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Published: Saturday, 6/7/2008

Winds buffet, benefit Mills Race crews

BY ANGIE SCHMITT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

More than 150 boats set sail for Put-in-Bay yesterday as the Mills Trophy Race entered its second century.

Waves were three and five feet with winds gusting to 32 mph, when the race started at the Toledo Harbor Light, marking the 101st year since the first regatta.

"It will be a fast race," said Gary Graham, a skipper from Detroit. "The wind will be behind us at the start."

Sailors from 16 classes will compete on four courses, between 30.5 and 75.15 nautical miles.

The first finishers were expected to arrive at the island by 11:30 last night. The final racers - the bigger boats, running longer courses - were expected by noon today, said spokesman John Laver.

The winner of the 75.15-mile course will win the Mills trophy. The silver cup was donated to the Toledo Yacht Club by Detroit tobacco heir Merrill B. Mills in 1907.

For many Mills sailors, however, the appeal is more about the destination than the journey.

Mr. Graham sailed eight hours from Detroit to race, just as he has done for 17 years. The major draw for him, he said, is the moment he arrives in Put-in-Bay.

"It's like a mini-Mackinaw [Island] with cars - and beer," he said.

This year some contestants traveled from as far as Cincinnati to the Toledo Yacht Club for the start.

Each boat in the invitation-only race is handicapped to level the field between faster boats.

This year's weather conditions could benefit lighter "sport" boats said Ron Soka, general chairman of the race.

"Those guys are in for a rush," said Toledoan Regan Smith, a Toledo Yacht Club member who assisted with the race.

"The big guys, this is what they live for, this is what they practice for."

As he prepared his boat, "Salt and Pepper," yesterday, Kevin Irland, 32, of Port Huron, said he was going to aim to keep his sails out of the water.

"The gusts are going to knock us over a little," he said. "We just got to anticipate the gusts and keep it going."

The race will conclude with an all-day, private party at the Crescent Tavern Restaurant and Tap Room in Put-in-Bay. The party is one many in a week-long schedule of activities that accompany the race.

Toledo Yacht Club members look forward to the event all year, though most are powerboat owners and ineligible to compete, said past commodore Bob Eischen, 54, of East Toledo. Yacht Club members provided 12 to 15 support boats, to assist with this year's race.

"This is the big one," Mr. Eischen said. "We do a lot of cool things at TYC, but this is the ultimate."

Contact Angie Schmitt at:

aschmitt@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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