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Who knew WhoDo would rise again

2016 August 3

A wild Chicago-Mackinac race leads to a dramatic rescue moments before the 1D48 WhoDo sinks in the Manitou Passage

The 1D48 WhoDo was floated and towed into Charlevoix, Michigan, three days after it sunk during Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac.
SAILING Magazine photo


On the second afternoon of a Chicago-Mackinac race that would be remembered as one of the fastest in years, most of the 326-boat fleet was charging up Lake Michigan in a 20- to 25-knot southerly breeze with chutes full and a building sea pushing down waves. The 10 sailors on the 1D48 WhoDo were enjoying their own rollicking ride as they entered the Manitou Passage about two-thirds of the way up the course when a gust buried the boat’s bow knocking it down and causing it to round up only to get knocked down on the other side. 

In the chaos of trying to get the boat back on its feet, crewmember Russell Madsen said he heard helmsman and skipper Mike Gilburt say he “had no rudder.” When Madsen looked back moments later he saw the boat’s rudder and its broken post floating behind the boat with a chunk of hull attached to it.

“Someone was down below and they said, ‘We’re taking on water and we’re taking it on fast,” said Madsen, a Northport, Michigan, resident. “The hole was about 16 inches in diameter.”

While Gilburt called a mayday on the VHF radio, the crew worked to get the A2 spinnaker and the mainsail down and get life jackets for those who weren’t already wearing them, Madsen said. When he went down below to get a life jacket the water was up to his knees and rising fast. 

“When I went down a second time to activate the EPIRB, the water was up to my waist and the floorboards were floating,” Madsen said. 

WhoDo’s mayday, broadcast at 3:50 p.m. July 24, according to the Coast Guard, was heard by several other boats competing in the race, and several in the area immediately suspended racing to assist. Mark Bremer’s C&C 30 City Girl was only about a half mile away from WhoDo when they heard the call, Bremer said. 

“We were blasting along when we heard the distress signal and we started looking around and we pretty quickly spotted a boat that looked like it was in trouble,” Bremer said. 

The six-person City Girl crew immediately took down the sails and were standing by close to WhoDo as the crew of the beleaguered boat launched its 10-person life raft. 

With the boat already floating low in the water, the crew stepped into the life raft—one rented at the last minute after a problem with the boat’s original raft, according to Madsen—taking the boat’s race-tracking device with them. 

The City Girl crew threw a line to the life raft and pulled WhoDo’s crew in, loading them onto the boat over the C&C’s open transom. Madsen estimated that the entire ordeal, from the knockdown to the time the WhoDo crew was safely onboard City Girl was only about 10 minutes.

“The whole thing was actually really calm and the way it worked out couldn’t have been any better,” Madsen said. “Nobody got a scratch on them.”

City Girl powered to nearby Leland, Michigan, and dropped off WhoDo’s crew. The crew of the C&C opted to not resume racing.

“By that time we’d been out of the race for several hours,” Bremer said. “We were disappointed, but we felt really lucky that we were so close. There were other boats nearby waiting to help, we just happened to be the closest.”

WhoDo, owned by Helen and Gordon Mackenzie and Erik Owen, who was not onboard during the race, sunk quickly in about 30 feet of water near Pyramid Point, according to the Coast Guard, which launched a boat from Frankfort, Michigan, and a helicopter from Traverse City, Michigan, said Chief Petty Officer Lauren Jorgensen.

The 1D48 WhoDo was floated and towed into Charlevoix, Michigan, three days after it sunk during Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac.
SAILING Magazine photo


The boat was floated by a private tow operator July 27 and taken to Irish Boat Shop in Charlevoix, Michigan. A large hole in the bow was likely caused when the boat hit the bottom, Madsen said. 

“The only hole in the boat when we were on it was where the rudder post broke,” he said. Likewise, although other sailors reported a large log floating in the area at the time of WhoDo’s sinking, Madsen said they never saw and it and don’t believe it had anything to do with the boat’s sinking. 

WhoDo, which was built in the mid-1990s, sunk once before during Hurricane Katrina. Madsen said the boat received several upgrades for this sailing season including new sails, running rigging and other refits.


While the sailing on Sunday during the race, which started July 23 for racing divisions, was fast and warm, the fleet endured a series of squalls with winds up to 50 knots reported by some boats that caused knockdowns, obliterated sails and other damage. Twenty-two boats dropped out of the race. Later on Sunday a sailor suffering from a possible heart attack was airlifted off the Tartan 10 Temerity.

The downwind race was a sleigh ride for the 60-foot trimaran Areté, which finished the 289-nautical-mile course in 23 hours, still falling short of the multihull course record of 18 hours, 50 minutes set by Steve Fossett on Stars & Stripes

The TP52 Natalie J., owned by Philip and Sharon O’Niel III of Bayview Yacht Club, won the Mackinac Cup division for larger boats and fellow Bayview Y.C. boat Flying Buffalo, an Offshore 36 owned by Al and Bob Declerq, won the Mackinac Trophy division. It was the fourth division win for the boat, which last won in 1969. 

For compete results, go to www.cycracetomackinac.com.

The following video, taken by WhoDo crewmember Russell Madsen, was taken as the boat dug into the wave that led to the rudder post breaking.

This video, also provided by Russell Madsen, was taken about five minutes before WhoDo's rudder post broke during Sunday afternoon of the Chicago-Mackinac race.