Thursday, July 20, 2006

Brooklyn Sails the Great Lakes: 2006 Bayview Mackinac Race Wrap-Up

We have returned to Brooklyn from the 2006 Bayview Mackinac Race in Michigan. While we didn't place well (6th of 7 boats in our class), the experience is one that we'll never forget.

For those of you who've never sailed on the Great Lakes, its vastly different than sailing in Brooklyn. First, there is no smell of brine or salt-air -- there is practically no smell. Second, there are no tides or rolling waves as we have in the ocean. A lack of tides makes some tactical decision easier because there isn't a need to factor in what the tide (ebbing or flowing) will do to your course. However, the waves on the Great Lakes can be down right difficult to navigate and predict. In the ocean, waves build over thousands of miles, which cause ocean surf or the rolling waves we get off of Brooklyn. Even in a storm or strong blow, the ocean waves are predictable -- even though you may ride up and down a 40-foot wave. In the Great Lakes, the water may be smooth, but if the wind starts to build, the water gets very nasty. Instead of long, rolling waves, the lake gets filled with short, square waves that knock the boat around. Particularly, when the wind is at your beam or back, steering is difficult, because the waves push the boat around. Lastly, the aesthetics are much different. Sailing in Brooklyn is truly urban, with views of the NYC skyline, Coney Island, Staten Island and New Jersey. Sailing in Lake Huron you feel as though you are in an open sea, with small ports offshore. There is also much more greenery on the shoreline compared to the BK. Its also a lot cooler, with temperatures dropping into the 60s during the evening.

The race can be described a few ways: two large parties with a boat race in the middle; a large regatta with parties before and after the race; a test of endurance. (Our pals at Sailing Anarchy had a nice write up of the race.) We like to view it as a race, with some tradition thrown in. Upon leaving, there is a parade of boats that go up the Black River out into Lake Huron. When riding up the River, the boats are cheered on by an enthusiastic audience, some of which put up numbers, like Olympic judges, to rate the different boats (we got a 10), and sent off properly by a bagpipe and drum corps. Very cool stuff.

The start is also amazing. As our start was a bit later, we got to watch hundreds of boats and thousands of sailors head up the lake. We were joined by tens of thousands of people who viewed the start from Canada, Michigan and from hundreds of boats on the water. Following the start, the crews which are running on adrenaline, start to settle down and get into a flow. The race is a challenge of endurance, tactics and teamwork. Without all three, its guaranteed that your boat will not finish well. We faced challenges of digging ourselves out of holes with no air, multiple sail changes (we'd put up a spinnaker, only to bring it down and put up a genoa 10 minutes later when the wind shifted) and staying focused. We had a great finish, where the winds increased to more than 20 knots. It was thrilling to have 8 guys on the rail as we rode into the finish.

Once you reach Mackinac Island, the party starts. We arrived at 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning, and there were many, many crews uncorking champagne and cracking cans of Labatts Blue (which is known locally as Blue Milk). The official "awards party" takes place on Tuesday. The party starts at noon and runs until bottles of Bacardi rum (the sponsor) are emptied. Crew members, owners, and their families tend to get a bit saused at the party, which continues at some local bars and on the boats until the wee hours of the morning. They know how to party in the Midwest.

More photos are on the Sail Brooklyn Flickr Page.


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