altThe Chicago Yacht Club's 103rd Race to Mackinac, presented by Veuve Clicquot—Hearing that it’s windy and rainy is one thing. Hearing that water is vaporizing all around you is a completely different tale of horror.

Tim Prophit, owner and co-skipper of Fast Tango, an North American 40 out of the Bayview Yacht Club, and his crew have seen the other side. In fact, their descriptions of the 'strobing' lightning and 'white water everywhere' are on an entirely different level than anything that racing sailors in North America have seen in many, many decades.

But then again, how often have North American Corinthian sailors seen sustained winds of 100 knots? Answer: never.

Tragically, WingNuts, a Kiwi 35, capsized during this meteorological melee and two sailors, Mark Morley and Suzanne Bickel, from Saginaw, MI were lost.

Some back story: For the 361 raceboats entered in the Chicago Yacht Club’s (CYC) 103rd Race to Mackinac, the first 30 hours (tack on 24 hours for the cruising boats) were brochure-quality sailing. No bugs, plenty of breeze from the right angle, a kindly sea-state, warm air and spinnakers punctuating the horizon as far as the eye could see. Nothing broken about this picture at all…yet.

The dogs came howling off their chains on Sunday night (July 17), sometime around 2300 hours, EST. According to several different sources (all racing sailors), the breeze (18 knots) was coming from the south before the maelstrom struck. Sheet lighting started illuminating the sky, and the scramble became one of getting the kites down and hoisting heavy-air sails.

For Prophit and his Fast Tango crew, the feeling was that this storm would produce intense, short-lived winds of the one-or-two minute variety—the sort of squall that simply requires running off and letting the action pass before resuming the race. According to Peter Wenzler, Prophit’s co-skipper aboard Fast Tango, this was a very, very different situation.

'We were within five miles of WingNuts, about 3.5 miles east and 1.5 miles south,' said Wenzler. 'We didn’t think we were going to get anything like this. We were flying a reduced spinnaker that we had re-cut into a [heavy-air] Asymmetrical kite. The wind came up pretty quickly, we didn’t shock-load the sail or anything—it just disintegrated, parting at the head and down its tapes. We quickly put up the brand-new Number 3 [headsail]. Then the wind [clocked] from about 145 degrees to—BANG!—about 265. The wind was then coming down in vertical shafts.

'It came up really quickly to 60 knots, which we’ve sailed through enough times to know what it’s like. Usually, it blasts through after a minute or two, then it’s over and we can keep going. So when the stuff really hit the fan, the instinct is to bear off and run with it, initially—we didn’t have time to drop the sails or put in a reef.

'We’re just screaming downwind—the water had been pretty flat—and I’m doing my best to stay under the rig, hoping that I didn’t wipeout too badly. It was unbelievable! I’m not sure how fast we were going, but water was just BLASTING off the side of the boat. I had three guys up on the foredeck, trying to get the jib down, and then the boat just dove down, right into the lake. So we called everyone back [from the foredeck]; I figured that if the bow goes in [to the lake any further] that I’d lose control of the rudder.

'It just never stopped. It just came on stronger and stronger. It got to the point where we just had to stop and lay the boat down. Heaving-to wasn’t an option.

'Our owner always tracks [and graphs] information coming off the anemometer on his laptop—after [the worst of the storm] had passed, we took a photograph of the screen. There was a twenty-minute section in there where we were obviously exposed to some very challenging conditions.

'There was about a seven-minute section where the wind was pegged between the instrument’s maximum, which is 100 knots [Ed. Note: 100 knots is 115 mph or 200 kilometers per hour], and 90 knots. It’s just blasting out there.

There was more wind than I’ve ever experienced in 35 years of racing all over the Great Lakes and on the oceans, and I’ve been through tons of squalls. This thing was different.

'The boat really handled it beautifully. It’s absolutely watertight. We ended up just laying her down,' said Wenzler.

'We were going sideways at nine knots!' ventured another Fast Tango crewmember who was standing by during the interview.

'We were at a point where the waterline was above the cabin-house windows,' said Wenzler. 'The rig was out of the water, with the mainsail just above the water. [Brett Zimmerman] was using his body to fill the companionway. We had [companionway] boards but they were down below and this was happening now.

'I think it was a downburst, so we were screaming along in this ridiculous wind that was in front of whatever happened, and it was over-taking us. It went from a dead run to a bit of a reach, it overtook us, and [then] it was smack-dab on top of us, blowing with more force than I’ve ever seen in my life.

'The water was vaporized…pulverized… In the cockpit there was water up to my knees, and it was white. And the water outside the boat was also white. I was standing on the side of the cockpit, driving, crouched within the wheel frame, with my head ducking below the windward side of the cockpit so that I could see the instruments. Believe it or not, we were still able to give the boat some [steerage].

'It didn’t stop! It just kept going. The lightning was strobing. It was black and then white; there was so much of it that it was white all the time. Water was everywhere. Then the boat was lying on [her] side. It felt like capsizing a Thistle [e.g., a much smaller boat].

