Mackinac Island Events: The Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac Island is quickly approaching, and though we all know the basics— skilled sailors race their way north up Lake Michigan to Mackinac Island—learning the finer details makes tracking the race even more exciting.  

To help land lubbers understand sailor-speak like a pro, we've put together a list of both the most frequently asked questions about the CYC Race to Mackinac Island, and some of the most commonly used sailing terms. By the time the boats are visible from Northern Michigan beaches, you'll know every single sailors knot on board.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does the race start? The races starts off of the Chicago light house, within sight of Navy Pier.

How long is the race? 289.4 nautical miles- or 333 land miles for non-sailors. The Race to Mackinac is the longest annual freshwater sailing in the world! 

When was the first race? The first race was held in 1898, making 2012 the 104th. Learn more about the history of the Race by checking out MyNorth's previous story on it's history! (Search: history Chicago to Mackinac)

How many boats are participating in the Race? There are over 335 boats and approximately 3,500 crew members racing this year. Participation is by invitation from the Chicago Yacht Club and includes sailors from all over the country and the world.

What do the winners receive? The Race to Mackinac is an amateur event, so no prize money is awarded. The Section winners receive a plaque, a flag, and of course, bragging rights for the next year. The overall winners have their names engraved on the trophies that are displayed at Chicago Yacht Club.

What is the record for the fastest race? Pyewacket, owned and skippered by Roy Disney, set the monohull record in 2002 with an elapsed time of 23 hours 30 minutes and 34 seconds. This broke the 14 year record of 25 hours!

How does the race start? The fleet is divided into groups comprised of 8-30 similar boats . Each section starts the race at a specific time, spaced ten minuets apart. A cannon is fired at the specific start time for each section. Boats crossing the starting line too early are required to turn back and restart — making chances of winning much less likely.

What do the boats do at night? The boats race around the clock until they reach Mackinac Island, sailing straight through the night. Obviously, necessary safety precautions are taken, using running lights and lighted instruments. Additionally, the crew works in shifts, or"watches," so that everyone has a chance to get some sleep and a snack!

Visit the online home of the Chicago Yacht Club for more information!

Frequently Used Sailing Terms

Aft or Stern – The back of a ship. If something is located aft or stern, it is at the back of the sailboat.

Bow – The front of the ship, opposite from aft or stern.

Port – Port is always the left-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow. Because “right” and “left” can become confusing sailing terms when used out in the open waters, port is used to define the left-hand side of the boat as it relates to the bow, or front.

Starboard – Starboard is always the right-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow.

Leeward – Also known as lee, leeward is the direction opposite to the way the wind is currently blowing (windward). If the wind is blowing on your back, you are looking leeward.

Windward – The direction in which the wind is currently blowing. Sailboats tend to move with the wind, making the windward direction an important sailing term to know. If you face the wind, you are looking windward.

Boom – The boom is the horizontal pole which extends from the bottom of the mast. Adjusting the boom in the direction of the wind is how the sailboat is able to harness wind power in order to move forward.

Rudder – Located beneath the boat, the rudder is a flat piece of wood, fiberglass, or metal that is used to steer the ship. Larger sailboats control the rudder via a wheel, while smaller sailboats will have a steering mechanism, a tiller, directly aft (pop quiz, where is aft?)

Tacking – This basic sailing maneuver refers to turning the bow of the boat through the wind so that the wind changes from one side of the boat to the other side. The boom of a boat will always shift from one side to the other when performing a tack or a jibe.

Jibing – Jibing refers to turning the stern of the boat through the wind so that the wind changes from one side of the boat to the other side. Jibing is a less common technique than tacking, since it involves turning a boat with the wind.

We found all of these fun sailing terms at Discover Boating
Stay the course with the CYC Race to Mackinac Island at!