Dense fog was a worry to Kim and Ryan Drake as Lake Superior freighters sounded their warning horns in the distance.
They could hear the heavy cargo ships but couldn’t see them, knowing the 1,000-foot behemoths were following the same shipping lanes as they were on a lake infamous for wild weather.
"We watched weather reports whenever we had cell service and kept a close eye on the sky," Drake said, after he and his wife successfully completed the Trans Superior International Yacht Race earlier this month.
The couple raced their 35-foot C&C, Nyx, 326 nautical miles (about 375 miles) from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to Duluth. It took three days, 14 hours and 2 minutes to make the journey, placing them second in what’s called the double-hand division (two crew members).
They started the race at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, and finished at 3 a.m. Aug. 11, taking turns sleeping and sailing by rotating every three hours.
Despite the heavy fog, there was still wind. "It was kinda scary," recalled Drake. "We couldn’t see more than 100 feet."
Forty-six boats and crews raced from Whitefish Bay at Gros Cap Light. First held in 1969, the biennial Trans Superior is known as the world’s longest freshwater sailboat race.
Both Ryan and Kim are experienced sailors who crew on the Asylum, an A-boat that races Monday nights on White Bear Lake. Kim also races an E-scow named Foxy. She told a local news station at the start of the Trans Superior that the two of them make a good team. "We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we kind of tailor into each other," she said. Their goal, Kim added, was to make it across safely.
Lake Superior’s water temperature averages 40 degrees during the summer and 39 degrees in winter. History of the race online explains how the cold water quickly and dramatically affects weather and sea conditions on the lake and along its shores. Sailors sailing in exposed areas of the lake, even during the more stable summer months, often experience dramatic wind shifts that can quickly build seas in excess of 10 feet. "Early August on the Big Lake has unpredictable weather as the rule, not the exception," the website states.
Although they tried to sleep in shifts, both sailors were awake when making sail changes. "You have to be on your toes all the time," Drake said, "to keep the boat moving in the right direction."
Thanks to their mothers, the couple were provisioned with good food to easily heat up and eat in the small galley. Hot soup was a welcome meal at night when temperatures dropped, requiring a wardrobe change to long underwear and wool hat.
Gloria Drake pointed out that her son and daughter-in-law are the only known married couple to compete in the double-handed division. "And yes, they remain happily married after finishing the grueling event," she quipped.
Ryan, a 2007 White Bear Lake High School grad, has been sailing most of his life. Not surprisingly, he met Kim, originally from Luverne, about 10 years ago while sailing.
Will they compete again in two years? "We’d love to do it again," Drake replied. "It was pretty exciting at times, the racing was very tight."