PORT HURON — Philip O’Neil hasn’t raced without the help of computers in a long time, but that didn’t stop him, and the rest of the crew of Natalie J, from sailing to victory in the 90th Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race that was held July 12-14.
Natalie J and its crew departed Port Huron under sunny skies, but as night fell on northeastern Lake Huron, rain and 30-knot winds stirred up the lake, and a wave knocked out Natalie J’s computer system midway through the race.
“I haven’t sailed that way in a very long time,” O’Neil said. “Most people’s stuff functions pretty well, but stuff happens. Every race, you just have to be able to adapt to whatever the circumstances are.”
The race didn’t start out promising for Natalie J even before the computer system breakdown.
The boat crisscrossed Lake Huron in the early hours of the race by heading toward the Canadian shore from Port Huron before cutting back toward the Michigan side shortly afterward.
“That strategy turned out to be a really bad strategy, and I think early Saturday night, we were probably the last boat of the entire fleet sailing to Mackinac,” O’Neil said. “We had to change our strategy and sail a totally different route.”
The new route propelled Natalie J past the entire Cove Island fleet.
“We wound up going way to the left of our entire fleet, so Saturday night, we picked up some really good breeze and we were going incredibly fast, way faster than the guys who were going straight at marks, and that allowed us to actually sail around virtually the entire fleet up to Cove Island,” O’Neil said.
Although the weather temporarily halted Natalie J’s momentum, the experience and continuity of the crew helped keep the boat running smoothly through the rough waters.
“All of us have been sailing together for many years. Stability was an issue out there because it was actually blowing pretty hard, so we decided that (we) would collectively skip our normal watch system,” O’Neil added.
“Everybody stayed up and stayed on deck the entire race because we knew that would help us go faster, so it was just something that everyone pitched in to do. Everyone responded very positively.”
Natalie J finished the course in a corrected time of 42 hours, 21 minutes and 24 seconds to win its fourth Cove Island race in five years. The boat didn’t race last year because it was participating in a race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
Sailing with O’Neil were Eric McCummons (Perrysburg, Ohio) Matthew Otenbaker (Grand Blanc), Jay Hansen (Orange, Connecticut) Curt Rozelle (Seattle), Fred Rozelle (Grosse Pointe), Steve Rozelle (Grosse Pointe), David Otenbaker (Grand Blanc), Bora Gulari (Detroit), Patrick Drummond (Southfield), Geoffrey Kimmel (Birmingham) and Brian Torresen (Muskegon).
The Shore Course Racing Division was won by Shape, which is owned by Win Cooper (Fenton) and Chris Benedict (Plymouth).
Finishing in second overall in the Shore Course was Genesis, which is owned by Paul Lee of Farmington Hills. The crew for Genesis featured five sailors who are 18 years old or younger.
“It definitely was a good blend (of age and experience), and we had a very fast race,” Lee said. “Most people have been on the boat for many years. Each of my children (Rhys, Elliott and Andrianna) have been racing in Mackinac race since they were 10.”
In the Shore Course Cruising Division, Warwick Smith, of Grosse Pointe Woods, led a crew of 11 sailors on Mostly Harmless to a divisional victory with a corrected time of 37:08:10.
Mostly Harmless won the division by two hours over second-place Dos Mas, a boat based out of the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.
Opus Dei, owned by Chris Cyrul of Hixson, Texas, took the Shore Course Double Handed Division in 38:36:16.
Lucky Strike, owned by Fred Ball of Harbor Springs, won the Cove Island Multihull division in 40:46:07.