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Setting Sail for the Straits of Mackinac

Each summer, hundreds of magnificent sailboats (aka yachts) race their way north through the Great Lakes to the Straits of Mackinac, converging on Mackinac Island in two of the most esteemed freshwater sailing competitions in the world. One race starts in Chicago, the other in Port Huron, held in consecutive weeks (alternating order each year).

On August 6, 1898, five yachts raced from Chicago to Mackinac Island, starting that 333-mile race—which is regarded as the oldest annual freshwater distance race in the world. The second race wasn’t held until 1904 and by the third race, an all-women team with skipper Miss Evelyn Wright at the helm of the sloop Lady Eileen had entered the competition.

Today, the race hosts several hundred boats and over 3,000 sailors which set sail from the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse just off Navy Pier before crossing Lake Michigan and traveling north along the shoreline and then under the five-mile Mackinac Bridge and finishing in the Round Island Channel off Mackinac Island.

This year’s Chicago Mackinac Race begins on Saturday, July 21, with the fastest boats arriving as early as 18 hours later in the Straits of Mackinac.

It was in 1925 that the Port Huron Yacht Club and the Bay View Yacht Club in Detroit teamed up to host the first Bayview Mackinac Race. The 32-foot sloop Bernida, skippered by Russ Pouliot, won the race with a time of 49 hours, 50 minutes. A dozen yachts competed in that race, but only six actually completed the 261-mile course.

This year’s Bayview Mackinac Race begins on Saturday, July 14 in Port Huron with the smallest boats starting first followed by the larger boats. Teams typically begin arriving on Mackinac Island on Sunday evening through Tuesday morning, providing plenty of opportunity for the public to view the ships and their brightly colored sails making their way into the Straits of Mackinac.

Visitors to Mackinaw City during these two race periods will be delighted to see the brightly colored boats passing through the Straits area. Shoreline locations around Wilderness State Park and McGulpin Point provide great photo opportunities for the Chicago race, while the beach area in front of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse or along the Lake Huron shoreline are ideal for watching the boats coming up from Port Huron.