It’s Happening Again
I was prepared to take a break from my Chicago to Mackinac Race stories and focus again on stories that resonate here in Northern California. I enjoy my annual vacation pilgrimage back here in Michigan. Unfortunately, the story this year from this race will end up affecting every sailor, young and old that puts on a lifejacket when they go sailing. You trust that it is going to work when you need it to save your life. For reasons yet explained as we go to press, a life vest in this race did not do its job and we lost one of our own.
The story below goes as follows and it is with a heavy heart. It is race day and we are out on a rough and tumble day surrounded by the turquoise, aqua blue waters of Lake Michigan off Chicago’s sprawling waterfront. Our photo boat is pitching up and down, sometimes 8- to 10-feet at a time. No, we weren’t extras for a “Perfect Storm” sequel or testing out an insane new rollercoaster at Cedar Point, but it felt like it! It was belly-busting past the break wall, but no more so for the other 300 or more odd sailboats that were out there with us.
The grey skies want to clear, but it wasn’t happening yet. As long as our boat was pointed into the wind, which wasn’t often, we were staying somewhat dry during the intermittent rain squalls, but when we spun around for starts it didn’t take too long for us to get totally soaked.
Half of us are focused on shooting the multiple starts for the beginning of the 110th Chicago to Mackinac Yacht Race. The other half lurched over the sides spilling their lunch. Yuck! The water wasn’t the only thing that was painted green this afternoon. Trust me I’ve been there a few years back on the Badger Boat and on that day, they weren’t handing out badger buckets for nothing!
The conditions were challenging, but not extreme as a rare northerly with strong winds and heavy seas was in store as the boats prepared to make this an upwind struggle on their way to the land of the great turtle. All the racers had a pretty good idea what was in store for them as they worked their way up the lake towards the finish some 333 miles away. But clearly, most would be drenched and battered long before they caught the sweet smell of the fudge shops on the island.
For the most part, I like being out on the water during events. Not just to catch the action, but to have a sense what the competitors are experiencing. This could not have been more important on this particular day.
The starts were orderly with a few boats coming close to scraping paint, but profanities were kept to a minimum because this race wasn’t going to be won in Chicago. Aside from almost getting run over by Windquest during the Turbo Section start, we had chosen the pin end and our young boat captain had either put us in an optimum position to take pictures or had inadvertently set us up for disaster. Luckily it was the former.
Shortly after coming off the water and beginning my own drive up the West Michigan shoreline to reach Mackinac Island I received a MOB text on my phone from the Race Committee. Given previous years’ experience in other regattas and realizing that it was just 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon, I expected a follow up text shortly indicating that all was well and the MOB rescued.
Unfortunately, that report never came back and as the minutes turned to hours and as day gave way to night the dread set in as our worst fears were confirmed. The rescue had turned into recovery.
The winds were out of the north, which is a bit unusual for the race. Usually there can be nice breezes out of the Southwest which turns the race into a freshwater TransPac. Sometimes the boats just float and swat flies for days on end. That was not the case this year.
Within one hour of the final fleet start, Imedi, a TP52 race boat competing in the Turbo Section that boasts the largest and fastest boats in the race, reported a man overboard to race authorities.
Activating their man overboard procedures, a distress call went out to U.S. Coast Guard and all nearby competitors who suspended racing to assist in the search for the missing crew member.
The U.S. Coast Guard, Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police marine units and Chicago Yacht Club (CYC) dispatched nearly 20 boats and three helicopters. A seven-hour search was mounted, covering approximately 47 square miles and was ultimately suspended at dark by the U.S. Coast Guard. The crew of Imedi and several other boats of who had suspended racing, continued their search.
The sailor was identified as Jon Santarelli, a 53-year-old from Lincoln Park in Chicago. Santarelli was a regular crew member, a tri-athlete and had sailed in at least 10 Chicago-Mac I races.
Elsewhere in the fleet, significant waves and a northerly wind direction throughout the night presented challenging conditions for all teams competing. A clear majority of the fleet continued racing to Mackinac Island with no incident, though 39 teams announced their retirements that first evening. The competitors provided several reasons, though wave heights were related to nearly all of them. None of these retirements were due to emergency.
