Mark Symonds Wins J/105 Fleet at Wild Chicago Mackinac Race

This year’s 109th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac will go down in the history books as one of the toughest races ever. Just 200 of the 297 starters completed the 289.4 nm course. A frontal passage hit the fleet at midnight on Saturday, just hours into the race, producing a rare "dry front" that looked menacing as it came over the water but had no rain over Lake Michigan. As the front passed over the fleet, a blast front of 35-50 knot winds flew across the water. Shortly thereafter, the front passed by, pulling behind it a far stronger northerly breeze than forecast, so the fleet settled into a 20+ hour beat to windward in 15-30 knot winds from the NNE and punching into a classic 6-10 ft Lake Michigan chop. The winds rapidly shut down between the Manitou Island Straits and the open waters headed to Grey’s Reef. There were 21 boats in the J/105 one-design fleet. Here is the report from the winner, Mark Symonds on PTERODACTYL: "It was one of the most challenging Chicago Mac races I have sailed. It started out like a typical Mac Race—a pleasant sleigh ride under spinnaker. By late Saturday though, we could clearly see the storm system coming down the lake. Thankfully, the really bad stuff seemed to be tracking over the Wisconsin coastline off to the west of us. We kept our spinnaker up a little too long and suffered a knockdown in a sudden increase in winds to 40+ knots. It seemed like we were at a 90-degree angle forever, but more likely about 30-40 seconds. We were able to retrieve our spinnaker (in several pieces) and all the control lines. From there, the wind turned north for over 24 hours. North winds on Lake Michigan create big, powerful waves. We slammed upwind all of Sunday. We were very grateful and probably lucky that no one was hurt, being tossed around the cabin or deck. We soldiered on trying to catch Buzz and SeaLark who were launched in front of us. When we reached the Manitou passage, we had momentary cell coverage and found that we had caught them, but that Striking had also caught up. Four of us were bobbing for hours or ghosting along at very low speeds for quite some time. We tried everything to get going—jib and main, spinnaker and main, spinnaker only. We constantly worked it to try to accelerate out of the doldrums. Three of us were neck and neck getting to Grays Reef. This is the reason I love one-design racing—after two plus days of racing, we were in a clump of competitors who all had the same capabilities. When we finally got past the reef and turned toward the bridge, it was a drag race with the wind out of the south. We were able to barely hang on flying a spinnaker at a tight angle the whole way. Kudos to the whole J/105 fleet. They are a great bunch of talented and well-prepared competitors. While many had to drop out, we were very happy there were no serious injuries." For complete event information, visit

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