This year’s 109th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac will go down in the history books as one of the toughest races ever. Just 200 of the 297 starters completed the 289.4 nm course. A frontal passage hit the fleet at midnight on Saturday, just hours into the race, producing a rare "dry front" that looked menacing as it came over the water but had no rain over Lake Michigan. As the front passed over the fleet, a blast front of 35-50 knot winds flew across the water. Shortly thereafter, the front passed by, pulling behind it a far stronger northerly breeze than forecast, so the fleet settled into a 20+ hour beat to windward in 15-30 knot winds from the NNE and punching into a classic 6-10 ft Lake Michigan chop. The winds rapidly shut down between the Manitou Island Straits and the open waters headed to Grey’s Reef. There were 19 teams in J/111 one-design fleet. Here is the report from J/111 class winner, Marty Roesch’s VELOCITY: "This was an interesting race because the navigation and strategy seemed like they were more obvious than in the past two Mac races I've done. We were looking at SE winds at the start that were forecast to slowly build and clock to the SW before a gusty front would come through with NW winds and possible storms, followed by strong northerly winds with big waves on Sunday, then light shifty winds under a passing high pressure system on Monday. So the plan was to stay left of rhumb until the front came in and then get across the lake, then inside at the Manitous and then see what we had to do to get across the finish on Monday. We had a great start, winning the boat end of the line and quickly transitioning into our Code 0. We peeled to A1.5 and then A2 as the winds slowly clocked as per the forecast. The sailing was absolutely fantastic on the first day as we picked our way through the larger fleet and kept an eye on the competition. We spent a fair amount of time scratching our heads as No Surprise pulled in front of us a couple hundred yards up the course (where did those guys come from?) and kept an eye on Utah and Kashmir while we kept the boat speed up and waited for the front. When the sun went down, we could see a big display of lightning to the northwest that was slowly approaching and putting on a huge cloud-to-cloud light show that was beautiful to watch. When the NW winds finally hit it, was a very quick transition, and we worked to get our A2 down and our short hoist J4 up. We saw wind speeds build quickly into the 30s despite not feeling it on the water, and in short order we saw high 30s and low 40s and then it landed. The top wind speed we saw was 46 knots, and we hit 15 knots of boat speed blast reaching under the J4 in the crazy winds and rapidly building sea state. There was a lull for a bit after the front came through, and we put the Code 0 back up, but that proved to be the wrong sail after a few minutes so we switched to the A3 and I got back on the wheel. Due to the clouds, it was pitch black on the water and very hard to see the waves so the first 10 minutes or so were very disorienting and hard to drive in. Luckily, a bright star popped out under the cloud deck, and I was able to use that as a steering reference and get things smoothed out. We were bashing through big waves at 15-17 knots boatspeed for a couple of hours as we headed northeast and across the lake to get to the Michigan side. Once the jib went up, I went down for the night. When I woke a couple hours later, we were in pounding conditions close-hauled and heading up the coast of Michigan between Big and Little Sable Points. We could see a few other J/111s around us, and we spent pretty much all day on Monday dealing with mild seasickness among several crew members, trying to stay upright in 20-25 knot northerly winds and 6-10 foot waves, and chasing boats. We spent a lot of time crossing and being crossed by Utah on Monday, which was alternately good and bad for morale. These were some of the roughest conditions that I've sailed in for the amount of time we were in them, and it was very challenging for the whole team. We did a great job staying in contact with the leading contingent of 111s and staying in the game that day. If I were to pick a point where we made a call that put us into a position to achieve our ultimate victory, I'd say it was very early in the morning on Monday. We were south of Beaver Island, and we knew the winds were forecast to clock NE to SE, and we also knew that we were on the outside of the pinwheel of the leader group and that that was not going to be a great place to be. We made the call to gybe away to an angle that took our VMG to almost zero and spent a half hour sailing to the inside of the pack and much closer to the rhumb line. Shortly after we gybed back to course, the winds did exactly what was predicted and the move paid off big. As the sun came up on Monday, we saw Kashmir about 2 miles in front of us, Utah and No Surprise over near Beaver Island and not moving very quickly, and Rowdy to the north of us with a group of boats from other classes. The conditions that morning were 0-4 knots of wind and very glassy. As the sun came up, we could see patches of breeze on the water so we played the ‘connect the dots’ game we play so frequently in Annapolis to get ahead of Kashmir and pull up even with Rowdy, slowly pulling past both them and No Surprise. Once we got to Greys Reef, we were in a position to consolidate and defend against Rowdy and No Surprise, and we spent six hours sailing the last 25 miles and staying out front through the whole afternoon. Once we got to the bridge, we felt like we had a very comfortable lead and the breeze was moving Velocity along very nicely at 6-7 knots with the lighthouse in sight. That's when the bottom almost fell out. A mile or so past the bridge, the winds started to go light on us again, and it looked like the other two boats had connected with some breeze on the south side of the Straights of Mackinac so we decided to cover. As we came out of our covering gybe, I looked over my shoulder and saw No Surprise maybe 6-8 boat lengths back! After 282nm and just 7nm left to go, we were within seconds of each other, and we still had a lot of battling to do. With me on the wheel and Chris Teixeira trimming the kite, Derrick Reig and James Allsop managing the tactical picture, we got back to work and managed to extend on both them and Rowdy, finally gybing away for the finish after about an hour of dueling in the last three miles. As we approached the finish line, there was one last challenge—the wind completely shut down! With "triple naught" (0.00 knots of boatspeed) on the B&G displays, we found that we had about 0.8 knots of current pushing us towards the finish line. As I looked around in a bit of a panic, I saw that everyone else was being shut down as they approached the line as well. It took us 30 minutes of getting tossed around by ferry wakes and doing everything we could to get the boat moving to cross the finish line! The conditions on this race ran the full gamut from 0-45 knot winds, flat water to 10 foot breaking rollers, cold to hot temperatures. The crew of Velocity did a great job of overcoming it all, staying in the game and capitalizing where we could to win the prize in what was one of the toughest races I've ever sailed!" For complete event information, visit http://www.cycracetomackinac.com/.