Several of the teams of who suspended racing to search for the missing crew of Imedi, officially withdrew after the long search was suspended.
“While our team continues to work with local authorities in response to the man overboard incident on Imedi, we are actively monitoring the bulk of the fleet who have continued racing to ensure a safe arrival to Mackinac Island,” said Jay Kehoe, Chicago Yacht Club On-Water Director. “The majority of teams racing are making good speeds despite the challenging upwind conditions and we expect the first arrivals to begin later Sunday evening.”
Shortly after the race start, Santarelli fell overboard when a large wave hit Imedi and it appeared his personal flotation device apparently malfunctioned according to race officials. At the time of the incident, Santarelli was leaning toward the back of the boat to make a sail adjustment when the boat was struck by a large wave, throwing him overboard.
Of the 13 other crew on board, many saw what happened. They said Santarelli’s flotation device, which is supposed to inflate automatically upon contact with water, did not inflate. They saw him sink under the waves and did not see him resurface.
As soon as Santarelli went into the water, other crew members kept an eye on the spot and threw flotation devices in “very close proximity” to him, according to Chicago Yacht Club Rear Commodore, Nick Berberian, who shared details of the accident. Imedi maneuvered back around to the spot where he fell, and a search was established while the crew requested help and alerted authorities to the man overboard situation.
The following account of the accident comes from Berberian:
“At approximately 2:45 p.m. Jon Santarelli was aboard the TP52 Imedi moving toward the stern of the boat, to make a routine sail adjustment, unfortunately at that precise time, a large wave hit the boat, causing him to slip into the water... Jon was wearing a personal floatation device that is designed to automatically inflate when it comes into contact with the water. The crew members have reported that the device did not inflate...”
The accident is particularly disturbing for me because Santarelli was an extremely experienced sailor; he was sailing with a very experienced and well-trained crew, and presumably was equipped with first-rate safety gear. As of yet, Santarelli’s body has not yet been recovered, so the reasons why the PFD did not inflate are unknown.
Most auto-inflate PFDs allow the wearer to disable the auto-inflate function, so it is too early to conclude that something may have gone wrong with the device itself. It is important to make clear that despite the shortcomings of current PFD designs, they remain an essential tool for survival at sea. Without reservation, PS encourages boaters to wear the appropriate type PFD while sailing, in any boat and any water. At present, a properly maintained auto-inflating PFD has proven itself to be a versatile and effective device for everyday use when offshore sailing, where great mobility and an abundance of flotation is required.
However, it is important to recognize that auto-inflate vests are not our only option. Small boat and inshore sailors are often better served by a conventional inherently buoyant life vest. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of each device when choosing the right one for a particular activity.
The remains of Santarelli were recovered a week later as they were spotted nearly six miles offshore from the Belmont Harbor, according to Chicago Police and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Berberian added that the club would investigate Santarelli’s death, including his personal flotation device.
Santorelli had more than a decade of offshore racing experience and was a core member of the Imedi Racing team as well as the greater Chicago sailing community.
The search by authorities and at least five “good Samaritan boats” other race participants or locally owned boats covered nearly 47 square miles.
Turbulent weather forced 98 boats, nearly a third of the fleet, to retire early because of storms and waves.
It was a terrible loss and eerily similar to John Fisher going overboard in the VOR, but sailboat racing, even dinghies on a small lake will never be 100% safe. After the 2011 race experienced two deaths, The Chicago Yacht Club has made huge strides, not only in safety preparedness, but also in responding to the media.
The Race, Wet,
But No Flies!
The common thread with many of the competitors I spoke with was, the conditions were rough and tumble, wet, and no flies. The absence of flies was probably the best part of the weekend, as the flies can be a bit insane off North and South Manitou Islands, especially thru the strait with little or no breeze to send them out on their way.
I caught up with Amway President, Doug DeVos, on Windquest shortly after their Reichal/Pugh 86 docked finishing a close 2nd to Il Mostro in the Mackinac Cup’s Turbo Section. DeVos is the head of Quantum Racing which campaigns a TP 52 in Europe in a highly competitive series. They just captured the regatta in Cascais, Portugal. Also, along with Hap Fauth and Roger Penske, he owns the American Magic America’s Cup team associated with the New York Yacht Club.
