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Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race: Winning Gains Made on Smart Moves
An estimated 100,000 sailing fans and families flocked to Port Huron to attend festive pre-race activities, while more than 2500 sailors claimed their team’s dock space (or raft-up position) on the Black River prior to the start.

DETROIT, MICH. (July 15, 2014) – At 10:30 Monday night (July 14), the last of 227 boats competing in the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race crossed the finish line. The venerable distance race, in its 90th edition, had begun at 11:30 Saturday morning (July 12) on southern Lake Huron with consecutive starts for the fleet’s 14 classes. A westerly breeze of 9-11 knots allowed an initially mellow downwind spinnaker run to the first turning points in each of two courses -- the “Acura Shore Course," covering 204 nautical miles (235 statute miles), and the longer "Quantum Sails Cove Island Course," covering 259 nautical miles (298 statute miles). During the evening, however, “a lot of everything” happened when it came to weather and wind, including rain, dense fog and gusts up to 36 knots (the latter reported by Ann Arbor’s Bill Martin, owner of the 70-footer Stripes).

Although Doug and Dick Devos’ (Macatawa, Mich.) 86-foot Windquest crossed the finish line before all others at approximately 5:30 p.m. Sunday (July 13), the team wound up fourth overall on corrected time in Division I/Cove Island Course. Winning that division, for the prestigious J.L. Hudson Trophy, was Phil and Sharon O’Niel’s (Bloomfield Hills) TransPac 52 Natalie J. Phil O’Niel has done the race 36 times, won his class eight times, and holds the record for three overall victories in a row (2010, ’11, and 12).

“We had a great start and then some issues,” said O’Niel after he finished the race at 8:13 p.m. Sunday night. “Most of our fleet sailed the rhumb line and a little to the right of it, but we headed toward the Canadian shore, and at one point we were the last boat in the entire fleet, so it was pretty dismal. Modifying our race strategy, we went back to the Michigan shoreline to play the thermals…so far left that we were crossing the Shore Course boats, which was interesting. There, we got a significant amount of breeze and sailed around our entire class.”

Maintaining their position in the rest of the race didn’t come any easier, said O’Niel, especially at the Cove Island Buoy (about 130 miles away from the start). “We were going 17-20 knots with the spinnaker up; it was very exhilarating, and we knew we had to visually see the buoy to round it, but it was dense fog and we were relying on our GPS. When we got within five minutes of it, we took down the spinnaker, and in doing that totally destroyed the computer onboard. A wave came down hatch and flooded the interior, so we had no GPS. We talked about setting up a search grid to try to locate the buoy, but thankfully it was right where it was supposed to be!”

The Division II/Shore Course Racing overall victory went to Win Cooper/Chris Benedict’s (Flint, Mich.) Santana 35 Shape, while Division III Shore Course Cruising was won by defending champion Wick Smith (Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.) in his Beneteau 42 Mostly Harmless.

For those who didn’t win overall silver, victories in 17 classes (four for Cove Island, 13 for Shore) were just as cherished.

Division IV Shore Course Double-handed class was won by Chris Cyrul’s (Hixson, Tenn.) Opus Dei, and the Division V Cove Island Multihull class was won by Fred Ball’s (Harbor Springs, Mich.) Lucky Strike.

“The scenario was that if you got north very quickly you had more wind in the northern part of the lake,” said Ryan Breymeier, a world renown distance sailor who crewed on Rick Warner’s multihull Cheeky (second place in multihull class) to arrive at 2:30 a.m. Monday after 36 hours of racing. “If you got north a bit later, the wind was starting to die. When we got there, we still had decent breeze, but nothing like Windquest and Natalie J had. Also, since they have much taller masts, they had more wind up high that we didn’t have. The speed differential at the start was incredible, because they were sailing with wind up high and nobody else had it. We never saw more than 20-22 knots, but that’s plenty for this boat.”

Charles Bayer’s (Grosse Pointe Farms) Grizzly, in the 12-boat Beneteau First 36.7 one-design class, sailed the shorter Shore Course, and did so expertly to win. “Once we got ahead, we just covered,” said Bayer, explaining that the wind was more southerly for his particular start, and his team was the western most boat by several miles on the Michigan shoreline (near Alpena) when the wind began filling in from the west. “All the boats out in the lake, farther offshore, did poorly, and we were to weather of everyone when it came in.”

Bayer added that 30 miles south of Alpena, it was blowing 28.2 knots over his deck for about two hours, and his boat was speeding along at 13 ½ knots. “That’s the fastest my boat has ever sailed,” said Bayer, whose three children – Chas (27), Colin (23) and Kelly (29) – crewed with him. And although this was the first time for Kelly to sail the Bayview Mack, it was her father’s 45th, making him one of the elite members of The Society of Mackinac Island Goats (for those who have participated in 25 or more Bayview Mackinac Races). Grizzly is one of 30 or so boats heading straight away to compete in the Chicago Mackinac Race on Lake Michigan, with which the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race rotates in leading first on the calendar each year.

Joining Bell’s Beer in sponsoring the 2014 Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race are key partners Metro Detroit Acura Dealers, Soaring Eagle Properties, Grand Hotel and Quantum Sail Design Group. Other sponsors are Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Frankenmuth Insurance, Barefoot Wine, Shellback Rum, Legal Copy Services and Michigan Web Press

Photo : Martin Chumiecki
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