July 18, 2011 / 3:40 PM / 8 years ago

Two sailors dead as boat capsizes in Mackinac Race

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Two sailors died when their 35-foot sailboat capsized in a storm, while six crew members were pulled from Lake Michigan by another boat competing in the annual Race to Mackinac, the Coast Guard said on Monday.

The midnight storm generated four- to six-foot waves and “WingNuts,” a boat registered out of Saginaw, Michigan, capsized and issued a distress signal.

The crew from the boat “Sociable” radioed authorities and pulled six people from the temperate lake waters, Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Jorgensen said.

Two Coast Guard vessels and a helicopter found WingNuts overturned 13 miles northwest of Charlevoix, Michigan, and the bodies of the two sailors were discovered close by.

The victims were WingNuts captain Mark Morley, 51, and Suzanne Bickel, 41, both of Saginaw, race organizers said. Morley had 44 years of sailing experience, including six Mackinac races.

Several other boats had abandoned the race to help in the search, race organizers said. Several boats retired and others were “limping home” following the violent storm that produced torrential rains, high winds, and sheet lightning.

“The crew of this boat exemplified the spirit of the Chicago Mac that is steeped in tradition of family, friends and passion for the water,” said Joseph Haas, commodore of the sponsoring Chicago Yacht Club, in a statement.

The 333-mile race from Chicago to Mackinac Island, Michigan, drew some 355 entries of all sizes this year.

It is billed as the world’s oldest fresh water race, which began in 1898. Most participants race all night and in bad weather until reaching the finish line.

Lake Michigan generates some of the steepest waves of any body of water anywhere, because of its geography and depth, according to sailing experts.

Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Jerry Norton

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