Chicago hosts 'the NASCAR of sailing'

July 13, 2012

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Having grown up in the landlocked state of Kansas, my knowledge of sailing is limited to the Christopher Cross song, the Chicago-Mackinac Race, and the America's Cup.  So, when I first heard about the Chicago Match Race Center opening in Chicago a couple of years ago, my reaction was milder than a light summer breeze.

But as sailing enthusiasts know, the CMRC is perhaps the biggest thing to happen to the Chicago sailing scene in years.  Started in 2009 by Chicago businessman and sailing enthusiast Don Wilson and World Match Race Champion Bill Hardesty, the CMRC's goal is to put Chicago squarely on the international racing map.  

While Chicago is known as a great city for sailing and the home of the legendary Chicago-to-Mackinac Race, it lacks the international profile of such U.S. cities as San Diego or Newport, Rhode Island.

This week in the waters off Navy Pier sailors from around the world compete for the Chicago Match Cup and $100,000 in prize money.

That's where the CMRC says match racing comes in.

The match race format is a world apart from the multi-day grind of the long-distance Race-to-Mackinac.  It's a spectator-friendly course with intense action and short distances, modeled after what you'd find in the America's Cup. CMRC director Tod Reynolds describes it as NASCAR for sailing.  

Wilson has already invested millions in boats and infrastructure in Chicago's Belmont Harbor, and he's worked hard to bring some of the best international match race sailors to Chicago for competition. 

But a high point in that effort, no doubt, is the action under way this week in the waters off of Navy Pier.  That's where sailors from Chicago will be competing with sailors from around the world for the Chicago Match Cup and $100,000 in prize money.

Next up for match racing?  The 2012 Olympics in London, just a few weeks away.  

We talk with Tod Reynolds and Peter Gilmour, President of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour on Friday's Afternoon Shift to find out more about the sport, it's place in Chicago, and the Cup action this weekend.