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July 5, 2012

Winning boat from of 1925 Bayview Race to set sail again in 2012 event

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

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Winning boat from of 1925 Bayview Race to set sail again in 2012 event
In the 1925, the Bernida won the first Bayview Mackinac Race. In 2012, the boat, pictured turning to the right here, will sail again under the direction of Al Declerq.

GROSSE POINTE PARK — The face-lift is complete.

Now the true test, and even some fun, begins.

When the inaugural Bayview Mackinac Race set sail in 1925, 12 boats took to the waters with sights set on the Upper Peninsula.

By the time the race ended, severe thunderstorms forced all but four vessels out of the race. But nearly 50 hours after starting off, the Bernida and her crew of four crossed the finish line some three hours before the others.

At roughly 7 p.m. July 25, 1925, the first winner in the history of the Bayview race had etched her name in the history books.

Some 87 years later, she’s ready to sail again.

“We’re looking forward to it,” said Al Declerq, the new owner and captain of Bernida, of the 2012 event, which launches from Port Huron July 14. “This is my 46th time in this race. We’ve got a great crew. We’re sailing with family, and we’re going out and trying to win this thing.”

Bernida’s story is as interesting as it is mysterious.

After winning in 1925, the ship didn’t compete again until the 1927 race, which ended up being its second victory in as many tries.

“Then it kind of went missing,” Declerq said with a laugh.

Years passed — many, many years.

According to a release from the Bernida Heritage Fund, in 2003, Mackinac Island Yacht Club members Toby Murray and Bart Huthwaite found the Bernida stored in an old barn near Ludington.

Mackinac resident and boat builder Emory Barnwell then went to work, pouring nine years and more than 3,000 hours of work into the restoration.

Declerq, who has won 23 Bayview races, said he received an email not long ago informing him the boat was for sale.

“I looked it up and thought it’d be something fun to do in the Bayview race,” he explained. “A group I am part of made a quick deal, and in November of 2011, we purchased the Bernida.”

Getting the vessel race ready still required some work, though.

Declerq said many more hours went into the boat, reinforcing key load areas, for example, and securing certain aspects of various safety measures.

“And we’re still going to have to be prudent,” Declerq said with a laugh. “Especially when it’s windy. That’s going to be our biggest challenge, if we encounter large waves. If there’s a breeze from the north, and we’re facing 8-foot waves, it’s going to be tough.”

Still, Declerq said he and his crew are looking forward to the challenge.

Declerq will be joined on the Bernida by his son, Matt; Ken Flaska and his son, Connor; and Fred Detwiler and his son, Ward.

All sailers hail from Grosse Pointe Park and are representing the Bayview Yacht Club.

The boat was built in 1921 in Boston and is a 32-foot R-Class Sloop. It will race in the Shore Course Division II group with 123 other entries in the division.

Following racing the Bernida in it’s third Bayview race, Declerq said he’s working on donating the vessel to a foundation on Mackinac Island.

The 2012 Bayview Mackinac Race officially begins July 14 with start times depending on division. At press time, 233 vessels were registered to compete in five different divisions.

To track all boats or for any further information on the event, visit www.bycmack.com.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.