and then…

18 07 2011

The bridge, the segues of any great tale ever told, the point of no return, when the hook is set and you are pulled in to find out how the story ends.  All story’s don’t have happy endings.  And then…

Thursday started like most this past spring and early summer, busy.  It was just before 9 as I pull into the parking lot to see a car lined up at the back door already.  I start to grumble something about …well you know until I realize its my friend, Mark  who’s come to pick some stuff up for the weekend.  Great, we can talk about a mutual passion we share, sailboats and sailboat races.

Boy did we talk, I know he was late for work that day.  I was ok with this, I loved the stories.  We talked about the weather which was finally shaping up for the run up the lake.  We talked about strategy, tactics and how the crew had shaped up.  He was really excited to have two young lads onboard and his girlfriend too to join the usual suspects that was family.

The stories he told were eloquent, drawn out and full of humor.  He had a way with words, almost poetic when he talks.  A man of chivalry and a tongue that would make a modern day Scarlett O’hara  swoon with a case  the vapors.  This unique word man held your attention as all good story tellers can to the end.

I wished my friend luck and looked forward to hearing the latest story of this epic journey.  I made sure he knew we were watching the tracker and SA on the water.  I chuckled to myself on saturday when SA on the water did a small segment on his boat and showed some good video of them, and silently I wished them luck again.  And then…

The 103rd running of the Chicago Yacht Clubs  Race to Mackinac was held over the weekend.  The 333 mile long race is the longest fresh water sailing race in the world.  300+ boats participated in this event including Wingnuts a Kiwi 35 owned by my friend, Mark Morley.

A fairly comfortable ride up Lake Michigan followed the Saturday start, but a storm was pushing in from the west.  Many of the larger boats had finished the race on Mackinac Island before the storm came through northern Lake Michigan in the middle of the night.  Shortly after midnight Monday morning the US Coast Guard was alerted to a capsized boat, Wingnuts it turns out, and personal alert beacons(giving a GPS location for each) were turned on for rescuers to locate the sailors.  6 of the 8 crew members were quickly pulled aboard Sociable a competitor in the race who was nearby.

The US Coast Guard and other nearby competitors launched an all out search and rescue mission including cutters, helicopters and the Ice Breaker Mackinaw.  Rescuers found the other two crew at 745am.  They were identified as Mark Morley and his girlfriend Suzanne Bickel.  Tragedy.

Mark and Suzanne and the whole Wingnuts team was experienced.  The boat was made for this type of sailing and safety was job one.  They all had personal beacons and life jackets on and from what I have been told were all clipped to the jack line to keep them from getting separated from the boat in case you fall over board.  When they were capsized by the wave, 6 of the 8 were able to unclip and swim to the surface.

We will probably never know what happened to Mark and Suzanne.  Were they knocked unconscious?  It was pitch dark. Rough seas, cold water.  Tragic, unexpected and freakish are words you will hear to describe this but in the end, the segues will always read and then…loss.

I know this, they will be missed.  The world lost two great people today, brothers, sisters, fathers, sons and daughters.  I lost a great friend, the story teller, word man. 

Besides being a real supporter of sailing in Mid Michigan, Mark was also involved in many charities and clubs including the Morley Foundation of which he was President.

This was left on Mark’s face book page by Janet Kessel:



Gone From My Sight

by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,

spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts

for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck

of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.


Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone”


Gone where?


Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.


Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”

there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices

ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”


And that is dying…




2 responses

18 07 2011
Michael Henk

Matt, I wondered as I read about this tragedy this morning if you knew Mark, with him being from Saginaw and the racing community much smaller than down here in the Metro Detroit area. Sorry for your loss


19 07 2011
Dale Lieffers

Matt, I too wondered if you had known these sailors. When I heard Saginaw my thoughts went to you. The boat, i believe was out of Grand Haven. Sympathy and prayers for all..

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