Rick Birdsall thought he was done competing in the Port Huron-to-Mackinac Island sailboat race when he sailed his 26th not long ago.
But then his good friend Win Cooper III drug him back into it.
“I had retired,” he said. “I was on Stripes for a long time. When Stripes came to the Great Lakes with Bill Martin, I was with them for 15 years, and once I had 26 Macs in, I retired.
“I went with (Shape) the first time, and I’ve been there five years since, just because I love Win to death.”
Birdsall started his sixth Mackinac race aboard Shape on Saturday. The Santana 35, owned by Cooper and Chris Benedict, is sailing on the Shore Course in Class N. It’s the defending champion for both Level 126 (Class N) and on the Shore Course.
It was among the leaders early in its class as it made its way up the Michigan Shore. Winning the class is the main focus for Shape, mainly because before this past year, winning overall didn’t seem like a possibility.
“It doesn’t happen on a 35,” Birdsall said. “It just doesn’t happen on a 35. On Stripes, when you finish first and the air dies, you’ve got a good shot at overall. On Shape, to win overall, that’s friggin’ crazy.”
Birdsall and the owners are joined on Shape by Winfield Cooper, Cam Benedict, Ed Ely, Dale McNabb and Steve Bradley. Birdsall joining the crew five races ago was the final piece to a puzzle that hasn’t changed since.
“It’s interesting, because there’s only two young guys on Shape,” Birdsall said. “I’m 60, and there’s two almost 90-year olds, but they can drive like there’s no tomorrow. It’s more smarts than it is young strength.
“Win and I love the race from midnight to 4 a.m. I think a lot of other boats are freaking out about that time, but we come to life at that time.”
One can rest assured that while Birdsall is defying common sleeping patters – he said that at a young age, he was taught the time of day was irrelevant – that he’s being safe. In fact, he’s being safe at all times, as boating safety has become a major point of emphasis for him.
“I’m involved with public affairs with the Coast Guard through the auxiliary,” he said. “What I try to do is try to teach boaters safe boating practices. What I think is really cool is how safe boating has evolved with racing. Years ago, guys were too macho to wear a life jacket, but common sense has evolved.
“The crazy thing is, you don’t want to be in the water – at all. Take the sun away, you don’t want to be in the water in the middle of the night, because the boat’s not going to find you. It just takes literally seconds to be too far away.
“I think Bayview’s done a great job of enlightening the sailors, the racers, as to what safety precautions to take. The general public, though, it’s just crazy. What I liken it to is, you wouldn’t put a seat belt on in the middle of an accident. You don’t want to wait until an accident on the boat to say, ‘Where are the life jackets?’”
Contact Paul Costanzo at (810) 989-6251 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PaulCostanzo.