Ten years after it was founded, the Bayview Yacht Club held its first Bayview Mackinac Race with only 12 canvas-sailed wooden boats competing.
The year was 1925, and much of the fleet never made it to the finish line off Mackinac Island. But not to worry, as the club persisted in nurturing this Great Lakes distance race into the extraordinary destination sailing experience it is today, with hundreds of boats and thousands of competitors from the Midwest and beyond converging on Lake Huron for the start and celebrating their finish, more than 200 miles later, in the grandest of style on Mackinac Island.
As easy as it is to measure a sailing organization’s success by such a remarkable achievement as the Bayview Mackinac Race (now famously sponsored by Bell’s Beer), the reality is that the scale and distinctiveness of this event, due for its 91st annual running this July, is merely a microcosm of the larger world of its host Bayview Yacht Club, which in 2015 joins the heralded ranks of yacht clubs with a 100-year history.
'In 1915, at the hands of four gentlemen, a small yacht club took shape in a three-story tin boathouse on Motor Boat Lane,' said Commodore Hanson Bratton. 'Now, in its Centennial year, Bayview Yacht Club has over 1,000 members, including world-renowned racers and leaders in the sport, and a 5,000 square foot ‘Shrine of Nautical Culture’ as its clubhouse on Clairpointe Street (no. 100 for those who like coincidences), just minutes from downtown Detroit.' The 'View' in Bayview is from the edge of the Detroit River at the mouth of Lake St. Clair and commands a sweeping panorama of islands, the cityscape of Detroit and the shore of nearby Canada. The club itself is one for all seasons: legendary for the sailing scene that sets the standard in Michigan, an acclaimed junior sailing program and regattas – both one-off and re-occurring like the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race – that cement its national stature and continually draw devoted members as well as participants.
Among those carrying the torch for Bayview Yacht Club as he sails the world is member Stu Argo, Jr. 'I’ve been involved with seven America’s Cup teams and locally with four Canada’s Cup teams, and I’ve been fortunate to win at least one of each of those,' he said. 'Through the junior sailing program here and then in bigger boats on Saturday and in Mackinac races, you learn how to do things right. It’s the character of people around here to teach you the right way to do things.' In many ways, Argo’s thoughts reflect the fortitude of the club’s founders and followers in preserving the club’s basic tenants, which as written in its history books are 'development of sailors; preservation of the finest traditions of the sea; continuance of that finer class of sportsmanship, which seems born largely of the sea and sea-minded; and development of sailing vessels, which add fresh glory to the most daring and romantic of all sports.'
Practicing what it preaches, Bayview Yacht Club won the Canada’s Cup – a cross-border match racing challenge first held in 1896 and with a format similar to the America’s Cup – four times (1972, 1975, 1988 and 1994) and is unmatched in being either the challenger or defender over eight consecutive Canada’s Cup competitions. It was one of the first yacht clubs to create a women’s invitational regatta, and now its Detroit Cup is a revered Category 2 Match Racing event that hosts champion women sailors from around the world, while its point-to-point WOW (Women on the Water) Regatta is in its 11th year. After 19 years of hosting the NOOD Regatta, Bayview Yacht took over the reins of that successful event to run it (for the fourth time this year) as the Bayview One-Design Regatta. And as expected, the club hosts a full slate of club, local and regional events, including a blessing of its fleet in early June.
Fred Kreger, who has been a BYC member since 1964, epitomizes what being a sailor at Bayview Yacht Club means. 'I race two to three times week, and I’m at the club five days a week in the summertime. If there’s a race I do it.'
Now in his 90s, he has won the Bayview Mackinac Race 15-18 times and recalled sailing with Henry Burkard’s famously successful Meteor, a 32 footer, for 27 years. 'The first 10 years we sailed, we came back with a flag (for first, second or third) from each of the Macs.' Kreger also competed aboard a Formula 60 trimaran, a 50 footer, an 80 footer and a 36 footer during his Mac career. 'After my 50th time (2001), I skipped the next year, but then I decided to go back because it was no fun to stop. I don’t know why I stopped.'
Impressively, Kreger has a total of 62 Bayview Mackinac Races and 46 Chicago Mackinac Races (another popular distance race held on Lake Michigan) under his sailing belt, making him one of only 32 'Double Old Goats' (completing 25 or more of each of the races) and, more scarce, one of 13 'Grand Rams' (completing 50 or more Bayview Macs).
'There’s a lot of track; I have no idea how much I’ve run,' he said jokingly before nonchalantly adding that he also has been with four Canada’s Cup campaigns, completed 24 SORCs and currently handles foredeck aboard the Beneteau 36.7 Grizzly.
'The club hasn’t changed much over the years; like any place it’s the people that make it special,' said Kreger. 'Bayview is the sailing club around here, so if you are going to sail, this is where you have to sail from. Our 100th anniversary is a great occasion for us, and we’re looking forward to another 100 years.'