Silly to race a boat you already know

Published on July 26th, 2023

For the 2023 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, presenting sponsor Wintrust entered a team for the second year with the crew eager to match their 2022 win in the Beneteau 40.7 class. Here is a recap by the team’s navigator Doug Johnstone from the 289nm course to this island of fudge and horse-drawn carriages:

This race actually started in early spring when after Nick Gibbens, a VP at Wintrust Financial, struggled to find a suitable boat to charter for this year’s race. The idea was broached of having Wintrust purchase a boat that could be used by both the Chicago Yacht Club and Wintrust for community outreach purposes and be available for charter and some serious boat racing during Wintrust’s 5-year title sponsorship for the race.

This turned out to be a “win-win-win!” situation!”

In April, we were surveying a J/145 that ultimately got bought, taken apart, shoved on a trailer, and driven to Chicago, IL. Then it was put back together, launched, and motored down to Chicago Yacht Club approximately one week prior to the race.

Nick increased the size of last year’s San Francisco Bay Area Mafia by two, with the addition of some consigliere. We’re not talking your run-of-the-mill consigliere either.

One was a seasoned big boat and 12 Metre sailor who looked like he could just quietly smile while pulling your arms off and the other was a Notorious bow man who could talk a charging rhino into the ground. The remainder of the team were Wintrust Banking associates headed up by the Chief Wintruster, who went by the nickname of “Murph”.

Two days of sail testing and tweaking the electronics and boat gave us some time to figure things out. But as was the case last year, none of us had sailed a J/145. Seems silly to race a boat you already know!

The forecast for the race was to be diametrically opposed to last year. No deadly weather, no vicious multiple thunderstorms, no cold fronts, no suddenly dropping the mainsail, or putting up the storm jib. Instead, it was to be light, variable, muggy, and warm. Isolated rain showers (showers!) and eight to ten knots of wind forecast.

We motored out to the start area and did the usual routine of loitering about watching the starts ahead of us. Then at our ten-minute warning, we milled about suspiciously, looking for a boat to pick on.

Nick selected the other J/145 to pick a fight with and the Notorious bow man talked them into being over early. It’s interesting, as I’ve only raced with Nick twice and both times he got into a fight on the start line.

Regardless, we got off the line cleanly and about five minutes later it rained, hard. Then it rained more, even harder and finally, it really let us have it. The team did not waste any time getting soaked and reminding the Nav that he had said we would not need boots this year, which apparently, he also said last year.

Fortunately, it was all fresh water and things dried out quickly. Until, it rained again and then later on at night, rained some more. The Bay Area Mafia, quietly discussed the merits of getting rid of the Navigator, but ultimately decided it would be better to just ignore him.

Racing continued throughout the night and we were all pleasantly surprised to find that the weather forecast was mostly wrong, that it was mostly breezy and that the boat went mostly at hull speed for most of the night. Our resident legal provisioner fed us a nice dinner and the Navigator popped up every now and then to offer directional advice which the Bay Area Mafia ignored.

The next morning, we arrived at Pt. Big Sable, in the company of pretty much all of our Division who clearly were using the same routing program that we were. A couple of headsail changes followed so that we did not hit Big Sable and we continued to battle with our Division throughout day two.

Somewhere along the line, we lost the plot a little and found ourselves inshore floundering while the boats outside continued to race. A way. A quick re-adjustment of attitudes was made, some sails were given a stern talking to, and we started to gain back positions. The other J/145 that Nick pissed off at the start, made a smart move and suddenly went nine or ten miles up the course from us.

Throughout the afternoon, dinner time, and into the evening, we slowly ground down the distance until we had them just slightly out of reach. A very light approach to the Grays Reef was followed by some very slow sailing through passage to the new Shoals area and finally a very slow sail along the Straits of Mackinac.

We passed slowly under the Mackinac Bridge and then slowly crossed the finish line at 05:51:51 on the third day. Elapsed time was 1 day 16 hours 31 minutes and 51 seconds. Some three hours faster than the predicted routing time!

We were second on the water in Division, with the other J/145 beating us over the line by about twenty or thirty minutes. The Navigator should know the delta, but he forgot! We were second in Section 3 and remarkably third Overall for the Mackinac Cup. Or so we thought.

At dinnertime, we learned that the other J/145 had not sailed the proper course, missing one of the marks near the shoals. On our team, the Bay Area Mafia had released the Navigator from the rack of pain in the garage and gave him one more chance to prove his worth.

He did and our boat sailed the correct course, rounding all the necessary marks and finished properly. The other team, after otherwise sailing a great race, properly retired, and Team Sic Parvis Magna moved up to first in Division and second Overall. That dear reader, is how yacht racing sometimes works.

Team Sic Parvis Magna under the banner of Wintrust Sailing Team was brought to you by Nick Gibbens (Skipper), Rich Murphy (Murph, Boss), David Gruver (Main), John Collins (Mid bow), David Normandine (Trimmer), Tom Ducharme (Trimmer and arm remover), Radar (Notorious bow), Ian Burns (Pit and Chef), David Caringi (Canada Dave, Mid boat), Alexander Cano (Aft pit), and yours truly removed from the Rack of Pain, Da Nav.

Shore support was provided by Stuart (the Bruce) Bruce and Terry Gibbens.

A big thank you to Wintrust Bank and Chicago Yacht Club for supporting this on-going effort in what is quickly becoming my favorite fresh water race.

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