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Matt Gallagher will be sailing his "Endeavor" in this year's "Mac" race. /photo by Shia Kapos 0

An unlikely sailor takes on ‘The Mac’ adventure

July 19th, 2016

A self-described out-of-shape real-estate attorney, Matt Gallagher is unfazed by the challenges that lurk on the choppy waters of Lake Michigan.

“I don’t have the most adventurous career, so sailing is exciting. You go out and you don’t know what the weather conditions will be and you face them with your family and your friends. It’s about the race and the adventure and the destination,” says Gallagher, partner at Gallagher Niemeyer & Abrams.

He’s among the many part-time sailors competing in this weekend’s annual Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, a 333-mile annual yacht race that ends at Mackinac Island in Michigan.

“The Mac,” as the race is known, is said to be the oldest annual freshwater distance race in the world. It started in 1898 with just five boats. This year’s race, with 350 entrants and some 3,000 sailors.

Gallagher grew up in Oak Brook playing soccer and dabbling in theater as a teen-ager. He earned a bachelor’s degree in government and international studies from Notre Dame, worked for a time for Congressman Harris Fawell and then got a law degree from DePaul University.

After college, he says, “a buddy bought a boat in Lake Geneva so I learned how to sail with his family.” He enjoyed it, he says, but still didn’t take up the sport in earnest.

That changed about 10 years ago, when Gallagher and his wife, Environmental Resources Management Consultant Emily Gallagher, considered buying a vacation home and then purchased a boat instead. “We haven’t looked back,” he says.

The Gallaghers sail “The Mac” every year with the same group of friends. Their young children, ages 8 and 6, are learning the sport and will one day join the race, their dad says. For now, they’re enrolled at the sailing school at the Chicago Yacht Club’s Belmont Station, where the Gallagers keep their two boats. They’ll sail the “Endeavour” this weekend.

The race is especially exciting this year, says Gallagher, because records could be broken—though not by him. His boat will be in the cruising division, which takes off out of the downtown yacht club harbor on Friday.

Gallagher and other competitors will be watching Great Lakes sailor Rick Warner, who recently purchased “Arete,” a 60-foot-long, 61-foot-wide Orma 60 that’s expected to shatter records. Vessels like Warner’s can cost as much as $5 million.

“Most boats aren’t that sexy, so it’s going to be fun to see what happens,” says Gallagher.

Previous Mac records were set by the late Steve Fossett, who won the overall race in 1998 in 18 hours and 50 minutes; and the late Roy Disney, who set the mono-hull record in 23 hours-30 minutes in 2002.

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