Chicago-to-Mackinac Race Marred by Man Overboard in Rough Conditions

Nearly a dozen racing teams from Michigan's Great Southwest join hundreds of fellow sailors in mourning the loss of a veteran Chicago-to-Mackinac racer in a Saturday afternoon incident of a man overboard.

Less than an hour after the launch of the 110th Annual Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, sailors found themselves fighting against predicted strong northerly winds and steep, 6 to 8 foot waves that not only posed significant challenges to the nearly 300 boats that officially began the race, but also claimed one of the racers.

Within one hour of the final start, Imedi, a TP52 race boat competing in the Turbo Section that boasts the largest and fastest boats in the race, reported a man overboard to authorities.

Activating their man overboard procedures, a distress call went out to US Coast Guard and all nearby competitors suspended racing to assist in the search for the missing crew member. The US Coast Guard, Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police marine units and Chicago Yacht Club (CYC) dispatched nearly 20 boats and three helicopters. The seven-hour search that was mounted, covering approximately 47 square miles, was ultimately suspended at dark by the US Coast Guard with the yacht returning to harbor.

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The sailor has been identified as Jon Santarelli, a 53-year-old from Lincoln Park in Chicago.

Elsewhere in the fleet, significant waves and a northerly wind direction throughout the night presented challenging conditions for all teams competing.

There are 11 yachts from the region, including entries from the St. Joseph River Yacht Club, the Paw Paw Lake Yacht Club, and the South Haven Yacht Club.

While the vast majority of the fleet continued racing to Mackinac Island without incident, as of 10am local time this morning, 39 teams had announced their retirement from racing to the CYC Race Committee. Those competitors who have left the chase have provided several reasons, though wave heights were related to nearly all of them. None of those retirements were due to emergency. Three of the local racing teams have retired from the race before finishing for unstated reasons, perhaps tied to the man overboard incident. They include the Elixir, Silk and Longbow, all from St. Joe.

Several of the teams that suspended racing to search for the missing crew of Imedi, officially withdrew from CYCRTM after the long search was suspended.

Jay Kehoe is On-Water Director for the Chicago Yacht Club. He says, "While our team continues to work with local authorities in response to the man overboard incident on Imedi, we are actively monitoring the bulk of the fleet who have continued racing to ensure a safe arrival to Mackinac Island."

Kehoe adds, "The majority of teams racing are making good speeds despite the challenging upwind conditions and we expect the first arrivals to begin later this evening."

Santarelli had more than a decade of offshore racing experience, and was a core member of the Imedi Racing team as well as the greater Chicago sailing community.

Local competitors registered in the race include the following:

  • Cynthia -- owned by Andy & Betty Grootendorst of Coloma and Susan Hertog, a 47.7-ft Beneteau
  • Elixir -- owned by Ron & Janel Groth of St. Joseph, a 40.5-ft Catalina
  • Longbow -- owned by FK Day of St. Joseph, a 40-ft Owen Clarke Class 40
  • Imagine -- owned by Gintaras Karaitis of Union Pier, a 39.3-ft Farr 395
  • M-43 -- owned by Tyler, Tristan & Cam Wilson and Tim Throm from Kalamazoo, a 30-ft S2 9.1
  • No Quarter -- owned by Mark & Colin Caliban from Tinley Park, IL, a 36.5-ft J111
  • Rush -- owned by Jeff Alisch of West Fork, AR, a 36-ft Nelson-Marek 36
  • Silk -- owned by Jud Brown of St. Joseph, a 36-ft, C&C 110
  • Spirit Walker -- owned by J. Andrew Woodruff of Denver, CO, a 40.8-ft Sydney 41
  • Wellenreiter -- owned by Ron Schults, Greg Weykamp and Jimmy Carolla, a 39.3-ft Farr 395
  • Yachtzy -- owned by Ross Schoolmaster of Grand Rapids, a 30-ft S2 9.1

The boats compete in more than 20 separate sections divided into cruising and racing divisions. The sections are determined by handicap and one design fleets. The Cruising Division departs on Friday while the Racing Division departs on Saturday.

The smallest boat in this year's 228 boat fleet is the Nemo, a 26.2-ft long Seascape-27, and the largest is the Ocean, a 77-foot long Andrews-77. Illinois has the vast majority of sailors in the race with 194 entries and the crews range from 6-years old at the youngest, to 90-years old at the oldest according to the race committee documents. The average age of a Chicago to Mackinac racer is 48-years old.

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