It sounds like a scene from a scary movie, but Nate Beighley recalls the night fondly.
It was during last year’s Queen’s Cup sailing race, and Beighley and his friend, Chad White, tackled the crossing of Lake Michigan on their own aboard Beighley’s 33-foot sailboat.
“We started off the race in really decent wind,” Beighley recalled. “We put up the spinnaker. Then it got dark, and the farther across the lake we got, the worse the weather got.
“It never rained, but it was pitch black, lots of cloud cover, no moonlight. Then the waves picked up to about 4-5 feet with heavy winds close to 18 knots. We just kept at it.”
The two friends made it across the lake, and finished second in the race’s Double Handed division (which means only two people are aboard, as opposed to a full crew).
“With just two of us, the challenge was managing all the sails,” he said. “With one person at the helm, that leaves only one person managing the sails. Normally you would have 3-4 people doing that. Especially with the spinnaker, that’s a lot of lines to hold onto.”
“That was special,” Beighley said.
Beighley, the commodore of the Grand River Sailing Club, will sail in his fifth Queen’s Cup this weekend. The historic race — now in its 80th year — leaves South Shore Yacht Club in Milwaukee late Friday afternoon.
The fastest boats will reach Grand Haven before midnight.
“There’s a contest on the multi-hull boats to see who can make it to the finish before last call at the bars,” Beighley said with a laugh.
Most boats will pass between Grand Haven’s piers early Saturday morning.
“The average boat takes between 11-14 hours, depending on weather,” Beighley said.
This year, Beighley, 43, will have a full crew aboard his boat, Baneberry.
“We had a good time doing it double handed and it was pretty exciting to get second place, but we decided we’d never do that again,” he said.
Beighley has learned a lot since his first Queen’s Cup.
“There’s a general excitement and intensity to a race in the middle of the night, especially when it’s dark, windy and cold,” he said. “The first year, we set up schedules when people could sleep, but the race was so exciting, nobody slept.
“Every trip has its own little thing. I’ve done the Queen’s Cup where there’s no wind, and we called in the cancellations and floated home. That’s one I’d like to forget. But every other one, there’s that level of intensity, excitement, out in the middle of the night, no sounds but the waves and the boat moving through the water.”
Beighley, along with Denny Dryer, were pivotal in convincing the South Shore Yacht Club to return race’s finish to Grand Haven this year.
Grand Haven was a regular finishing point for the race, but in 2012, race organizers decided to bypass Grand Haven, instead making finishes in South Haven, Muskegon, Ludington and St. Joseph the past several years.
“Our first selling point was tradition,” Beighley said. “It used to come to Grand Haven every other year. They wanted some things to be different, so we worked through those things to make it a better experience.”
One issue was heavy waves coming into the channel and battering the boats docked along the seawall. In response, the entire Municipal Marina is reserved for Queen’s Cup boats this year, along with 100 yards of seawall closest to the Waterfront Stadium.
Harbor Transit will shuttle sailors to and from the YMCA for showers.