Last Chance ... A Two Year Journey

Leaving the Great Lakes for a Caribbean/Pacific adventure

17 August 2019 | Half way across the lake and back
20 July 2019 | Sturgeon Bay, WI
15 July 2019 | Start of Hook Race off Racine, Wi
24 June 2019 | Mackinac Island
16 June 2019 | Waukegan Harbor
30 May 2019 | Somewhere off Waukegan
29 April 2019 | Waukegan, IL
14 February 2019 | George Town, Exumas
12 February 2019 | Great Galliot Cay
11 February 2019 | Sampson Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
09 February 2019 | Big Majors Spot
08 February 2019 | Near Midway Airport, Chicago
01 January 2019 | Larsen Marine
19 November 2018 | Hanover Park, IL
21 October 2018 | Larsen Marine
16 September 2018 | Northwestern Memorial Hospital
24 August 2018 | Waukegan Harbor
20 August 2018 | Racine to Port Sheldon and back
16 August 2018 | Racine Yacht Club

First first

17 August 2019 | Half way across the lake and back
John Mahowald | Windy
This year's LMSS (Lake Michigan Singlehanded Society) long distance solo race was the Q race - held every other year. The Q (qualifier) is shorter and is a way for folks to try out short handed sailing (solo or double). It is 66 nautical miles. It starts from Racine, rounds a buoy in the middle of the lake, and ends back at Racine. This year's race was windy, but from the south on a mostly east-west course. So very close reach out and beam reach back. You were close hauled and heeled over going out in 14-18 knots of wind, and the waves kept building. Not comfortable, but you were moving. The wind was a touch inconsistent, so you had to watch the sails and decide if it was building enough to warrant reefing.

The reefs came out after rounding the mark. This is when you were really flying. I am one of the slower boats, so eventually most of the fleet passed me on the way to the buoy. One double handed boat was catching me on the way to the mark. So for the last four hours all the way home, after rounding the mark, I was trying to hold him off. He finally got by me during the last 30 minutes. He was a faster boat, it turns out, so I easily saved my time over him. As I was racing that boat, I caught up to another boat that had passed me much earlier. He (solo sailer) wasn't looking behind and watching the two of us catching up to him, so he was quite surprised when I suddenly appeared and passed him. I think his auto pilot couldn't handle the wind and waves, so he was luffing his main - a lot. When he sheeted it in, he rounded up once, 90 degrees off course. The next time he rounded up, he ended up with the wind on the wrong side of the genoa. Instead of releasing the genoa (I don't know how his sail didn't rip), he ended up doing a 360 in 17 knots of wind. After that, I think he hand steered and tried to catch me. So I had two boats chasing me for hours. I held off the solo sailor, but only by 21 seconds at the end. He again was a faster boat, so he needed to beat me by quite a bit.

I didn't think I was doing well in the race, since my benchmark boat was well ahead of me, sailing double handed. But these were perfect conditions for him, and he took first in fleet honors - a first for him. It turned out I did great! I was first in my solo section and second among all solo sailors. Overall, I was 7th out of 16 boats. This was my best finish ever. And my auto pilot was rock solid, unlike the guy rounding up, or another solo sailor who had to steer the entire 10 hour race.

When the weather turns on you ...

20 July 2019 | Sturgeon Bay, WI
John Mahowald | Lightning, rain, wind over 50 knots
Friday we stayed in the Egg Harbor Marina. They are busy, so I was unable to get a slip and anchored outside the marina entrance. Later, they found a slip for me, which was important that evening when severe weather came roaring through. We watched the storm approach after sunset, with a nonstop cloud lightning show.

Then the rain and wind hit - the worst weather I've experienced on the boat. I used to think my wind meter didn't work well in high winds, but I don't think that any more. When I turned on the instruments, the high wind alarm (>40 knots) went off immediately. It showed a steady 53 knots. I turned the instruments on and off. Same thing. Three boats had headsails come partially unfurled. If I had still been anchored in that small area ...

Maybe if I had moved to a bigger spot, it might have worked, but then I would have been outside in the wind and rain standing watch. It would have been a wild ride. And that assumes I really understood what was coming and prepared for it, by moving and letting out extra scope and securing the dinghy somehow.

The next day we motored to Sturgeon Bay. An hour before we got to the marina, the rain let loose ... deluge. The second bridge tender took pity on us and opened early to let us get to the marina. Unfortunately, other boats were also seeking shelter, so I was put in a holding pattern while they tied up the other boats. It was frustrating listening on the radio to other boats get in when I was right there, waiting to get safely tied up before things got worse. I finally got in with it still raining. Luckily, the wind held off until just after I was tied up.

That is what happens when all the bad weather for the week is saved up for the last 15 hours of your trip.

Burnt out

15 July 2019 | Start of Hook Race off Racine, Wi
John Mahowald | Sunny and light wind
The Hook Race started less than three weeks after the Mac Race finished. This was not enough time for me to recuperate. I was more interested in getting to Green Bay to start my cruise than doing the race. So I wasn't ready mentally or physically to race the 189 nautical mile Hook Race solo. I was doing okay (the photo shows the fleet behind me after the first hour), but when the wind lightened Sunday afternoon and came from behind, I wasn't up to a second night and a Monday morning (hopefully) finish. So I abandoned the race and motored to Sturgeon Bay and started my Green Bay cruise from there. Pat arrived Monday for the week.

