Thursday, July 17, 2008

In case I don't have your email

The following email went out to everyone in my email address book. In case I don't have your email address, I'm posting a copy of the email message here:

As many of you know I am racing in the 2008 Chicago to Mackinac sailboat race. This year's race is the 100th running and a record 440 boats from around the world will be participating. The race starts this Saturday July 19th, A boat parade will be going past the east end of Navy Pier starting at 10AM. Best place to watch is from the east end of the second tier of the pier. There will be TV crews and an announcer talking about the boats. Look for "Cyclone" # 51804. We will be starting the race at 12:10PM about 1 mile east of the Chicago lighthouse. This year all of the boats will be equipped with satellite tracking transponders. You can watch my teams progress at:

Pictures, race reports and video can be found at:

For additional information check out the various links at the Chicago Yacht Club's official Race to Mackinac website:

If it is an average race we should finish sometime Monday afternoon/ early evening. At 30 ft we are one of the smallest boats in the race (smallest is 28 ft) and we are the smallest boat in our section which is "Section 7". We will be in direct competition with boats up to 50 ft and with only six people on board we have one of the smallest crews. Feel free cheer us on by keeping your browser on us.

Again the boat name is "Cyclone" and the sail number is 51804.

- Danny


Q. If you guys are one of the smallest boats how can you guys win?
A. Boats are handicapped by a mathematical rating systems which predict how fast they should be capable of sailing under a variety of conditions. Applying these ratings to each boat's elapsed time on the race course determines which boat sailed the best relative to their rating, and therefore determines the winner. This allows the entire fleet to compete against each other. We have just as much chance of winning as the 96 ft "Genuine Risk". They might finish before us but after the handicap is applied we can correct on the bigger boats. Although we are one of the smallest we are somewhere in the middle for speed. Cyclone is a bit of a hot rod for its size.

Q. Do you race at night?
A. Yes the crew is divided into shifts, half of the crew is down below sleeping while the other half is sailing. If the on deck crew needs help they call "all hands on deck" for help.

Q. What about food and water?
A. We bring enough to last till Tuesday.

Q. What if someone has to go to the bathroom?
A. Cyclone has a head, know as a toilet to landlubbers.

Q. What if there is bad weather?
A. We race right through it and we have lots of required safety equipment in case something bad happens. The worst part is if there is no wind, the flies can get very bad.

Q. Is there a shower?
A. No, if you finish 25 Mac races you are called an "Old Goat" you can guess why they have that name.

Q. How do you know how to get there?
A. We have a GPS (Global Positioning System) that tells us where we are, and we carry printed charts as a backup.

Q. Does the Coast Guard know about this?
A. Yes and they send the 245 ft ice breaker "USCG Mackinaw" and the 140 ft "USCG Mobile Bay" to shadow the fleet.

Q. What do the winners receive?
A. The Chicago to Mackinac race is an amateur event, so no prize money is awarded. The Section winners will receive a plaque, a flag, and bragging rights for the next year. The overall winners have their names engraved on the permanent trophies that are displayed at Chicago Yacht Club.


  • Life Jacket - $
  • Harness -$
  • 6 Foot Tether - $
  • Emergency Strobe Light - $
  • 2 Pair Sailing Gloves - $
  • 2 Pair Sunglasses - $
  • 1 8-oz. Bottle Sunblock - $
  • Team Shirt - $
  • Team Cap - (free)
  • Pocket Knife - $
  • Foul Weather Gear - $
  • Sleeping Bag - $
  • Entry Fee - $
  • Provisions - $
  • Lodging on Island for 2 nights - $
Participating in the 100th running of one of the oldest and longest freshwater sailboat races in the world. . . .


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Where's Waldo (Danny)

For the first time in the 107 year history of the race, every boat in the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac will be supplied with a GPS tracking system. This means that for the few who are interested, this can be a spectator sport. This link should take you to a website that will allow you to identify the current location of all the boats participating in the race. To find out where in Lake Michigan I am at any time during the race, you'll need to choose our boat, Cyclone, from the selection list. I've never used this tracking system before, so I can't offer much advice on how to use it. I've been informed that right now you can look at the "2008 Newport Bermuda Race" under the "View Past Races" to get an idea of how the website is supposed to work for the Mac race once the Mac race begins.

