a strange trip

Local Knowledge

So a few years ago (crap, 11!!) I sent in a write-up of racing an S2 7.9 in an event called the 100 Miler. Some may recall, the race is not in fact 100 miles, it is about 42nm, though way back before the internet, GPS and even cable TV, they did do 2 laps of the course. For the last few years, we have gone around on my mid-80’s C&C mostly for the camaraderie of friends who have been sailing together and against each other for probably about 30 years.

The race starts and finishes in Menominee, MI. For the spinnaker fleet, the course is roughly a parallelogram, first heading south around a couple shoal buoys of a small island, then northeast for about 15 miles, wiggling around a mid-channel buoy, into a bay and around an island, while staying off the rocky shoreline of Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula (part of the Niagara Escarpment formed during the last Ice Age, for those geologically inclined), then northwest around the north end of another island, and then SW back to Menominee.

The race is run the Saturday after the Chicago-Mac and host M&M YC regularly gets a few Mac boats to come and play. This year’s timing meant that the race was held at the same time the upper Midwest USA was experiencing 90F+ temps and 70F+ dew points on the edge of the upper jet flow, with fronts drifting south and back north during much of week leading up to the race.

Friday night prior to the race, storms came through about 10PM. Pretty much all knew it was coming via weather apps and NOAA warnings, but the lightning show announced its approach as well. About 20 minutes after the first wave, a second cell came through, with winds of 35-50, first from the west and eventually clocking east. Just to the south of the marina, NOAA estimated 100mph winds.

East winds on western Lake Michigan push the water west, and with near record water levels, boats tied on the marina wall struggled to keep fenders working and avoid hull damage as water came within 3-4” off the top of the wall. A few cruisers in the harbor ended up with shredded furlers. Eventually storm passed and most of the fleet hoped that would be the end of storms for the weekend.

Race day dawned foggy and still. Most of the fleet meandered around the start area as the RC went into postponement.

Eventually enough wind filled in to get the fleet going, with light winds generally out of the south. NOAA forecast was north 5-10 veering NE, and for severe weather to stay mostly south of a highway 45 miles to our south………

We went up the shoreline with a light #1, tacked out to round the first mark and were pretty much right in the thick of the fleet. Then we started to hear thunder. Some of the crew was hopeful it was just really big dump trucks on shore, but they kept getting louder. About this time, a J-80 and Mystic 29 decided discretion was order of the day and headed back. They were the smart ones.

First wave hit and we changed down straight from light 1 to a #2, and for 30 minutes went 7-10 knots before wind crapped out again. Made it around second mark with the windex doing 360’s, the flies feasting and eventually a very light westerly filled. A couple boats behind us popped chutes and we went with the 0.5 oz, shortly to find that maybe wasn’t our smartest sail selection. Couple of guys watched radar on their phones and reported (hoped) the worst would slide south of us. We got to about 10 knots and quarter mile from next mark when the boats behind started wiping out. Called for douse, someone asked about jib up and I somewhat firmly said get the kite down NOW.

Got it down just in time without too much trouble, and by now it was blowing 35, we were doing 10 with just the main, visibility was down to a couple hundred feet and the rain hurt. Initially we continued past the mark as we had 7-8 miles of water we could use up. However, that was going to get eaten up pretty quickly, so elected to do a 270 turn to head up rhumb line, managed to put in 2 reefs, hoping it would subside soon, while keeping mutiple eyes on the water for any other boats

After about another 10-15 minutes of 35-50 and hitting 13 knots, we decided to call it a day before something or someone got hurt. Trying to maneuver up course with rocks a half mile to leeward did not seem like a lot of fun. And we do this sailing thing for fun; certainly not for all the prize money.

We started the engine, got the main down rest of way, but still had to “motor tack” back for part of the return to avoid pounding into the waves. Guys down below reported a lot of chatter on the radio, but mostly static.
As it turned out, only 8 boats out of 30 finished the race. Many reports of blown out sails, one tattered main on a 49 footer, damaged partners on another 40+ footer, a sheared off rudder resulting in a Coast Guard tow and requisite inspection, and several boats seeking harbor on the WI side. NOAA regional event report from race day.  Congrats to all who finished as all who made it home safely. Results here.

For all the damaged equipment and wounded prided of bailing out (including ours), fortunately no one was injured or worse across the entire fleet.

Many thanks to all the volunteers at M&M YC and US Coast Guard Group Sturgeon Bay And big thanks to my crew on board who took it all in stride! Since we are all not quite of the millenial generation and don’t spend much if any time on social media, I won’t name names to protect what is left of our pride. We look forward to seeing everyone next year! – Anarchist Steven.