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nailed it

I skippered a One Design 48 for about a year – the boat was an absolute handful with 15 onboard, and I cannot imagine single-handing it, but this guy did! – ed.

Taking a circuitous route in his first Chicago to Mackinac Solo Challenge, Matt Rubsam, sailing a 48, added an extra 20 miles. Despite the elongated course, it didn’t deter him from breezing across the finish line at 3:13 p.m. Monday, June 21 which put him in first place.

Pulling away from the dock at the Columbia Yacht Club Rubsam insisted, ‘I just want to get there.’ Piloting a One Design 48-foot boat, the 25-boat fleet got off to a good start riding 15-20 mph southwest winds. Moving west off the rhumb line using a mainsail and jib, Rubsam got to Waukegan and eased up the Wisconsin shoreline.

Heading northeast near Sheboygan, Wis., late Sunday morning, he was midway through Lake Michigan flying a No. 2 spinnaker with a plan to sail between the Manitou Islands. However, Rubsam reversed course, and went back to the Wisconsin shoreline.

Sunday afternoon the severe weather report came out and sailors were forced to decide: Head to the nearest marina, keep sailing or head home. With a 10.5-foot keel on the boat, turning into a marina was not an option.

“With the waves and 30 knot northwest winds, I figured the best place to be was closer to the tip of Door County,” said Rubsam. He was right!

“I was far enough north it worked out well,” he said. “I hit the passage around Beaver Island at 9 p.m. which was the eastern ship channel.”

About 5 a.m. Monday it was 20-25 with gusts over 30 from the northwest. Using a No. 3 jib, he was going upwind against six-foot waves for four hours. Moving downwind after passing Beaver Island, he surfed to Mackinac Island. “I was doing 8-10 knots and sometimes 14. It was a lot of fun.

“I ran different models before the race. It showed not to go through the Grays Reef Channel and to pass on starboard. The wind angle was 320, the direction of the boat was 100-110. It was a nice downwind ride with 30 knots the rest of the way.”

Rubsam passed Gray’s Reef at 12:53 am Monday and finished at 3:13 pm. as the first boat. “It was extremely satisfying [taking first] and sense of accomplishment,” he said. “I know how hard it is to do as a crewed Mac; to do it solo, I was happy just to make it. I’ve been through worse conditions, but not alone.”

REJECT is rated to sail with a crew of 15. Rubsam’s modifications enabled the boat to operate with efficiency for a single skipper.

“I added lazy jacks, put snuffers for the spinnakers and a code zero on the furler to make things more manageable,” he said. “I would like to thank the Great Lakes Solo Society for accepting me into the race. My girlfriend Aneta for letting me do it. John Hoskins and Mike Smitt for the knowledge that made it possible. All of my friends who helped me get the boat ready. North Sails, B&G, and Mastervolt for making great products that worked wonderfully throughout the course.”

Planning ahead, Luke Brockman modified his Olson 30. “The Olson 30 is built for races to Hawaii,” said the resident of Commerce, Mich., who has completed six Port Huron, three Lake Erie, two Chicago Mac and one Superior and Ontario Solo Challenges.

Light winds Sunday morning and afternoon stifled the fleets movement. At 5 p.m., radio chatter picked up with the updated forecast. “I was 15 miles off Frankfort, Mich.” said Brockman. “Monday at 6 a.m., a cold-front came in and it was about 45-50 degrees. A line of storms went south to Chicago and the cold front moved north. The bad weather scared people away.

Switching from a No. 3 to No. 4 head sail allowed him to go six knots upwind. “I was in 25-35 mph winds with gusts to 45 mph for 18 hours,” said Brockman, who keeps the boat on a trailer in his driveway and sails it twice a summer. “I used a No. 4 jib and tried to triple reef the main. I was north of Ludington.

“The boat was knocked over a few times and I had water come into the cockpit. I was heeling at 55 degrees. I had a deep rudder put in and it allowed me to control the boat and not round up and sail close-hauled and make progress. The waves were eight-ten with a few at 15-feet. I spent time down below, but I was starting to get seasick. The last three-four hours it was 18-20 consistently and I stayed close-hauled and didn’t tack.

“After the turn at Grays Reef the waves dropped to three-four feet down the Straits. There was no help at the dock.” Brian Crabb of Sea-U who had to drop out due to autopilot failure was following the tracker and came down from his hotel room to help Brockman tie up at 4 a.m.

“That was touching for him to do that,” he said. “I was so confused I could barely make it off the dock. I turned the paperwork in and went to sleep at 5 a.m.” “I had confidence in the boat. This was one of the hardest solo challenges. The weather patterns changed so quickly. I had no contact with anyone. This was different than most. I was in survival mode.”

A veteran of 21 Solo Macs with 19 completed, Granger, Ind. native Joe Turns went with the majority which he later regretted. “There was a lot of chatter on the radio on how bad the storm would be,” said Turns, who was steering Renaissance, a 43-foot Sabre. “The monitor showed the whole lake was red and the storm would be horrible! Most of the boats motored toward shore around 5-6 p.m. Sunday. The north part of Lake Michigan was rated worse. I was a half-mile from Wall-E, 25 miles off Manistee, Mich. when I turned around. It was 8 p.m. [no

“My wife was shocked I dropped out. Some people went into Ludington and Pentwater. There wasn’t a good place to wait out the storm. “The wind was 27-28 from the southwest and the waves were eight-ten feet on the nose. That’s the worst lightning I’ve ever seen; the whole sky was lit up. It was six hours of lightning. Power was knocked out everywhere. The engine RPH was 28.

“The stainless steel propeller was a big help. That was the worst conditions I’ve been in, under motor. I came into Holland, Mich. at 6 a.m. Monday and it was blowing 25 knots; the lightning was almost gone.

Turns weather a storm with gusts clocked at 56 mph the morning of June 18, 2021. “We motor sailed across [from Holland, Mich.] to Chicago with the main reefed; we got into DuSable Harbor at 11 a.m.,” he said. Sizing up his decision Monday afternoon, Turns confessed with a laugh, “I regret dropping out. If I had known the lightning would’ve been that bad going south, I would’ve stayed in and kept going.”

Ralph Krauss on Yukon [a J105] pulled in at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday. The other 22 boats dropped out in the 25th Solo Mac Challenge. – Seth Schwartz.