Seven scenes from the Port Huron to Mackinac Island sailboat race.
Last week, if you missed scenes One through Five (you should really go back and read it), here’s a recap:
Boat Night in Port Huron, Mich.: The Port Huron to Mackinac Island sailboat race runs the length of Lake Huron and is one of the nation’s longest (200-plus miles), largest (200-plus boats), oldest (94 years), and most prestigious regattas. The night-before-the-race party draws 40,000 people. Roughly 38,000 are dressed as Jack Sparrow.
The Saturday Morning Boat Parade: The sailboats — ranging from 70-foot Volvo ocean racers to my brother Dave’s 33-footer — motor up the St. Clair River toward Lake Huron. Thousands of spectators line the American and Canadian shorelines. A group of older women hold up numbers (0-10) rating each boat’s crew. Our crew — made up of my older brother, Dave, and three of his kids (Kameron, 29, Konnor, 26, and Khloe, 20) — pose or flex or, in my case, do some weird dance designed to appeal to older women. We get all 10s.
Hours 1-7: We have a solid start, good weather, an all-family crew. A storm front, though, is moving in.
The (First) Storm: The storm hits hard. We’re getting the sails down when Dave, seeing the lightning hitting the water around us, yells “Don’t touch anything metal!” Kam and I are getting the mainsail down and, as he says that, holding onto the mast.
Hours 13-19: I’m at the helm with Kam and Khloe in the cockpit. I watch as the sun comes up — with some of my favorite people in the world, in the middle of Lake Huron with no land in sight —a nd no one says a word. Khloe nods when the light first breaks the horizon. That’s enough.
Dave comes up and takes the helm. I go down below and crawl into a hanging canvas cot. I’ve been up for 24 hours straight. I fall asleep within about one second. Then wake up 90 minutes later and can’t get back to sleep.
The (Second) Storm: At 6 p.m on Sunday, the wind and waves start to build from the north. By 8 p.m., we’re getting hammered by six-foot waves and 25 mph winds. By 10 p.m., the temps have dropped. The wind and waves have increased.
Every few minutes, a wave crashes over the bow and directly into our faces. It’s like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Except the swearing is much more pronounced. And we are raising no money for charity.
There comes a point — having been up for nearly 30 straight hours and unable to control my shivering and with my hands and legs cramping up — that I feel truly spent. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally.
I feel, for one of the few times in my life, that I can’t go on for another 15 minutes. That I could fall asleep at the helm. It goes on like this for the next six hours.
Hour 36: My hand is cramped around the tiller. My teeth won’t stop chattering. I’m hallucinating. I’m pretty sure I see a giant factory on shore. It turns out to be a large cloud formation over the water.
Dave goes down below, studies navigational charts, makes calculations. He comes back up and says “This isn’t safe. We have to drop out.”
“No,” I say. “Let’s keep going. We can make it.”
It’s the fakest thing I’ve ever said in my life. Even I don’t believe me.
The finish line is 50 miles away, which, at this rate, means another 12-plus hours. The wind and waves are getting worse. The Presque Isle harbor is just three miles away.
We drop the sails and motor to the marina. It’s 4 a.m., 38 hours and 200 miles from the starting line.
We dock the boat. The cots are soaking wet and covered in wet storm suits and wet blankets. We crawl into them and fall asleep instantly.
I wake up the next morning to the laughter of some of my favorite people in the world, who are joking about — and already starting to forget — how miserable those last eight hours were. And already starting to talk about next year’s race.