Lessons for Success: Tips from 2014 Winners by Wally Cross

The BYC Port Huron to Mackinac race starts July 19. The best way to prepare is to gather information and find out what’s worked well in the past. I talked to last year’s winners in search of tips that could help you get your boat and crew ready for this year’s race. Here’s what the winners had to say, as well as some of my own tips.

  • Congratulation on last year’s finish. Was your finish more luck or good preparation?

The majority of owners and skippers felt they were well prepared for the race. The teams that did well made their own luck by setting themselves up for fortunate outcomes. Good race plans and the willingness to adjust strategies provided enough luck to help these teams win.

  • Can you list specific things that contributed to your finish?

Reaching sails, good watch systems, changes in strategy, experience, routing, speed, wind shift, and luck were just a few of the answers I received. There are many combinations of these that add up to a great finish. 

  • How did you research weather?

One boat had the ability to download GRIBB files from a satellite phone while others used local internet providers. Only a few boats downloaded weather information prior to the race, and the rest took notes. The online services used include:

  1. Sail flow
  2. Windfinder
  3. Lake Erie WX
  4. NOAA Buoy

Some of the winners looked at the weather a week prior, while others waited until race day.

  • What watch system did you use?

Most skippers agreed: a watch system is most important near the end of the race. There was no question that the teams that were well-rested performed better than the boats that tried to sail without rest. The majority of owners liked sailing with two teams rotating four hours on, four hours off. Others liked bringing up one or two crew each hour, or two around-the-clock to not disrupt the boat. One consistent class winner believes he has a team that works well from midnight to 4 a.m. while others like to change the rotation each day.

A system that encourages rest early in the race is much better than no system at all. Regardless of your system, you need a good helmsman, trimmer, and bow person on each watch.

  • Was there a particular sail that helped?

The majority of the teams agreed that there was not a secret weapon, but having a good sail that can reach was necessary. A code 0 was a nice sail to have not only reaching, but also when the wind turned light.

  • Do you have a cross over chart?

Only one team had a sail cross over chart. All agreed that sail changes were based on past experience and a gut feel.

(I was surprised to hear this because I feel a cross over chart eliminates loss discussion time.)

  • Do you sail polar angles and speed?

Two boats had information on polar angles and speeds, but none of them said they used that information. All agreed that sailing by the seat-of-their-pants worked. All the boats have sailed numerous Mackinac races and felt they understood the proper angle and speed to sail. 

(This is more the exception than the mean. I encourage all boats to understand your polar angle and speed in offshore races, as well as target speed and angle around the buoys.)

  • Did you follow an early strategy? Did you have to change your strategy during the race?

All of the boats admit to having a strategy based on weather and past experience. Half the boats stuck to their strategies while others adjusted based on early tactical decisions. The time of day also had an impact on the decisions made during the race: all the shore-course winners made gains sailing close to shore during the day. It’s great to have a sound strategy, but weather and timing sometimes make it necessary to alter the strategy up the course. 

  • What do you do at night to stay fast?

All the boats took pride in sailing well at night. The majority claim it was the most important time of the race because others were sailing slowly. Three things to consider when sailing at night are:

  1. Are you sailing the favored board?
  2. Do you have the proper sail up?
  3. Are you steering and trimming optimally?

Most of the boats used flash lights to illuminate telltales to help with trim and steering. Some of the winners relied on the instruments to help steer and trim.

  • Do you look at Yellow Brick Tracking? If so, how often?

They all tracked their progress against their competitors with Yellow Brick, which has changed the sport of long distance sailing by allowing sailors to track the competition. It’s something all boats should do to see if your strategy is working. The only problem for the Cove Island course boats was the lack of internet coverage – one boat spent $4000 on satellite service to use Yellow Brick. 


  • Do you clean the bottom of your boat prior to the race?

All the boats are cleaned either the day before or before the start, minus one. One skipper uses a paint that does not need cleaning prior to any race throughout the entire year – sounds too good to be true!

  • How many crew do you race with?

Most of the boats race with 8-14 crew members depending on the size of the boat. The talent of the crew was more important than the number though. Many of the teams made sure there were at least two good helmsmen per watch.

  • What will you do better this year?

Most of the skippers were secretive regarding this year’s improvements, but I know each of the owners I spoke to will make sure their boats, sails, electronics, and crew are ready.

There are no secrets to sailing, and there are no absolute answers either. After speaking with each skipper it’s clear that each winner had a system they have perfected over years of sailing. It is the individual belief of each team that good things will happen when they use their system.   


Explore all Options By Wally Cross

We are proud to once again sponsor Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race with the Bayview Yacht Club. We plan to have a series of articles that will help you prepare for this journey, as well as offering a seminar series in May and June.  My theme this year is exploring all options.

I often refer to sailboat racing as assembling a really big puzzle. Not only are there many pieces, they all have equal importance in the final result. It is my goal this year to explore every option that contributes to the success of this race.