'I’m not sure how long it lasted, but it was longer than anything that I’ve ever experienced before. We were like a watermelon seed, being squeezed between two fingers—we were absolutely pressed against the surface of the water. Some crewmembers who were on the rail were thinking about how they were going to escape the lifelines if the boat went over.'

'It was 12 minutes of sustained winds over 50 knots,' said Prophit, who compared the experience to standing in the direct wash of a jet engine.

'Horrific conditions, for sure. It can be imagined that the WingNuts crew experienced a similar set of conditions. Given that a 40-footer was put on her side in this weather, it seems that the scene on WingNuts was far, far worse.

According to race regulations, all boats are must carry a GPIRB (a GPS-enabled emergency locator beacon] or a liferaft. The Chicago Mackinac Race shares the same safety requirements with the Bayview Mackinac Race. The crew of WingNuts took safety extremely seriously. Rather than simply carrying one GPIRB aboard, each crewmember was wearing his or her own personal beacon. Moreover, each crewmember was wearing a PFD and they were all also tethered to the yacht, as per sailing’s universally accepted best practices.

While WingNuts did not have a liferaft aboard, multiple ocean-racing experts agree that it could well have been useless. In winds potentially exceeding 100 knots, the raft’s tether line (attaching it to the yacht so that the crew can safely board the liferaft) could have immediately chaffed through, likely succumbing to friction between the tether line and/or lifelines or the yacht’s anti-skid deck.

Moreover, in winds potentially exceeding 100 knots, the liferaft could have immediately cartwheeled away from the yacht. This happened during the 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race, with crew aboard, in less wind.

Safety tethers have been proven to have saved countless lives, and their use is absolutely the best accepted practice for sailing offshore, at night, or anytime that there is even the slightest chance of a crewmember going overboard; PFDs, of course, should be worn at all times. These practices were exceeded by the WingNuts crew.

'An accident in sailing affects all of us who spend time on the water,' said Gary Jobson, President of US SAILING. 'There are always lessons to be learned from tragedies. It’s important that the appropriate parties take the time to thoroughly review all the factors that have taken place. Early indications, based on the report of the crew that were present, is that the accepted standard practices were met, including each member of the crew [wearing] a GPIRB. I would like to add my personal condolences to the family and crew that were part of this sad event.

'Just last week, I participated in the Marblehead-Halifax Race,' continued Jobson. 'We had a record-breaking run. I kept my safety harness attached to the boat during the nighttime hours.'

According to Chicago Yacht Club race officials, WingNuts was removed from race documents immediately following the disaster in an effort to protect the lost sailors’ families. This was by no means intended to hide information—only to help provide some privacy to the close-knit family crew aboard WingNuts amidst the media frenzy of the past 36 hours.

The CYC will republish WingNuts data on their website, in due course.

Here is a partial list of the boats that stood by to assist during the tragedy: Turning Point, La Tempete, Sociable Buzz, J Crew'd, Northstar, Nautilus, MENTAL, Que Loco II, Timberwolf, Gauntlet, Usual Suspect, Bozos Circus, Lady K, and Say Uncle.

Specifically, Robert Arzbaecher’s Sociable, a Beneteau 40.7 from the Milwaukee Yacht Club, deserves special mention, as they successfully rescued six of WingNuts surviving crewmembers. While Arzbaecher and crew have requested privacy during this difficult time, they deserve to be recognized as heros.

The loss of two sailors from the WingNuts crew is the worst tragedy in the race’s proud 103-year history.

Please take a long moment of silence to honor two lost members of our extended sailing family. Please also seriously consider the safety equipment on your boat, and constantly re-familiarize yourself and your crew on the best MOB practices.

While the WingNuts crew undoubtedly practiced excellent seamanship, and best-accepted practices, their boat was simply no match for 100-knot winds.

Sadly, this is a stark reminder that all boaters must accept the fact that—while extremely rare—these sorts of freak storms are a possibility that every skipper must be prepared to encounter.

For more information on the Chicago Yacht Club's 103rd Race to Mackinac, please visit www.cycracetomackinac.com  
 

Destinations

  • Prev
Chartering in the Caribbean conjures up images of turquoise sea, palm fringed beaches and great ...
Since anyone who opens an independent bookstore is at least as brave as a small boat shop owner, I ...
You’re on your way east to the 1000 Islands or the Trent-Severn. By entering north of Prince ...
I have lived in Ontario my whole life but have only recently had the pleasure of visiting the City ...
My trip to the Northwest Passage started long before I boarded the flight to Kangerlussaq with ...
During the summer of 2016, my wife and I cruised through the North Channel in Lake Huron on our ...
It’s like we’ve waved a magic wand and disappeared into a picture perfect painting, our ...
The Schooner Cove Yacht Club is situated between Nanaimo and Parksville, on the east coast of ...
After months of planning my trip to Prince Edward Island in my CL16 open sailing dinghy Celtic ...
The first time we sailed to Madeira we wondered if the island had vanished. Or at least that's how ...

Almost Canadian, Almost Caribbean

Grand Turk IslandBy Mark Stevens • Photos by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

Late afternoon, Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos.

