Detroit — Three years ago the entire idea seemed impossible and far-fetched.
But this weekend, the crew of Sojourner will see their dreams realized as they take part in the Bell’s Beer Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race.
Sojourner is owned and raced by the Boy Scouts of America Sea Scout Ship 1148, based out of Detroit’s Edison Boat Club.
There are 16 scouts in the unit, ranging in ages from 16-20, and over 40 scouts have spent countless hours over the last three years restoring Sojourner, which was donated to the Sea Scouts by Richard King from North Star Sail Club.
“I’m nervous in the sense I hope we do real well and nothing goes wrong,” said Caitlin Parton, 17, who is enrolled at Madonna and is the youngest on the crew. “But with all the preparation we’ve done — and we’ve practiced on all situations — and all the equipment we have, I’m pretty confident in our abilities.
“But, of course, there’s still that underlying nervousness we’ll be in a real big race. How is it going to go?”
There will be three adults and five youth — two who’ve competed in previous Mackinac races — on the boat, skippered by Timothy Branson, founder of the unit.
“None of the kids knew how to sail five years ago,” Branson said.
Branson recalls the day the unit received Sojourner — a 29-foot Seidelmann 299 — which will be competing in the Mackinac race for the first time.
“When we got it, it was pretty beat up,” said Branson, noting the boat had been through numerous club races. “It was a race boat and they raced it hard — and didn’t do much to clean it. A couple of the kids (in the Sea Scouts) had been racing on a friend’s boat and talked about having a boat in our unit.
“That’s where Sojourner came into play. We’ve gone through over the last three years and pretty much broke everything on the boat and replaced it with something brand new.”
Branson, of Dearborn, and his scouts have held numerous pancake breakfasts and assorted benefits to raise over $10,000 for the needed repairs.
When the idea of competing in the Mackinac race came about, some were skeptical.
“Our goal has been Mackinac but when they said it at first, I was thinking, ‘Are you sure about this?'” said Rachael Wasburn, who attends Wayne State and is the most experienced of the youth having sailed in four Mackinac races.
“This is a very intense race. I had already done my first one by the time we got the boat. For me, I was like, ‘Let’s do this.’ I’m excited, and I’m sure it’ll be a great experience for everyone involved.”
Billy Stimson, a freshman at Schoolcraft, has never competed in a Mackinac race, but sailed back to Detroit last year during the race.
“That was a great experience, we actually did an overnight sail for part of the sail back,” Stimson said. “I learned how to sail by the stars, and since that point, I’ve known this is what I want to do.”
Stimson has one wish for this weekend’s race, and it’s one that many other competitors wouldn’t agree with.
“I’ve been hoping for a good storm, something big,” Stimson said. “There’s all these stories from last year with sails breaking and stuff like that, and I was like it would be awesome to see that happen.
“It would be a nice challenge to face something like that. I can say I’ve been through something like this and had a blast.”
Branson competed last year and calls this race “one of the most challenging freshwater races in the world.”
Branson would like to see the boat finish by early Monday evening, and feels this will be an excellent experience for his young crew. Especially considering where this crew started three years ago.
“It’s going to be pretty amazing,” Parton said.
94th Bayview Mackinac Race
When: 11:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: Lake Huron, just north of the Blue Water Bridge.
Courses: The Shore Course — covers 204 nautical miles (235 statute miles) along the Michigan shore. The Cove Island Course — covers 259 nautical miles (298 statute miles) going to the Bruce Peninsula before heading west to Mackinac.
Did you know? Over 200 boats are expected to compete with more than 2,500 sailors participating.