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Local sailor part of dramatic high sea rescue

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Cathy Dobson

Right place. Right time. Right crew.

Any other combination and the sinking of the WhoDo on Lake Michigan might have ended very differently.

Point Edward’s Tac Boston was within sight of the WhoDo when she ran into trouble about 85 miles from the finish line of the recent Chicago Yacht Club race to Mackinac.

Boston, 45, is a third generation sailmaker who has sailed his entire life. He was aboard City Girl, a 30-foot C & C 30 One Design owned by Mark Bremer, a buddy of Boston’s from Chicago.

Conditions were choppy for most of the race and, by mid-afternoon of the second day, waves were running three to five feet and it was raining.

It seemed liked the storm would never end, said Boston.

“We were blasting along and saw the boat in the distance do a slow, looping turndown, which generally shows there’s a man overboard. They had just put their spinnaker up and did a wipe out.”

By the time the 48-foot WhoDo managed to drop its front sail a Mayday distress signal had gone out. In rough waters, the yacht’s rudder broke with such force the post snapped, opening an 18-inch hole in the boat.

As water rushed in the crew of 10 prepared to abandon ship.

Several yachts, including City Girl, immediately headed for the scene. From half a mile away Boston could see the WhoDo was sinking. As the smallest boat around, City Girl could maneuver easily and the other captains held back to let her go first.

“We motored as fast as we could and brought our life raft up onto our deck,” he said. “The lucky thing for everybody is that it was daytime, and everyone knew what to do and where everything was located.”

The WhoDo’s crew also had a life raft and were clambering onto it. But it was flimsy and couldn’t hold more than several people for long.

“When you’re in that kind of situation, time is a vacuum.  From the Mayday to getting all 10 onboard was about 25 minutes. It was just surreal,” Boston said.

“Everyone was so calm. There was no panic. Once we had them and knew they were okay, there was this great sigh of relief and they started joking with us about how small our boat was.

“We told them they could get out and find another one if they wanted and we were all laughing.

“But really, there were people all over the place. We didn’t have a lot of space.”

When City Girl left with both crews safely onboard, the WhoDo was floating four inches below her gunnels and soon went down in 45 feet of water inside the Manitou Passage.

City Girl made her way seven miles to Leland, Michigan where the Leelanau County Sherriff’s Department met them at the dock.

“They were grateful,” said Boston. “They wanted to pay for our fuel and they wanted to take us out for a meal.”

Boston and his crew had to make the tough decision whether to get back in the race. They chose to withdraw.

Storms were so bad during this year’s 333-mile Chicago to Mackinac Race that 19 of the 326 yachts entered had withdrawn by its conclusion on July 25.

“It was a long race for us even before this incident,” said Boston. “We’d been on edge for a long time and we’d had enough.”

City Girl’s main sail had already been damaged.

“We were just basically done.”

Boston said the experience left him feeling good about the sailing fraternity.

“We just did what we’d hope anyone would do,” he said. “It seems all you ever hear about is the bad part of everything.

“But this had good results and it’s good for the sailing community to show that this is how we take care of our own.”

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