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2 Sailors’ Bodies Found After Boat Flips In Mackinac Race

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Mark Morley, skipper of the sailboat "WingNuts" and his girlfriend and crew member Suzanne Bickel died after their boat capsized during the annual yacht race from Chicago to Mackinac Island. (Credit: Council of Michigan Foundations/Facebook)

Mark Morley, skipper of the sailboat “WingNuts” and his girlfriend and crew member Suzanne Bickel died after their boat capsized during the annual yacht race from Chicago to Mackinac Island. (Credit: Council of Michigan Foundations/Facebook)

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UPDATED 07/18/11 5:46 p.m.

CHARLEVOIX, Mich. (CBS) — Two sailors died after their boat capsized in Lake Michigan Sunday night during the 103rd annual Chicago to Mackinac Race.

Eight people initially went into the rough waters when the sailboat “WingNuts” capsized around Fox Island shortly before midnight Sunday night, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Nancy Harty reports, around 7:44 a.m., divers found the bodies of two crew members still tied to the boat between Beaver Island and Fox Island, according to the Coast Guard.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Nancy Harty reports

The Chicago Yacht Club has identified the two dead sailors as the boat’s skipper, Mark Morley, 51, and crew member Suzanne Bickel, 41, both from Saginaw, Mich.

According to the Yacht Club, Morley had 44 years of sailing experience, including six Chicago-Mackinac Races and 85 qualifying races. Bickel had sailed in two previous Chicago-Mackinac Races, with 16 qualifying races.

“On the behalf of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, the Board of Directors and Flag Officers, we express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the crew of ‘WingNuts,'” Commodore Joseph S. Haas said. “The crew of this boat exemplified the spirit of the Chicago Mac that is steeped in tradition of family, friends and passion for the water.”

WingNuts

The boat WingNuts capsized during the Race to Mackinac Sunday, and two of its crewmembers were found unresponsive. (Credit: morls53)

It was around 11:40 p.m. when the Coast Guard was notified that WingNuts, a 35-foot sailboat, had capsized and sent eight people in the water.

The boat capsized near the Fox islands, west of Charlevoix, during the Race to Mackinac, Petty Officer George Degener said.

Degener tells Newsradio 780 that the crew of a competing boat, Sociable, was able to rescue six of the sailors who had been aboard WingNuts, but the search continued for the other two for several hours.

The Coast Guard has identified the survivors as Christopher “C.J.” Cummings, 16; John Dent, 50; Stan Dent, 51; Peter Morley, 47; Stewart Morley, 15; and Lee Purcell, 46.

Christopher Cummings’ father, Chip Cummings, told sister station WWJ in Detroit that the crew of the sailboat “WingNuts” was very experienced and had taken numerous precautions. He says they knew the storm was coming, but that the wind must have hit the boat just right and flipped it.

Chip says C.J. and the others are exhausted but  OK. He says they activated alerts on their life vests sending a GPS signal to the Coast Guard.

“This was his first Chicago to Mackinac race, but he was very excited and he was very prepared,” Chip Cummings, speaking of his son, told CBS 2’s Mike Parker.

The Coast Guard said 4- to 6-foot waves were reported, and air and water temperatures were in the low 70s.

WingNuts is based in Saginaw, and seven of the eight crewmembers registered for the race are from Michigan – including three from Midland, two from Saginaw, one from Ann Arbor and one from Grandville, according to the race’s Web site. One of the crewmembers listed is from Chicago.

According to the race Web site, 355 boats and roughly 3,500 crew members took part in this year’s race, which starts at Navy Pier and finishes off of Mackinac Island, near where lakes Michigan and Huron meet. The first race was held in 1898, and organizers from the Chicago Yacht Club began holding it every year starting in 1921. This year’s race is the 103rd running.

At the Chicago Yacht Club, where the race began, one veteran sailor told CBS2’s Mike Parker about the fear storms can create aboard a sailboat. 

“Lots of confusions and can really tip the boats quick, too,” said Jeff Springer, skipper of a 39-foot sailboat. “It catches you off your guard and your anxiety rises. You start to make cloudy decisions.”        

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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