Half the Mackinac fleet will sail Cove Island course in 2015

Port Huron Times Herald photo

By Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki

There are changes coming for next summer’s Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race that should make the race more challenging for larger boats and open the race up to more smaller boats.

The biggest change is that any boat with a PHRF rating of 98 or below will be required to sail the Cove Island Course, said 2015 Race Chairman Peter Wenzler. Boats rated 99 and above can sail the Cove Island course, however most are expected to sail the Shore Course.

Making faster boats sail the longer Cove Island course is all about making sure everyone has the race experience that the Mackinac Race Authority wants sailors to have.

“It’s really about running the race that we want,” Wenzler said. “It’s more than Port Huron and going up the lake, it’s about the finish, the party …. it’s a week-long event.”

The MRA is charged with running the Mackinac race and is comprised of nine members, including the current race chairman, the last two race chairs and the next two race chairs. One member is appointed by the foundation charged with building up an endowment to support the race well into the future and three members are elected.

Bayview Yacht Club organized the MRA to give the race more continuity and prevent the radical changes that have sometimes occurred from year to year.

“Our race has changed a lot in the last decade,” Wenzler said. “The whole idea of the MRA is continuity, we want to get it right and make it very high end.”

The MRA studied the previous elapsed times, trying to find the magic number striking the balance between the slowest boats and the fastest boats. The goal was to have most boats arrive on Monday.

Monday is the best scenario, Wenzler said, because it gives sailors some time to be with family and friends, celebrate a little, and then get some sleep to recover before the awards party on Tuesday.

“Do we want everybody to finish Sunday and then sit around for two days waiting for a party?” Wenzler said. “This is a big event, it’s our biggest event on or calendar for Bayview Yacht Club and really for the sailors in the eastern part of the Great Lakes.”

Most importantly, Monday means crews on faster boats will get a little more sailing time.

“Frankly a lot of us just enjoy the sailing part, being with our crew out on the water,” Wenzler said. “To us, it’s an adventure. And it’s an adventure worth savoring. We don’t need it to be over in a day and a half.”

An unexpected benefit of making a PHRF rating of 98 the split between the two courses is that it puts about half of the boats on the Cove Island course and half sailing the Shore course, Wenzler said.

“It seemed like it was pretty well-balanced, the bulk of the boats were’t getting there early or late,” Wenzler said.

Other decisions for the 2015 race include:

— The minimum length of boats has been reduced from 27 feet to 24 feet. This is particularly aimed at making it possible for boats like Cal 25s and Melges 24s to enter.

The committee also changed the lifeline requirements for boats under 30 feet long. Some smaller boats don’t have bow pulpits or stern lifelines. Consequently smaller boats will not be required to have the same life-line requirements as larger boats, but crew members will be required to have tethers attached to the boats whenever they are on deck.

“We felt this was a way to include them without them spending hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on their boat,” Wenzler said.

—The classes will continue to be larger. The race went from 22 classes in 2013 to 17 classes in 2014, and could go down another class or two in 2015.

“If you’re really into the competition, you’re about challenging yourself,” Wenzler said. “A trophy is much more valued when you’ve challenged yourself. We didn’t want a bunch of specialty classes, we wanted to go to bigger class sizes.”

—The finish line will remain the same as it was last year. That means sailors are going to have to remember to finish on the correct side of the light. Last year three boats, including a crew from Peru, ended up withdrawing when they were protested by the race committee for finishing on the wrong side of that mark.

—-Radios must have DSC — digital service capability — in 2015. These radios, recommended by both then FCC and US Coast Guard, transmit the boats identity and location when broadcasting. The cost is between $75 and $100 — hey, a nice Christmas gift for your favorite skipper?

The changes seem to be generating a lot of excitement for the 2015 race already. Registration has only been open for 11 days and there are already 33 boats registered. Two Megles 24s are already registered and a Cal 25 skipper expressed interest as well.

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