By David Fleet
For first year skipper Joseph Bonadies the 110th Chicago Mackinac Race was a race of extremes.
“It was a relentless 48 hours on Lake Michigan,” said Bonadies, a Brandon Township resident and 20 year veteran who crewed two “Mac” races and two Port Huron to Mackinac races. “It’s a lot tougher as skipper—as a crew member you can just walk way after the race.”
From tragedy to heavy seas to flat calm—Bonadies along with a crew of six on board the 36 foot Crazy Horse covered the 300 mile course from the Chicago Lighthouse, just off Navy Pier, to Mackinac Island in 56 hours and 50 minutes.
The time was good for eighth in there division and 75th overall.
According to race officials the Cruising Division started on July 20 and the Racing Division start on July 21, the 288 boat fleet encountered 20 plus knots or about 23 mile per hour winds along with six-to-eight foot seas as they sailed north on Lake Michigan.
“It was two days of a north wind,” said Bonadies. “You have to tack the whole way north. It has a major physical impact on the crew, it’s very difficult to move around and taxes everyone mentally. I just takes a lot longer and is very challenging.”
Bonadies said under normal conditions racers leave Chicago and head down the center of Lake Michigan on a line to Sleeping Bear Dunes. In ideal conditions a south east or west wind would push the fleet north, however, due to the weather they veered more west toward Muskegon.
“It was rough,” he said. “We all wear self-inflating lifejackets along with a tether attached to the boat.”
Automatic lifejackets activate when detecting water. Upon detection of water, a firing mechanism will activate and pierce a CO2 cylinder. The air coming out of the cylinder will inflate the bladder of the lifejacket and create buoyancy.
On the second day of the race a crew member fell overboard off the stern when a large wave lifted the vessel out of the water.
“He was tethered to the boat,” he said. “But it took three guys to get the 200 pound man out of the water even with the rope. It was three to four minutes to get him back in. It’s a dangerous sport.”
Tragedy rocked the race fleet soon after the start.
According to the Mackinac Race Committee’s website, Jon Santarelli, a crew member aboard the “Transpac 52 Imedi,” fell overboard soon after the start, team members who witnessed the fall reported Santarelli’s life jacket didn’t automatically inflate as it was supposed to when it hit the water. The crew executed safety procedures and threw out additional lifesaving devices, he said, but Santarelli slipped under the water. The sailboat’s location was about five nautical miles from the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac starting line, just off the Chicago Harbor break wall.
“We have vest lifejackets onboard—they are required,” said Bonadies. “But they are bigger and bulky. They also get caught on other equipment on the boat, so we don’t wear them.”
Everyone gets seasick said Bonadies.
“I take medication,” he said. “But it gets to just about everyone sailing.”
The weather was calmer on Monday in the Manitou Passage and remained calm as they passed under the Mackinac Bridge on Tuesday.
“Compared to Saturday and Sunday we had waves over the deck and cabin, too rough to take photos,” he said. “Sounds odd, but if you were not holding on with both hands you would thrown about the boat.”
According race officials by the time the fleet all crossed under the Mackinac Bridge into Lake Huron, 65 teams had dropped out. Then as the low moved east, the wind lightened and a weak high pressure system met the fleet in the northern part of the lake.
“I’d rather be sailing night,” he said. “You can’t see land on either Wisconsin or Michigan and there’s no light out there. So the stars are everywhere right up to the horizon.”
Look for Bonadies in the “Mac” next year.
“I changed a few years ago from the buoy sailboat races to distance,” he said. “I love it and will do it again. It’s a great crew and we’ve raced together for many years.”