2012-07-28 / Top News

Infinite Diversion First To Finish

Sails Across the Line With Chicago Commodore Aboard
By Andrew Marlan


The first boat to sail across the finish line for the 2012 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac was Infinite Diversion. Crewmembers for the boat are (front row, from left) Colleen Duncan, Ann Zeiler, John Regan, Suzy Phelps, Elsa Gustafson, and Lori Stearns; (back row) Bill Zeiler, Glenn Gustafson, Chicago Yacht Club Commodore Joe Haas, Michael Soccitt, and Rich Stearns. The first boat to sail across the finish line for the 2012 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac was Infinite Diversion. Crewmembers for the boat are (front row, from left) Colleen Duncan, Ann Zeiler, John Regan, Suzy Phelps, Elsa Gustafson, and Lori Stearns; (back row) Bill Zeiler, Glenn Gustafson, Chicago Yacht Club Commodore Joe Haas, Michael Soccitt, and Rich Stearns. Two-year Chicago Yacht Club Commodore Joe Haas, his 12- person crew, and his boat, Infinite Diversion, were the first to cross the finish line at Windermere Point in the 104th annual Race to Mackinac. The commodore led his crew to victory Sunday, July 22, at 11:37 p.m.

“My father got me sailing,” he said. “I’ve been sailing since I was four or five years old. I’m 60 now, so it’s been a long run.”

Mr. Haas has been a member of the Chicago Yacht Club for more than 20 years. This year was his sixth time competing in the race.

“It’s always nice for a commodore to finish first,” he joked, “and it’s going to be a long, long time before that happens again. Becoming commodore is a challenge and honor itself.”

He credited the crew with the success of the race, and he said each one demonstrated friendly, effective communication and phenomenal seaman skills.

With one crew member experiencing her first race to Mackinac and two reaching their 25th, he said, the crew had a lot of diversity. The two who reached 25 races became eligible for induction in the Island Goats Sailing Society.

Combined, the crew could claim 240 years of Chicago-to- Mackinac Island race experience, in which Mr. Haas takes pride. The dynamics in his team and their handling of the boat made this year’s race an interesting and memorable experience, he said.

The weather was excellent, he said, and the yacht club got lucky with high winds and blue skies for most of the journey.

“The start was the best part of the race,” he said. “There were perfect winds for the boat, and we got way, way far in the lead. If we didn’t hit those holes, who knows what would have happened?”

The holes were the two windless pockets that all 345 sailboats encountered toward the last third of the race near Manistee and Gray’s Reef. The boats moved consistently along much of the course, varying between 4 knots and 8 knots, but the wind in the two areas toward the last leg of the race dwindled to almost nothing.

“We sailed into a hole around Manistee that lasted about four hours,” he said. “It was a little discouraging. Then, around Gray’s Reef, we sailed into another hole that lasted much longer.”

The windless spots slowed the race and allowed boats further back to catch up, he said. After many hours, Infinite Diversion was able to catch enough heavy winds Sunday afternoon to start moving from its immobile state.

The wind later picked up to 8 or 9 knots and held there the rest of the way.

“Keeping the boat moving when there was very little wind was the most challenging part of the race,” Mr. Haas said. “This boat weighs over 65,000 pounds, and once it stops, it’s very hard to start moving again.”

Wind is the most important factor in any yacht race, he said, and he can’t help but wonder what might have happened if his crew hadn’t hit a hole, finding themselves at a standstill.

As commodore, he encourages sailors to apply at the Chicago Yacht Club for the 105th annual Chicago Mackinac Race.

“I think that everybody should try it at least once,” he said. “My advice for people that might be thinking about this is to plan well, sail safely, and have an experienced crew.”

He suggests that beginners compete in the Cruising Class rather than the Racing Class to get a feel of the race for their first time, since it is less demanding. The route, nonetheless, is still challenging no matter what class a skipper decides to compete in, and, for that, he says that every boat needs to have an experienced crew.

“An experienced crew is the most important consideration for this race,” he said. “Experience means someone that sails quite a bit, and sails competitively, so they’ve dealt with some of these situations before.”

A crew should have sailed many times overnight before competing in this race, he advises.

“This race is very challenging, and we were very happy to be the first boat to pull into Mackinac Island.”

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