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Rare British entry in Race to Mackinac is ‘bloody tough’

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What: Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, the 105th sailing of the world’s oldest freshwater distance race, 333 statute miles (289.4 nautical miles), from Chicago to Mackinac Island, Mich.

Who: About 3,500 sailors on about 350 boats.

When: Cruising division begins at 3 p.m. Friday. Bulk of the fleet leaves in sections every 10 minutes beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, ending about 3 p.m.

Course: Starts east of Navy Pier, ends at the line between the lighthouse on Round Island and the race committee trailer on Mackinac Island.

Spectators: (land) Parade of Boats begins about 11 a.m. Saturday, viewed best from Navy Pier; (water) the Mac start can be stunning viewed from a boat on Lake Michigan.

Updated: July 11, 2013 9:23PM

The Mac gets a royal guard.

Family yacht racing is the soul of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. But in recent decades, the Mac also has attracted top ­sailors and adventurers — Steve Fossett to Roy Disney — from around the world.

This year is no different. Richard Lett, fresh off finishing the single-handed trans-Atlantic OSTAR, takes on his first Mac.

“I have known about the Mac for years,’’ Lett said. “It is one I have always aspired to race.’’

The 105th Mac begins Friday, with the cruising division setting sail east of Navy Pier for the 333-mile race to Mackinac Island, Mich. The bulk of the fleet sails Saturday in the world’s oldest freshwater distance race.

Lett, who retired from Metropolitan Police as a Personal Protection Officer to the Royal Family, was made a member of the Royal Victorian Order by Queen Elizabeth II in the 2013 New Years Honors list. He will be racing in the doublehanded division with Harry Vogel from Holland on “Velocity Girl,’’ a VQ32 designed by Dick Koopmans.

“For a little boat, she is bloody tough,’’ Lett said. That 32-footer is a rare British entry in the Mac.

Sailing is more than gallivanting around the world for Lett.

He is racing for “Pathways to Children,’’ a nonprofit organization based in Minnesota ( He met his new wife in Mumbai, India, where she was a director of the organization, which provides education and health for children of Mumbai and volunteering opportunities for American youth.

“I am trying to get to Minnesota,’’ cracked Lett, who said he would have taken the Hudson River and come by water to Chicago after finishing the OSTAR in Rhode ­Island, if he had had the time.

Instead, Great Lakes Boat Transport hauled it to Chicago.

Lett will get to Minnesota by ­water. He plans to race the Trans Superior in early August and finish in Duluth, Minn.

Just in case it seems Lett is overly serious, know the nickname of “Velocity Girl’’ is “Flossie.’’

“When you have a beer, it becomes ‘Flossie,’ ’’ he said. “It is a morph.’’

He understands conditions on Lake Michigan can morph from no-air to deadly storms very quickly.

“I am pretty geared up for this to be a serious yacht race,’’ he said. “I sailed across the Atlantic and cleared my mind.’’

Waves and winds are different challenges on Lake Michigan than they are on the ocean.

“It is a proper seaman challenge,’’ he said. “Other competitors will be canny on the wind. I will be embarrassed. I am quite prepared to come in last.’’

With that in mind, he expects to not play the winds on either shore and simply take the rhumb line straight there.

“I don’t think I will get the wind shifts, unless I get real lucky and look good,’’ he said.

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