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.
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.