My first task will be to interview each class winner, as well as the competitors that finished mid-fleet and in last place. If I’m speaking with someone in a new class, my goal is to read up on the boat, rig, sails, and style of sailing from as many sources as are available. I start with the tuning guides and try to see if one, two, or more have similar set-ups or similar changes in adjustment. I will also talk with sailors who have sailed in this class.

In each class I am looking for patterns at each of the three levels to find clues that may give us all more insight on how to better prepare for the race.  Typically when you speak to two sailors, you get two completely different stories, yet if you speak to ten, you may find six have similar input. This will help me find those patterns and clues.

I understand it is still winter and most sailors are not even thinking about sailing yet, but I am. I promise I will do all the homework for you, asking the tough questions that will help reveal those clues and patterns. Your homework (while you are waiting for my analysis) is to drive to all the marinas in the area and look at the bottoms of the boats that have had success in this race. See if there is something about their boat bottom that may have given them an edge during the race last year.

I will have my winner’s report by next week.

Wally Cross
Quantum Sails









Inspiring “Green Horn Kids” Complete First Bayview Mackinac Race

The Green Horn Kids head to the starting line. (l-r): Stuart Fletcher, Tommy Caulfield, Colin Hexter, Ryan Hexter, Leo Buchanan, Tom Caulfield.

Tom Caulfield started the Green Horn Kids program as a way to introduce his son to big-boat racing. Last month, with a crew of six boys, ages 8-10 years old, Christina with a Sea II pulled into the Mackinac Island marina forty-six hours and twenty-eight minutes after leaving Port Huron, Michigan, as part of the 2014 Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race. Together with his son’s friends and their dads, and thanks to the generosity of boat owner Ari Buchanan, not only did the Green Horn Kids finish the race, they also inspired others to introduce young sailors to big-boat racing.

“It was fantastic,” said Tom. “They did more than sixty percent of the actual sailing, and they saw everything – thirty knot breeze, torrential rain, eight-foot waves, no wind. All the kids were fully engaged.”

Tom and the other dads spent the winter and spring teaching and training with their sons for the overnight race, including spending time at the Quantum Detroit loft working with Wally Cross and Gary Jacoby. The practice paid off, as Tom said the young crew was fully prepared for the event. “They were incredible. They knew what to do, they were all up-to-speed on safety. The safety inspector came on board before the race, and he was shocked that every one of the kids knew where all the safety gear was and how it worked.”

Danny Gerhardstein elected to take the helm so his teammates could eat lunch.

It wasn’t simply their knowledge of the boat that helped them through two-days on the water, though. “Their team work was better than I expected,” said Tom. “We set up a watch – four hours on, four hours off. A couple of hours into the race the kids caught on to the concept. They really worked together to get it down. They kept track of everything, made sure the safety equipment was set, even helped get food for each other. Having six kids spend forty-six hours fully engaged and helping each other displayed a great amount of team work. I was really pleased with them.”

For the boys, it was nothing short of an adventure. Ten year old Leo Buchanan has been sailing Optis for five years, but enjoyed his first big-boat race. “They said it would be a light-wind race, but we got wind speeds of thirty knots. That surprised me,” he said. It made for some enjoyable sailing though. “My favorite part was traveling up Presque Isle. It was very wavy, but it was fun.”

Stuart Fletcher, now eleven, said the ever-changing weather taught them a lot about sailing. “Sailing at night was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” he said. “The weather changes a lot during the evening, so you have to deal with that.” For him, those changes added to the excitement. “It’s an adventure. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Tommy Caulfield, Tom’s eight year-old son, said he would encourage any kid interested in sailing to try it. “It’s a great experience on the water,” he said. “We are the first group of kids to do the Mackinac race, and we want people to know how much fun it was. It was a lot of work, but it was fun.”

Approaching 9 knots, though the race reached 30 knots at times. All of the boys agreed: their favorite part was going fast!

Though the boys took control of the boat and made most of the decisions, their dads were on board with them, sharing watches and helping as needed. They also shared in the experience as their kids guided the boat toward a waiting crowd on Mackinac Island.

“I’ve done 15-16 races, and as we crossed the finish line, this is the first race when I’ve heard people cheering and yelling on shore,” said Tom. “As we approached, there were 50-60 people on the dock welcoming us, including the race chairman. It really gave the boys a boost and helped them see that they’d accomplished something incredibly big.”

With the Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race behind them, the Green Horn Kids are looking ahead to next year, but Tom says the positive response has been so big that he’s not exactly sure what’s next. “We’ve been approached by people that have a definite interest, but we’re not sure how the Green Horn Kids will morph in the immediate future. Our biggest goal is to build, and we’re planning to do a lot, we just don’t know yet how it will look.”

One thing’s for sure, though. Tom achieved his original goal of inspiring a new generation of big-boat sailors that have fallen in love with the water. “During the race, Stuart’s father told me that his son asked how much longer to the finish. His dad thought Stuart was getting bored or looking forward to the end. He told Stuart we had forty miles, or about eight hours left.” His son’s response: can’t we just keep sailing?

To learn more about the Green Horn Kids program, click here

To see results of the 2014 Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, click here.