Q&A: Bob Nelson, The Winner of the CYC to Mac Race 2018

We recently revealed that we were the Official Rope Supplier for the 2018 edition of Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac™ (CYCRTM), presented by Wintrust. Kicking off on July 20 and 21, 2018, 306 cruising and racing boats began the 110th edition of America’s Offshore Challenge™ against the magnificent Chicago skyline, and finish 333 statute miles (289nm) at historic Mackinac Island.

As the main sponsor of the race we provided prizes to the winner, Bob Nelson who has raced in the CYCRTM for over 22 years and has been an avid sailor for 35.  We caught up with him to conduct a short Q&A about the race and his sailing career, here’s what he had to say:

Tell us a little about your sailing career to date

I’ve been sailing competitively for about 35 years (which means I am old).  I grew up in Virginia and learned to sail on the Chesapeake Bay, racing on a variety of one design and phrf boats.  In 1995 I relocated to Chicago and discovered a very active and welcoming sailing community. My first Mac was in 1996 and this year marked my 22nd . Two of those were double handed on the 36.7.   From 1998 to 2007, I co-owned and actively campaigned a C&C 35 racing nearly every bouy and port to port race on the schedule with Wednesday night beer cans thrown in.  As my family grew, priorities shifted and family time took precedence over sailing and racing was scaled back to a few distance races each season.

Tell us how you found the CYC to Mac Race

This year’s race was the first I can remember where we beat nearly all the way to the island.  I described the conditions as simply miserable.  We beat for over 50 hours in good size waves and delivered a respectable finish.

What were the challenges

Most years, Free Radical enjoys a group 5 or 6 “regular” crew that do the race together every year, know the boat and work well as a team and we add a couple of others to round out the team.  This year, we were sailing with a complete pick up crew.  We had sailors from NY, Arkansas, Boston and Chicago.  Everyone on the boat brought something to the team and I was impressed with the tenacity of the group and the get it done attitude the team carried all the way through a very challenging race.  Other challenges, I’ve never had so much water in my boat.  We had the manual bilge pump going every few hours, still don’t know where it came from.  Our chart plotter drowned sometime on Sunday so we were navigating on a MacBook for the last 30 hours of the race.

What were the highlights

We stayed in the hunt the entire race.  At Grays reef, we watched several of the competition round the new shoal light in a very light breeze. We noticed a wind line and a filling breeze to the north and continued on, put up a spinnaker and enjoyed a pleasant ride through the straits while the competition was parked in a hole on the south side of the straights.

Have you used Marlow before?

Yes, this is the 2nd season on my Marlow Main halyard, I have Marlow rope throughout my boat.  Needless to say, you have a loyal Marlow client.

What will you use the Marlow prize for? 

Winning the prize was awesome.  I had a new jib halyard on my shopping list for next year and that is taken care of thanks to Marlow.  I also replaced the original wire backstay with a Marlow Dyneema® backstay saving a ton of weight aloft.  I do a lot of short handed sailing and sailing with clients and added a set of light weight lazy jacks that can be stowed when racing.

How will it help in your sailing?

Obviously we are thrilled with the new backstay.  The wire backstay was a big challenge in light air.  The top baton on the main was constantly getting snagged.  The new backstay is an easy flip and that issue is gone.  The weight reduction is a big pickup as well.

How have you found the prize has performed?

So far so good. Kristian at Chicago Yacht Rigging has been awesome at co-ordinating everything and has done a great job with the go-fast improvements.