The Thistle Class at 75 Years – We’re Thriving!

This July we launch a new Thistle Class Association website. We thought this would be an appropriate time to look at how things are going, especially since the pandemic has turned our usual sailing season into a time of reflection.

Table Contents

Enduring the challenges of the virus

I believe our Class is strong despite the effects of the pandemic. We had to erase from the calendar most of those big and little regattas we had hoped for this season. Thistlers are being quite creative in modifying club, fleet, and personal sailing activities to rediscover sailing’s effect on personal rejuvenation. I have heard some funny stories about families as they are “forced” to sail together again.

I have no specific information on this, but I assume that some of our sailing family have been made ill by the virus, and I truly hope all have fully recovered. We are also aware that the recession of 2020 must certainly be taking a toll on everyone, one way or another. To those sailors who are front line health care workers and first responders, thank you! The virus has reminded us of your contribution.

Growing our reach through marketing

The milestone we celebrate this summer is the opening round of a grand marketing project. We contracted with Shedden Marketing which brought us Nicole Finefrock Shedden, who is a talented insider to be sure. She has helped us gain insights about what makes the Thistle Class so strong. That led to a carefully designed messaging plan and includes website redesign with the assistance of Inshore Marketing. In addition, she has created a social media strategy and is training contributors to keep this avenue vibrant and appealing. We certainly welcome feedback for continually improving all this important voicing of the class.

Celebrating our class magazine

For decades we have enjoyed having the gold standard of class magazines. With John Duckworth as our tenured editor, we can be proud of the continuing excellence of the Bagpipe. The photos, layout, accuracy, reliability, articles and regatta reports he assigns and collects from the sailors are superb. We take it as a normal journal, but I assure you, no other class comes close.

Investing in our younger Thistlers

We can also be proud of our program for helping younger teams attend the major events including the interdistrict and mid-winter championships and the nationals. Skippers under 27 years old can ask the 3rd VP to reimburse their registration fee after attending the regatta. I believe this is a highly effective investment in the future of the class; this “Youth Gotta Regatta Money gets younger sailors to the regattas. We experienced rapid fund-raising success together with our anonymous matching donor’s generosity. This shows the commitment of our members to growing and preserving the Thistle-sailing lifestyle. With that in mind, I am issuing a challenge. How many regattas in the next year can draw more skippers under 27 than the number of skippers over 49? I call it the 26/50 challenge.

Diversifying the Thistle family

There is more going on in the country and we must not ignore it. As we can plainly see, recreational sailing in the US has a long way to go if it is to achieve the diversity goals reflective of the nation as a whole. Community sailing programs around the country are superb demonstrations of breaking down the real and the unwritten barriers that have limited access for people of color to the sport. Reading about the experiences of Black people in America, it is clear to me that white folks really have no idea how pervasive discrimination is. In Scuttlebutt, an online sailing news publication on June 21, Nate Fast (a white guy,) wrote a piece about racial diversity in sailing. Quoting in part, “If we stand against injustice on the race course, ask for equality on our waterways, and advocate to protect our rights to a clean planet are we brave enough to uphold those values on land? For the incessant talk about growing our sport, where is the talk of growing the number of people and families who are secure, can afford, and have the time to go sailing?” The Thistle Class can make a concerted effort to be welcoming to everyone. We can do the right thing by being open to everyone as we reach out and bring new people to our sport. Everyone through the centuries wants the same things in life: food, shelter, love, purpose, and play. Let’s openly share what a jewel we have in the play of Thistle sailing.

2020 Annual Meeting notice

Looking ahead, the Annual Meeting will be conducted online, August 18, at 8 PM. To avoid conference call interference, fleet delegates will receive connection information and any other members can request this also from Joy Martin at

2021 Midwinters East schedule update

We will have a slightly different schedule at 2021 MWE in St. Pete. Thistle arrivals can begin the afternoon of Monday, March 1st. Practice/coaching would be Monday afternoon and Tuesday. The regatta will start on Wednesday and run thru Saturday (3/3 – 3/6) with the awards banquet Saturday night. Departure on Sunday, March 7th.

2021 Nationals update

The 2021 Nationals will be our 75th and we will convene at the Cleveland Yachting Club, Fleet #1, the first week of August. It will be doubly festive after what we have seen this year. It was obviously the right call to bump it a year forward and the folks in Cleveland have been great about this whole business.

Welcoming a new boat builder and keeping GMW for parts and advice

For 45 years, Doug Laber, Great Midwest Yacht Company, has been the preeminent Thistle builder in the country. Last year, Doug announced that he was making his last complete boat. He intends to continue to supply parts and advice, (and as he says, some bad jokes.)

We have found a new builder for the class thanks to the work of John Howell and Jack Finefrock. We believe the new builder has the skills and experience with wood and fiberglass to make quality boats. He is Alex Venegas, owner of Beacon Composites in North Carolina. Our stalwart Chief Measurer, Chris Pollak, is working with Alex to ensure that the product meets our specifications and expectations.

Let’s go sailing!

I have enjoyed meeting with your fully engaged executive officers monthly by video conference working on these issues. For now, let’s just go sailing any way that we can in 2020. Be safe on the water and ashore, enjoy your Zoom fleet parties, and share our new website with everyone.

Tom Hubbell

TCA President

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