Victory at Sea
by Marcia Goodrich
Mike Stewart '94 and a resourceful six-man crew have won the 2010 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, beating the big guys and bringing honor and glory to their hometown on Lake Michigan's eastern shore.
Muskegon is a perfectly respectable town with a perfectly respectable harbor. Yet no member of the Muskegon Yacht Club had ever won the longest annual freshwater sailing race in the world, which just happens to take place in their backyard.
That's because the competition in the century-old event is world-class. "Just about every famous sailboat racer has done this race," says Stewart. The record for the Race to Mackinac is held by the late Roy Disney, a famed yachtsman and senior executive of the company that bears his uncle's name. Other contenders have been Americas Cup winners Ted Turner and Dennis Conner.
What makes the victory doubly sweet is that Stewart managed it in only two tries, a privilege usually reserved for seasoned veterans. "I talked to someone who had done it sixty times and never won," he says.
Stewart's boat, Lady K, left Chicago around noon on Saturday, July 24, and arrived at Mackinac Island on Monday evening, finishing in 53 hours, 49 minutes.
It was not the first boat to complete the 333-mile voyage, but it had the fastest corrected time, which is the boat's competition time when compared with other boats of various sizes. Lady K's corrected time was 46 hours, 53 minutes, and 5 seconds, just 19 seconds better than its nearest competitor, a boat from Ontario called Smokum Too.
As luck would have it, Smokum Too found itself snarled in the watery equivalent of road construction at the tail end of the race. Approaching the finish, it became mired in the waves kicked up by ferries taking visitors to Mackinac Island and lost a few precious minutes.
Winning a marathon event like the Race to Mackinac isn't just about having a good skipper and a good boat. You have to have a good crew, because nobody can stay sharp for two days running.
"We take shifts," Stewart explains. "There were seven guys on the boat, and at least four were on deck at once." The rest of the time, they eat, rest, and try to sleep. "That's hard when you are beating six-foot waves," he says. "But it's important. After two-and-a-half days of no sleep, you start making poor decisions." When fatigue was setting in, crew member Jim Fetters kept repeating the crew's motto: "Win first, fun second."
There are some perks involved in staying up late, however. The wind is always changing, and sometimes nighttime is the best time. Lady K had some of her finest moments during a four-hour stretch that began at 3:00 am Monday.
"The sea was glass, the moon was full, and we caught a breeze that had us cruising along at six-and-a-half knots past boats doing three or four knots," says Stewart. It was just as magical as it sounds, he adds. "Racing is a big part of it, but we like to go sailing even if we're not racing."
Mike and his brother Jim '90, who crewed on their championship voyage, grew up cruising the Great Lakes with their father. But Mike is the only one who got his own boat. He has some advice for any would-be sailor wanting to enlist the support of a spouse.
"I heard from a wise man that it's always good to name your boat after your wife, and my wife's name is Kerry," he says. "You can't get in too much trouble that way."