CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of boaters are getting ready to set sail tomorrow in the biggest race on Lake Michigan, the Race to Mackinac.
Boaters taking part in the 110th annual timed competition will set sail Saturday, but stormy weather could be a big challenge.
CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports sailors are preparing at Monroe Harbor. The race has never been cancelled in its 110 years, but challenging weather caused one third of the 300 participants to drop out of the race last year.
Weather is the number one topic for most captains as they prepare to set sail.
“All the sails, we are trying to put the battens in, so they don’t blow out,” said Mackinac Racer Wally Cross, making sure he is ready for Saturday, in what is predicted to be an awful day in terms of the weather forecast.
Sailors are packing supplies, checking their gear, and plotting their course.
“Windy breeze off the bow, so it will be wet like it is now,” said Cross.
Weather conditions originally called for heavy thunderstorms, which threatened the start of the race.
“Basically I am always looking at weather and checking the navigators,” said Jay Kehoe of the Chicago Yacht Club. ““Once you leave the starting line as a competitor, it’s all on you. You gotta know the weather.”
Though weather could impact a decision to start the race, crews will have to rely on their board navigation and weather trackers when the leave site of shore Saturday.
“All these vessels have transponders installed and can be tracked through an app,” stated Matthew James, Chief Warrant Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard.
The U.S. Coast Guard is the primary source of patrol and emergency response. Extra crews are not called in, but eight boats will provide assistance as the racers leave Chicago. They will be tracked by eight guard stations between Chicago and Mackinac.
“As the race transits north, it’s gonna cycle through what we call the area of responsibily through all of the various boat stations,” said James.
Last year, a third of the racers dropped out because of heavy squalls halfway through the race, including Wally Cross.
“When the storm hit, our mast was hit and we dropped out,” he recalled. “No [I’m not afraid], but that’s because it’s my job. I sail for a living. It gets my energy going. The more threatening, the more exciting it is.”
Those who come to the harbor will be able to watch the boats set sail at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
Event organizers say 306 boats are signed up to participate in the race.
Patrols will be assisted by the marine unit, police, and fire departments. A Coast Guard helicopter will also be available in case of emergency.