll include some links to hair-raising rescues from the race. Here’s Brian:

The 17-boat Tartan 10 class was one of six one-design classes in the Mac. Photo courtesy of Miste Photography.

We had a great sail. The forecast was for a building SW breeze ahead of a cold front which would intersect with around midnight Saturday. We were in section 1, the third to last start, at 1:40 on Saturday. We had a great start and quickly set the fractional code-0 and were on our way. An hour or so later we changed to the A3 and then a few hours later we settled in to the A2. We sailed out of Chicago toward Michigan until the breeze settled into what we thought was the max right then gybed onto port and headed north. The goal was to get as far north as possible ahead of the pending cold front, which was forecasted to be strong cold and northerly.

I was off watch with another hour before my watch started when my watch was asked to come on deck to peel to the A4. It was 11:00 Saturday night. It was dark with no moon yet and was blowing 18-20. We were expecting a increase in the southwest breeze ahead of the cold front so we wanted to be ready with the A4 for some nice 20 knot+ true wind speed sailing. We successfully got the A4 up and the A2 down. It was now blowing 25 and our bow team was still tidying up from the change with all others in the back as we were now planing at 18 or so. In less than two minutes the breeze built to the high 30’s and we had 1-2’ of water over the deck. Finally all the crew were able to move to the transom and we ripped! Twenty-three to 25 knots of boat speed. The breeze built to over 40 knots when we noticed wind speed was 44 knots. It was the 44-knot puff which did the damage. While we were working out how to get the kite down the decision was made for us. The kite halyard pulls through the clutch. The spinnaker in the water and the boat broaches a little as the kite fills with water…

No significant damage but we have to cut the halyard as all though it pulled through its still attached to the sail and the boat somewhere. We damaged the kite a little, did some more significant damage to the new staysail as it did some serious flogging half furled. It took about 20 minutes to get sorted out. Unfortunately due to the way we peeled both topmost halyards were lost, leaving us with only fractional halyards. By the time dust settled and we were ready to set the fractional code 0 the breeze had swung to about 30 degrees and we were into a headsail. We would now be beating to Mackinac Island. We started with the #3. A couple hours later we reefed and a couple hours after that we changed to the #4. We sailed with a reef and a #4 all day Sunday. Our masthead electronics were a casualty of the incident so we don’t know what the breeze was but I would say more than 25 and less then 30 and super choppy and sloppy. The waves 4-6’ and close together. The boat was awesome with no issues at all in that stuff. The crew handled well too. Everyone worked hard and even thou it was not a glamour day of sailing, the mood was upbeat and keen. The wind started to die down at the south end of Manitou Passage closer to Sleeping Bear. We started to power up. Shook out the reef and went back to the 3. We had good breeze all the way to Grays reef. The wind freshened a bit but nothing extreme.

We ended up beating in moderate northerly’s to Grays Reef. At the time we got north of the reef it was ~3:00 am Monday. It took 10 hours to sail the ~20 miles to Mackinac in light to no breeze…it was mostly a beat but we ultimately finished with an A1.5 at 1:00ish in the afternoon on Monday.
Michael Schoendorf is the owner of “Blue”. He is a great sailor and puts together a great team. The crew was a mix from the PNW, Midwest and one from the east coast. All great sailors and tough! Mike does an excellent job of preparing the boat and keeping the gear and sails current. I feel quite fortunate to be a part of it.
Brian Huse (broker at Raven Marine)
Ed. Note: The trimaran High Priority 2 capsized and the crew had to be rescued by the USCG. There’s a first person account on Sailing Anarchy. In another Sailing Anarchy story, the survival and rescue of a sailor who spent an hour in the water is chronicled. The Chicago Mac throws it all at you in extremes, from the infamous black flies to furious squalls. It’s humbling. On a personal note, I’ve done seven long ago and miss it terribly. 
The Volvo 70 Il Mostro was the first monohull to finish, and one of the many “gold platers” in the fleet.

Kurt grew up racing and cruising in the Midwest, and has raced Lasers since the late 1970s. He has been Assistant Editor at Sailing Magazine and a short stint as Editor of Northwest Yachting. Through Meadow Point Publishing he handles various marketing duties for smaller local companies. He currently is partners on a C&C 36 which he cruises throughout the Northwest. He’s married to the amazing Abby and is father to Ian and Gabe.

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