At 85, Iowa-bred sailor prepares for 50th Mackinac Race
Longtime participant spans the eras from paper maps to GPS
July 19, 2012
By Mitch Smith,
Chicago Tribune reporter
Don Glasell prepares his boat for a training sail at the Chicago Yacht Club in preparation for his 50th Race to Mackinac this weekend. (Michael…)
Don Glasell grew up in Iowa — not exactly a mecca for competitive sailboating.
But when he was 13 and visiting relatives in Chicago, Glasell fell in love with the sport. Perhaps it was inevitable. After all, he is the nephew of boatyard owner and 13-time Race to Mackinac winner Ole Karas.
By the time Glasell moved to the city in the 1950s, Uncle Ole's racing days were over. But in 1954, Glasell joined a crew in the Chicago Yacht Club's annual race to Mackinac Island, Mich.
Now 85, the Near North Side sailor will enter the race this weekend for the 50th time in 58 years. The race, which organizers say is the world's longest on fresh water, takes about two days for most boats to complete. That means Glasell has spent more than three months of his life competing in the event sailors refer to as the Mac.
But instead of plotting a course by hand and relying on paper maps for navigation as he did in those first races, Glasell now has the aid of a GPS.
"It's always challenging," he said. "It's always different. The wind is different. The waves are different. The weather is different."
As a crew member, Glasell once sailed on a boat that won its division. As skipper, he's never placed higher than fourth or fifth. But that's OK with him. His real love is the camaraderie that comes with being on the boat with his stepson and good friends, who address him as "Iron Don" because he's so steady at the helm.
"It's the desire of being part of a team that keeps you going," Glasell said, "particularly in a race like this."
Glasell has been a member of the Mac's organizing committee for two decades, but his age has now limited his duty on the boat's deck. He'll spend most of this weekend steering the boat, Loki, leaving the more physical tasks to younger crew members.
But he's been taking Loki on the water the past few weeks, testing sails and strategizing for the race.
The payoff, he said, will come this weekend.
"It's just beautiful to be able to be out on the boat, and you're away from land," Glasell said. "Or in the evening looking at a star-filled sky. It's an awe-inspiring experience in many ways."