NewsLocal NewsFlathead County


Thistle National Championship back on Flathead Lake for first time in 35 years

A national sailing championship has returned to the north shore of Flathead Lake for the first time in over three decades.
Thistle Boat Nationals
Posted at 4:18 PM, Jul 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-18 14:39:05-04

SOMERS - A national sailing championship has returned to the north shore of Flathead Lake for the first time in over three decades.

“Thirty-five years ago I came here and raced in 1988. I loved Montana and even more. I loved the North Flathead Yacht Club. We had so much fun. When I heard that we're going to do this again. I said we are coming,” said Joy Martin, who is a sailor from New York.

Eighty-eight sailboats and about 400 sailors from across the U.S. have taken over the North Shore of Flathead Lake for the 77th Annual Thistle National Championship. The last time the event was held at the North Flathead Yacht Club was in 1988.

“We're working on reinvigorating our racing program and we have a lot of new young members and so we decided it's time to host the Thistle Nationals again, bring these amazing sailors in and do this high level of a regatta. It's a great honor to have all of these folks here with us,” said North Flathead Yacht Club Commodore Ashli Slawter.

A Thistle is a type of sailboat that was designed in 1946. The vessel is 17 feet long and manned by three sailors. The boats are designed to handle both light and heavy winds.

“These boats are a lot of fun. They are very high-performance. And so in light air, you're being very, very still and [with] heavier air, it's a lot of work. The boats are quite exciting and they can get overpowering," explained Thistle Class Association president John Howell. "So, it tests the crew's ability from low level all the way up to the upper skill levels. But the one thing we can say is that this whole class is known for having fun.”

The main races, or regattas, began on Monday, July 17, 2023, but over the weekend, the junior and women's classes took to the water. It is very unusual to see so many women and young people race sailboats.

“A lot of racing classes are mostly men, and mostly men, older men, and the Thistle Class is a family class. So if you look around this whole Regatta, you're gonna see a lot of women and a lot of juniors a lot of people under 40," Martin said. "And even a lot of people under 20 who love to come and sail these boats. And when I got here and saw that we were going to have 15 women's teams and three junior teams including a local junior team from here, which won by the way, I just it made my heart just expand so much I’m so happy to be here. We have so much fun."

You can view the start of the races from Somers Beach State Park.