Officially it’s called Chicago Yacht Club’s Race to Mackinac, but to the thousands of sailors who take part in the annual ritual it’s simply “The Mac”. It’s the longest fresh-water race in the US and most probably in the world, covering a distance of approximately 300 nautical miles. I have to admit that before I went to Chicago to cover the Chicago Match Cup, I had never heard of the Mac race. That’s why I was surprised to see Puma’s il Mostro sailing half a mile off Navy Pier. I would have never expected to see one of the world’s best offshore and ocean racing yachts on a lake! However, Lake Michigan is not a pond and Chicago businessman Peter Thornton, member of the Chicago Yacht Club, bought Puma’s il Mostro, the VO70 yacht that sailed in the 2008-9 Volvo Ocean Race edition, and brought it on his home waters.
Pyewacket, a Reichel Pugh 75, owned and skippered by Roy Disney, set the monohull record in 2002 with an elapsed time of 23 hours 30 minutes and 34 seconds. For multihulls, the record of 18 hours 50 minutes and 32 seconds was set in 1998 by Steve Fossett on Stars and Stripes, the catamaran previously sailed by Dennis Conner in the America’s Cup. Peter Thornton’s intention is to take line honors and, if conditions are favorable, break Disney’s record with il Mostro that will be skippered by Ken Read.
VSail.info: I always like to start my interviews with the owners of big racing yachts talking about their sailing background. What is yours?
Peter Thornton: I started sailing about 35 years ago. I bought my first boat and after three years I had just sailed on the lake front and became quite bored with it, so I decided to start racing. In my second year of racing we won our section in the Chicago-Mac. It was quite exciting for us and that’s when the bug really bit me. I started purchasing boats that some people thought might had been used up and then gradually graduated up to Santa Cruz 70s. I owned a boat called Halua, which I sailed for about eight years and we had quite a bit of success here on the lake front. I never went international with it, we were just sailing in local races. We had the GL70 division which was made up that time of eight-nine boats and raced together for several years.
Back in 2005 I had a first-to-finish in the Mac race and for some strange reason I thought I was done with sailing. I sold the boat to a fellow in California, in fact she is still racing in California and doing quite well. I was sitting around at the beginning of the year with some of my old sailing buddies Brett Reed and Willie Lynch and we were talking about what it would take to beat Disney’s record in the race. Willie Lynch said there was a boat sitting in Providence, Rhode Island, the old il Mostro, but we had no way of getting it here to Chicago. The boat is 18.5 feet wide which prohibits from being trucked. We could have gone to Saint Lawrence with it but at that time of the year it was too cold so we came up with the idea of taking the keel off it, loading sails in the bottom of the hull for stability and running the boat down the east coast to New York, then up the Hudson river and then through the Erie Barge Canal to Oswego, New York where it met with the keel and the rig. We then set her up there, in a commercial yard, and we sailed through all the Great Lakes to Chicago.
VSail.info: That’s quite a complicated way to bring her to Chicago! However, wouldn’t you say it’s quite an irony that you buy one of the most advanced offhore and ocean racing yachts, designed to sail in the world’s toughest oceans, and you sail it on a lake?
Peter Thornton: This is one hell of a lake! This lake can get just as rough as any ocean. I remember, years ago, Ted Turner referred to Lake Michigan as a big mill pond. He took his boat to the Chicago-Mac, grounded into a storm and changed his mind shortly after that. It’s the longest fresh-water sailing race in the US, and probably the world, and I thought it would be a real challenge. The Royono Trophy goes to the first-to-finish boat and it hasn’t been in the Chicago Yacht Club since 2005, when I won it. I thought I would try to bring it back to the Chicago Yacht Club and I assembled some very good guys, ex Volvo sailors
VSail.info: What will your crew be?
Peter Thornton: We are kind of overloaded but we are doing that because we feel this is going to be a learning experience. I had Kenny Read coming in to skipper the boat. My son Christopher and myself will be helming, along with Kenny Read and Stu Johnston. I have Brad van Liew who is a round-the-world single-handed sailor and will be doing navigation. I have Jared Henderson who was on Sanya in the last Volvo Ocean Race. We have Richard Mason who was on Ericsson in the one before. I have Larry Leonard who was with Quantum Sails and now with North. the balance will be made with quite a few of my old sailing buddies.
VSail.info: What about your adversaries? If your aim is line honors what boats do you consider to be the ones to beat?
Peter Thornton: We only have one boat, Windquest, owned by Doug DeVos. It’s a 100-foot boat now, they have lengthened it, they have given it waterline, a big bowsprit. It’s quite a formidable boat but I think that given the right conditions we can do a good job. i’m not making any predictions but I’m sure we can do a pretty good job.
VSail.info: What is the prevailing type of sailing in the Mac race?
Peter Thornton: The prevailing winds are southwest, south-southwest. You can get conditions like we had last year with storms rolling in from the Plains that can give you hurricane-force winds. I didn’t do last year’s race but I heard reports that people saw 100mph winds. It can be really dramatic when the storms come through. They could throw anything at you but most of the time you are in moderate to light air. We can build apparents so well, so that if we can average 10 knots of breeze we can probably beat Roy Disney’s record.
VSail.info: Last but not least, what are your plans for il Mostro after the Mac race?
strong>Peter Thornton: After this race we will bring the boat back to Chicago to do some social sailing with clients and people that have an interest in going out. We will put her to bed for the winter and make some changes that we feel we need to make. I hope somebody buys another one of these boats so that we can have some real competition here.
il Mostro CYC Race to Mackinac crew: