Solo Dis­tance Rac­ing on the Great Lakes

SAIL - - Racing Under Sail -

Back in the 1970s Ted Turner fa­mously re­tracted his de­scrip­tion of Lake Michi­gan as a “mill pond” after find­ing him­self caught up in one of the rough­est Chicago-Mack­inac races in decades—and in many ways solo dis­tance rac­ing on the lakes is tougher still.

Granted, the rhumb line dis­tances from Chicago to Mack­inac Is­land (334 miles) or from Port Huron, Michi­gan, to the same place (230 miles) are sub­stan­tially less than, say, the Ber­muda One-Two or the Sin­gle­handed TransPac. None­the­less, the tac­ti­cal chal­lenges posed by the solo races run along th­ese routes by the Great Lakes Sin­gle­handed So­ci­ety can make them just as tough as any solo event out there.

“I find ocean winds to be more pre­dictable and re­li­able than in­land wa­ters… Some of the best sailors in the world come from the Great Lakes, be­cause they must con­stantly shift gears quickly,” says Alan Veen­stra, a vet­eran of the New­port-Ber­muda and many crewed Chicago-Mack­inac races—as well as eight solo Macs—and line-hon­ors win­ner in the 2017 solo Chicago-to-Mack­inac race aboard the Fr­ers 53 Bum­ble­bee.

Along th­ese same lines, Veen­stra’s younger brother, Mark, who won this year’s race on cor­rected time aboard the Tar­tan Ten Mon­i­tor, says he still con­sid­ers the New­port-Ber­muda a greater chal­lenge due to the un­cer­tainty of the Gulf Stream, but he adds: “Lake Michi­gan is very un­pre­dictable. Find­ing fa­vor­able wind is al­ways chal­leng­ing.”

As for those who re­ally want to log some miles, in ad­di­tion to the Port Huron and Chicago solo races (which are run in­de­pen­dently of ei­ther the Chicago or Bayview YCs), there are also the solo “Su­per Mac” from Chicago all the way to Port Huron and the “Su­per Mac and Back,” a race that makes a com­plete cir­cuit from Chicago to Port Huron and then back again. Only one sailor, Kris Kim­mons, com­pleted the lat­ter in 2017.

“The Solo So­ci­ety is a special group,” says Mark Veen­stra, who has now com­pleted six solo Chicago-Mac races. “Fin­ish­ing the race is the ul­ti­mate goal. There’s more ca­ma­raderie with the solo group. There’s al­ways chatter on the ra­dio. Peo­ple are al­ways en­cour­ag­ing and tak­ing care of each other.”

Gra­ham Sauser, who took sixth over­all in this year’s Chicago race aboard the Beneteau Ocea­nis 352 Bangarang, agrees. “It’s a slightly dif­fer­ent mind­set. It’s not so much of a race as a chal­lenge,” he says. “If you can com­plete the race, that’s re­garded as be­ing just as cool as the guy who won.”

For more on this year’s race and solo rac­ing on the Great Lakes in gen­eral, visit the Great Lakes Sin­gle­handed So­ci­ety at solo­sailors.org.

It takes a special kind of sailor to solo dis­tance race on the Great Lakes

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