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MacMan Challenge is not for rookies

The race, called MacMan by sailors, was founded in 2004 to promote sailing in the North Channel and around Manitoulin Island.

THe 2011 MacMan Race from Mackinac Island to Manitoulin Island starts on Mackinac Island July 20, the race start is July 21. Go to for more info.

The MacMan is a competitive racing/cruising event that offers a spinnaker/genniker division for serious competitors, a whitesail class for those who do not want the fuss of a spinnaker, and a double-handed class for couples or friends who are into the added challenge.

In July 2009, I was invited to join the crew on board Azzurro to cover the event by skipper Dennis Centis of Sudbury, who sails out of Little Current. Northern Ontario Business is a diamond sponsor of the MacMan race.

I’ve boated in Georgian Bay over the years and I am a “cruiser,” not a “racer.” Dennis assured me, “No problem, all hands on deck! You’ll be fine.”

Dennis and his wife, Marianne, sailed Azzurro to Mackinac Island, in Michigan’s Upper Pennisula, earlier in the week. The rest of the crew met in Espanola and drove to St. Ignace on an amazing 45-foot coach, thanks to Ron, a friend of the crew. From there, we travelled by ferry to Mackinac Island to meet the Azzurro.

Mackinac Island is an “all natural” theme park where motor vehicles are prohibited. Transportation is limited to horse and buggy, bicycle, or foot.

The island, surrounded by water, has escaped the vast changes of time. The preserved Victorian town is home to about 500 permanent residents and hundreds of summer residents who maintain bluff cottages in their original state.

Families, especially children, love their relatively new found “mobility,” exploring the historic, natural beauty of Mackinac Island State Park, honoured by National Geographic as one of the 10 finest in America (

We checked into the Chippewa Hotel, and we were welcomed at the Mackinac Yacht Club ( at a reception.

The next day, the crews met for breakfast and gathered onboard the boats to motor out to the start line for each class.

With a crew of six, I was the seventh, a little tight onboard the Mirage 33. So where did we all sleep? We slept in shifts because we sail through the night. I’m glad I’m not very tall. I tried to stay out of the way of the crew as they each had their station to maintain on deck and below.

The race began at noon. Eighteen boats were registered for the event, and 15 raced. The course consists of two legs, which can be sailed independently. The first leg is an overnight passage from Mackinac Island to Gore Bay, and the second is the next day, from Gore Bay to Little Current. The second leg promotes more entries from Manitoulin Island, 22 boats sailed in the second leg.

I had arranged with Beyond Wireless and GlobalStar to have two tracking SPOT Satellite Messengers for the MacMan race. Great for family and friends to follow the race.

Time for the race to begin. The boats got into start mode; engines were shut off; and some sails were up. But there was fog and absolutely no wind.

One hour into the race, we had sailed only 2,000 feet from shore. The boat instruments read zero wind speed and zero knots. At one point, it seemed as if we were going backwards.
Going nowhere fast, it was a great time for camaraderie with the crew. They told me stories about other races, and that this lull had never happened before. We had a full lunch and dinner onboard with the fold-up dinner tray and glasses on deck. Still no wind.

It was amazing to sail into the evening as the sun was setting to darkness. The horizon lookeds the same as the water and we were alone out there with 15 other boats.

The Azzurro was equipped with NRoute Software on a laptop with backup charts to mark our positions along the way. It’s dark. It’s quiet. All we could hear in the distance is a fog horn from a big freighter. We think it is to the port side, and getting closer…it is definitely getting closer. Adrenaline sets in, no one felt sleepy anymore. (Dennis, you never mentioned crossing a freighter channel!)

We shined our flashlights on the sails, and then we heard a call on the radio from one of the boats in the race giving the freighter their position. We heard the next day that boat saw the stern light of the freighter. Wow! That would be it for me. Glad we heard it from a distance.

Sunset to sunrise. What an awesome morning, a little more wind, up to about 3 knots now. We were racing! At 10 am, the committee radios the boats and said,”At this speed, at this hour, you are never going to make it to Gore Bay in time for the fish fry.”

We started the engine and motor sail to Gore Bay. Not quite the same feeling as sailing in the wind, even the little wind we did have.

We arrived in Gore Bay around 6:30 pm to be greeted by the Mayor J.S. Foster. We enjoyed an amazing fish fry hosted by the Gore Bay Rotary Club. And our coach driver, Ron, met us with the big coach with some of the crew family, and we were entertained in Gore Bay.

The next morning, a pancake breakfast was served for the entire fleet. It poured rain, lots of rain, until we had to set sail again. Then the rain stopped, and finally the winds picked up. The race had really begun. WIND! HEELING! The instruments really do work. At one point during a tack, the laptop went flying off the table onto the floor.

I was behind Dennis, who was at the helm. He didn’t move an inch, pinching that sail into the wind to gain speed. Boats were tacking back and forth. It was like being on the 401 in rush hour. The crew were tacking the sails, and I was holding on behind Dennis with one hand on the rail and one hand holding a still and video camera. Hold on for my life, or hold the shot!
What an awesome experience. We sailed to the finish line, the gun went off. The champagne was poured. We finished second in Class B.

The event ended Saturday night with an awards dinner in Little Current. There is a silent auction and a chance for sponsors, family and friends to share their stories about the race.
For more information, visit www. LCYC. ca, and then follow the MacMan links to the entry form.The race gets bigger each year, think about putting in your own boat – when in doubt, let it out!

About the writer: Kimberely Wahamaa is the event manager, at Northern Ontario Business.

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