“There’s a lot to tell! It was one of the first races I have ever done which was upwind the entire way,” said DeVos. “We never put a soft sail up. The boat was wiggling between waves and it was hard to pick up speed. Right out of Chicago, it was really tough,” continued DeVos. “The waves were big and building up the lake the entire way. It really was like a circus, it was rough! I felt like we were under water the entire way.”
During the prestart Windquest was parked as they had a crew member up the Bosun’s chair working on fittings at the top of the main.
“The reason we had a guy up the rig was that we wanted to check our locking system at the reef points at the top,” explained DeVos. “We broke that last year (Windquest was forced to retire). We checked it and it worked fine.”
“There was a lot of congestion at the start. There were a lot of waves and we wanted to take it easy,” said DeVos. “At the start, we wanted to find our lane to tack and ended up going a little further down the line than we wanted and play it safe because there was a lot of traffic.
“The sea state for Windquest, because it is a longer boat, would corkscrew thru the waves,” said DeVos. “So we would hit our target speed, then we would hit a wave, it would back off and then we would have to ramp it up again. So we were always up and down. We could never find a good line or lane.”
As for Il Mostro; “We hung with them for a while and there was the perception that they were going really well,” said DeVos. “We were always behind them and we couldn’t break away from Wizard (Reichel/Pugh 74) as well.
“Wizard stuck with us because they are a newer boat,” said Devos. “They sailed really well and we were never able to get away from them. So then we could never gain much on Il Mostro.
“They came screaming in outside the Manitous, while the inside worked for us,” explained DeVos. “But then when they went outside, then came in on a wind shift they (Il Mostro) did a really nice job on that!
“We really felt we did better going inside (The Manitou Islands) against Wizard, because they had initially tacked to go out and had to sail a little extra distance and it didn’t work out quite as well for them, but it did work out for Il Mostro.”
On another team from Ada, Michigan was Carl Hansen on Variance, a J-111 sailing for the Muskegon YC.
“The race was intense! That’s a good word to describe it,” said Hansen. “The first 24 hours were some of the biggest seas we’ve ever sailed in. The biggest waves we were seeing were 10- to 15-feet! We had a couple of guys that were seasick the first day, so we were down on crew a little bit,” said Hansen. “I have never been in a race where I haven’t had to put a spinnaker up. We sailed the whole race with just two sail changes. It was pretty unusual in that respect.
“We took off to the northeast at the start on a long port tack towards the West Michigan coast,” said Hansen. “Right around sunset (the first day) there was a header and we tacked to the northwest towards the middle of the lake to diminishing seas at that point.
“The winds were still pretty fierce,” said Hansen. “In the morning we tacked back to the Michigan coast and through the Sables up towards Point Betsie (Lighthouse). We were by Betsie by evening and then it was a beat all the way up to Gray’s Reef (the turning point towards the Straits of Mackinac and the finish).
“The wind started to die and we were a little bit behind,” continued Hansen. “We went south thru the Straits, as our competitors went north. We passed about 4 boats from there to the finish. We never stopped racing!”
The Porch Party
One of the highlights for me when making the pilgrimage up to Mackinac Island for the race is the Porch Party at the Grand Hotel. The event was hosted by the ladies of the Chicago Yacht Club for the members and a few select guests while the crews were out on the lake changing sails, busting their tails, swatting flies etc. Much of that changed in 1987. While wining and dining on the porch, the call came in that a boat had just passed under the bridge. Sure enough, in gale-force winds that forced much of the fleet to retire, Pied Piper a Santa Cruz 70 owned by Dick Jennings was on pace to break the 76-year-old record held by Amorita a 100-foot steel schooner. As the committee was up on the porch, it became a race to get down to the finish line before Pied Piper could cross. In almost perfect “Trans Pac” conditions, Jenning’s literally surfed up Lake Michigan to Mac I in an astounding 25 hours, 50 minutes and 50 seconds.
