Thanks to the Detroit Free Press for this:
MACKINAC ISLAND — A 14-year-old girl sailing her first Bayview Mackinac Race with her father won Sunday night after 33 hours of nonstop work.
As the duo pulled into the Mackinac Island harbor just after 9 p.m., a crowd at the Pink Pony restaurant and bar cheered, whistled and applauded.
The island had been buzzing all day, wondering if 14-year-old Merritt Sellers could pull it off.
“Congratulations! I’m very impressed. So’s the world,” yelled Janet Bradley, 63, a real estate agent from Sarnia, Ontario, who has raced to Mackinac six times.
The competition began for the J/111 sailboat “nosurprise” at 11:30 a.m. Saturday just north of the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan for Merritt and Scott Sellers of Larkspur, California.
The whole endeavor seemed ambitious and almost unbelievable.
Merritt Sellers needed to sail the boat at night alone on the 204-nautical-mile journey (235 land miles) while her father rested below deck.
“I sat there, trimming the sail, eating Sun Chips, and thinking about how much I wanted to go to bed,” Merritt said afterward.
A sailboat that typically raced with eight sailors had only two aboard.
Not only did they win, but they crossed the finish line more than an hour before their nemesis, a boat named “Utah” from Holland, Michigan, that carried seasoned sailors who had won repeatedly in the past.
“We got ’em at night,” Scott Sellers, 50, told the Detroit Free Press immediately after the race while docking his boat. “I worried they would get us. We went from 2 miles back to 2 miles in front.”
And that was all Merritt, he said.
Starting at age 7
While they belong to the prestigious St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, CA the family keeps their boat at Little Traverse Yacht Club in Harbor Springs, Michigan where they have a summer home. Merritt began Little Traverse Sailors at age 7.
She has accomplished already what many sailors try for a lifetime to do.
Winning the Shore Course is all about finding wind at night, Chris Clark, chairman of the 2022 Bayview Mackinac Race organized by the Bayview Yacht Club, told the Free Press prior to the race.
A couple miles after the start, when Port Huron was no longer in sight, jet skis and power boats who knew of the young girl sped by saying, “Go Merritt!” her father said. “No one said, ‘Go, Scott!’ “
Merritt was exhausted after the race, trying to process the moment, nibbling on Milano mint cookies. The pair had survived on cold pizza and freeze-dried food — pad thai for her and chicken risotto for him. But they were both so happy.
“I’m at a point as a sailor where I’m able to do this. It feels pretty cool,” Merritt said. “Everything was pretty mellow and manageable.”
Well, not really, Scott Sellers said.
In the first two hours of the race, they had four sail changes. That’s a lot for two people.
But Merritt Sellers kept calm at all times, using moonlight and flashlights to watch the little telltales on the sail and to track wind shifts and harness the wind. She said she learned more about navigation strategy on this race.
A critical moment came at 3 a.m. Sunday when she found herself alone in the cockpit making pivotal decisions that vaulted them into the lead.
“That was a key part of the race,” Scott Sellers said. “Merritt wasn’t here as a passenger.”
She glanced over at her dad and said, “He trusted me.”
Watching for Utah
Sailing Port Huron to Mackinac Island usually takes 30 to 60 hours. The historic race began in 1925 and Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit takes pride in noting it’s the longest consecutively running freshwater sailboat race.
In past years, storms have created violent conditions, damaging boats and landing sailors in the hospital. This year, the whole experience was picture-perfect.
This year, 172 sailboats ended up racing, Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit confirmed Monday. The highly competitive Class J Double-Handed category with just two sailors aboard had seven boats including “nosurprise.”
“I learned I can do this,” Merritt Sellers said. “I thought, ‘Why did my dad choose me?’ … Because he loves me.”
His trust nourishes her confidence, she said.
“We made sure we each had time to rest,” Merritt said. “There was a lot of anxiety about where Utah was, compared to us.”
Their boat won its class and overall in the Chicago to Mackinac race last year with a crew of eight, including Merritt.
This was her first race from Port Huron to Mackinac Island.
On Sunday night, Merritt called her mom after the finish. Jill and Scott Sellers, who actually met while sailing, now have three daughters who race.
Next weekend, 18-year-old Hannah Sellers will race the Chicago to Mackinac course with her father. Merritt said she’s on backup.
Tying up the boat, Merritt and Scott Sellers talked about getting cheeseburgers at the Pink Pony.
“It’s so cool to see so many girls sailing,” Merritt said. “I’m on a sailing team with guys on it and, at first, I didn’t feel I was quite one of them. I want more women in the sport.”
On Monday morning, island visitors were still talking about the young sailor.
Irene Hoy, 50, a preschool instructor from Port Sanilac, has raced 15 Port Huron to Mackinac races and said, as a mother of 15-year-old twin girls, “When Merritt Sellers came in last night, I was proud of her as a mom and a fellow woman sailor. It gives me goosebumps.
“When they came in, I watched people stop and saying, ‘She did it.’ “
Racing to Hawaii
Merritt and Scott Sellers, a managing director at a private equity firm, slept on their boat Sunday night with plans to catch an early ferry off the island and head to Harbor Springs to sleep in their beds. Then they plan to return to the island for the awards ceremony Tuesday at Mission Point Resort.
Now Merritt says she’s hoping her father will consider doing the Transpacific Yacht Race from California to Hawaii. That race, founded in 1906, is 2,225 nautical miles (2,560 land miles) that generally can take up to two weeks.
The sailboat that carried Merritt and Scott Sellers to victory had been owned by Dave Irish, a Great Lakes legend and past president of U.S. Sailing. He earned a reputation for offshore sailing skill and mentoring sailors who went on to compete in America’s Cup.
Scott Sellers, who sailed 20 Mackinac races with Irish, purchased the boat in 2020 with hopes of carrying on his legacy of introducing new sailors to the sport.
Editor’s Note: Family members of reporter Phoebe Wall Howard compete in the Bayview Mackinac Race as members of the Port Huron Yacht Club. She is not affiliated with the Bayview Yacht Club or the Bayview Mackinac Race in any official capacity. Lady Irene Hoy is a member of the Port Huron Yacht Club and wife of a past commodore.