The world’s oldest freshwater sailing race is setting sail from just south of Navy Pier in Chicago, July 10-11, 2015. More than 3,000 sailors are participating in the Chicago Yacht Club’s 107th Race to Mackinac, a charming island in Northern Michigan. Emmy Gallagher, a Chicago mom and environmental engineer, will be one of them. She’ll be racing with her husband Matt Gallagher, this year’s race chair, aboard their 38’ Beneteau sailboat, Endeavor.

Love to Sail

Sail boats on the race from Chicago to Mackinac Island

Sailboats competing in the Race to Mackinac. photo courtesy: Chicago Yacht Club

The Gallaghers live with their two kids, ages 5 and 7, just one block from the Cubs’ Wrigley Field, and just five minutes from the harbor where they keep their boat. We caught up with Emmy to chat about her love of sailing.

Emmy Gallagher is one of the 3,000 sailors competing in the 107th Race to Mackinac.  photo courtesy: Emmy Gallagher

Emmy Gallagher is one of the 3,000 sailors competing in the 107th Race to Mackinac. photo courtesy: Emmy Gallagher

Q: How did you become a sailor?

A: I sailed on small boats at summer camp, but the sailing passion didn’t really hit until after college when I lived on the Chesapeake Bay and started racing. As great as the sailing is there, it doesn’t quite compare with Lake Michigan, which is much larger than I’d ever imagined, even though I grew up in the Chicago suburbs!

Q: What makes sailing a fun family activity?

A: It’s a way to really bring our family together in the outdoors. You’re close to nature, especially with a sailboat, instead of a powerboat. There’s minimal electronics so you really get to spend quality time together.

Q: You’ve already raced the Mac several times. What keeps you coming back?

A: It’s a long race, 333 miles, so it gives you a chance to really get into it. Lake Michigan’s the largest freshwater lake in the world, as challenging as the ocean. Those challenges create a real camaraderie among the sailors before and during the race. Then once you get to Mackinac Island, the visitors and residents just embrace all the Chicago sailors. It’s a festive atmosphere at the dock as crowds gather to welcome us, and at the island’s bars and restaurants.

Q: Will your kids be sailing with you?

A: Lake Michigan can be treacherous and conditions can change quickly. Kids need to be able to self-rescue and actually contribute to the race before they can join us. I think they’ll be ready to crew in the race once they’re teenagers.

Q: For those who aren’t sailors, is this still a fun event to experience?

A: Absolutely! Mackinac Island is just a magical place. We turn it into our family vacation. We have someone drive our kids the seven hours to Mackinac Island, then we spend several days on the island. It’s fun to take the bike trail loop around the island. The lack of cars and abundance of horses and carriages also make it a fun family vacation. Then we take the time to really enjoy the gorgeous drive back through the small towns of Michigan to Chicago.

Mission Point Resort, Mackinac Island, Michigan.   photo courtesy: Mission Point Resort

Mission Point Resort, Mackinac Island, Michigan. photo courtesy: Mission Point Resort

If You Go

Want to be part of the fun? Mission Point Resort just underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. It’s kid-friendly (outdoor pool, kids club and arcade) and pet-friendly, with breathtaking views of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

Mission Point offers a variety of race-themed cocktails, including the Finish Line and Mackinac Cup. Enjoy one of these fun crafted cocktails while drinking in the views. Then take the kids to one of Mackinac island’s 15 fudge shops, which have given it a reputation as the USA’s fudge capital.

And while you’re there, remember: It might be spelled Mac-a-Nack, but it’s pronounced Mack-a-Naw.

Are you a sailor? What do you love about it? Share with us in the comment section below.