Information you may (or may not) find useful when attempting to determine how well we are doing, and where we are located:

Our boat name - Cyclone
Our sail number - 51804
Our section - 7
Our Division - Chicago-Mackinac Trophy Division
Our start time - 12:10pm
Our class flag - Pink

Our rivalries - Dos Aguilas, Most Wanted, Pegasus, Vayu

Boats with a similar ORR rating - Drumbeat, Sociable

Slowest boats in our section (they better be behind us, because their position will improve on ours after the race due to the ORR rating adjustments) - Celerity, Foray

Fastest boats in our section (they need to be way ahead of us to beat us, because our position will improve on them after the race due to the ORR rating adjustments) - Madcap, Windrunner, Challenge

On The Tube

Tomorrow, Thursday July 17, WGN Channel 9 will broadcast a special segment on the Island Goats Sailing Society between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.

In honor of the 100th running of the Mac, WTTW will be re-broadcasting a 45-minute documentary made in 2000 about the Race to Mackinac. The program will air at 8pm tomorrow, Thursday July 17th, on WTTW Channel 11.

Tonight, Wednesday July 16th, WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” program will talk about the 100th running of the Mac and promoting the Thursday night documentary broadcast. That will be between 7pm and 8pm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Weather of Course

In my previous post, I mention that the course for a sailboat race is frequently chosen to reduce any advantage a particular boat design might have. Most of the races Cyclone participates in are set up this way. Some boats have an advantage upwind, others downwind, and still others when sailing sideways to the wind. To keep things reasonably fair, one common course used for our weekly races begins with a destination that is nearly straight upwind three fourths of a mile. From this destination the course turns left and heads sideways to the wind (and just slightly down wind) with the wind blowing on the starboard (right) side of the boat for nearly six tenths of a mile. The course then turns left again heading straight downwind for one mile. Turning left yet again, the course proceeds sideways to the wind (and just slightly downwind) again, this time with the wind blowing on the port (left) side of the boat for nearly six tenths of a mile again. Turning left again, the course is once again straight upwind and heading towards the start-line (which is also used as the finish-line). To extend the distance of the race, this course is typically sailed "twice around". If you are familiar with geometric shapes this course is an isosceles trapezoid. The race begins and finishes at the midpoint of the long base of the trapezoid, and the wind is blowing straight down this line.

This course forces all the racers to sail upwind (also known as "close hauled", "on a beat" or "on a tack"), downwind (also known as "running", or "on a run"), and sideways to the wind (also known as "reaching" or "on a reach").

Because the Chicago to Mackinac race is a one way race, and the start-line and finish-line really can't be moved, the weather can have a significant effect on the results of the race. The ORR handicapping system used for this race attempts to compensate for variations in boat design, and without sufficient skill and talent a racing crew is unlikely to win even with the best possible conditions for their boat. However, if two boats of differing design are raced equally well, the one whose design is most adversely affected by the weather will lose.

This means that under certain weather conditions if we sail our boat perfectly without making a single mistake, while we will finish ahead of those with less skill and talent, competitors who sail their boats as well as we do will beat us. Under other weather conditions, if we sail our boat perfectly, we will be unbeatable since even if they sail perfectly as well the competing boat will not be able to overcome the effects of the weather. Of course, if we make mistakes and sail "less than optimally" we will finish a bit later than we could have and will create an opportunity for the skill and talent of a competitor to compensate for the limitations the weather on their boat.

Length of the boat has a large effect on the ability of the boat to sail upwind. Typically, the longer the boat, the better it can sail upwind. At 30 feet Cyclone is the shortest hull length in our section. As such, any wind blowing from anywhere in a north-like direction (northwest, north, northeast, just slightly north of due east, etc) will place a huge limitation on us. We will need to sail significantly better than all 22 other competitors in our section just to compensate for the limitations of the boat length. On the other hand, wind coming from the southwest or from slightly south of due west will be optimal for us. With a wind coming from a southwest (or similar) direction, our competitors will need to overcome limitations of the designs of their boats, and if we can sail just slightly better than they do we will almost certainly win against the boats in our section.

In a race that will take multiple days to complete, the weather is likely to change multiple times throughout the race. Sometimes we will benefit, sometimes our competitors will. Part of our challenge will be to look at weather predictions before and during the race and determine where the weather is likely to help us the most (or hurt us the least), and sail the boat to try to be in the appropriate location when the weather is right.

For now all we can do is wait until the weather forecasts become more reliable and hope for southwest winds.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I'll begin the week with a bit of information about the boat I've been racing on for the past 5 years, which is also the boat I'll be racing on in the 100'th Chicago Yacht Club race to Mackinac, Cyclone.

