The 108th Race to Mackinac Island
Three summers ago my boyfriend invited me to come out and sail on his teams boat: Edge. I had absolutely no exposure to the sailing world in the past, and between trying to squeeze in hang-outs with all of my college friends before the real world hit and working as a production assistant for my brother, I didn’t actually make it out to the boat until the 2015 season. I was hooked immediately, even without a clue of what to do. After participating-I use this term lightly-in the Helly Hansen Chicago Noods Regatta 2015, I knew I wanted to try and get more time on the boat if I had the chance. Fast forward to the 2016 season when the crew was taking a headcount for the 108th Race to Mackinac, I was desperate to try and make the race work with my schedule. Unfortunately, I was unable to secure the time off necessary for the race, so instead I volunteered for “shore crew” – whatever that meant. Race day arrives, and I managed to talk my friend Alyssa into tagging along. After collecting the random sailing gear, crew bags, gas cans, food, and alcohol, we were off for Mackinac. Ensue our four day trip to Mackinac Island to await the arrival of thirty two hundred plus sailors.
The drive to Mackinac was an easy one sans having to pull out the owner manual of the car more times than anyone should in a lifetime. Due to a few unexpected stops (one to buy dresses for me since I forgot mine hanging on the back of my front door at home) we managed to make one of the later ferry’s and arrive on the island right at sunset. We used the Star Line Hydro-Jet Ferry and were very happy with the service. A couple things to be aware of:
When you pull up to the ferry dock there are people that will take the bags you plan to bring to the island from you when you pull up to the ferry, ask you what hotel you are staying at, and give you baggage tickets to claim them on the other side. Do not make the mistake of tipping these individuals more than a few dollars. We were told before we got to the ferry to bring cash for tipping. Well it turns out it is for the dock hands once you arrive at the island who actually carry the bags to the hotel for you. We used almost all of our cash to tip the Star Line employees so we had nothing to give the dock boys when we arrived. The ferry offers free parking right around the corner. Once you hand off your bags you can park around the corner from the ferry lot for five days, free of charge.
When picking a hotel PLAN AHEAD. I did not know I was going until the very last minute, and after calling almost every hotel/bed and breakfast on the island, a receptionist recommended I call the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau to see if there were any vacant rooms left on the island (we used this trick to save some sailors butts that forgot to reserve rooms). The tourism bureau calls each hotel/bed and breakfast on the island every morning to see if there have been any cancellations. This will save you a lot of phone calls. Thankfully when I called, someone had just cancelled there reservation at the Murray Hotel, so Alyssa, and I were able to secure a room before the crew arrived. When it comes to picking a place to stay on the island, I would pick one of the hotels on main street. We were fortunate enough to relocate to the Chippewa Hotel once the crew arrived. The rooms on the back side of the hotel have views of the harbor and race finish line. It is also home of the famous Pink Pony bar and restaurant.
Once you have picked a place to stay, start planning what you would like to do during your visit. Here are my recommendations:
- Rent a bike and ride around the island like a local. Most locals travel by horse drawn carriage or bike. It is a great opportunity to get out and see the beautiful, historical homes and hotels. There are bike rental stands on every corner. From what we could tell they all offer very similar rates.
- Go shopping and eat fudge. Mackinac Island is famous for their fudge, need I say more? There are a ton of fun gift shops around the island to pop in and get quirky trinkets or souvenirs to take home.
- Go kayaking at sunrise. There is only one kayak rental company on the island so you don’t have a choice on this one. Great Turtle Kayak Tours offers multiple kayaking trips. When we called to schedule a tour they highly recommended we do the sunrise tour. I can understand why after experiencing it. I am not a morning person, but I managed to bite the bullet (as hungover as I was) and make it to the dock at 4:45AM. The tour lasts about two hours and your guide will tell you a lot of history/information about the island. Lucky for us we got to watch Edge finish the race in 3rd place as we were heading out of the harbor.
There are plenty of things to do on the island to keep you busy for a long weekend. Thankfully we did all of the touristy activities before Edge arrived, because once they did, the typical drinking and celebrations ensued for the remainder of our time on the island. If you have the chance, I would highly recommend visiting Mackinac during one of the regatta weekends. Whether you are a sailing fan or not, the atmosphere on the island is like none other once thousands of delirious sailors arrive ready to celebrate such an incredible feat.