July 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Group hopes to sail into the future - as well as to Mackinac

Grosse Pointe Park — The best trip 11-year-old Leo Buchanan ever took on the yacht Christina was a two-week journey with his family from South Carolina to their new home in Grosse Pointe.

It was cool navigating the Atlantic Ocean, rolling up the Hudson River and Erie Canal and then viewing the skyline of Detroit before heading to their new home, Leo said. He is hoping to top that by participating in the 90th running of the Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race, set to take sail on July 12.

This will be a family affair again, but the added bonus is Leo will sail with buddies from Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops 86 and 96. They are also students at Trombly Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Park and will race with their dads during a grueling but entertaining few days on Lake Huron.

There is an added bonus: The Detroit Tigers asked them to represent the team in the journey in a side competition between the city’s four professional sports franchises.

The race is supposed to be fun, but it is also set up to be a game-changer. The group hopes to bring attention to a sport where the numbers are dwindling on the Great Lakes. Fewer young people are going sailing in Michigan and they want that to change.

The boys are hoping one day to race in the Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race with their dads on the sidelines. Their elders won’t be giving the instructions; they will be taking them.

“It is totally possible,” Leo said. “I would imagine the next five or six races it will be with this crew.”

The Metro Detroit area has some of the top young sailors in the country. The problem is the game isn’t embedded in their blood deeply enough. They go away to college, gather skills to earn a living and forget about sailing.

“I have been on these lakes for 30 years and I’ve seen the numbers continually go down,” said Tom Caulfield, who will be on the boat along with his son Tommy. “It is about getting these kids to stick with this and get on the bigger boats to compete with them.

“With the America’s Cup coming up these kids are going to be on the forefront of modern technology and we are trying to get the interest to grow.”

The number of young sailors might be down, but with a discounted early enrollment period race organizers drew more boats this season. The race is expected to attract at least 216 entries.

The Christina, a 2010 Beneteau Oceanis 49, will have an odd group of 12:

■ Ari Buchanan, boat owner and airline pilot, and son Leo. Leo loves the idea of racing near other boats but admits he is worried about crashing into another yacht.

■ Tom and Tommy Caulfield.

■ Simon Fletcher and his son Stuart. Stuart is a red belt in karate who was born in Arkansas but has a British accent. His dad was born in Britain and was part of a program that sent inner-city youth to sail the North Sea. They will serve as crew photographers.

■ Craig Hexter, a Boy Scout leader, who will be joined by sons Colin and Ryan.

■ Greg Gerhardstein, a veteran Port Huron to Mackinac racer, and son Daniel, who is deeply into electronics and hopes that helps on the journey.

■ And, Eagle Scout Nick Meyer.

This won’t be a leisure trip for the boys. They won’t do the heavy lifting. That is for the dads. But they are expected to help with navigation, trim and steering. Other than that the toughest part will be getting sleep at night.

“I am not one of those kids that sits around and just watches,” said Ryan Hexter, 11. “I will be around and actually help steer and everything. I think it will be an awesome experience.”

This effort is sort of a mini version of Major League Baseball’s RBI program, which is set up to get more inner-city youth into baseball.

“The ultimate goal is not about one race,” said Greg Gerhardstein. “It is reaching to get other people to do similar things — to plant a seed and let it grow.”


Craig Hexter watches son Colin, 8, wrap a line on the Christina. They're two of the 12 crew for the Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News