Fans, sailors gather for annual Boat Night

The Detroit News

Port Huron — The fleet of sailboats in the 91st Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race leaves Port Huron on Saturday morning, after the annual Boat Night pre-race party and celebration Friday night.

Race organizers said 250 teams are entered for this year’s race. Teams can sail either a 259-nautical-mile Cove Island Course for faster, bigger boats; or a 204-nautical-mile Shore Course for smaller craft. The fleet parades to the start Saturday morning with thousands of spectators set up on shore to watch.

The celebration that began on the banks of the Black River on Friday night, coinciding with the Bluewater Festival, moves to the island at the end of the race, including an awards party at the Grand Hotel’s Woodfill Park Tuesday.

The race has been held annually since 1925. President Franklin Roosevelt urged it continue during World War II as a way for young sailors to learn navigation and other skills.

The event was recognized Friday with a state historical marker at Port Huron Yacht Club.

“Besides the bands and partying on both sides of the river the night before, when you leave on Saturday morning, you hear bagpipes playing at Port Huron Yacht Club, and on the opposite shore, groups of people are sitting there, holding up score cards like you would for a diving competition,” said race director Peter Wenzler, who has 32 Bayview Mackinac races under his sailing belt.

“Motoring out to the start, you tend to hug the Canadian shoreline, because the current is ripping under the Bluewater Bridge, and as you’re doing that, just 50 feet away on the shore are literally thousands of people who have come to see all the colors, the boats, the crews … hooting and hollering, waving you off to sea.”

91st Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race

When: Starts 11:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: Southern Lake Huron, just north of the Blue Water Bridge

Participants: More than 260 sailboats (the most since 2001) and 2,500 sailors are expected

Courses: The Shore Course covers 204 nautical miles (235 statute miles) along the Michigan shoreline; The Cove Island Course is 259 nautical miles (298 statute miles) goes around a buoy off the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in Canada.