River Forest father-daughter team takes boat race to Mackinac

Ian Fisher and his 14-year-old daughter Zoe, both of River Forest, took the sailboat Hiwassee on the annual race to Mackinac Island. | Seth Schwartz/For Sun-Times Media
Ian Fisher and his 14-year-old daughter Zoe, both of River Forest, took the sailboat Hiwassee on the annual race to Mackinac Island. | Seth Schwartz/For Sun-Times Media

Ian Fisher didn’t make it to the podium at Mackinac Island, but his 18th Mac Race might be his favorite.

The reason?

Among the crew of eight was his 14-year-old daughter Zoe.

Crossing the finish line at 11:17 a.m. Monday, Fisher’s Hiwassee placed 15th in the 20-boat section 04 of the Mackinac Cup Division with an elapsed time of 46:37:45 and corrected time of 45:55:47 in the 106th Race to Mackinac.

The world’s largest freshwater race began Saturday, July 19 at 12:30 p.m. in front of Navy Pier with 320 boats, over 3,000 sailors and 21 divisions.

Strategic decisions along the way impact where the boat places at the conclusion of the 333-mile course.

“Our biggest mistake was we went too far off shore Saturday overnight,” said Fisher, who finished third last year and third three other times. His group had 78 Mac races worth of experience between them. “We were to close to the rum line. The boats closer to shore were able to pick up better wind.”

Responsible for head sail, Zoe adroitly adjusted the spinnaker — a type of sail — with the ease of a veteran.

“Zoe was fantastic,” said Fisher, a River Forest resident. “I’m extremely proud of her. She did a great job when we flew the spinnaker in heavy air and took it down below the deck. Zoe wanted to sail The Mac for a while, but I told her she had to earn it. She did a couple of off-shore overnight races [last year] to get ready. She handled herself very well under pressure.”

Steady southeastern wind at 10 to 12 knots Saturday afternoon put Hiwassee and the ship’s crew of eight beyond the Wisconsin line. Following light winds in the evening and early Sunday morning, they hoisted the spinnaker, taking advantage of increasing southerly air, reaching the Manitou Islands at sunset.

Heated discussions brewed amongst the crew regarding a course inside or around the Manitou Islands. A last-second jibe was the right call, as an 18 mph wind tunnel propelled them to Gray’s Reef Monday at 8:30 a.m.

Asleep below the deck, Zoe awoke as a series of gusts over 20 mph caught the crew as they entered the Straits of Mackinac.

“Just as I got on deck, we broached [the boat was 45 degrees from the water on its side],” she said. “They sent me back down to gather the code zero spinnaker [used for heavy winds]. Everyone did a good job of hanging on; the water spray was everywhere.”

Driving the rig at 8 knots, the Hiwassee went 21 miles in two-and-a-half hours to reach the finish line.

Last year they were first among the seven Farr 395 boats in their division; this year, they were sixth.

Operating on a few hours of sleep, an enthusiastic Zoe was taken by the journey.

“I had no idea what would happen, but the race exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I loved the competition and I learned a lot. I’m looking forward to next year.”

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