After several months, five countries on either side of the Atlantic, complex logistics, repairs – planned and unplanned, new sails and many long hours of work, Areté took the start of the 107th Chicago to Mackinac Race/Super Mac at 1:30 in the afternoon of Saturday, July 11th.
As part of the multihull fleet, we were in the last start of the race – the first start had taken place two and a half hours earlier. Our chief rivals, Windquest and il Mostro had started ten minutes earlier. We had been concerned that there would be little wind at the start, but those concerns were quickly set aside. Areté launched off of the starting line on a fast reach with speeds in the mid-20 knot range. We overhauled all of the multihulls, then began to pick off the fast monohulls in the fleet ahead of us. Areté’s great potential was showing itself early and clearly. By the time we were abeam of Waukegan, IL, roughly 40 miles into the race, we had left the entire fleet behind. We crossed the transom of the Lake Express, the cross-lake ferry from Milwaukee to Muskegon just four hours into the race, which meant that we had already traveled the 90 miles from Chicago to Milwaukee in that short time. The sailing was thrilling, especially as there was little wind on the water. It was all up high, and Areté’s 100-foot tall rig made the best possible use of it all.
However, the wind party did not last and by the time we reached the Manitou Islands, the wind had shut down. We were re-joined there by Windquest and il Mostro, who sailed up in the dying breeze. Over the next many hours, we learned a lot of humbling lessons. Areté demonstrated her profound dislike of light air upwind. We gybed in order to tack once, a maneuver that old-time clipper ship captains would employ in order to tack those ungainly beasts, called “ware-ing ship”. We found that in very light wind, she would just point head-to-wind rather than sail. It turns out that the enormous mainsail was causing her to “weathervane” – just like the Windex at the top of the mast or the weathervane on your neighbor’s garage. The solution was counterintuitive but effective – we dropped the main almost all the way down and she started to sail, primarily driven by the headsail. Who knew that a powerful racing boat like Areté would move better upwind in 1.0 knots with three reefs in the main? But she does.
So the race for first-to-finish started a second time at the Manitous with the three of us joined by the 65 foot Equation. We traded the lead back and forth on the way to Gray’s Reef, with Windquest and il Mostro making the final pass stick. The short run from Gray’s Reef to Mackinac Island was upwind as well, and Equation slipped by. We finished in that order at the end of the Chicago-Mac. But we all just barely finished. The wind COMPLETELY died as we crossed the finish line.
Along with il Mostro, Equation and Defiance, another of the big boats that arrived before the wind shut down (Windquest did not continue in the SuperMac), we drifted on glassy seas for the next four hours. There was no need to ware ship, or back up to tack, or drop the main to maintain speed, as there was absolutely zero wind. We were worried enough about the modest current that we got our anchor on deck in the event we drifted too close to Round Island.
Finally, after drifting interminably, we got some breeze and the race for first to finish started for a third and final time. We quickly left Equation and Defiance behind, pacing il Mostro until our different tactical paths, darkness and then early-morning fog put her out of sight. The race down Lake Huron provided some great sailing, upwind in moderate and then building breeze. Areté needs her first reef relatively quickly and we arrived off the thumb of Michigan under the big J1 jib and one reef.
With thunderstorms dotting the western horizon and with building breeze, we reefed a second time and stepped down to the smaller J2. The night got very black with occasional and increasing streaks of lighting and the sound of distant thunder – ominous weather. The big sailplan on Areté can be quickly overwhelmed by strong squalls and several moderate ones took our boatspeed from ten to twenty-six knots – our caution was well-placed. As the weather passed and we shook out the reefs and switched back to the J1, who should appear steaming in from the east but il Mostro. She was just far enough ahead that, in spite of some good tactical sailing and Areté’s native speed, il Mostro was first across the SuperMac finish line.
Although we did not achieve our goal of first-to-finish in either race, we had some glorious days of racing. We learned a lot in our first long-distance race. Our crew, which had not yet sailed together as a team, truly gelled as the miles ticked by. We learned unexpected lessons (such as the need to ware ship of all things) as well as unlocking some of the enormous number of keys to sailing Areté fast. We had a great time with a great group of sailors. We would be lying if we did not say that we were disappointed not to reach our goals, but we were honored to be fighting it out with great teams like those on Windquest, il Mostro and Equation.
Kudos to Windquest and il Mostro on their victories.
Congratulations as well to the multihull fleet overall, particularly the podium finishers of the Chicago to Mackinac Race, Caliente, Triceratops and Double Time and the SuperMac winners Triceratops, Panic Button and Double Time. They all excelled in the wildly varied conditions.
The Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race is this weekend, with our start coming at 1:30 EST on Saturday the 18th.
The crew is busy on the boat right now, upgrading systems, performing maintenance and repairing the small things that cropped up in the 568 miles of racing over the last days.