Wednesday, I met up with my brother in Nicolet Bay, where we anchored for a few days. That first day there were four boats in our party. My boat, brother's boat, brother's friend's boat from Waukegan, and another boat from Waukegan where they are docked a few slips down from me. They finished the Hook Race and joined us for the day.

The new Rocna anchor and G4 chain (75') worked well. The week anchored out was wonderful. The weather was great until the last two days ... which will be the next post.

Second in the Solo Mac

24 June 2019 | Mackinac Island
John Mahowald | Windy and fast race. Mostly cloudy and cool.
I finished the Mac race in tough conditions beating - 24 hours faster than normal. There was some minor damage and leaks due to the rough conditions. One BIG casualty - the auto pilot broke. The same part that broke on my Bahama trip. How to get home without it? I just need to get to Manitowoc where my brother lives - a 30 hour trip. He will install a new one, a different type with more power - the one he’s been telling me all along to get. How did I do in the race? Second place in my section - less than 6 minutes behind the first place boat, Debbia, who I was close to most of the way. There are several times I could have had better strategy, but one obvious one was at the end where I wouldn’t tack and try to cross in front of a freighter (watched too many YouTube videos). So I stayed on a tack too long where the wind got light. The boat I was with risked crossing in front of the freighter and gained a lot. I should have tacked back the other way much sooner. At this point, you have been racing for over 48 hours, so ...

There was much wind most of the time where we were either close hauled, or beating the last 8 hours. Reefing and unreefing the sails was the order of the day. Near the end, my shoulder was too sore to winch the sail all the way in after a tack. The wind was so strong, the genoa needed to be reefed, which was good, because I could winch in the reduced sail. Trying to reef the main with no auto pilot took two tries. The first try, the boat tacked on me.

My brother on Strider was first in fleet, something he has tried to achieve for many years. He did it! First overall!

Races and Father's Day

16 June 2019 | Waukegan Harbor
John Mahowald | Sunday was cold and windy, with dense fog
Last Thursday evening, I had several crew race with me in our one Thursday night race. The wind was light and the start was poor because I didn't get any boat speed going on the close hauled tack to the start. The race is only 1.5 miles, so where you start is where you finished. But the race was exciting and fun. We starboard tacked one boat and they cut behind us as close as they could. We almost exchanged handshakes. We had to wait for a boat to tack so we could tack to the mark, which we just made - no extra sailing there. Then we finished neck and neck with two other boats.

Father's Day is a traditional sailing day, going back to when my daughter was very young. Now her daughters were on the boat. It was 55 degrees, 15 knots from the north with 3-5' waves. After the barbecue, the dense fog finally cleared in the afternoon and we went out (genoa only). I didn't see any other day sailors going out. The twins loved it. Esme was laughing the entire sail and no one could remember her being so happy for such an extended period of time.

So it is all about perspective - we had a fun race and a fun Father's Day sail.

The Solo Mac race (3 days) starts June 22. You can track the race here:

Why we practice

30 May 2019 | Somewhere off Waukegan
John Mahowald | Cool, little wind
I decided to enter a few crewed races. You see, my slip mate at the harbor decided to sell his boat. Then he decided to sell his house and move to southern Florida. So what to do with all that crew he was racing with? He was racing on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I signed up for a few Saturdays. Apparently Saturday is not the same as Thursday, so not many of his old crew jumped at the chance to keep racing.

I scheduled a practice evening for one Thursday so folks could get to know my boat and I wanted to try jibing the asymmetric chute without snuffing it first. Unfortunately, there was little wind, so even to practice tacking the genoa (before we tackled the spinnaker), I had to idle the engine in gear.

Before hoisting the chute, I headed out into the lake where it looked like there was more wind. That worked, for a short while. Then came the time for the jibe, but there was no wind. We walked the chute around, but not without a few hang ups as it draped itself all over the spreaders. Then it seemed hung up with the tack. After getting it around on the other side, it was time to take it down. That is when the real fun started. First, was trying to straighten out the snuffer lines, we hadn’t jibed those. After fixing that, we successfully snuffed the chute, but then could not lower it. It was jammed at the top of the mast. Normally, I would fly the chute again to have the wind pull it free. Two problems: no wind, and I couldn’t raise the snuffer. So now I was doubly screwed. I knew I couldn’t pull the sail down by yanking on the snuffer - that just tears the snuffer (don’t ask me how I know that). I kept pulling on the line to raise the snuffer, until finally the whole sail started coming down. It took me a second to realized nothing broke, just the jam at the top was freed.

So that is why we practice, and I think for now, I’ll just jibe by snuffing it first. Maybe if I get really good at that, I’ll try again.
Vessel Name: Last Chance
Vessel Make/Model: Islander 36 (1979)
Hailing Port: Waukegan, Illinois
Last Chance's Photos - Main
17 Photos
Created 1 February 2019
3 Photos
Created 22 July 2018
18 Photos
Created 8 April 2018
31 Photos
Created 22 January 2018
Traveling down the Chesapeake and the East Coast
53 Photos
Created 11 September 2017
Erie Canal and Hudson River
33 Photos
Created 18 August 2017
Great Lakes part of the journey.
45 Photos
Created 15 July 2017
Boat prep and races prior to departure
12 Photos
Created 14 June 2017