Cyclone is a J/92. This is a model built by the company J/Boats. The model name is an indication of the length of the boat in decimeters. It draws a bit less than 6 feet deep, and has a beam of 10 feet in width. Though a bit smaller, the J/92 is rather simlar to the J/105. It has a fixed keel, an open transom, and a retracting bowsprit. In addition to the smaller size, a significant difference in design between the J/105 and the J/92 is the use of a tiller in the J/92 instead of a steering wheel. While it is capable of running downwind with a symmetric spinnaker and a spinnaker pole, it is not typical to rig a J/92 for symetric spinnaker. On Cyclone, the only spinnakers we carry and use are asymmetric spinnakers .

When multiple boats of an identical model race against each other it is referred to as "one design" racing. In a one-design race the boats typically all start together and the first one to cross the finish-line is the "winner". If there aren't multiple boats of a particular design near enough to each other and willing to race, boats can be handicapped according to various specification of the design of the boat along with real life testing of the limits of the boat. One such handicapping system is known as Performace Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) This handicapping system assigns each boat an expected difference in seconds-per-mile as compared to a standard. PHRF is the handicapping system we use in most of the races we participate in.

We race a 7.5 mile course. Cyclone's PHRF rating is 111, indicating 111 seconds slower per mile than the defined standard when sailed optimally. One of the boats we race against has a PHRF rating of 126. We cross the finish-line 2 hours, 30 minutes, and 13 seconds after the start of the race. Our competitor crosses the finish-line 80 seconds after us (2 hours, 31 minutes, 33 seconds). Since his boat is rated as being slower than ours by 15 seconds per mile, after our times are adjusted our competitor's finish time improves by 113 seconds more than ours does(15 seconds per mile X 7.5 miles, rounded up). We end up officially placing behind this competitor by 33 seconds.

In theory, if both teams sail their boats optimally with respect to the boat's design, we would finish 112.5 seconds before the competitor and after adjusting for the handicap, the race would result in a tie. By handicapping the boats, the race measures the teams ability to sail the boat, rather than the boat owner's ability to purchase a faster boat design.

In reality each boat has particular sea/weather conditions in which it performs best. When sailed optimally without any mistakes, the boat which happens to encounter favorable water/weather conditions will end up winning. The course of the race is typically set up attempting to neutralize any water/weather condition advantage a design might have over another. While the advantage is not always entirely eliminated by the choice of course, it is generally reduced to a manageable level. If one team is more skilled and sails their boat better, the difference in skill will generally overcome any small advantage their competitor might gain from water/weather conditions.

There are other handicapping systems (The Chicago Yacht Club uses Offshore Racing Rule, ORR, for the race to Mackinac). While I am unfamiliar with the specifics of any of the other systems, they all attempt create a race that measures crew sailing skill by adjusting appropriately for the intrinsic speed of the design of the boat.


It seems the name I chose for this blog has revealed itself to be somewhat prophetic. For those who haven't figured it out yet, the blog title "ISLA GIATT" is an acronym for the phrase "It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time". There are a variety of things I've done in my life which in hind-sight appear to have been a rather poor decision. I never intend to make a poor decision, but at the time when a decision is made, it isn't always obvious that it will be a poor decision. As such, when asked about the reasoning behind making the decision, frequently phrased along the lines of "Why (exclamatory remark such as 'in the world') would you do such a thing?", the best answer I can offer is, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

When considering creating a blog, I figured this title served two purposes. First, I assumed that some of my most significant and interesting posts would be written about these "seemed like a good idea at the time" events in my life. Second, I was somewhat aware of my personal writing skills as well as the difficulty of keeping a blog updated on a regular basis. As such I realized that while blogging seemed like a good idea, the blog itself just might be one of those ideas that only seemed good at the time the decision was made.

I began the blog with the best of intentions. Shortly after the new year, I rededicated myself to a renewed attempt to posing on a regular basis. I always assumed that once sailing season started up, I'd post weekly updates as to the results and events of the weekend races, as well as frequent updates on preparations for the Chicago to Mac race. Clearly this hasn't occurred.

I have not yet given up. I really do want this blog to work. I want this to be a creative outlet where I can write interesting things others want to read. While this blog itself is beginning to show signs of "Seemed like a good idea at the time", for me it still seems like a good idea at this time.

The Chicago to Mac race begins in less than a week. I've wanted to participate in this race ever since I discovered that I enjoy sailing. I've been urging the owner, Captain John, of the boat, Cyclone, to enter the boat in the race (at significant cost to himself) during every one of the 5 years I've been a member of his racing team. I have a lot I want to say about this race. I don't know yet if it will all come out in one long post, or if I'll find a way to break it up into reasonable daily updates. Either way, you'll hopefully find that I've posted quite a bit about the race between now and 5:30am Saturday morning.