December 13, 2006 at 1:00 am

July 26, 2001

Seger sails first across finish line

MACKINAC ISLAND -- When Detroit rocker Bob Seger's boat Lightning was announced as the winner of the Port Huron to Mackinac race on Tuesday, it was enough to make a sports copy editor weep for joy.

The News punned in Wednesday's headline: "Seger wins against the wind."

"Against the Wind," for younger readers, is one of Seger's biggest hits. Although technically, as Seger himself points out, his boat was running with the wind, not against it. "It's the first Mac race I've been in, where we had southerlies," says the veteran of five Port Huron to Mac races.

"Oh, man, what a thrill, what a thrill," he says of the win. "Just to show you how hard it is to win, Jack Morman and Mike Thompson are our two watch captains -- the two smartest sailors on the boat. Well, the last time Jack won a Port Huron to Mackinac race was back in '77. It's just an extraordinary thing."

Still making music

Now we know the answer to the long-nagging question: "What's Bob Seger been up to?" Although the musician-turned-sailor, calling from his cell phone on Mackinac Island, is quick to explain that he hasn't thrown over music totally for the nautical life.

"Oh, no no no, I've been working on the record, I had a session in March, and I'll have a final session in August, then I go right back to work," he protests. "I'm writing the last song on the album, we'll record Aug. 23-26, and then it's mixing time. So we're hoping it'll be out by Christmas."

A tour is less certain. "We'll see," Seger says. "You know how radio is," referring to the tightly formatted playlists that give short shrift to the music of veteran performers.

But come next May, he'll have to start training for next year's Mac race anyway. What makes Seger's win special is that the Lightning's 11-man crew do it for love, not money.

"I'm so proud of my crew," says Seger. "And they're just normal eastside guys. They've all got jobs -- boat surveyors, delivering boats; one works in computers."

As a result, the crew couldn't train as much this year; they managed to eke out Wednesday and Sunday sessions, starting in May. "We kept the boat up in Sarnia so we could sail on Lake Huron, and we just tried the sails in every kind of wind and wave conditions. A lot of the guys couldn't get away (to train) but we knew the boat pretty well, we just had two new sails this year."

'We're just sky high'

Seger acquired Lightning in 1999, replacing his previous boat that burned after being struck by lightning at the Jefferson Marina in 1998. The husky laugh so well-known to his rock audiences erupts as Seger affably recalls his misfortune.

"I didn't name the new boat after that lightning strike," he says. Rather, it was named after a sailing legend, the Donald Mackay-designed clipper Lightning that set world records back in 1854. Seger, who's been in five Port Huron-to-Mackinac races, proclaimed this one the most beautiful yet, with "gorgeous sunsets, no moon and millions of stars."

Unlike many boldface names, Seger isn't a figurehead on his boat, but a working crew member.

"I'm not much of a sail trimmer, and I'm not strong enough to be a grinder," he says. "So I steer."

Seger and the rest of the crew work three hours on, and three hours off.

Of Lightning's 11-man crew, nine had never been on a winning crew before, although they are an experienced group. Other than four deck guys, Seger says he is the least experienced sailor on the crew and he's been doing it for 18 years.

"We hardly slept; we just really wanted it," he says of the race, which his boat completed in 30 hours, 34 minutes and 42 seconds. But nobody figured on a win.

"We just wanted to be top 20, better than last year. There's an awesome amount of talent in these races. Legends like Fred Detwiler and the guy who came in second, Woody (Tim Woodhausen), these are just extraordinary sailors.

"We won by 24 minutes! Oh, we're just sky high."

You can reach Susan Whitall at (313) 222-2156 or swhitall@detnews.com">swhitall@detnews.com.