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Yacht Club Won’t End Race To Mackinac Over Deaths

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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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CHARLEVOIX, Mich. (CBS) — The Chicago Yacht Club says it has no thoughts of the ending the Race to Mackinaw after the deaths of two people when a boat capsized over the weekend.

But the club says it will hold a wide-ranging inquiry into the deaths of Skipper Mark Morley and Suzanne Bickel, who were aboard the sailboat WingNuts when it capsized around the Fox islands shortly before midnight Sunday night.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s John Cody reports


Yacht Club Race Chairman Greg Freeman says once the Mackinac race starts, it isn’t called off – even if bad weather develops.

Freeman also rejects any suggestion of ending the race because two sailors died.

“I don’t see us doing that,” he said. “We’ve done this race for 113 years. I expect we’ll do it again.”

Freeman said Mackinac races can often start out clear and calm and then run into rough weather, as happened Sunday night.

“Well, you know, as sailors we go out in the lake, and it’s not usual, but it’s not unprecedented for storms to come up. The race was well underway when the weather developed the way it did. I did not believe that prior to the race, we felt that there was anything that was going to be unmanageable,” he said.

Freeman says race safety rules require sailors to carry knives that can be opened with one hand and cut through safety harness which that can be unfastened at either end.

Six of the sailors onboard WingNuts disconnected their safety harnesses and clung to the boat until they were rescued. But Morley and Bickel remained connected to their harnesses and thus did not survive.

A Yacht Club inquiry will seek to understand why, and whether any changes need be made.

Morley, 51, and Bickel, 41, were both from Saginaw, Mich. 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.

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