Lester: Naperville man vies for 'Island goat' status in Mackinac race

  • Crew members of the Sail Monkey get ready to participate in the 108th annual Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac.

    Crew members of the Sail Monkey get ready to participate in the 108th annual Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac. Courtesy of Gary Kochanek

 
 

A retired businessman, a yoga instructor and an engineer walk into a bar. Sounds like the setup for a punchline, right?

Instead, Naperville sailing aficionado Gary Kochanek tells me, it'll be a welcome reality Monday after members of the Sail Monkey crew arrive on Mackinac Island, Michigan, disembark from their 36.7-foot Beneteau sailboat that's served as "home" for the previous few days and head to the nearest watering hole with hundreds of other sailors. And, yes, that's before they hit the showers.

It's Kochanek's 25th year sailing in the Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac, a 333-mile course that's the oldest freshwater distance race in the world. The retired Allstate executive has been sailing since the 1980s, carrying on the tradition of a close friend who taught him to sail and died young of leukemia.

Focus, focus

Kochanek says making the trip in 48 hours or less is the goal for Sail Monkey crew members, who alternate between trimming sails, tacking and jibing on the boat and catching a few hours' sleep in shifts. Some years, it's taken far longer than that, with storms diverting the boat from its charted course.

"Focus is critical. That's what we've been working on. Everybody doing their job," says Kochanek, who adds that after finishing his 25th race, he'll be officially deemed an "Island goat" -- originally a term for racers who come off their boats stinking like, well, goats.

The Sail Monkey is scheduled to depart Navy Pier in Chicago at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

GoFundNoland?

With average cost per delegate at next week's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia running between $3,000 and $5,000, Democratic Sen. Mike Noland and his wife, Veronica, have set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for their trip.

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The idea, Mike Noland tells me, came from Jose Alfonso Villalobos, who heads the Kane County for Bernie Sanders group. The Nolands hope to finance the trip "Bernie style" -- a nod to the Vermont senator who amassed many small donations during his presidential primary bid.

While the GoFundMe page shows the Nolands raised about $767, Mike Noland says he's also doing other fundraising to hit his $5,000 goal.

Celebrations

Hundreds are expected at Elgin's Second Baptist Church as it celebrates its 150th birthday this weekend with food and gospel music galore. The Rev. Nate Edmond tells me Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth and the entire Elgin City Council will be on hand for the service at 8 a.m. Sunday, which includes a dedication of a "wall of history" occupying a long, curving wall behind the sanctuary.

The church was founded in the 1860s as a place of worship for 110 former slaves who escaped from the South and traveled to Kane County. The Summit Street location is the church's fourth home.

Behind the scenes

I stopped by the church this week and happened to find a crew from Elgin-based Evoke productions using the church grounds to tape a commercial for a local retail manufacturer, which is scheduled to be released on social media in August.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Edgar Fellows

Among 2016 Edgar Fellows announced this week are former Democratic candidate for Congress and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, Republican state Rep. Steven Andersson of Geneva, and Andrew Freiheit of Wheaton, who is chief of staff to House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

Founded by former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, the program is designed to encourage leadership and bipartisanship among emerging young political leaders. The 2016 class includes no members of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration.

Rauner and Edgar butted heads over the state budget several times in the last year.

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