Ninety-five years of earning memories
Published on June 3rd, 2019
The Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, America’s longest-consecutively held freshwater sailing competition, is readying for its 95th edition on July 20, and organizers are working to “keep it safe, keep it fun, and keep it real.”
The race, which starts on lower Lake Huron and finishes at Mackinac Island to the north, offers sailors a choice of two courses: one the length of 259 nautical miles (the Cove Island Course) for larger boats and the other of 204 nm (the Shore Course).
As all who’ve sailed in it know, the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race is not for the faint of heart. Much of it can be spent beating upwind, and when Mother Nature is feeling feisty, she can serve up hefty breezes and short hammering waves that can wear down even the saltiest of souls.
The biggest problem, according to Race Chair Robert Nutter, is when a sailor assumes his safety gear will work and it doesn’t. “We are urging owners and crew bosses to proactively check flares, life vests, and life rafts in advance of the race, even if it means using up a $20 cartridge,” he said.
In the same vein, organizers continually encourage the improvement of sailors’ skills by hosting various seminars. To qualify for the race, at least 30% of those aboard, including the person in charge, must meet minimum safety educations requirements.
“Any sailor will tell you the preparation you do off the water leading up to the race is as important as the work you do on the water,” said Karl Kuspa of North Sails. “Having participated in more than 30 Bayview Mackinac races, I have a deep understanding of what it takes to get from Port Huron to Mackinac fast and safely.”
At “Boat Night” on the Friday night preceding the event’s Saturday morning start, entries line up their boats along both banks of the Black River in Port Huron for some last-minute frolicking at the massive Blue Water Fest.
The next morning, the fleet motors to the starting line in a parade that passes under the Bluewater Bridge and past spectators who set up lawn chairs on the shore and cheer on their favorites.
Once at Mackinac Island, horse-drawn carriages serve as taxis and bars and restaurants spill over with sailors who seem to grow exponentially by numbers until the last “pickle” boat appears at the dock. On the Tuesday after the start, the atmosphere is punctuated by the Island Awards Party and music concert attended by thousands at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel.
“Michigan has so many great traditions and sitting on Grand Hotel’s Front Poach while watching the sailboats cross the finish line of the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race is one of them,” said Grand Hotel President Dan Musser III.