As Jennings told the Chicago Tribune at the time; “We didn’t slow down until the last 10 miles! Too bad we had to break up the ladies cocktail party. But, we planned it that way!”
Since then, Roy Disney on Pyewacket eclipsed the record in 2003 but, for the most part in the day and age of high-tech super-fast sail boats it has become more common to see boats finish while the party is going on.
A couple of years later I had the pleasure and honor of being able to steer Pied Piper part of the way back to Harbor Springs where I believe Mr. Jennings was going to put her in winter storage.
This year was more of a muted affair as Commodore Leif Sigmond spoke a few well-chosen words of remembrance for the fallen sailor. That said, many of the ladies were in high style as the party has become more of the Kentucky Derby with spectacular hats and this year they did not fail to disappoint.
Tickets though, were more challenging than usual with a few changes in the way they were available. In recent years tickets have been available to order on-line on the yacht club’s website. The website was much like the weather, you never knew if it was up or down (just kidding!). Anyway, many long-time attendees were left out and for me it was a game time decision to decide whether I should crash or not.
The “porch” was mapped out and the strategy was in place, but at the last minute the Regatta Manager, Libbi Dust, bailed me out and got me in. Whew! Sometimes the drama at the party, matches the action on the water and this year was no exception. But, loose lips sink ships! Time for me to move on.
As the party was raging on, as if on cue, Il Mostro appeared under the bridge. She was in no position to break the record, close, but no cigar. The Straits of Mackinac are notorious for, at times, bringing the fleet to a screeching halt. Though one year, not too long ago, the Straits wreaked havoc and with the finish line in sight, several boats were forced to retire to Mackinac City or St. Ignace.
Il Mostro’s lapsed time of 28 hours, 11 minutes and 22 seconds was corrected to 43:09:29 in handicapping. The Mac is a handicapped race, so rarely are the first to finish the race winners.
First to reach the island matters to the Thorntons, DeVos’s and Askews. The Royono Trophy goes to the first monohull to finish.
“There was heavy air, 29 knots of north breeze all night and 6- to 8-foot waves,” Peter Thornton said. “It was a challenge physically. But Il Mostro has done two Volvo Ocean Races.”
Unfortunately for Mackinac Island’s sister race the week before, the Bell’s Beer Bayview (Port Huron) Race was the “slowest race in decades” as it became a floater in the worst way.
Conditions were challenging with mostly upwind sailing into northerly winds and 6- to 8-foot waves. By 6 p.m. the second day almost a sixth of the fleet, 50 boats, had retired.
“For an upwind race, our lapsed time is pretty solid,’’ Chris Thornton said.
Nearly seven years ago, Peter Thornton brought one of the most powerful racing machines to the Great Lakes. The sinister-looking Il Mostro, is designed for the kind of boisterous ocean-racing conditions which challenged the fleet this year.
Thorton and son, Chris Thornton, serve as co-skippers aboard ship and for the first time in 2018, they added two new additions to the crew list; Chris’ 19-year-old son Jack and nephew Brodin. Il Mostro’s powerful canting keel and wide hull allow her to smash through big seas better than almost any other design; she was built to handle winds gusting into the 30s and waves up to 12-feet.
“I’ve never been prouder to be a sailor,” said Sarah Renz, CYCRTM Chair. “It has been the most challenging race and I’m so proud of the way the competitors, the organizers, the Chicago and Mackinac Island communities have come together to embrace and support our sailors and the sport. This truly has become America’s Offshore Challenge.
“The Mac has a deep, abiding commitment to safety, and the CMSRs are one way we honor that commitment,” said Renz. “The Committee spends the fall reviewing best practices, consulting with experts and judging the current worldwide state of safety equipment recommendations for offshore races to ensure that our CMSRs represent the most current knowledge in offshore safety.”
Renz said that the documents include change logs which highlighted new requirements for 2018. These include requiring a handheld VHF radio with DSC capability; requiring the ability to mark the position of a crew overboard electronically; and requiring lifelines made of stainless steel due to the propensity of some other materials to fail due to chafe.
In another piece of positive news the Chicago Yacht Club has announced that Wintrust has signed a five-year extension to be the Presenting Sponsor of the Club’s Annual Race to Mackinac.
