natalie j sailboat Natalie J Wins Sailboat RaceThe Natalie J is the winner of the annual Port Huron to Mackinac sailboat race.

The boat finished around 11:15 p.m. Sunday, about six hours after the Beau Geste, but won the largest boat class based on a handicapping system.

The Natalie J is a TP 52 owned by Phil O’Niel, a dentist, of Bloomfield Hills.

“Two minutes after the start we got hit with a really big thunderstorm that was very heavy wind and lots of breeze,” O’Neil said.

“For us this is a new boat, so it was a learning experience,” he said.

“Most of my guys have sailed with me for some 20 years, and it’s always been a family boat,” he said.

“I sail with my son, I used to sail with my dad, and my cousins… it’s really just a homegrown bunch of guys,” O’Neil said.

The Natalie J is named after O’Neil’s mom.  The first boat we had was my dad’s boat and he named it after his wife, O’Neil said.

“After we’ve been doing this for so many years people get to know the name, so when it’s just me owning the boat we just kept the name so everyone would know,” he said.

O’Neil said he has participated in 33 Port Huron to Mackinac races and some of his crew members have been with him for more than 20 years.

The Beau Geste, an 80-foot yacht from Hong Kong, was second despite finishing the race in just more than 28 hours.

Race chairman Tom Burleson says the last of the big boats finished around 8:10 a.m. Monday, and the remaining 130 to 140 boats are to complete the race by the evening.

The shore course winner was Eliminator out of Grosse Pointe Park.

Click here to view results. 

The 86th annual race started Saturday and takes the boats north and northwest to Mackinac Island.

© MMX WWJ Radio, All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to his report.


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