Come sail away (or at least watch)

Sarah Renz has been racing sailboats since she was a child in Lake Bluff, so as soon as her children were born she knew they needed to be out on Lake Michigan with her. “We do Wednesday night races, so we took Grace at 6 weeks old in her car seat and had her down below,” Renz says.

If you go

What: Chicago Match Race
Where: East end of Navy Pier
Cost: Free
When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. July 14-15
Details: CMRC creates a race village atmosphere to entertain
spectators between races. Plus, watch head-to-head combat just feet
away on the water.

What: Race to Mackinac
Where: Parade of boats is off the end of Navy Pier
Cost: Free
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. July 21
Details: This year, 350 boats will compete in the race to Mackinac
Island, Mich. But first each boat will check in on the end of Navy
Pier, a great place to picnic and watch the parade.

“We won with her, so that was her first win,” Renz jokes.

Like Renz, Matt Gallagher has also had his two children out on his sailboat from the time they were born. Gallagher, the vice chair of the Race to Mackinac, thinks of his sailboat as the family’s “summer home.”

“We sail with them practically every weekend if the weather’s nice,” Gallagher says.

This weekend, July 14-15, and next weekend on July 21, the Gallagher and Renz family will be in good company, as two sailing races kick off in Chicago. The Chicago Match Cup, which draws in sailors from around the world, lets families get an up-close view of action-packed racing from the comfort of Navy Pier.

The America’s Cup-style match racing is action-packed racing between two equally matched boats. The racing takes place just feet away from the edge of Navy Pier and live commentary during the races will explain what’s happening in the water.

“It’s really tight quarter racing and you can stand at the end of the pier and watch it,” Renz says. “In Sweden, they’ll have like 50,000 people come and watch in a day, so it is a huge gathering.”

The following weekend, Race to Mackinac kicks off with a parade of boats from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. July 21.

On Saturday, the racers sail past the end of Navy Pier to check in and an announcer announces each boat, something families enjoy watching off the end of the pier, Gallagher says.

“You’ll see everything from a 30-foot boat with five or six people, all the way up to an 86-foot boat,” he says. “That’s the easiest way for the public to participate in the event and it’s definitely very family friendly.”

If your family has been bitten by the sailing bug after watching the activities, almost all the harbors along the lakefront in the city and suburbs offer sailing classes for both children and adults.

“The yacht clubs andpark districtshave opportunities for all ages,” Renz says. “There are junior sailing programs and there are always scholarships available, and the cost is competitive with other summer sports camps.”

Both Renz and Gallagher agree the best thing about sailing is that all members of the family, no matter their age, can participate.

“The nice thing is, the whole family can enjoy it,” Gallagher says. “It can grow with you as a family.”

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