Winning The Chicago-Mac 1999

By Jay Lutz

Back in May (’99) my friend and customer Mike Rose of Houston called to say that he didn’t have the time to do Block Island Race Week. We had been preparing for the regatta since Key West R.W. and his new J/125 Raincloud was a blast to sail. “What regatta can we do later in the summer?” Mike asked. “What about the Chicago – Mac Race? I heard it’s a lot of fun” So off we went, six Texans and a couple of Yankee’s.

Are we ready? Mike’s 125 is set up to trailer like a J/24. The keel comes off and the boat rotates 55 degrees on the trailer bunks so that it is “street” legal (8’6”) to drive without permits. At 8,300 lbs. his one ton pickup pulls her anywhere. After a relatively quick commissioning (2 days) we were almost ready to race. Ignorance is bliss until a couple of singer Bob Seiger’s J/130 crew suggested we go over our safety list and we realized that besides the boat floating we didn’t have any of the necessary equipment needed. Nothing like a Visa card and a yacht chandler to get a sailor’s juices running.

Tactics: Prior to the start of the race our game plan was simple. Sail conservative and not force any tactical decisions. Let the tactics become apparent and adjust accordingly. Also, since the majority of races are won during the night we wanted to continue to emphasize to the crew the importance of pushing the boat in the wee hours. Our normal crew rotation was reduced from 3 to two hours from midnight to six am. Raincloud is set up pretty simple from the factory and we did not change a thing but it was 6 months since we last sailed her during Key West so we did try and remember how to push this speed demon around and keep her in 3rd gear. Keeping the upper batten twisted and the traveler down further then normal helps widen the “grove” upwind. Also, since the boat is very stiff we new we could sail with the big genoa longer then most boats.

The Start: The race started out in lower then predicted 17-18 knots of wind from the North. A large portion of the fleet of 280 boats started with a #3. Maybe it was because of the weather prediction of 25-35 or maybe the large waves. We got out early enough to try the Cuben Fiber (2.7oz) Heavy #1 and found that it seamed to give us more punch then the #3 in the large waves that tend to develop in the South part of Lake Michigan with a North wind. It was a long port tack beat that lasted about 75 miles before things got really fluky. With the Cuben Fiber Heavy #1 we were able to stay high and remain on port longer then most boats before we ran out of runway and into the Michigan shoreline. The beauty of this was that Raincloud was able to continue towards the shore well after the majority of the fleet had tacked to port and headed offshore. The wind shifted late the first night to the Northeast and then finally to the Southeast within 3-5 hours. While our heading on port started out at 25 degrees (rum line was 22) it ended up at 15 degrees on the OPPOSITE tack! Talk about luck! The only thing better now was if we could get our new .3oz Cuben Fiber A-spinnaker up…….. Guess what, no sooner did I say to owner Mike Rose if the breeze veers any more we could fly spinnaker then Walla –the wind veers and up goes the A-spinnaker! This is where the J/125 really fly’s, in any wind condition or angle.

When the Sun Comes Up: At mid-day Saturday there were not any boats in site except very LARGE spinnakers! That meant maxi boats –and our little 41’ J/125 was right in the middle. Our enthusiasm was very high and as we listened to the Coast Guard mid race call in we could only shake our heads in amazement. As the IMS A boats called in their leaders were only 4-5 miles in front of us! When position reports came to our class we realized that boats like the One Design 48 (at –33) and some of the other Santa Cruz 70’s were behind us – pretty far. The remainder of day two was spent jibing downwind along the Michigan shoreline heading towards the Manitau Islands. Our next big tactical decision was the approach to the islands and that was going to be at night. “Keep the pressure on.” Was owner Mike Rose’s call to arms. While we did not get through the Manitau’s cleanly we still had a big lead and the remainder of the race was academic. As we approached the Mackinac Bridge tight jib reaching Colt 45 (a SC 70) approached from behind. That’s when we decided to try our new secret weapon, a Spreacher A-spinnaker. A semi-supported A-spinnaker that is almost a combination of a spinnaker and reacher genoa. To our surprise we not only held off the SC 70 but also started to pull away. The breeze did lighten up and she managed to pull through as we did three spinnaker changes in the last 6 miles flying across the finish line at 12 knots in completely flat water. We counted 13 maxi’s at the dock and even some of the maxi crew’s cheered us in. As you know, now was the hard part….. waiting for the rest of the class to finish. At this point we had corrected out over the boats that finished but who knows what 30’ something with a 260 PHRF rating slumbers in and corrects out. To our surprise the wind totally shuts off for about the next 16 hours and we are victorious! First in Class and Fleet!

Conclusions: Why did we win the 1999 Chicago / Mac Race? There are a few factors that I can list (and not in any particular order of importance because they all were important;

· Boat – The J/125 is a powerful 41 footer that is easy to shift gears (for a ULDB). While the first part of the race was not what I thought favorable for us (75 miles upwind) we still hung on and the boat with the Cuben Fiber Hvy #1 seemed to drive through the waves well. The A-spinnaker flying was particularly good for the boat and it was the majority of the race.

· Boat set up – besides a few minor changes Raincloud is set up as it comes from the factory. An easy boat to sail allows you more time to do the things that win races. Mike Rose spends effort and money in areas that make the boat fast without throwing money aimlessly.

· Crew – Owner Mike Rose has a knack for getting fun guys to sail with that aren’t afraid to put the effort in to win -even if you don’t.

· Sails – I’ll brag. My Shore Sails Spider design Cuben Fiber sails held there shape remarkably well at a weight that is ½ the weight of Kevlar -with durability to boot.

· Tactics – While only three of us had any previous experience sailing the “Mac”, we were able to pinpoint the important parts of the race and take each part as one race. Would it work again? Maybe, maybe not!

· Luck – we happened to be situated up the Michigan shoreline almost perfectly placed for the big shift to the Easterly quadrant.