High winds and storms mark this year’s Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race

High winds and storms mark this year’s Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race
July 20, 2017 Mary Ellen Geist
Photo Courtesy of Bell's Beer Bayview Yacht Club

Update from Great Lakes Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Geist: By all accounts, The Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race was an exciting race, punctuated by high winds and storms. The first boat to finish the race shattered its own record: Il Mostro, with 21 hours, 45  minutes and 12 seconds. Race Chairman Tricia Smotherman says this was a much faster race than last year’s.  Smotherman tells Great Lakes Now, “We had 15 boats withdraw because either the crew or the equipment became exhausted.”

There are 16 classes and 48 winners. The top three boats in Division 1, the long Cove Island Course: Natalie J, Stripes,and Evolution. The top three boats in the shorter Shore course: Comfortably Numb, Pirate and Wind Toy. The Eliminator, the boat featured in Friday’s story on greatlakesnow.org won in their class for the 15th time. The Pickle Boat – the last to finish – came in to Mackinac Island Monday morning at 9:31  a.m. 

Smotherman says what makes the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race so special is “the camaraderie, the competition, and the families. Some crews are  3 and even 4 generations.

We have 165 volunteers! That’s a small army. It’s just amazing how everybody works together to make sure this is a perfect event.”

 The yearly tradition of a huge party and award ceremony takes place Tuesday on the lawn of the Grand Hotel.

 Smotherman says of the crews and volunteers involved in this historic race:  “They party well. They celebrate well! As a matter of fact,  on my way down to the party, I will stop at the police station and leave my phone number.. …….just in case!

(see story posted about the history of the race and the Eliminator, below)


The Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race July 22nd – 25th, 2017

(Follow the Eliminator at Eliminator USA 15370 – C&C 35 Mk II and follow the race at BellsBayviewMackinacRace)

This weekend, the Bayview Mackinac Race enters its 93rd consecutive year.

Twelve sailboats entered the race in 1925. Only 6 finished. This year, in the race that’s now sponsored by Bell’s Beer, 214 boats are poised to win bragging rights that last a lifetime.

The race, which consists of two different courses, is considered one of the most challenging freshwater boat races in the world.

It’s also part of the sailing lore of the Great Lakes.

The race has survived wars and depressions. During World II, organizers considered cancelling the race. President Franklin Roosevelt reportedly got wind of the potential cancellation and wired a message to the Bayview Yacht Club that said: “Sail your Race”.

Since then, it’s become the longest consecutively run freshwater race in the world.

Image courtesy of bycmack.com

Shore and Cove Island course, courtesy of bycmack.com

The race features two courses: one shore course (204 nautical miles) which sails up the Michigan shoreline, and a Cove Island Course (259 nautical miles) that takes boats around a buoy off Cove Island in northeast Lake Huron.

The boats begin the race under the Bluewater Bridge in Southern Lake Huron and finish at Mackinac Island’s Windmere Point.

One Grosse Pointe boat has won the race in its class 14 times. Paul (“Buzz”) Van Tol and Bruce Vande Vusse own the Eliminator, a C&C 35 MkII sailboat built in 1974.

The captain of the Eliminator is Buzz’s son Chris Van Tol. He tells Great Lakes Now, “I started racing on the boat at age 13, and now at age 35, I will be competing in my 22nd race.”  He’s been on the boat for 12 of the wins. Chris says, “I do it because it’s a family event. It’s something I look forward to each year, and because I get to sail with my Dad and my brother each year. It’s part of summer.”  John, his 33-year old brother, has participated in the race 20 times.

Photo courtesy of Chris VanTol

Eliminator Crew, courtesy of Chris VanTol

Buzz Van Tol tells Great Lakes Now, “The first Mackinac we won, we wound up on the long course up to Tobermory. We came in to the bouy with the spinnaker up and we were going very fast in fog so thick we couldn’t see a hundred yards. The navigation systems back then were very primitive. We were very fortunate in that we literally hit the bouy dead on, turned the corner, and took off. A lot of boats took an hour to just find the bouy. We had a big lead on everyone in our class. We wound up first in our class and 3rd over all with over 300 boats. That was a big deal.”

Bruce Vande Vusse says here’s why his team wins: “We’re good sailors with a good boat and we’ve kept up with the equipment wars.”

(Note: Racers who have completed 25 of the annual Port Huron to Mackinac races are called “Old Goats,” while those who have completed 50 are called “Grand Rams.”)

The Eliminator

Alliance for the Great Lakes is a new benefactor of the race this year. While there are many groups focused on protecting the oceans, such as Sailors for the Sea, after doing research and consulting with Bell’s Brewery President and Founder Larry Bell, Alliance for the Great Lakes was selected by Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race due to its focus on supporting and restoring the Great Lakes.

In last weekend’s other big Great Lakes Race, the Chicago to Mackinac, the conditions turned treacherous. Heavy wind gusts forced 97 boats out of the race and 4 crew members had to be rescued.

In this coming weekend’s Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, The Eliminator crew has promised to check in with us via social media, but only if it’s safe for them – weather permitting! –  and we will put updates on the Great Lakes Now website,too.

You can check in with the Eliminator on Facebook at

Eliminator USA 15370 – C&C 35 Mk II

And you can also go to the Bayview Yacht Club’s facebook page at BellsBayviewMackinacRace



Bayview Mackinac Race Quicklinks:

• Online Race Tracking – 2017
• Bayview Yacht Club – Race to Mackinac Facebook Page
• Follow Via Twitter
• Bayview Yacht Club Website


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