Good story about the Mac Solo race.
Hoisting the chute after departing Winthrop Harbor, Il., Brian Crabb rode steady 8-10 mph winds for 22 hours without a jibe, steering his J105 on a high reach across Lake Michigan. Because of Covid-19 regulations, the 24th Solo Mackinac Challenge began 9 a.m. Sunday, June 21, out of Winthrop, Il. one mile south of Wisconsin state line.
Operating on 30 minutes of sleep the first night, Crabb battled squalls and 20 knot winds mid-Monday morning. Easing up the Manitou Passage, he went through two sets of foul weather gear. Torrential rains over 20 hours forced eight of 16 boats to drop out.
“I was wearing a fleece layer, down jacket and hat,” he said. “I had more layers than when I go downhill skiing.”
Monday evening a 8-10 knot breeze from the north filled in and then 20 knots after midnight. Crabb was unaware, veteran Joe Turns was positioned to take the lead. Flying the chute on his 42-foot Sabre, Turns passed Crabb just before midnight Monday and stayed roughly half mile ahead for three hours.
“We talked on the radio for two hours,” said Turns, who has completed 19 Solo Macs. “The fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than a boat length in front of you. I was a few boat lengths ahead when we rounded Gray’s Reef, but Brian out-sailed me. I have to commend him. It took me two tacks to clear the bridge.”
Crabb’s course propelled north while Turns moved southerly. “The curtain got lifted and there was a little more visibility after Gray’s Reef [25 miles from the Mackinac Bridge],” said Crabb. “I went further north to get around a tugboat pulling a barge and that gave me a slightly better angle. I rounded Grays Reef at 3 a.m. It was great sailing; the boat was fully powered. I was going eight knots; the wind was from the north at 18. That’s the fastest I’ve ever gone to the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits.
“I was still north when I got to the bridge [five miles from the finish line] and Joe was further south. I figured I’d sail fast and let the chips fall where they may. I fully expected Joe to come out in front of me. I had no idea where Joe was until I looked back two miles and saw him under the bridge.”
Crabb crossed the finish line 6:34 a.m. Tuesday, June 23.
Making two tacks before the Mackinac Bridge, Turns was second at 7:36 a.m. David Pierce, also in a J105, was third overall at 8:38 a.m. Kris Kimmons, who is doing the SuperMac & Back sailed on to Port Huron at 4:03, June 25.
The Solo Mac offers a rare set of obstacles that attracts a few dozen sailors across five Great Lakes challenges annually. “One night of sailing is easy,” said Crabb. “Two nights is totally different.
“It’s such a fight mentally. The Manitou Passage is emotionally challenging. When you get to Grand Traverse Bay and Harbor Springs, you’re gassed, frustration sets in. Part of you says to bag it now, but you have to fight the urge.”
While it was fun to finish first, Crabb knows the elation of emotions comes from completing the journey with others. It’s rare. “Getting there [Mackinac Island] is a gas,” he said. “The first time I did it, I almost cried; I was thrilled to make it.
“It’s a tremendous group of people. It’s fun to connect with everyone at the island, but unfortunately that wasn’t going to happen this year. Elisabeth Reichling deserves a massive applause to keep the race going this year. It could easily have fallen by the wayside.
“The vibe is amazing and while everyone is competitive, there’s also a phenomenally generous spirit within the group and a camaraderie that is incredible. It’s like racing against a bunch of good friends – everyone wants to win, but at the same time everyone’s happy for whomever does. I think that’s unique to distance solo racing, maybe to this event, but it’s a really special thing.”
For Turns, the Solo Mac always presents new obstacles.
“I am older now, but it’s always special to complete it,” said Turns, who lives in Granger, Ind. “It’s tough physically. I try and catch an hour nap early in the day and that seems to help me on the third day. The Mac is completely different each year; you never know what to expect. We’ve had heavy rains before, but never anything that’s been 20 hours. It was like a monsoon. There’s a lot of great sailors. You’re always hit with a variety of wind and weather. You try and adapt and make the right adjustments throughout the race and then make it to the island.” – Seth Schwartz.