Source: Sherman Publications

Team Alliance:Next stop Mackinac

by David Fleet

July 13, 2011

Lake Huron is the third largest fresh water lake in the world—just over 23,000 square miles.

Sailing the expanse of water in about 50 hours is a great accomplishment—one that Hadley resident Paul Heumaier has done 17 times.

“The race is won or lost at night—especially on the second night,” said Heumaier, 46, a Lake Orion native. “You’re tired, it’s dark and it’s real easy to zone out—it’s a lot of work.”

Heumaier, along with boat owners Tom Day, Bev Noa and Dennis Cooper, as well as Tom Grabowski, Dave Garland and Allan Kirch will sail the Alliance-USA 5362, a 36-foot Islander, in the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race beginning July 23. The race, from just north of the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron to Mackinac Island, covers about 200 nautical miles and includes more than 200 boats in 21 classes.

Heumaier has been sailing since he was 15, when a friend asked him to race a 16-foot catamaran on Anchor Bay. In 1993, Heumaier joined a partnership and purchased the Alliance.

The 2011 Bayview Mackinac Race, will be the 18th race for Heumaier, with 15 on the Alliance. The Alliance, which will have new sails for the 2011 race, has finished in second place three times.

“Each year the top five or six boats end up at the top of race,” he said.

Mackinac racers typically follow one of two courses; the Shore course, which is a few miles from the eastern Michigan shoreline, 204 nautical miles, or the Southhampton course, 253 nautical miles, which crosses Lake Huron toward Southhampton, Ontario, then back west to Mackinac.

The smaller boats—like the Alliance—follow the shore course with the larger vessels opting for more open water and the greater distance.

“Our distance from shore is anywhere from three to 20 out,” he said. “Still, all boats are handicapped—Performance Handicap Racing Fleet—the formula uses a variety of factors to make it even.”

The Alliance, built for San Francisco Bay sailing, weighs 13,500 pounds of which 6,500 pounds is a lead keel and does very well in heavy seas, added Heumaier.

Sailing in Lake Huron has not always been smooth.

“In 2008, I was just happy to step on Mackinac Island,” he said. “It was cold and rained non-stop the entire race. There were boats with masts snapped off out there.”

Racers take off on late Saturday morning and reach Mission Point on the east shore of Mackinac Island sometime on Monday.

“We go in four hour shifts, non-stop 24 hours a day,” he said. “Sometimes it’s like glass out there and you can count a hundred boats. It’s often hot and the bugs follow us out there. Since there’s no ambient light the stars go right over the horizon. About 13 years ago the Northern Lights came out.”

Heumaier said racers are allowed to start their engines under circumstances such as charging batteries or getting out of the way of 1,000-foot lake freighters.

“They (freighters) don’t stop,” he said..