One thing sailors always hope for before taking off in the Port Huron-to-Mackinac Island sailboat race is a safe race.
When a family member is onboard — in Dave Knupp’s case, his 15-year-old daughter Olivia — it can take on an even greater meaning.
“Trust me,” Knupp said, fatherly assurance taking over his expression. “I’ll have a watchful eye on her.”
The Knupps, who live in Port Huron, will be aboard Passinthru Saturday when it starts the Mackinac race in lower Lake Huron. When the cannon booms to start Class N, Olivia Knupp will be beginning her first race to the island.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “I kind of have seen everything from one point of view from not sailing, but I’m excited to see everything from another point of view.”
Olivia has been sailing “my whole life” but said she began racing at 8. She’s sailed in three overnight races, including the Lake Huron International Regatta earlier this month, helping Passinthru to a third-place finish.
Her dad has sailed in 14 Mackinacs, his first coming in 1999. In each of the past four years, Olivia has made the trip to Mackinac Island by car — at least to the point one needs to take a ferry, that is — and has spent plenty of time around the race and the Port Huron Yacht Club.
This year, the timing and opportunity were right to join the race for the first time.
“She’s learning and knows what’s she’s doing,” Dave Knupp said. “She’s experienced enough, plus she’s been involved with the Sea Scouts. She’s learning about boats, not just the sailing aspect — the safety features of it all.
“I think it’s a good age, and we had the opportunity. We were finally given the opportunity and a spot opened. I’m just excited, as well.”
With her experience on the water, and the overnight races under her belt, Olivia appears as prepared for the Mackinac race as any first-timer could be. Still, there are things one can only experience while sailing in this race, and Olivia described herself as “curious” about them.
“I’m not nervous right now, but I’m expecting to get more nervous as the week goes on,” she said. “But like a happy nervous and a more excited nervous. I know what to expect on the boat because I’ve done the overnights, but I’m still wondering if there’s more.”
A race veteran himself, Dave Knupp can provide some insight for his daughter.
“The thing about sailing, is you have to be aware of what’s going on on the boat, but the big thing is, you have to be aware of what’s going on all around you,” he said. “Mother Nature can sneak up on you quick, so you have to be prepared. Your eyes are one of your most important things on the boat. Just paying attention and being as careful as possible.”
The Knupps will be joined on the boat by co-owner and skipper Eric Slack of Grosse Pointe Woods, Ted Wallag of Pensacola, Florida; Steve Tillotson of Limerick, Maine; John Bennett of Fort Gratiot, Julie Slack of Ypsilanti and Kelly Hamblin of Marysville.
Passinthru’s other co-owner is Matt Sealy, a former Port Huron Yacht Club Commodore, who will not be sailing in the race this year. Sealy has known the Knupps for as long as Olivia has been alive, though, and has a lot of confidence in the youngster.
“Since she’s been on the boat this year, she’s learning really fast, she catches on quick and she does a great job for us,” Sealy said. “I think she’s going to have a good time.”
Contact Paul Costanzo at (810) 989-6251 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PaulCostanzo.
Super Mac Update
•The Super Mac race, which started in Chicago this past Saturday and will end on the St. Clair River, just south of the Black River, is nearing its end. While wind conditions can certainly change at a moment’s notice, estimates Monday evening had the lead boats finishing the race around 7 a.m.