Local sailors complete epic summer of sailboat racing

Denise McLaughlin and Kip Stoneburner.

Hoist the mainsail

Three local sailors just completed an epic summer of sailboat racing, with victories in the three most prestigious yacht races held on the Great Lakes.

Kip Stoneburner of Wyandotte and Denise McLaughlin, whose family owns McLaughlin’s Furniture in Southgate, and Dr. Matthew Dubois of Grosse Ile, were part of the eight member crew of the Tartan 4000 sailboat named Roxy, owned by Dr. Don Condit of Grand Rapids, that was the winner of the three races.

The journey began on July 12th, with Roxy taking first place in the Cruising One Section of the Chicago-Mackinac Race, a 333 mile race up the west side of the State of Michigan, sailing between the Manitou Islands and past the famous Sleeping Bear sand dunes, finishing at Mackinac Island, just after passing under the Mackinac Bridge.  In addition to placing first in their section, Roxy placed second overall in the 40-boat division. 

The following weekend, the boat continued its winning ways with a first-place finish in the Doublehanded Division of the Port Huron-Mackinac race, a 299 mile race across Lake Huron, crossing the finish line in the shadow of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

The trifecta was completed two weeks later on Aug. 3, with Roxy taking first place in both Class B and Overall in the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) division of the 360-mile Trans-Superior Yacht Race, a bi-annual trek across Lake Superior, which starts in Sault Ste Marie, MI, with the finish in Duluth MN, after sailing around the northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.  

Stoneburner and Mclaughlin run the foredeck and trim headsails and spinnakers on the 41-foot race boat, while Dubois is a watch captain and helmsman.

“It’s usually a very good season when you win one of the big races,” said Dubois. “To pull off wins in two of the races in the same year is really special, but to win all three in the same year is unheard of. That’s what makes this such an incredible accomplishment.”

The trio, all Trenton High School graduates, who normally race on Dubois’ 33-foot sailboat in the western Lake Erie race fleet, connected with Condit eight years ago, when Dubois’ daughter, Meghan, married Condit’s son, Patrick.

They were invited to race on the then brand new boat, and have been a regular part of the Roxy crew for the big Great Lakes races ever since.  

“We were worried about the Trans-Superior, because everyone who’d done it talked about how cold it was,” said Stoneburner. “We had heard all the horror stories about 40 degree temperatures and 10-foot waves, but we caught Lake Superior in a pretty benign condition. We were lucky; we rounded the Keweenaw Peninsula with a spinnaker up, sun shining, wearing shorts and t-shirts.”

For Dubois and Condit, the Doublehanded Port Huron-Mackinac race was extra special. Two years ago, they raced together in this race to celebrate the birth of their grandson. This year, the two grandpas were celebrating the birth of their new granddaughter by doing the race together again. Winning was just a bonus for them. 

“Racing a big boat like this with only two people, when the boat normally takes eight or 10 crew to make it work can be especially grueling,” said Dubois. “Sleep patterns get really interrupted and maneuvers, such as sail changes, are much more difficult. If you run into a storm, which we did (the duo encountered a line squall of thunderstorms with almost 50 mph winds during this year’s race) it can be especially dangerous.  But the sense of accomplishment you get just from finishing is really worth it.  It’s really a personal test of how far you can drive yourself.”  

For McLaughlin, going through the Soo Locks was a pleasant surprise.  

“We got to see the St Mary’s River Rapids from the water, which very few people get to do, then got to go through the Soo Locks, which fewer people get to do,” she said. “And to top it off, we got to race on Lake Superior, with great friends and a great crew.”

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