A sailor aboard a racing sailboat that took part in the annual Race to Mackinac Island has posted dramatic images of the frightening storm that ultimately claimed the lives of two racers.
Greg Alm wore a helmet cam while taking part in the race aboard the J109 Realt Na Mara and said the only light source he could work with came from lightning blasts that fired off during the violent squall.
Alm declined to be interviewed for this story, but said the vessel stopped by the capsized Wingnuts boat as the crew of the Sociable tried to extricate them from the water.
The following passage accompanied the above video on YouTube:
The worst of the storm hit just after midnight which made bolts of lightning our only light source.
The evening's weather reports indicated winds were not expected to exceed 30 knots. As the wind built, our tack line exploded; we were knocked down immediately and stayed horizontal from winds of 54 knots for about 15 minutes.
Shortly after being knocked down, with no steerage, lightning flashed and another boat, just to weather, without sails was planing right towards us. Thankfully, they managed to alter course and avoid a collision.
Once the winds calmed a bit, lights shined on our boat followed by the release of an emergency flare. We approached the vessel we now think was the Sociable who was first at the scene of the capsized WingNuts. They told us there were 8 people in the water.
We began searching the area immediately. In a short period of time, more than a dozen boats were at the site; and, after about 45 minutes, the rescue helicopter joined the search as well. We received word that 6 of the 8 crew were rescued. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who were lost.
The Coast guard ultimately found two bodies floating in Lake Michigan. The Chicago Yacht Club identified them as the boat’s skipper, Mark Morely, and Suzanne Bickel, both of Saginaw, Mich.
The crew of a competing boat, Sociable, notified the Coast Guard early Monday that the 35-foot sailboat WingNuts capsized near the Fox islands, west of Charlevoix, during the Chicago Yacht Club's annual Race to Mackinac, Petty Officer George Degener told the Associated Press.
The Sociable crew said eight people aboard WingNuts went into the water, and that they recovered six of them, according to the Coast Guard. All six recovered were wearing life preservers, and they were taken to the Coast Guard station in Charlevoix for evaluation, the agency said.
A 41-foot boat from Coast Guard Station Charlevoix, a helicopter from Air Station Traverse City and the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw were involved in the search. The Coast Guard said 4- to 6-foot waves were reported, and air and water temperatures were in the low 70s.
According to the race website, 355 boats and roughly 3,500 crew members took part in this year's race, which starts at Chicago's Navy Pier and finishes off of Mackinac Island, near where lakes Michigan and Huron meet.
The first race was held in 1898, and organizers began holding it every year starting in 1921. This year's race is the 103rd running.