Sailors Brave High Seas in 2018 Queen’s Cup Race

July 2, 2018

By Evan Casey

The South Shore Yacht Club was decked out for its 2018 Queen’s Cup Race, June 22. The race from Bay View to Grand Haven, Mich. Skipper Robert Hughes and Heartbreaker took first place, finishing in 7:44 hours. —Evan Casey

High waves and winds 19 to 22 mph. Temperatures nearing 50 degrees. Crossing Lake Michigan in the cover of darkness, in a small sailboat. Foreboding for many except those who sail the South Shore Yacht Club Queen’s Cup race.

The club celebrated the Queen’s Cup’s  80th anniversary June 22, as boats from Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and farther, ventured 68.5 miles from Bay View to the finish line in Grand Haven, Mich. Family crews raced with amateur, semi-professional, and professional crews, with the goal of winning the prized Queen’s Cup. 

Jerry Kedziora, commodore of the South Shore Yacht Club (SSYC), has participated in more than 20 Queen’s Cup races over the years. His duties as commodore include delivering the cup to the finish line at the Grand River Sailing Club in Grand Haven. 

“The ports that host the finish really go all out,” said Kedziora. “South Haven last year was incredible regarding their hospitality. Even the mayor of the town was there, when I arrived, to greet people and help guard boats into the harbor. It’s just really cool.” 

Jerry Kedziora is commodore of the South Shore Yacht Club. —Evan Casey

Likewise, Kedziora said, the townspeople of Grand Haven went “all out.”

Tom Hampton, a bowman on Trippwire, came from Macatawa, Mich., to participate in the race. —Evan Casey

Of the 153 boats registered for the race this year, 138 started. Kedziora said about 20 withdrew either before or soon after the start because of the dangerous seas.

Rough seas

Lake Michigan, like Wisconsin, has erratic weather. However, many sailors are accustomed to and ready for the variable weather they encounter year to year. 

“One year I did the entire race in a sweatshirt and shorts and the next year I was wearing ski pants,” said Kedziora. Conditions were more like those sailors expect in spring or fall. This year winds blew from the northeast causing the most treacherous Lake Michigan waves.
Northeast winds are dangerous because they blow down the entire length of the lake and build. “Lake Michigan waves are very, very tough—very square, they hit hard, and they come at you faster, typically, than ocean waves,” he said.

Tom Hampton, a bowman on Trippwire, came all the way from Macatawa, Mich., to participate in the race. 

“We almost always have rough seas,” he said. “It’s challenging. It’s not a distance race but it’s a short hard race. We usually have a lively crossing.” 

Hampton remembers a particularly lively crossing last year. 

“They couldn’t safely put everyone into South Haven, so they had to put a boat out there at the finish, but there was so much swell and it was really hard to see,” said Hampton. “We couldn’t tell where we were going. We didn’t even know if we had even finished or not.”

Jerry Kedziora remembers a race years ago where his sailboat was neck and neck with another sailboat for hours.

“In the middle of the night I took a nap and came back on deck, and I’m looking for the other boat with my binoculars. The two the guys in the back told me to look behind me, and the other boat was a dot on the horizon behind us,” he said. “In other words, we were racing boat to boat but we were lucky enough to beat them by quite a bit.”

Sailors prepare for the all night race. —Evan Casey

This year Gary Johnson’s boat served at the check-in, a point about two miles offshore. Race officials on board registered each boat as it departed for the Michigan shore. When it was time to head back to shore and raise the anchor, Johnson and his crew couldn’t bring it to the surface and were forced to cut its line. The rough water cost him a $1,200 anchor.

Kedziora said even at nearly two miles from shore, Johnson’s boat was harried by another set of waves generated   when the incoming waves bounced back off the breakwater, further jangling turbulent water. On a scale of 10, he said conditions at launch this year were about seven or eight.

Trippwire finished 15th in the race. Hampton says there were heavy winds and seas during the first half of the race, but that they “mellowed out a bit” during the second half.

Kedziora said that although the start was rough, the winds calmed, and sailors complimented SSYC on the conduct of the race. “It turned out to be a great race,” he said.

Skipper Robert Hughes and Heartbreakertook first place, finishing in 7:44 hours.

Wendy Olsen, owner and skipper of True Love, was the only woman skipper in the event. Olson, 57, has been sailing for 47 years. This is her fourth year participating in the Queen’s Cup. This year, she said she was “in it to win it.” —Evan Casey

A man’s game?

A common perception of sailboat racing is that the majority who take part are men. However, a SSYC official confirmed that approximately 25 percent of the contenders in the race this year were women. Cara Gaitens, a member of the SSYC, is trying to change the “men only” perception. She takes part in a women’s only racing event every Monday night at the club. 

“There are some pretty amazing ladies around here, and we can all handle a boat,” said Gaitens. “I never thought about racing before I walked between these (clubhouse) gates, and they dragged me into it. It’s so much fun.”

Wendy Olsen, owner and skipper of True Love, was the only woman skipper in the event. Olson, 57, has been sailing for 47 years. This is her fourth year participating in the Queen’s Cup. 

“I wish more women would have the confidence to get on the water and learn to skip,” said Olson. 

A costly race

Tragically, some sailboat races can be fatal. This year, a 41-year-old Milwaukee man died during the race. Officers from the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety responded to a medical emergency at the Grand Haven Municipal Marina the morning of June 23. Racers attempted to resuscitate the man, but failed in doing so. 

Police said the death was not sailing or race related. An autopsy is pending and the man’s name has not been released yet. Kedziora said he has known the man for 15 years, as he used to sail and race with him. The SSYC asks anyone with questions to contact the Grand Haven police, as the investigation is ongoing.

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