Saturday, April 19, 2014 - 63°F

The Race to Mackinac Island

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Geoffrey Baer on Lake MichiganRace to Mackinac crew

 
 
Geoffrey Baer in rain gear

Everybody loves a good adventure story, and this is one that Chicagoans can really relate to. Because the adventure takes place on our own Lake Michigan. It's the famous race from Chicago to Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan-the world's oldest and longest freshwater sailboat race. Geoffrey Baer, host of WTTW's popular series of Chicago architecture and history specials, takes viewers with him on the 300-mile voyage aboard the tiny sailing vessel Radiance.

In addition to the camera aboard Radiance, a second WTTW camera crew sails on Thirsty Tiger, an ultra-high-tech (and ultra-expensive) seventy-footer (more than twice the size of Radiance). Throughout the program, the action switches back and forth between the two boats, so viewers can feel the striking and sometimes humorous contrast between the scrappy Radiance crew of eight, and the fifteen world-class racers aboard the big boat.

The starting line, with its spectacular view of downtown Chicago, is where the thrills begin. Viewers are in the thick of the action as the racers await the starting gun, jockeying for position, and narrowly avoiding collisions with hundreds of other boats. As the fleet makes its way northward, Geoffrey and his fellow crew members fight high seas and spray, frustrating doldrums, exhaustion and frayed nerves. Along the way, viewers learn about the rich history of this epic event, and see exotic and little-known Lake Michigan sites, including natural wonders like Beaver Island (once the hideout of Lake Michigan pirates!), Sleeping Bear Dunes (among the tallest on the Great Lakes), starry nights and glorious sunrises. There are also manmade marvels like hundred-year-old light houses, thousand-foot ore freighters, massive shipwrecks, and at the climax of the race, a passage beneath the towering Mackinac Bridge (one of the world's longest suspension bridges).

It's a tale filled with Chicago and Lake Michigan lore, adventure on the high seas, and the fun of rooting for the underdog.

 
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