Veteran sailors on board for 50th Mackinac race

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Marc Hollerbach, right, and his sons Ian, from left, Nathan and Adam will be on board for the 50th annual Port Huron to Mackinac Race this weekend.

Detroit – All these years, all the races up to Mackinac, they all leave Marc Hollerbach a bit wistful.

As Hollerbach prepares for his 50th Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac race this weekend, he’s amazed.

It’s been fun, no question. But there’s another thing.

“How did I get old that quick?” said Hollerbach with a laugh. “I look around now, look at the other crews with all the young turks, and I’m sure no young turk anymore.”

Maybe not a young turk, but definitely a savvy veteran.

Hollerbach, Al Declercq, and Hank Mistele are three veteran sailors who will compete in their 50th race to Mackinac race, a milestone that’s been accomplished few and far between in Bayvew history.

Only 17 sailors have completed 50 races – designated as Grand Rams by Bayview – and the signifance of the accomplishment isn’t lost on any of this year’s class.

They know it takes some luck, a supportive family, and a good boat with a hard-working crew.

One other thing.

When they aren’t in Port Huron preparing their boats in mid-July for the long journey to Mackinac, it just doesn’t feel right.

“Twice I’ve missed this race,” said Mistele, 74, of Grosse Pointe, who missed the race for duties on shore which kept him off boats. “It just didn’t feel right. I felt like I was missing something, and thinking to myself ‘what I am doing here?’ I should be on a boat.

“You see your friends getting ready, getting everything together, and you feel like you’re missing out on something.”

It’s that family aspect of this race that appeals most to Declercq, 62, from Grosse Pointe Park, who has raced all over the world but views Bayview’s Mackinac race unique.

“In other races, you simply do not see the families involved as in this race,” said Declercq, whose boat Flying Buffalo is a nod to his father’s boat. “You see the wife and kids on Friday night helping out (on the boat) and having fun, then they’re on their way to Mackinac and they’re waiting for the crews to come in (on Mackinac, Monday or Tuesday).

“The party Tuesday (at the completion) is such a fun time. You see all the families together there. It’s just a little different from other races, and it’s one of the things that’s always stood out.”

Hollerbach will have his three sons, Adam (who will be in his 25th Mackinac, making him an Old Goat), Nathan and Ian, all aboard Dynamis this weekend, a rare opportunity to have all four Hollerbach sailors together.

“We did last year for the first time, and it was so much fun,” Hollerbach, 66, of Grosse Pointe Shores, said. “It’s a special opportunity and we’re excited.”

Declercq remembers his first Mackinac race, aboard his father’s boat Flying Buffalo, when Al was 12.

“We won the race and I was hooked,” Declercq said. “I loved it. Another that stands out was in 2012 we restored Bernia, a 93-year-old boat that had won the 1925 (Mackinac) race and we won it with her.

“This time of year, you can’t wait to get back at it.”

All three of the veteran sailors have been success in this race and feel the strategy involved is one of the appeals of racing to Mackinac.

Mistele’s boat Night Moves has won Mackinac once, but is annually near the top of the standings and happened to win the Great Lakes championship last summer.

The key, Mistele feels, is achieving speed at night.

“It’s that time after 2 a.m., when everyone is tired and you’re going in shifts, that’s the most crucial time,” Mistele said. “It’s one thing to sail during the day. It’s different at night, when you can’t see everything, you can get disoriented, and it’s so much more of a challenge.

“That’s when the race can be won or lost.”

Winning this weekend would be great, especially in the milestone 50th race, but you get the sense just being on the water this weekend will be memorable.

“There’s such a continuity to this race,” Hollerbach said. “A wonderful tradition. The sailing community isn’t very large, it’s a tight-knit group, and you look forward to this race every summer.”

Port Huron to Mackinac Race

What: 92nd Bell’s Beer Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race.

When: Saturday, 11:30 a.m.

Start/finish: Southern Lake Huron, just north of Blue Water Bridge; finish on Mackinac Island, near Grand Hotel.

Course: Cove Island Course (259 nautical miles) and the shorter Shore Course (204 nautical miles) along the Michigan shoreline.