The Race to the Island Begins! Mackinac Island Hosts the World’s Largest Freshwater Yacht Races Throughout the Month of July

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich., July 1 /PRNewswire/ — Every July, a wave of sailors, crew members, volunteers and spectators engulf Mackinac Island as it hosts the world’s largest freshwater yacht races — the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, the Bacardi Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race and the up- and-coming Mackinac Manitoulin International Yacht Race.

One of the Island’s most venerable traditions, freshwater sailboat racing inspires excitement and camaraderie among the skippers, crew and spectators who converge for events, activities and celebrations at the start and finish lines. Spectators have long gathered at the foot of historic Fort Mackinac to catch a glimpse of the yachts as they finish.

“Yacht racing has become an integral part of the Mackinac Island culture and a way of life for many Island residents and visitors,” said Mary McGuire Slevin, executive director, Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. “The events attract people who have come to Mackinac for decades, as well as newcomers who have never been to the Island or a yacht race.”

The sailing community, known as a gregarious bunch, welcomes the “Old Goats” (those who have raced in at least 25 races) and the newbies with equal enthusiasm.

“Sailors have a huge passion for the sport and racing,” said Bart Huthwaite, Commodore of the Mackinac Island Yacht Club. “On the water, sailing is enormously competitive. But on shore, the friendships that develop make sailing what it is. There are few barriers in competitive racing, and professionals and amateurs can compete side-by-side. It’s a very open, friendly sport.”

The first race in 2005 is the 97th running of Chicago to Mackinac July 16- 19. The legendary 333-mile race is a visual delight to Chicago residents and those along the coast of Lake Michigan. Spectators gather at the shoreline and on the east end of Navy Pier to view the yachts. The race began in 1898 and took several years off during World War II.

This year’s start is at noon on July 16, off of Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, with approximately 300 boats and 2,800 crew members launching in 10-minute staggered sectional starts. Depending on weather and wind conditions, it takes 18-50 hours to the finish line between Windemere Point and Round Lighthouse on the Island.

After the race, participants gather on the steps of the Mackinac Yacht Club for an awards ceremony, to be followed by a trophy presentation in November at the Chicago Yacht Club.

Next is the Port Huron to Mackinac Race July 23-26, which celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2005. In the days leading up to the event, skippers, crews, their families and approximately 75,000 spectators gather near Port Huron’s Black River for parties, entertainment, activities and parades. What once was a simple riverfront gathering for the boat crowd has swelled to encompass the entire city of Port Huron and beyond. Events include “Family Night,” held the Thursday before the event and “Boat Night” on Friday.

This year, about 270 boats and 2,700 crew members, in yachts ranging from 26-80 feet, will be part of the official start north of the Blue Water Bridge. The fastest boats typically make it to the Island’s Mission Point Resort, the finish line, by the evening of July 24. The event ends with an awards ceremony, as well.

The Port Huron and Chicago races took place on the same weekend until 1939, when the yacht clubs began scheduling them on alternate weekends a week apart, to avoid confusion and allow sailors to participate in both races if desired.

The Chicago race is older and longer, but the Port Huron race is considered bigger based on the number of participants.

The third and newest addition to the race lineup is the second running of the Mackinac Manitoulin International Yacht Race July 27-29, sponsored by the Mackinac Island, Little Current and Bayview Yacht Clubs.

The inspiration to create an international sailing race spanning the U.S. and Canadian borders came after local sailors finished an informal race in 2002. The similarities between the nautical histories and tourist economies of Manitoulin and Mackinac Islands, located 100 miles apart, presented many intriguing opportunities.

The event kicks off at the Mackinac Island Yacht Club July 26 with a barbecue for skippers and crews. The race starts July 27 off of the Island’s Mission Point Resort. Competitors will sail the first leg from Mackinac Island, enter the North Channel via the False Detour Channel and sail east overnight to Little Current, arriving July 28. Then, the fleet sails west through the North Channel to Gore Bay for the second leg of the race. An awards ceremony takes place that evening.

In 2004, the race was limited to 30 vessels, with plans to expand the event to 150 vessels by 2009.

Another highlight of this year’s sailing events is the showing of the Bernida, the 32-foot R-Class boat that won the first-ever Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race. The historic boat, which disappeared shortly after the 1925 event, was discovered 75 years later in a Frankfort, Mich., warehouse by Island resident Toby Murray. Plans are underway to restore and race the boat again.

Huthwaite purchased the Bernida and is heading up the two-year, $175,000 project.

“The Bernida is a sailing icon that symbolizes Mackinac Island’s dedication to preserving history,” said Huthwaite, who leads the Mackinac Boating Heritage Foundation, a non-profit group that is raising funds to complete the restoration.

The Bernida will be on display on the Island at the end of the Bayview and Chicago Yacht Club races, and raffle tickets will be sold to raise funds for the restoration.

About Mackinac Island:

Mackinac Island is a National Historic Landmark located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and covers 2,200 acres of land. The Island banned private motor vehicle use during the last century and today relies on the services of more than 600 horses to provide residents and visitors transportation around the Island.

Mackinac hosts more than a half-million visitors each year and is home to the Lilac Festival, Chicago & Bayview Yacht Clubs’ Race to Mackinac Boat Race, Fudge Festival, Grand Hotel Labor Day Jazz Festival and Somewhere in Time Weekend. For more information visit, http://www.mackinacisland.org/ or call 1-800-4LILACS.

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