Although he’s a sailor who sets the bar higher than most, APS Racer Profile alumnus Dave Askew had a summer of remarkable Great Lakes racing that leaped beyond his expectations. Askew’s team won its class in the IRC Great Lakes Championships, the 280-mile Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race, the 333-mile Chicago YC Mackinac Race (overall winner), and the Ugotta at the Traverse City YC. “I’ve always wanted to go back there and sail these races in my own boat,” says Askew. “I didn’t expect to win everything.”
The Grosse Point, MI, native and Annapolis sailor (since 1990) has an extensive racing history—think Fastnet, SORC, Mac Races, Newport to Bermuda, and the top race weeks—as he started young by working on boats through high school and running racing programs to support himself through college and beyond. He may have kept going had he not switched gears to join a family company, marry, and have three daughters.
When Askew and his wife Sandra, also a Midwestern racing sailor, bought their J/120 Flying Jenny V in 2004, they had a three-year plan: to do the Newport to Bermuda Race, Block Island Race Week, and then the Mac Races. “We extended the plan, because we were having so much fun,” says Askew. They were winning, too, including the Newport to Bermuda Race (2006), Block Island Race Week (2007), the Onion Patch Series (2008) and the Annapolis to Newport Race (2007 and 2009). In 2008, the couple switched up to the J/122 Flying Jenny VI and re-hatched their Great Lakes plan.
“It was an unbelievably awesome experience,” says Askew, whose program includes his wife, his brother Peter, his brother-in-law Gary Snider, his oldest friends, and the new ones he’s gathered along the way. “A lot of my Annapolis friends had never done the Mac Races before. It opened their eyes to the fact that there’s a lot going on up there.”
Who were your crew members from the Chesapeake Bay this summer?
There were different crew for all the Great Lakes races; these are the ones who came for one or two: Jonathan Bartlett, Arnis Baltins, Steve Cooper, Jay Herman, Dave Kuhl, Renee Mehl, Rob Michaelson, Paul Murphy, Grant Spanhake, Nicole Weaver, and Shane Zwingelberg.
How is Great Lakes sailing different from ocean racing?
These are huge lakes. I’ve done 600-mile races on them; that’s almost as long as the Newport Bermuda Race. The lakes are fresh water. You can drink it. You can wash the boat off while you’re racing. There’s no minimum water requirement onboard… The big difference is the weather. Ocean racing weather is fairly consistent; the forecasts are accurate. On the Great Lakes, you’re looking at the weather changing every four to six hours. There are afternoon storms, lows cruising through—so much influence from land—although you can’t see it.
How do you manage the constant weather changes as a crew?
Our navigator Rob Michaelson is a critical part of the crew. He’s really good at figuring out what the trend is going to be. You have to develop a plan and stick to it. Rob can create a plan and articulate it to us. Then we make the boat go as fast as it can go relative to the plan.
How did it feel to win so big in your home waters?
It was great to go back and see people I hadn’t seen or raced against for 20 years. I worked on a lot of boats in high school and college, and many of those owners remember me… I think a lot of people were happy to see me leave! They may have thought we were these guys from Annapolis, but really many of us have sailed on the Great Lakes for most of our lives.
What do you attribute your success to as a crew?
The people and their compatibility. We all genuinely like each other. Everyone is experienced. No big egos. We all have our specialties, and we let everyone do their thing. When it comes time to make decisions, I can do that, but my goal is to let the group make decisions 99 percent of the time. If there’s one key, it’s that.
What’s new in your gear bag or on deck?
Patagonia crew gear—Capilene T-shirts—and a Nano Puff quilted pullover I got into because of skiing. On the boat, I replaced the halyards with hightech cordage called Dynex Dux. It was originally designed for North Sea fishing nets and incredibly durable. I’ve never busted a halyard… I also have a KVH antenna to connect to an Inmarsat Satellite for the Internet.
What’s on the future agenda?
Our other passion is skiing, so we’re going to focus on that. We’ll do the IRC East Coast Championship Regatta in Annapolis in the fall. Then, we have no plans until Block Island Race Week. We’d like to get back into one-design racing.
What else would you like to tell Bay sailors about Mac Races?
I encourage anyone who is remotely thinking about doing these races to do it. The water, the weather, the people, the boats—it’s all so different. There are everything from 80-footers like Beau Geste to 25-year-old boats in all sizes. The first boat I raced on in 1979, the C&C 35 Legacy, was still out there racing. The trophies are flags. Imagine 300 boats all rafted in the harbor, all flying their trophy flags. You can see who the big dogs are.