When the Chicago Match Race Center (CMRC) planted its roots in Lake Michigan in 2009, founders Don Wilson and Bill Hardesty were hoping to fill a void in American sailboat racing. They recognized that though match racing was gaining international momentum through the America’s Cup, the World Match Race Tour and the 2012 Olympics, American sailors had few serious venues at which to train and compete. The CMRC wanted to capitalize on Chicago’s location, Lake Michigan’s sailing tradition and match racing’s ability to provide high-level competition that would appeal to international sailors and spectators alike.
Since then, CMRC’s roots have taken hold and grown into something substantial. Wilson and Hardesty expanded the team, the fleet (competitors sail in equally matched Tom 28s or four Elliot 6ms, which will be used in the 2012 Olympics), and the accommodations (a 70ft floating clubhouse that anchors next to the race course) to provide a comfortable setting for training, racing and viewing. Professional teams now come for the high-caliber sailing and event management, while top amateurs visit to try out match racing, and fresh talent from intercollegiate and youth circles seek the chance to go head-to-head with the pros. Online, viewers can follow these events thorough real-time results, updates, photos and video coverage of the racing. Evidently, CMRC has quickly come of age.
This summer, CMRC capitalized on this momentum with nine Grade 3 and higher match racing events in addition to a full schedule of clinics and weeknight training sessions. In mid-August the US Match Racing Grand Slam began with the Chicago Grade 2 Invitational off of Navy Pier in downtown Chicago, a previously untapped venue for spectator-friendly sailing. Alongside Chicago’s Taste of Tall Ships Festival, over 30,000 fans filled the stadium seats to enjoy the America’s Cup style racing up close, and with 25-30 knot winds for the finals, the Windy City did not disappoint.
From September 28 through October 1, CMRC will amp it up another notch with the Chicago Match Cup Grade 1 event, the highest prize money Grade 1 sailing event in the US since the UBS Challenge in 2002. Twelve of the best match racing teams in the world will vie for the prize over four days of racing before heading on to the WMRT’s Bermuda Gold Cup.
In a sport that often wrangles with how to start the fire, encourage new participants and involve a crowd, it’s refreshing to see a venue that really gets it. For more on CMRC’s match race coverage this fall, check out chicagomatchrace.com.