By Fritz Horton, Lake Champlain Chapter
The Thistle Class sailing dinghy was designed in 1945 by Gordon (“Sandy”) Douglass to reach the post-war market yearning for inexpensive, high-performance one design boats. The design was patterned after then-current versions of the International 14 Class dinghies, in which Douglass had won a bronze medal in the ‘36 Olympic Games. On a trailer, like the Snipe and Lightning, the boat offered young families ready access to the water from their suburban homes. With her mast stepped on the thwart instead of on the keel, the Thistle was a sure winner of the then-popular “trailer-to-trailer” races, where the race started and ended with the boats snug on their trailers at the launching ramp!
The Thistle fully rigged is light (515 lb.) due to her cold-molded plywood construction. The hull, at approximately 300 lb., consists of five laminations of 1/16” mahogany, stapled and glued together and braced with gratings, thwarts and seats to yield a surprisingly open but very rigid structure.
“Ouisquaebae” would have been Thistle #792 in 1952 if the bare hull had not been set aside by its builder, Douglass and McDleod, to serve as the plug for the new fiberglass designs. For that role, she was faired, templated, finished with lacquer and mounted on movable supports at stem and stern to allow her to be rotated 180 to drop the fiberglass female molds after curing. Fiberglass Thistles were then molded by Douglass & McCleod and other builders using the female molds from “Quisquaebae”. She is truly the “mother” of all modern fiberglass Thistles.
Fritz Horton, an architect in Shelburne, Vermont, bought the boat in 1973 from John Riley, who, apparently by mistake, was allowed to purchase the hull from Douglass & McCleod in 1969. Despite Ray McCleod’s pleas to return the “Class Plug”, Riley refused. The Class then had a problem. It had lost something akin to the U.S. Constitution – the basis for measuring any suspected changes to the benchmark hull by its builders. Also, because her original hull number (792) had been assigned to another boat after she was set aside for use as a mold, the Thistle Class had to assign her the next highest current registration number, which at that time was #3184. Currently, no wooden Thistle with a higher registration number exists.
After removing enough of the finish to determine the outer veneer had been sanded through in several places, Fritz removed the outer 1/16” with a router and rasp, replaced it with sapele and finished the boat in Vermont over a two-year period, completing the process in 1978.
I love this story! Thank you for featuring a sailboat! What a beautiful boat and with such a unique history! Will you bring her to the 2019 International at Alex Bay? I would LOVE to see this boat in person. What is the story behind her name?
Due to the age of your Thistle I wonder if the proper name for the construction type would be hot molded vs. cold molded? The older Thistles, like #16, were hot molded using thin veneers, glue, and heat in an oven or thick rubber bag to bake the boat until the glues and veneers cured. Cold molded construction uses modern epoxy resins for the binder of the veneers and do not require heat to cure.
Yes, That seems a common mistake. Many are stating them to be Cold, when actually Hot Molded was a fairly New Method of construction in the 40s. Cold Molding did not begin until new glues had been developed after D&M have switched over to Fiberglass in the 60s. I read all the time the wonder of how well cold molding will hold up over the long run. Still has yet to be known its longevity.
Fritz, great boat. I remember you bringing her to Lake George on occasion, we were all enamored of the ‘bright-finished’ Thistle in the fleet. I think I remember a very pretty spinnaker as well…
My dad bought a Thistle, # 299, at the NY Boat Show, I think in 1948-49, and we sailed and raced it at Lk Hopatcong, NJ for many years. It had a white hull and was a joy to sail.
Many years later, when my dad was no longer able to sail he gave the Thistle to my brother who took it to Larchmont YC and then to Riverhead NY. Then he had it restored and he gave it to the Lake Hopatcong YC to be used for sailing instruction. A nice story of # 299 with a good ending.
Separately, my Dad owned a ’39 Barrel Back CC which he gave to me 35 years ago. It is at Grandview LK in Indiana and has been restored twice, most recently by Motor Boat Garage in Cincinnati.
Bob Orben 812-350-9046
Beautiful boats – both.
I’m taken with Shannon Knight’s enthusiasm for showing the boat at A Bay. Any plan to do so?
Fritz, You mentioned D&M produced International 14’s in your story. I owned #256 during the 1950’s as a teenager. I’m wondering if any one knows where it is or what happened to it. Bill Truex. [email protected] on Lake Champlain.
Wonderful to see this story shared with many wood boat enthusiasts. I’ve known Fritz and the story of his boat for about forty years. I’ve sailed with him and against him in many races. He is impossible to beat.
We once took Ouisquaebae to a regatta at Lake Hopatcong and got a lot of raised eyebrows with sail number 3184 on a Woodie. Fritz might have had to produce his Thistle registration to be allowed to sail.
The competition quickly learned that this was a hot boat, not another worn out old Woodie.
Something seems a little screwy in the story. I have 1028 built in 1958 and it certainly is not the last of the Woodies by D&M. I have read that D&M were one of the first to start using fiberglass hulls but those did not come out until 1960s. Why set aside in 1952 boat for use as the mold for fiberglassing when fiberglass was probably not a known product? Likely you have your numbers wrong. I don’t know the final woodie number But maybe 1792 is more like the number and not 792. 792 does seem to have been around 1952 production. Yup, one mans mistake is another mans treasure. Seems you didn’t get the treasure, but got handed a line of bull
As pointed out above, These were all Hot Molded. Cold did not come out until after D&M switched to Fiberglass,
Sandy Douglas went on to design and market the “Flying Scot” in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. Very popular 19 foot sailboat in that time. Had an opportunity to meet him when he was delivering one to a camp I worked at in eastern North Carolina
Remember sailing in your great boat as crew. Have followed your families career since then. If you get back to LG, give me a call. I think I can come up with the scotch matching your beloved name.
Thistles were a large class in the weekly races on Lake Hopatcong in NJ years ago. I enjoyed sitting on my porch watching them round the buoy at Henderson Cove and hoisting their colorful spinnakers for the downwind run back to the yacht club.
I rescued 1590 around 12 years ago. The restoration process took a lot longer than expected but got a lot of help from Midwestern yacht company. She’s a lot faster than a flying scot, and a lot more challenging on busy waters. I don’t sail her often though, but she is a beautiful boat. Loved your article