Port Huron to Mackinac Boat Race
The Bayview Mackinac Boat Race is run by the Bayview Yacht Club of Detroit, Michigan. It is one of the longest fresh-water races in the world with over two hundred boats entering the race each year.
There have been at least three changes to the course throughout the race's history. All of the race's courses start in the waters of Lower Lake Huron, 4.5 miles (7.2 km) north of the Blue Water Bridge near the American shoreline, traverse the length of Lake Huron, and finish in the Round Island Channel off Mackinac Island, Michigan. Currently, the Race features two courses, one Shore Course sailing up the Michigan shoreline, and a Cove Island Course that takes boats around a buoy off Cove Island in northeast Lake Huron. Both courses finish at Mackinac Island.
The first race was held in 1925 with the sloop Bernida skippered by Russ Pouliot winning against 12 yachts. In the 2012 race, Bernida once again raced with owner/skipper Al Declercq claiming victory in PHRF H and Overall for the Shore Course along with his crew Matthew (son), Ken and Connor Flaska, and Fred and Ward Detwiller they finished around 1130 AM Monday. Dozens of divisions and classes of boats were added over the years.
The inaugural race course was 235 statute miles (378 km) up the Michigan shore line. In 1935, the course was lengthened to 290 miles (470 km) and required participants to round Cove Island Buoy just south of Canada's Georgian Bay. Fog created confusion and the longer course was abandoned as dangerous and slow in 1936. In 1972 the 290-mile (470 km) Cove Island course was restored. Twenty years later, participating yachts were divided into two separate fleets, with one heading east to round Cove Island and the other following the original shore course. After the Canadian government's decision to decommission the Cove Island buoy in 2000, the longer course was replaced with the Southampton Course in which sailors are directed toward Southampton, Ontario and then to the finish line at Mackinac Island.
In 2007, the Bayview Yacht Club announced a new course (Thunder Bay Course) in which all boats round at NOAA Weather Buoy 45003, located about 43 miles (69 km) northeast of Alpena, Michigan. Longer than the shore course but not quite as lengthy as the Southampton or Cove Island courses, it marked the first time in 15 years that all Port Huron to Mackinac racing yachts followed a unified course. In 2009 the race will return to the Cove Island course (rounding a private buoy), with cruising and smaller boats sailing the Thunder Bay course.
The two Port Huron race courses allow for maximum participation from yachts ranging in size from 26 feet (7.9 m) to more than 80 feet (24 m).
The Port Huron to Mackinac Race is often confused with the Chicago to Mackinac Race. They were held on the same weekend until 1939, when both clubs agreed to alternate the date of their Mackinac races, scheduling them a week apart. The Chicago-to-Mackinac race is older, starting in 1898, and slightly longer.
The Friday night before the start of the race is called Boat Night. Thousands of people: sailors and cheerful spectators, alike, line the banks of the Black River, Port Huron to view the yachts. The parties will last until well after dawn on Saturday.
The race begins Saturday afternoon with the smallest boats starting first and the largest the last to cross the starting line. Boats typically begin finishing at Mackinac Island Sunday evening through Tuesday morning. The finish line can be viewed from a number of places including Fort Mackinac and Mission Point Resort.
Boats are measured to determine handicaps. The fastest boat in the fleet is the scratch boat and has no time allowance. All other boats have time allowance handicaps which are subtracted from the elapsed sailing time. As of 2007, handicapping systems used in various classes included PHRF and IRC. In 2009 the ORR rating system was added.
The last boat to finish the race is called the "pickle boat." The origin of the name comes from English yachting, where the last boat was called the "fisher." The boats used to stop to fish for herring and then pickle them. The pickling required the boat to take even longer to come into port.
The race and an awards celebration, while held on the lawn of Mission Point Resort in a number of previous years, will be held in 2012 at the Grand Hotel. Flags and trophies are presented to all the winning skippers of each division and class.
Racers who have completed 25 of the annual Port Huron to Mackinac races are called "Old Goats", while those who have completed 50 are called "Grand Rams".
And for those people that work for 15 years on Race Committee, they are honored with the title "Old Forts" or members of the Straits of Mackinac Society.