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An interview with John Proctor on the 2024 Lake Erie Thistle District Championship

by David Schmidt 30 May 08:00 PDT June 1-2, 2024
The Thistle class, which has more than 50 active fleets across the US, worked with Sailors for the Sea to develop and pilot the Clean Class initiative © Thistle Class

While plenty of modern boats can plane (if not foil), this wasn't the case in 1945 when Sandy Douglass designed the Thistle. The tidy-looking One Design dinghy carries a plumb bow and stern, a symmetrical spinnaker that's flown from a fractional rig, and a centerboard and transom-hung rudder. The design may now carry descriptors such as "venerable", but the proof of Mr. Douglass' strong design work is in the sailing, and the fact that the class enjoys strong racing, almost 80 years since the first Thistles traded tacks.

Take, for example, this year's 2024 Lake Erie Thistle District Championship (June 1-2, 2024), which is being hosted by the Pymatuning Yacht Club, in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, and which will be contested on the waters of the Pymatuning Reservoir.

The event plans to administer a variety of course shapes, from windward-leewards and triangles to combinations of the two, and it will utilize the low-points scoring system.

I checked in with John Proctor, who serves as the event's regatta chair, via email, to learn more about this exciting Thistle regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the current state of the Thistle scene on Lake Erie, its culture and competition levels, and the kinds of sailors that one can expect to encounter at this year's Lake Erie Thistle District Championship?

[The] state of Thistle scene on Lake Erie is fairly strong, although I would say "Lake Erie District and affiliate fleets have shifted to more "in-land" lakes in the last 20 years.

I'm fairly certain Lake Erie District has held its roster numbers fairly consistent for the last ten years. [The] Lake Erie Districts has a good fall series, which keeps the season rolling along into October.

Pymatuning has 10-12 [boats] on the line every Saturday and Sunday. These days, that is pretty strong.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, are there any notable geographical concentrations to this entry list?

[Our] numbers are not totally in yet, but we are hoping for 18 outside boats and 12 Locals (PYC) boats. [We] would love to see 30 boats on the starting line.

A good fleet at Berlin Lake, 20 miles west of Youngstown, Ohio, has a very good fleet and should have five [of their] boats on the line.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on the Pymatuning Reservoir in early June? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Spring in Pennsylvania and Ohio is typically windy, but [it's] really unpredictable these days. Our best and most steady direction is from the north.

Pymatuning stretches 17 miles north to south and approximately 2.0 miles wide.

[Winds of] 10 to 13 knots from the north would be ideal, [with] some chop.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

There is some local knowledge advantage, but I would not consider it [a] "big advantage".

As mentioned, width at max is 2.0 miles so there are some situations of shoreline shifts coming into play and locals somewhat know the tricks.

Also, as mentioned, there could be lake chop. Although not always consistent, locals are used to moving the boats upwind in "our chop".

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors, what would it be?

Pymatuning can be shifty. Typically, [these] are not sustaining shifts. Don't tack on every shift. Especially in light air. You can bury yourself if you tack too much or too quickly. Be patient, "it may come back".

Do you have any entries that you're eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

Again the roster is not set, since it is so early in the season contestants are slow to register. Steve and Nora White (local PYC) were third in Nationals a few years ago. Charlie Yingling (Edgewater YC) [was] fifth in [the] 2023 Nationals, Conner Ruppen (Berlin YC) [was] tenth [at the] 2023 Nationals. Ryan Anstrom [was] PYC Fleet Champ [the] last two years, [and] Jerry Pignolet (Berlin YC) [was a] past Nationals fifth-place finisher.

It's a strong fleet. Not huge in numbers, but seasoned Thistle sailors.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

We are registered and are recognized as a Clean Regatta. Thistles are very involved with Sailors for the Seas' Clean Regatta program. We do have a "Green Team" in place. We will strive and think we will achieve not having any plastic cups, bottles, [or] utensils.

Our club members are providing real utensils, and everyone will be bring their own drinking containers....etc etc. We are committed to the clean-regatta movement. We will have a stationary RC and only two mark boats.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record, about this year's Lake Erie Thistle District Championship?

We are really looking forward to hosting a great regatta. Pymatuning is a great place to race, camp, and socialize. It is a hidden gem, [a] great place to host a regatta. Large drysail [area], two fast hoists, [a] short sail to racecourse, and a pro Race Committee. Members are welcoming to the Thistle Class. [It] should be a great event.

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