Get out the lawn chairs, grab the binoculars and pour on the sunscreen! One of the biggest local traditions of summer is here.
For those who grew up in Point Edward and Sarnia, the annual Mackinac yacht race is a part of the community’s fabric. For those who witness it for the first time, it’s a breathtaking spectacle that brings people together like few other events.
“We are blessed to have it here,” says Peter Leaver, who has lived in Point Edward all his life and raised his family of four girls with wife Faye.
“When you live here, you take it for granted. All the boats passing under the bridge and all the people that go to watch them, well that’s just something that happens every summer,” said Leaver.
The majesty of the 90-year-old yacht race struck him one year when a visiting cousin witnessed the hundreds of colourful sailboats making their way under the Blue Water Bridge to the start line in Lake Huron.
“He was just enthralled,” said Leaver. “It’s a feeling you never forget when you see it for the first time.
“We have a jewel here and a lot of people don’t realize that.”
The 90th annual Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac gets underway on Saturday, July 12.
The race has grown steadily in recent years, says chairman Art Levasseur, of Port Huron’s Bayview Yacht Club.
A total of 230 boats are registered to race to Mackinac Island, including about 20 from Canada. The majority will pass under the bridges between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Few sailing races are as old as Mackinac, said Levasseur.
“It’s an anomaly. It’s a fact that even through the war, President Roosevelt insisted Mackinac continue so young sailors would have the experience.”
Mackinac festivities were once limited to the American side but that changed in the 1980s, when the Point Edward Optimists began holding their annual Bridge Bash in Point Edward’s waterfront park.
It’s expanding to three nights this year and features a lineup of local and out of town bands Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The park will be fenced off for a beer garden and a family area. Admission to either is $5 for adults. Children are free. Proceeds are going to a new children’s splash pad in the village.
In the early 1980s, members of the Rotary Club of Sarnia introduced a race day pancake breakfast. They will again be serving up pancakes and sausages in the park on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“Mackinac is something everyone looks forward to,” says Peter Leaver’s daughter Lisa Hewton.
She too grew up with the annual boat race passing just paces from her front door, as have her two sons.
“We’ve always gone to watch the boats, have pancakes and talk to everybody at the waterfront.
“It’s always a fun weekend.”
– Cathy Dobson