the old ways

Pulling into the harbor at Mackinac Island Sunday, July 24th at 5:04 a.m., driver Greg Fordon parked Whitehawk and a crew of 14 went below deck to toast their first-to-finish of 31 boats in the Cruising Division in the 113th Chicago Mac Race. They were ninth on corrected time at 2:05:41:04.

Sending out emails and making a few calls, owner Peter Thornton assembled a skilled squad who had been with him for a few Macs. Antonio Cuervas mons flew in from Spain, Willie Lynch, Peter Eagan and Lat Spinney are from Rhode Island, Deane Tank from western South Carolina, Bogdan Ogorek, Fordon and Gary Murino are from Chicago, Tom Murray, suburban Chicago, Tom Cote, Harbor Springs, Mich., Chris Thornton and his son, Jack, reside in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Leaving the starting line Friday, July 22 in front of Navy Pier at 3:00 p.m., the 104-foot ketch set a swift pace propelling them a few minutes in front of several severe storms.

 “We knew there were two thunderheads we had to get out in front of,” said Thornton, 82, who has done over 30s Macs. Built in 1978, he bought Whitehawk in 2019.

“That’s the trick to this thing, staying ahead of the storm. By the time we got to Milwaukee Friday night, it was brutal. Lightning strikes lit up the sky from 11 p.m. -midnight. It was raining hard, there was hail and 30-knot winds. We saw the next one coming from Minnesota. We got in front of that by the skin of our teeth. Roxy followed us all the way up. We were 1.5 knot faster than them; they were about 10 -15 mile behind us and got slammed. We saw 20 knots plus breezes.”

Friday around 9:30 p.m., the A1 spinnaker got caught on the bowsprit and ripped down the middle.   “Our crew did a spectacular job,” said Thornton. “We had to improvise all the way.”

Heading east of the rhumb line going 10 knots, Whitehawk rode 20-mph winds Saturday afternoon and made the right call to stay a few miles from the Michigan shoreline near South Manitou Island.   When the storm hit from 9:30 p.m. to midnight, they were doing 15-knots.

 “We were just over the top of the storm,” said Thornton. “The other boats were getting pasted. We saw the thermals building and getting darker. We needed to get closer to shore.”

 Peter’s son, Chris Thornton credited the crew.

 “Looking at the radar, there was a red blog,” said Chris, who drove half of the course. “The lake was a mess. It was 12-13 from the southwest and then minutes later, it’s 25-30. Near Beaver Island, the north end of the storm clipped us. The breeze came up so quickly around Petoskey. We were able to get the kite down. We put it back up before Grays Reef. Down The Straits, it was sailing angles and gybing in moderate winds. We got under the bridge and the sun was coming up on the northern horizon. At the dock, the sun was up and nobody was there.”

 Whitehawk offers the best of everything. While the Cruising Division is competitive, it’s a placid journey compared to Thornton’s Il Mostro, a Volvo Ocean 70.

 “The boat is really stable and quiet, it’s really a comforting feeling and inspires confidence,” said Chris. “When you’re down below, you don’t feel like you’re on a boat. We sail hard, but it’s a different approach. We had great meals at night with some wine and then ice cream bars. It’s a civilized, enjoyable sail.”

  Jack Thornton, 23, sized up his sixth Mac.

 “It’s always great being on the boat with my dad and grandfather,” he said. “This was one of the warmer Macs I’ve been on. It’s nice being out in the fresh air. When you’re not on watch, the boat’s big enough where you can be on deck and lay back on one of the sail bags. Saturday night, there was a nice orange sky. After the rain, there was a rainbow on the starboard side. Everyone was taking pictures, then the wind picked back up. Our crew never butted heads on anything.”

 Peter Thornton’s first Mac was in 1974 when Gene McCarthy and two others charted a C&C 39. Calling McCarthy on Christmas to extend an invitation, he quickly accepted.

   Viewing the action under an awning cover on a half circular couch, the two dispensed a few words of navigation and stories of Mac adventures over six decades. Turning 94 July 25, McCarthy added to his record making this his 67th Mac.

 “I had the perfect spot for the race,” said McCarthy, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. “We made a few suggestions, but it was an excellent crew with great experience. I kept in tune with everything going on, on the boat.

 “That was a great Christmas present. If Peter hadn’t called, I probably wouldn’t have gone.”

 In a heartfelt moment, McCarthy addressed the crew Sunday morning as they celebrated with beers.

 “I thanked the crew for the hard work and success,” he said. “This was by far the most rewarding Mac sail I’ve done. I’ve never sailed in such luxury. When I went to sleep [in the cabin] it was the most comfortable sleep I’ve experienced.”    Their rousing applause was returned.

 McCarthy remained on Mackinac Island for the Island Goat Society Party the afternoon of July 26th.  – Photo thanks to Yosef Asseo, story by  Seth Schwartz.