By Calli Townsend
With nearly 200 boats from around the country entered in this year’s Bayview Mackinac Race, sailors are making their final preparations before reaching the start line Saturday morning.
One of those sailors is a 23-year old from Davison, Michigan, named Gabby Stephens. Stephens has been sailing over the last eight years and has even brought her father, Ron, on board.
“I started sailing about eight or nine years ago when I did a camp up in Thunder Bay,” Stephens said. “I sailed on Optis and Picos, which are normally what people learn on. I did that for about two summers and then I came home one summer and my dad goes, ‘I bought a boat. Teach me how to sail.’”
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And so the two embarked on the adventure together, becoming a talented daddy-daughter duo who have sailed around the country, and even beyond. They’ve sailed in Florida, Cuba, and even the Bahamas.
“That’s the beauty of it. I have a lot of friends from all over and they come up and I’ve also gone down and sailed in their territory,” Stephens said. “It’s a lot of fun, it’s a big family. If you ever have the opportunity to travel and do it, it’s the best because you get to meet a lot of people and you’ll acquire this big friend group. You’ll have friends everywhere.”
Stephens and her family are members of the Huron Yacht Club in Caseville, Michigan, where they have made many close friends who she considers family.
“Fellow sailors are really friendly, they want you to get involved, they want you to race with them, and they want to show you and teach you the ins and outs of sailing, so they were more than willing to help us with our boat and teach us how to sail,” Stephens said. “We call them our sailing family.”
As Stephens and her father got more involved in the yacht club and sailing, some of the other members reached out to them to offer extra encouragement and instruction.
“There were a couple of members who had believed in us and done extra practice with us and trained both my dad and me,” Stephens said. “That’s when we got the opportunity to travel and go down to Florida and race with them.”
From there, Stephens and her dad became more serious about racing. Their original boat was a Catalina 27. Stephens said it was a good beginning boat, but they wanted to try something bigger.
That’s when a friend brought his Beneteau 36.7 back to Michigan from Chicago.
“Our friend had put the boat up for sale and we said, ‘Yeah, this is the one we want,’ and I think we’ve had it for maybe four years now,” Stephens said. “We had been racing internationally and nationally, so my dad and I were looking to get into more racing and having our own boat. It’s definitely a learning curve trying to figure out from a small boat to a big boat.”
Their boat, Bella Luna, will be making its debut in the Bayview Mackinac Race this year. Stephens and her dad will be joined on deck with seven other crew members as they set sail on the multi-day adventure.
Stephens said this is her sixth time in this race and she even joined the Bayview Yacht Club a couple of years ago, which made her even more excited for this year’s race.
“The best part about the race is starting at the line and seeing your friends. You go around, you’re practicing, getting a feel for how you’re going to start, what angles are best, what the wind is doing, adn where you want to be,” Stephens said. “Then we start, we all go our own ways, and then we all come into Mackinaw and we have that fabulous party on Tuesday. We swap stories and it’s just a great time.”
Before the race begins on Saturday, however, Boat Week festivities will continue on in downtown Port Huron.
Tonight Operation Transformation will be hosting Family Night from 5 to 9 p.m. with face painting, pony rides, and other fun activities for kids. Fireworks will begin at Vantage Point around dusk.
There will also be concerts tonight and Friday night beginning at 5 p.m. at the West Quay Parking Lot, presented by 92.7 The Hills and 107 Q Country.
“It’s one of my favorite nights,” Stephens said. “It’s just a great event and it’s fun to see everybody.”