View Full Version : Thistle

10-19-2000, 01:03 PM
Is this a good choice for single handed sailing?

Todd Bradshaw
10-19-2000, 02:38 PM
It could probably be done in light air, but it wouldn't be my choice. Standard crew is three (Thistle sailors are always complaining about trying to find a third person for Sunday morning races). They are lovely boats though and you usually get to hear free bagpipe music at major class regattas. They seem to be at their best when you sheet the main in, put the crew up on the rail and let the boat roll-up on her side a bit in the puffs. That would be hard to do solo. You also need shorts with battens in the back side, 'cause the rail is kind of skinny and hard on the posterior. There are some really good looking wooden (hot-molded, I think) Thistles out there, if you can find one. With a couple of friends, you'd be in business, but alone it could be a handful.

Tom Lathrop
10-19-2000, 02:57 PM
You are so right Todd. Single handing a Thistle is not my idea of easy sailing. Ten knots would overpower it under full sail.

Ian McColgin
10-19-2000, 04:07 PM
Nice thing about weighing 240# is that I have singlehanded a Thistle with real pleasure. If you have the biomass and agility and don't mind a little thought on releading the jib sheets, you can do it.

Growing up on Long Island Sound (the Dead Sea) I even singlehanded a Thistle when I wa a squirt, but in 5 kt air that's not really so hard and doesn't count.

I keep thinking I need a little extra time and $$ to get one, it's still a boat near my heart. And then when you do get crewed and blast off on a spinaker plane . . .

10-19-2000, 06:59 PM
Everything else said here is good, but in a word, no.

10-20-2000, 06:56 AM
Worst sailing experience I ever had was on a Thistle. Hiking was hidiously uncomfortable. With two of us the boat was easily overpowered. The boat seemed determined to roll over. It didn't help that the skipper was a Capt. Bligh wannabe.
And yet Thistle owners love them. Go figure.

Ian McColgin
10-20-2000, 09:17 AM
'Cause they're hot HOT HOT!!!

Todd Bradshaw
10-20-2000, 11:51 AM
I have no proof to back this up, but the Thistle is the only boat that I know of that always gave me the impression that it would heel way over and then try to plane on it's side. If you sit and watch one, they seem to get higher out of the water as they heel. Could just be an optical illusion, but I remember being left in the dust by a couple and thinking "gee, I wish my boat would do that."

10-20-2000, 08:15 PM
I tried singlehanding one in a light breeze when I was a teen and slipped over the side hiking out, but was kept from falling completely overboard by my toes under the hiking straps. Couldn't pull myself back inboard, but since I was heading toward a steeply shelving beach, I just let the boat slide ashore then dropped into the water like I intended to do that all along. I was lucky, because if I'd had to drop over the side, it wouldn't have been easy to reboard with the high sides and tippiness of the design.

Not a good boat for single handing, I don't think, but fun for racing.

John Gearing
10-28-2000, 10:20 PM
I disagree. A couple of years ago I got to wondering whether it might be possible to use a Thistle for casual daysailing and singlehanding. So I went to the Thistle website and got in touch with a fleet near me. I exchanged some good email with a guy there and what he told me was essentially this: that he knew a number of guys who singlehanded just fine. Now mind you they had reef points sewn into their sails and carried reduced sail area. That way they didn't have to hike out and they didn't need those other two crew. Some folks have even added oarlocks and some spruce wind to their Thistles. In short, my advice is to get in touch with your nearest Thistle fleet and ask them about your idea. I'm always reading messages on this forum from guys who are complaining that their Whisp or Bolger skiff "doesn't point high enough or go fast enough", so if it's okay to try and make a simple daysailer go faster why not take a racing boat and de-tune it for everyday use?

Don Bailey
10-29-2000, 10:42 PM
Had a Thistle #1945 about 20 years ago. They are great boats. Only knew of a couple of guys who single handed theirs. They weighed more than me and had more experience with the boat. If you've never experienced a sailboat on a plane on a spinaker reach, find a Thistle owner and try to get a ride.
What FUN. But remember that the only part of your body that is in the boat is your feet to mid thigh. Many times thistle owners are looking for crew since 3 is best.
By the way, if you are trailering you will never get the mast up by yourself. One person needs to lift and another pulls and fastens the forestay.
Hope this helps and good luck,
Don Bailey

01-12-2001, 08:09 PM
I think the only thing that really counts here is your skill as a sailor. There is no question that the thistle is a lot to handle for a single hander, but nothing if you;re up to the task. I've single handed Stars, I14's, IOD's and a bunch of other boats. The key is to be prepared for the occasion...i.e don't set the chute and expect to be in complete control unless the breeze is nice and light. I havn't personally singlhanded a Thistle, but I would love to give it a go!

Dave Carnell
01-13-2001, 08:12 AM
I singlehanded Thistles at the New Castle Sailing Club on the Delaware River for a number of years. It was no big deal. If it was blowing a bit hard I just didn't hoist the jib.

Capsized once, but that was with three aboard from one of the weird backdrafts off the massive piers ofthe Delaware River Memorial Bridge.

These were the original hot-molded plywood Thistles.

