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Battling the bumps to Mackinac victory

Published on July 26th, 2022

After suffering a rig failure 10 minutes into the 2021 Transpac Race, the Ker 46+ Denali 3 came back with wins in both the 2022 Mackinac races hosted by Bayview Yacht Club and Chicago Yacht Club. North Sails Expert Brian Janney recounts his wild 289 nm Chicago to Mackinac journey onboard Denali 3:

Our race strategy for the Chicago Mac was to get north as fast as we could, even if this meant not sailing towards the finish. The reason we wanted to get up the lake was because of an MCS (Mesoscale Convective System) that had formed. This is a complex of thunderstorms which becomes organized on a scale larger than the individual thunderstorms, and normally persists for several hours.

We were the small “slow” boat in our class, but by sunset on the first night (July 23) we were only 7 miles behind three of the TP52s. From the start we hoisted out A2+ (this is an A2 that is heavier cloth and designed for planing), inside of that we had our spinnaker staysail. But when the front edge of the storm got to the shore, we quickly shifted gears and put a reef in our main, dropped the spinnaker and hoisted our J4.

The wind shifted from the south to the west and built from 15 knots to 30 knots in only a few minutes. We loosely sheeted the sails on for a wide upwind/ tight reach angle. The goal was to not flog the sails. After the bad parts of the storm had passed over us ,we were able to “resume” racing.

We changed our heading to point towards the Manitou passage, hoisted our Fractional A6 spinnaker and took off, averaging speeds in the 20-22 knots. Then the wind built back to 30 knots, and with the sea state it became hard to drive the boat, so we changed to our J0 trimmed off of the reaching strut.

By the time we got to the Manitou passage, the wind was back into the 18-20 knot range and we hoisted our A2+ again. It was mainly a spinnaker run all the way to the finish.

Race weather specialist Chris Bedford noted that while storms like this are not uncommon to occur in the summertime, he doesn’t recall a whole night of storms like this.

“Usually, it’s a one and done kind of thing, but this year it was something we refer to as training, which is one storm after another. From preliminary reports, it appears the first round was probably most impactful with strongest wind gusts between 45 to 55 knots. I don’t blame anybody that decided to withdraw.”

Of the 238 starters, 29 boats did just that.

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