PARK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — On Friday, the annual Race to Mackinac will be on.
Teams will sail 333 miles from Chicago to Mackinac Island, competing for the champion title. It’s a grueling and dangerous trek on a boat with no motor. Last year, a Chicago man died during the race after falling from his yacht.
One Grand Rapids-area team spent Wednesday evening gearing up for the big race. The crew of the Usual Suspects keeps their vessel docked on Lake Macatawa. Before they sailed onto Lake Michigan near Holland for a smaller competition, they spoke with 24 Hour News 8.
Team member Steve Jones’ duties start well before boarding the boat. As navigator, he oversees the electronics and all things weather.
“It’s a team effort,” Jones said. “We are a winning team. We’ve got a winning record and we’re out here to win, but we’re also out here to have fun.”
The team explained that they made some major modifications to their vessel this year — but there are a few things that upgrades can’t fix, especially when the racing conditions are something of an eight ball.
“You see it all, basically. You’ll be bitten by flies, you’ll get sunburned and you’ll also be holding on for dear life because you’re going so fast and getting sprayed with water,” Jones said.
“You plan for everything you possibly can,” Casey McGovern, who among other things is the head sail trimmer, said.
He said that he has been sailing since he was old enough to attend kindergarten. With that many miles on the water, he’s seen just about everything.
“I’ve been sitting on the side of the boat and seen another boat be struck by lightning and the whole boat lights up,” he vividly recalled. “(You) get really nervous about what you’re doing out there.”
The team didn’t compete last year. Their nerves are calm as this year’s competition nears.
McGovern said that the forecast appears favorable and much better than last year’s competition, which turned deadly. He said it’s a dangerous sport; that’s why they practice.
“You can’t go into this race lighthearted. You need all of the correct safety equipment,” he said.
He said that the Chicago Yacht Club, which organizes the event, this year released new safety training mandates for at least 50% of every team.
McGovern said that anyone can download the Yellow Brick Tracking app on their phones or tablets to follow their team during the race.