I’m chilling on the balcony of our beachside suite at the Bohio Dive Resort, gazing at sun-burnished whispering surf nuzzling the sand ten metres away.

A single couple populates the beach, shaded by a Norfolk pine. She leans over to say something to her partner every once in a while. Moments later he answers her.

Read more of Almost Canadian, Almost Caribbean...

 

 

 

Lifestyle

  • Prev
Recently we celebrated our country’s 150th anniversary, and in true form thousands of ...
   We left off Part 1 at the year 1914, and will here pick it back up, running through ...
This week’s POTW comes from across the pond. Who knew we had a European audience   ...
Here is our boat anchored at Hockey Stick Bay. We live in a beautiful country.     ...
Michelle Jacques of Cambridge ON share this memory of her adorable pooch. “This is Frodo. ...
  Our 150 year history began in 1867, but Canada was no stranger to watercraft prior to our ...
If our Photo search were a contest for the hallmark shot of eastern Canada, this might be Stephen ...
Do you know how many boaters you run into while standing in the lift lines of Blue Mountain and the ...
After the questionable spring we’ve all had, here’s an iPhone shot that will remind you ...
Here’s a pair of shots guaranteed to get you in the mood for this summer. They come from Pat ...

Cedar Island Yacht ClubBy Katherine Stone
The very first yacht club ever featured in this column was the Buffalo Yacht Club, back in 2012. I chose to start with this particular club as it was the only one that had clubhouses in two countries: the United States and Canada.Canada is deeply tied to the United States as their number one trading partner, enjoys many cultural similarities, and a shared language; so this seemed like a fun way to start what has now become an ensconced column in every issue. However, the Buffalo Yacht Club is not the southernmost yacht club in Canada, as that distinction lies with the Cedar Island Yacht Club...

Read More about Cedar Island Yacht Club...

 

 

Boat Reviews

  • Prev
Following a 10-year hiatus, Richmond, BC-based Crescent Custom Yachts is once again launching ...
According to the folks at Fraser Yacht Sales, you couldn't ask for more - the new Azimut Atlantis ...
During those cold, cold, sunless, dreary months of January and February, I want to remember the fun ...
Last July, I had the pleasure of traveling to Wisconsin on behalf of Boating Industry Canada. I had ...
The Rossiter 23 Classic Day Boatis both a logical extension of the Canadian-built Rossiter line and ...
It's rare for Canadian Yachting magazine to report on the same boat twice, but that is how ...
When French naval architect Philippe Briandand the Jeanneau design team started working on the ...
Canadian Yachting magazine readers will certainly be familiar with the Cruisers Yachts line of ...
You can count yourself lucky to be able to go for a sail on Lake Ontario in mid-October when the ...
We met the new Cruisers Yachts 54 Cantius under almost ideal circumstances, on the beautiful Trent ...

Fast, spacious and stable – the Leopard 45 is the stuff dreams are made of!

During those cold, cold, sunless, dreary months of January and February, I want to remember the fun I had in the sun on the water. Did someone say charter? In warm weather?In warm waters?

If you plan on chartering when the weather in Canada is less than ideal (mmmmm…that’s two months of bad sledding), then I suggest you charter, purchase to charter, or just buy to own and enjoy for yourself the newly redesigned Leopard 45 sailing catamaran.

Read more on the Leopard 45 . . . 

 

DIY & How to

  • Prev
The moment we all dread. It’s a warm sunny day and you’re out for a cruise. Suddenly ...
For most of us – this is the time to make the most of the boating season – launch and ...
Question: Is it possible to mount, protect and charge your iPad during marine navigation. ...
  Is iNavX the superlative marine navigation app?    
Question: Can I buy generic automotive parts or products for my boat, or should they specify ...
  There is a good deal of hesitancy and lack of understanding as to whether an iPad can ...
‘Top dead centre’ is the position of the wheel that allows you to steer your boat ...
Before leaving on an extended cruise, it is critical to inspect and maintain all systems on your ...
In this second of three parts, we will explore preparing for a longer cruise from the people side. ...

Marine Products

  • Prev
A milestone has been reached. The new D13-1000 sees Volvo Penta move into the 1000hp marine leisure ...
  Still looking for the perfect slip for your boat? Look no further!    
Canadian Yachting traveled to Newport to review and sea trial the new MJM 35z.     ...
Erik Pawson Of Watertight Boatworks here in North Vancouver, BC, is really passionate about the ...
Hydro Clean Hull Wash is Canada's first automatic, mechanical hull wash system and the company has ...
For 2017 there were a total of 31 events planned and 2 were cancelled for a total of 29 events. All ...
When Terry Conrad, of Conrad Marine, offered me ride in a brand-new Sea Fox 288 Commander that he ...
EMCS Industries Ltd. has a unique antifouling system that’s quite clever and incredibly ...
Discover Boating Canada recently launched a new Boating Safety App. We are pleased to let our ...
Taken By the Wind: The Northwest Coast: A Guide to Sailing the Coasts of British Columbia and ...