Back from the Mac

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Aaron and the rest of the Turning Point crew on the podium at Mac Island. They won 2nd out of 11 boats in the Beneteau 40.7 division.

On Wednesday evening, we got our captain back! Aaron made it home safe and sound after sailing up Lake Michigan with 333 boats during the 106th Race to Mackinac.

For those who are unfamiliar, the race is the oldest annual freshwater race in the world, and crews come from all around the country to compete. For Midwest racers, it’s a rite of passage. I’ve talked to enough of them to know that, though the finish line never varies, the course and the experience are completely different from year to year. The wind and the weather can throw some crazy curveballs – even if the curveball is the wind shutting off completely and stranding boats in the Straits with the Island just a handful of miles away. Sometimes, they even have to drop anchor to prevent going backward.

This was Aaron’s ninth Mac Race, and I think it was a special one for our family. It was right after the race three years ago that I found out I was pregnant with Claire. Two years ago, the demands of a colicky infant made Aaron leaving for five days impossible, and last year, we had just returned from a month-long trip on Clarity, so the demands of work took precedence. During the bitterly cold and unrelenting winter, Aaron started talking about getting back to the Mac Race – albeit with some trepidation. Most racers that have done it have cursed it and said they’ll never do another – the biting flies, capricious winds, 10+ crew members in tight quarters that don’t shower for three days. I’ve never raced the Mac and honestly have no interest to, especially because it seems to me that oftentimes, they do it because they can’t not do it. Also, it’s not for the faint of heart, as some might recall what happened three years ago. Overall, though, the race is an opportunity to be part of something truly special, and it means a lot to Aaron.

Aaron races on Turning Point, a Beneteau 40.7 that he’s been with for many years. The week before the race, Aaron went out for practice with the crew, practiced sail peels, and helped with final systems checks. Grandma watched Claire on Friday so Aaron and I could have a date night before he left the next morning. Would you believe it? I made him take Clarity out sailing with me – our first chance to sail it without its namesake this summer. He even surprised me with a man overboard drill. We’re just nutty that way.

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A hug on the bow with Claire before we sent him on his way!

Saturday morning, Claire and I dropped Aaron off at the Columbia dock and Turning Point crossed the starting line just a few hours later. We were able to track his boat online for the next two days, and I’ve done this enough now that I have a sense of whether or not things are progressing well. Turning Point rocked it. After light winds made for slow progress on Saturday, they picked up on Sunday and come Monday, the crew rocketed up past the Manitou Islands, through the Straights, under the Mac Bridge and all the way to that blissful cannon fire at the finish line that signifies the Champagne and rum can start flowing.

They finished the race in 47-and-a-half hours, placed second out of 11 boats in the Beneteau 40.7 class and landed 11th out of 134 boats overall in the Mackinac Cup division! What an amazing feat! The rest of Monday and Tuesday, racers celebrated on the island in a heady haze of rum and sleep deprivation. I had a blast joining Aaron for the festivities a few years back, but the seven-plus-hour drive up there with Claire didn’t sound like a great idea and a hotel room for the week will cost you your mortgage. Maybe next year…

In the meantime, Claire and I had a lovely time at home in Oak Park visiting with friends, going to barbecues, taking over the pool; basically gallivanting around town. I was quite relieved, though, when Aaron made it home Wednesday evening. Five days by myself with a rambunctious 2-year-old is no joke.

One thing I truly missed, though, was our family time on Clarity! I can’t wait to get back there in the next day or two, and resume our own adventures.

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Race tracking for the 40.7 fleet

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Island celebrations! Veuve Clicquot is a sponsor of the race.

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Island shenanigans… From what I understand, rum had nothing to do with this!

 

 

A Family Affair

One of the best benefits of keeping our boat based in the Midwest is the ability for us to share it with family and friends. Last week, we had the pleasure of having my brother; sister-in-law; nieces Alex and Abby; and my mother out for a family sail.

They met us mid-morning at our slip at 31st Street Harbor and we made a quick tour of the splash pad and playground before grilling brats back at the boat. Then, with full bellies and abundant sunshine, we cast lines and pointed north toward Columbia Yacht Club.

To be honest, I was a little worried leading up to the visit that my nieces might be bored while we were at sail. I thought through whether or not we had enough toys on board, how to shorten our course if they got antsy a half-hour in… Aaron and I spend so much time on our boat, and it’s been so many years since I experienced boating as a child. That afternoon, these girls truly opened my eyes.

The whole afternoon, they were up and down, over and over, from the deck to down below – at first, I thought they didn’t enjoy being out in the fresh air, but they were just so excited to be able to go down below – in a boat – while it was moving! How could I have forgotten how awesome that is?! They dragged as many toys as possible to the aft cabin (Claire was napping in the v-berth) and played with stickers for hours. They snuggled up in the covers with an arsenal of snacks, and ran around the salon and giggled as they tried to keep their balance when the boat heeled.

And while they ran around down below, their parents (and grandma) got some coveted uninterrupted time on deck to simply enjoy being out on the water on a gorgeous day. Shortly after we left the slip, Aaron and I raised the sails and tried to find the wind, which was spotty at best and petered out pretty quickly to almost nothing. I shrugged my shoulders and lamented that we were going painstakingly slow, and my brother said, “Meg, we would have no idea! We are just loving being out here!” Sure, us sailors want to make the boat go fast – but sometimes we get so obsessed with trying to eek out that last half-knot that we forget to pause and enjoy the sights, take a deep breath and just float for awhile.

We did a “drive-by” of Navy Pier before tying up the boat at Columbia. Claire taught the girls how to dance around on deck to Jimmy Buffet and we filed into the club for a brief reprieve in some air conditioning. Then, we grazed on leftovers from lunch and as the sun was setting, settled in to watch “Muppet Treasure Island” as it was projected on the side of the club ship.

It was a beautiful day in every sense – lifelong memories, to be sure. And a wonderful reminder of how blessed we are to be able to share this.

St. Joe: Two Days in Photos

St. Joseph, Mich., is by far one of my favorite Lake Michigan ports. Aaron and I have a lot of memories here from his racing days, and we’ve made many more visiting here as a family.

After such a lovely time in Michigan City, we were deciding whether to turn the boat around and head back to Chicago or keep on sailing. Aaron had taken the whole holiday week off of work, the weather was perfect and the waves were minimal. So, we pointed the boat north. How could we not?

We were able to actually sail, rather than motor-sail or just motor,  a fair amount of the trip to St. Joe, which, as all cruisers know, is a lovely treat. We stayed in West Basin Marina, the municipal marina on the north side of the river, and spent two days, well, just being kids. We dug around town a bit, visited the Silver Beach Carousel and Compass Fountain, swam at the St. Joe River Yacht Club, surfed the waves at Tiscornia Beach, had barbecues and took lots of naps.

Here are some snapshots.