Super Bowl of Midwest Sailing

Published on July 5th, 2018

One hundred ninety-seven teams are confirmed for the 2018 Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, scheduled for July 14.

With 93 years of tradition behind it, this unique distance race, with two courses (204 or 259 nm) that start on lower Lake Huron and finish at Mackinac Island, has a knack for bringing back regulars and reeling in newcomers, each year weaving new interesting stories into its tapestry of racing fun.

The 2018 fleet includes several boats logging their 30th race and one – Albacore – celebrating its 72nd. On the other end of the spectrum, some of the teens and young adults on Sojourner’s crew of Sea Scouts will be taking on the race for the very first time.

Pilot 33 Albacore. © Boat Pix.

“This is a great race for accommodating all sorts of different demographics: amateur, professionals, young, old, male, female,” said Race Chair Gary Shoemaker. “For sailing here in the Midwest, this is the Super Bowl, or at the very least the mid-season All-Star Game, and everyone wants to be in it.”

Anyone who has sailed the Bayview Mackinac Race 50 times is honored with membership in the Society of Grand Rams (“Old Goat” status distinguishes a 25-year record). No one is prouder to have established that ranking (in 2015) than Rich Marsh of Beverly Hills, Mich., who in 2018 will skipper the Pilot 33 Albacore for his 53rd time in the race.

Built in 1946, Albacore is one of only 10 Sparkman & Stephens designed Pilots that were built at Fisher Boat Works in Detroit after WWII (with US Navy surplus lumber that had been used to build minesweepers and PT boats). While there are three other Detroit Pilots still sailing, Albacore is the only one still racing.

“My father (Marv) bought her in ’58 and raced her to Mackinac for the first time in ’59,” said Marsh, who took over the boat in the late ‘80s. “She has been in the Marsh family for 60 years, but this will be the boat’s 72nd Bayview Mackinac – she’s missed only one as far as anyone can tell.”

Before Marsh was old enough to race to Mackinac, he helped bring Albacore to Pilot Cove –”just a nook in the harbor sea wall that disappeared when the Port Huron Yacht Club built their current facility” – the Friday before the race. His first Mackinac Race was in 1964, at the ripe old age of 12.

“The boat was built as a racer/cruiser, and back in those days families had time to go cruising after the race, sometimes for a couple of weeks in the North Channel,” said Marsh. “I was fortunate to be able to race 30 plus years with my father on Albacore, and now I’m enjoying racing her with three Old Goats (Paul Richards of White Lake, Laurie Russie of Troy and Bob Falberg of Bloomfield), Jenny Falkner (Columbus), and my son David Marsh (St. Clair Shores), daughter Carolyn Marsh and her husband Niko Kotsatos (both Boston, Mass.).” (This is the 16th Mackinac for David and the ninth for Carolyn).

Some of Marsh’s favorite Mackinac memories are his first win in 1985, winning overall in 1994 and winning a race with his son David in 2001. He and the Albacore team will be sailing the shorter of the two optional routes: the Shore course of 204 nautical miles. “We race the Saturday series in Detroit here, and that is our sailing practice,” said Marsh. “This is more than a Saturday race but it’s not difficult; we have it down to a well-practiced routine. Preparing for the Mackinac race is more work than a Saturday race, but we have it down to a well-practiced routine and that leaves us more time to focus on the race itself.”

Sojourner, another boat signed up in the Shore Course division, is a 30’ Seidelmann 299 owned and raced by the Boy Scouts of America Sea Scout Ship 1148. Its crew is comprised of a mix of five boys and girls – Caleb and Caitlin Parton (Detroit), Billy Stimson (Riverview, Mich.), Rachael Washburn (Trenton), Sara Mazurek (Trenton) – ranging in ages from 16 to 20 and three adult leaders, Becky Washburn (Trenton), Bill Tilley (Grosse Ile) and the Sea Scout unit’s Founder Timothy Branson (Dearborn). They are all from the Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Trenton areas of Michigan.

“This will be the boat’s first-ever Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, and for two of the kids (Caitlin and Billy), it will be their first time, too,” said Branson, who sailed in the 2017 race for his first time as crew and will serve as skipper this year. “They are both excited and a bit nervous, but the others have a better idea of what’s involved, since they’ve raced on other people’s boats. And all of the kids have helped ferry boats back from Mackinac in the past, but this time it’s strictly a crew of Sea Scouts.”

Seidelmann 299 Sojourner. © Martin Chumiecki/Bayview Yacht Club.

In preparation for this adventure, Sojourner has raced weekly in local regattas and in a Tuesday night series. The crew gained some heavy-air experience sailing back from the Mills Regatta on Lake Erie in 35 knots.

According to Branson, Billy will handle the foredeck and flying spinnaker, Caitlin is a grinder, and Sarah, Caleb and Rachael have all been designated as helmsmen. There will be four-hour shifts where every hour one crew rotates off and another crew rotates on, and an adult will be in the cockpit at all times.

“Basically, we’ve been preparing for three years,” said Branson. “The boat, built in 1979, was donated to us three years ago, and we’ve pretty much gone through breaking everything on the boat and replacing it.

“The Edison Boat Club of Detroit pretty much adopted us, so we’ve had an awesome place to sail out of, and we were able to outfit the boat with help from them and Bob Cowles of the Detroit Yacht Club’s Sailing Development Fund.

“He heard we were fundraising like crazy and sent us a big chunk of what we needed to make the boat extremely safe and more modern to train the kids. The Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race has a list of required and suggested safety gear; I figured if kids were going, we were going to bring it all on.”

As it stands now, there are 14 boats in Sojourner’s ORR Class O that are similarly rated. “We’re hoping for a better-than-average finish,” said Branson. “We’re shooting for the top five but will be happy with middle of the pack.”

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bayview mac course

Overview and close-up of the 259 nm Cove Island and 204 nm Shore Course for the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race.

Source: Media Pro Int’l

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