01-20-2001, 05:09 PM
Check on the Cruising World General Messages BB. One of the frequent visitors, I think Marsha Cutting, cruise/camped her way, singlehanded, in her Thistle, down the Hudson River from somewhere near Albany nearly to NYC. I've never been aboard one, but they are pretty little boats!

pat maundrell
09-24-2007, 10:16 PM
Okay, I need the benefit of everyone's experience! I have been sailing for one year, currently on a Flying Scot. It is a great boat, but I want a boat with more character! You know, more in the way of a traditional wood boat. The problem is which boat. I plan on only cruising about 95% of the time, and maybe if they swist my arm enough I may enter a race, but this is not my bag. I am thinking in terms of a 17 footer, like the Thistle. Our club has several of these ,and I am aware of the single handing problems/concerns. However, it is a pretty boat and fits the bill, ie lenght and lots of wood trim. An all wood boat isn't out of the question, but a combination fiberglass hull with wood trim sounds perfect. Allright, more of what I have in mind. I want to install a 2HP honda, we camp and my wife like to fish, this way we can have our cake and eat it to. I am not interested in hiking straps, just want to casual daysail/cruise in a pretty boat. My weight is 280lbs, and I plan on using reef points in the main sail to clam the boat down on heavy wind days and even remove the jib if necesary. Although my wife will be with me most of the time I want the option to single hand, even in 10-15 mph winds, which don't happen very often on the small inland lakes we sail in Ohio. I just want to De-Tune the boat like one of the other guys suggested. Please give me the benefit of your experience. Thanks Pat 513 284 6721

Ian McColgin
09-24-2007, 10:39 PM
I've seen Thistles used recreationally that were fitted with small motors but they sail and row (yes!) so well that there's really no need of an infernal combustion engin.

Thistles can be easily singlehanded and handled by smallish people. I first sailed a Thistle with the eluctable Kathy when we were twelve.

The standard (old) reefing system is (was) a roller on the boom. Change that to slab reefing and life will be much easier. Reef early and often.

Thistles are totally open which means that you can configure gear for whatever purpose. Enjoy.

09-25-2007, 01:18 PM
I've not singlehanded a Thistle, but I've seen it done. Take the jib down and raise the board a bit when the breeze comes up and you'll be fine. Slab reefing is a fine idea, and remember, if you point at 50 degrees instead of 45, you've got more of the power pushing you forward instead of sideways. To get the best out of it racing, you'll need three people. To daysail it with one, you'll need reef points.

09-25-2007, 01:31 PM
Thistle talk bums me out. I double dog dare someone to build a new one out of wood. Cheer me up and do it, I triple dog dare you.


Joe (SoCal)
09-25-2007, 03:27 PM
I know someone who has a nice old wooden cold molded Thistle.

He said he used to sail it in the mistral, gusty, Hudson and he said it was ummmmmmmmm exciting ;) and wet. He used to sail with his two sons until they moved on to college. Now it sits in a driveway for the last few years. Cause he doesn't find it fun sailing solo, way to much work and stress.

I keep telling him to get her in the water cause I want go out and see if its as a wild ride as I've heard.

09-25-2007, 03:34 PM
I too was very tempted to buy an old wooden Thistle for solo and recreational sailing / beach cruising -- a lot of boat for the money.

In some respects it might make sense to build an entirely different mast, pick up a smaller used sail and jib, and use that for solo sailing -- that way you aren't depowering / modifying a racing rig. You could also vastly simplify the sheets, vangs, etc.

This was my inspiration -

09-25-2007, 05:38 PM
They used to make a version of the Thistle without all the go-fast gizmos, a little cheaper, which was the 'cruising' version. Maybe they still do. And they were never cold moulded. The wood ones were hot moulded. The class sells 'plans' for $15, but there are no lines or offsets.

09-26-2007, 09:17 PM
Anyone seen the decked version of the thistle? I have heard some stories of folks putting floor decks, oars and fitting them to run remote rivers in the north. Use the mast as a push pole. :)

That sounds like fun. I bet that would be a way to handle it single handed.

I also willing to bet you could mount a large hp moter and make it fly like a runabout. SWEET

I just keep looking at mine, using it for all it's worth. Pretty boat.

I found it sad that #4000 was (ouch, it hurts to use this term again, but it says it all) "fozen snot"

Derek #701

Peter Eikenberry
09-26-2007, 10:57 PM
I had an old wood cold molded thistle, #267 from 1977 to 1984. I took my wife out in it and it scared her shi...ss. Never got her out in it again. I single handed it but it was definitely a handfull. I dumped it once and had to be towed to shore to get the water out. It was impossible to keep it upright fully swamped, I had to take the sail down with it on it's side and crank the center board up. A couple of guys in a Hobie cat helped me and we got it ashore and right side up.

I eventually sold it. I didn't race it and my son and daughter were too young to crew.

If I had to buy a boat to sail for recreation, gunkholing, it wouldn't be a thistle. I loved the boat but it was too much for family sailing. I would get a Rhodes 19 or something similar. Plenty of room, trailerable, you can single hand it with no problem, and it doesn't scare my wife. (she just doesn't like tippy boats)

Or if you want something a little more exciting, easy to single handle, fast and nimble, planes, and races, try an OK dinghy. I had one as a teenager. That was a fun boat. 180 lb with everything on board. On a broad reach would pass everything but the Cats. Sailed well up wind, and if you rolled it, it would almost right itself. It has a small cockpit so the water is easy to bail. Only one sail to handle, an unstayed mast that rotates so no rigging to tune. The mast bends like a fishing rod. That boat was a real kick in the ass. Unfortunately my brother got it and he let fill it with water and rot. It's still sitting on the beach turning into pulp. (do I sound bitter?)

09-27-2007, 01:09 AM
My first big sailboat was a Highlander, the big brother to a Thistle. Same designer, same general boat, but 20 feet long. My Highlander had been modified with a cuddy cabin and I put a water tight cockpit on her. I singled handed a lot.

She was a handful in any breeze. I learned to reef early and often. Even reefed, I had to watch her carefully in the puffs. Really heavy weather ranged from scary to terrifying.

It was not relaxing sailing, but I was not quite 20 and it was fun.