The extension runs through 2023. Wintrust also became the Presenting Sponsor of the Club’s Chicago Regatta this past year. This event will take place on September 8th and raise funds for Comer’s Children’s Hospital, SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, and the Chicago Yacht Club Foundation program to expand sailing opportunities for children throughout Chicago communities.
“We could not be happier with the relationship we have formed with Wintrust” said Commodore Leif Sigmond. “Not only has Wintrust played a significant role in our Race to Mackinac that is recognized throughout the world but Wintrust has been our partner in a number of our major community outreach initiatives here in Chicago. We very much look forward to continuing to work closely with Wintrust over the next five years.”
Sponsorships are the life blood of these regattas. If not for the support of companies like Rolex which sponsors the Big Boat Series, the sailing landscape and the opportunities it provides for not only racers but youth sailors as well would change dramatically.
Bottom Of Form;
The Next Edition Of The VOR Is Taking Shape
The VO65 Class will return for the next race as the host city selection process begins. The 2021-22 edition of the world’s premiere fully-crewed around the world race will feature two classes of boats, the IMOCA 60 and the VO65 class. Each class has its distinct characteristics, and the inclusion of both means the race will be more open and inviting to sailors and designers as well as more engaging to a broad spectrum of fans, increasing value for stakeholders.
Crews will race boats within their own classes and two trophies will be awarded. Teams will be permitted to enter each class. The IMOCA 60 is a design-driven, foil-assisted monohull on the cutting edge of technology. In contrast, the VO65 is a one-design offshore racing boat that was used in the last two editions of the Volvo Ocean Race. The 2017-18 edition, won by Dongfeng Race Team, was the closest in the 45-year history of the event, in large part due to the strict one-design racing which equalized the performance potential of the boats.
“By opening the next race to the IMOCA 60 and the VO65, we intend to attract the very best sailors, designers and teams in the world to take up the challenge of competing in the pinnacle fully-crewed around the world race,” said Johan Salen, co-owner of the event.
“The introduction of the IMOCA 60 brings a design and engineering element to the race that keeps us at the cutting edge of technology and performance and will be appealing to the most competitive performers in our sport. And we’ve just seen how close and compelling the event can be when strong teams are racing the one-design VO65. Opening the race to both classes gives us the best of both worlds.”
The VO65 class will have a strong orientation towards youth, building on the experience of the most recent edition, which featured a talented crop of sailors taking on the challenge of the race for the first time, including several Olympic medalists and America’s Cup winners.
“This is where the stars of tomorrow are born,” Salen said. “We want to encourage teams to give opportunities to younger crew, in order to bring some of the top talent from smaller boats, for example, into the offshore world.”
Race management is currently working on a preliminary Notice of Race for the 2021-22 event, which is expected to be published in the fall, and will include details on crew numbers and crew diversity incentives and/or restrictions for each class.
Concurrently, in conjunction with The Sports Consultancy, work is intensifying to identify exceptional cities for the stopover ports in the next race. The selection of these Host Cities will define the route of the 2021-22 race, which is expected to include 8 to 10 stopovers, while maintaining the Southern Ocean legs of the race.
The next edition of the race will start from Alicante, Spain in September/October of 2021, and finish in Europe in May/June of 2022.
The Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 finished on June 30. Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng Race Team would become the first Chinese-flagged team to win the race. For the first time in race history, female sailors were integrated into each race crew and Carolijn Brouwer, Marie Roux and Justine Mettraux became the first women to win the Volvo Ocean Race.
As a live event experience, nearly 100,000 corporate guests attended at least one of the 12 stopover cities where the Race Villages attracted over 2.5-million fans.
“Since 1973, this race has been about people taking on the challenge of racing around the world. This last event was among the best in race history,” Brisius concluded. “Our job now is to build on that platform and take the race from strength to strength as a sustainable, premium world sporting event.”
On May 31, 2018, organizers confirmed the next race, in 2021, will take place under new ownership. The transfer of ownership to Atlantic Ocean Racing Spain is expected to be completed and take full effect as of October 1, 2018, with Volvo continuing as a sponsor of the race.
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