One race. 240 miles. Our third try. (Part II.)
We're 45 minutes into the Port Huron to Mackinac Island sailboat race, one of the nation’s longest (200-plus miles up Lake Huron), largest (200 boats), oldest (97 years), and most prestigious regattas.
Our last two attempts, in 2018 and 2019, ended in failure: One, due to a relentless series of storms. The other, due to a mechanical failure.
Day One (15 minutes into the race): We have a mechanical failure. You can read all about it in last week's column.
But here's all you really need to know about that: At one point, I was hoisted to the top of the 60-foot mast, under sail, to cut a tangled halyard. And I was, at one point, looking straight into the eyes of a photographer taking pictures of me. A photographer in a helicopter. In the air.
My life, literally, was in the hands of the crew on the 38-foot boat.
And the crew, here, includes my older brother Dave and three of his kids (Kameron, 31, Konnor, 28, and Khloe, 22), Dave’s girlfriend Colette and two of our friends, Charlie and boat-owner Mike.
But we’re back racing again! Could we finally finish this race?
We have split into two teams of four crewmembers on six-hour shifts. My team—Team Khloe—has the 3 a.m.-9 a.m. and 3 p.m.-9 p.m. shift.
Day One (3:05 p.m.): Minutes after we start our shift — and Team Colette goes below to sleep — it begins raining harder than I have ever seen it rain in my life. There is a tornado warning for our region of Lake Huron. The forecast calls for a relentless series of storms.
Day One (3:06 p.m.): It’s raining harder.
Day One (4:10 p.m.): It’s raining harder.
Day One (8:55 p.m.): The rain, and storm, ends. The sun comes out. A majestic rainbow — a double rainbow! — appears.
Day One (8:56 p.m.): Team Colette — stretching their arms wide and rubbing the sleep from their eyes — come up on deck. “This is truly magnificent,” Dave says. “What a heavenly scene!” They all emphatically agree. Team Khloe silently goes down below to sleep in wet clothes.
And so it goes. Over the next 40 hours, we navigate past shoals, glide slowly over calm water in light winds, sail fast through storms and heavy seas.
Day Two (5 p.m.): We pass Presque Isle, the harbor where we stayed after dropping out of those previous two races. Someone, I know, has brought gas station champagne to celebrate. No one dares mention it.
That night, Team Colette sees a meteor break apart in the night sky, and it lights up the sails and rigging in orange. That morning, Team Khloe watches a post-storm, black-cloud sunrise over Lake Huron.
Day Three (9 a.m.): We can see Mackinac Island. We can make out Fort Mackinac and the Grand Hotel. After three years of trying, we could finally finish this thing. Though no one dares speak that aloud.
Everyone is on deck. Everyone is excited. Everyone except Dave, who is still down below. We all openly hope he’s not dead, especially this close to the finish.
If he is, we collectively decide, we will carry him aboveboard and tape his hands to the steering wheel and prop his lifeless body up to take photos of him at the helm crossing the line. We make a pact that we’ll hold off on calling his time of death until after the cannon fires for our finish.
Day Three (9:05 a.m.): Dave comes up on deck!
Day Three (11:15 a.m.): At 46 hours, 51 minutes and 1 second — and 238 nautical miles — we cross the line. We just finished — finished! — the Port Huron to Mackinac race.
There’s not a dry eye on the boat.
And gas station champagne, shared with people you trust with your life, has never tasted so good.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.