Boating Interest Surges as Summer and the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac Approach

You know it when you see it, the colorful sails splashed against the city skyline as hundreds of boats and thousands of sailors and crew gather on the water near Navy Pier.

It’s one of the the signature events of the Chicago calendar — the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac — and the race is scheduled to make its return July 16 after a one-year hiatus. The race, aka The Mac, is an annual reminder that summer is indeed here as the boats start the two-day 333-mile journey to Mackinac Island in Michigan. 

Last year, limits on the number of people who could gather in one place were too small for the crews required to sail in The Mac. That, and the fact harbor openings were delayed, limiting practice time before the race, led organizers to cancel the event in 2020 for the first time in 100 years. 

“This year the capacity limitations are much more generous,” Chicago Yacht Club Commodore Nick Berberian said. “Registrations for the race are on par with where they are during a normal season. We’re very excited about it.”

Chicago Yacht Club, boating in chicago
Photo by: Sara Proctor, Chicago Yacht Club

Anticipation for the 112th Mac race is building, but boating in general has seen a rise in interest during the pandemic. Luxury boat sales reached a 13-year high in 2020, the National Marine Manufacturers Association reported. 

The Chicago Yacht Club’s sailing school maxed out at 450 kids. Sail boat rentals are booked up far in advance, and the club is adding an electric boat this summer to help meet demand. 

“From every measurement we’re seeing, the interest is there,” said Berberian, who moved into his current leadership position at the club in January. “People want to get out on the water.”

Applications for associate memberships, available to those under 40, are growing rapidly, Berberian said. Overall membership is 1,200 strong.

Two Chicago Yacht Club members — Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea — are scheduled to compete in the Tokyo Olympics in what could be a perfect finish to a memorable summer on the water in Chicago.

“Our one common thread (at the Chicago Yacht Club) is passion for the water,” Berberian said. “The vibrancy is enormous.”

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