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Thistle class invades Tampa Bay waters

By DAVE ELLIS
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

The Thistle Midwinter races will be conducted this week off the St. Petersburg Pier, with two races a day beginning Monday and running through Friday's final.

Each race counts equally, with there being no throwout race in this class. A premium is placed on sailing cleanly and not breaking the boat.

"We hope to surpass the 67 boats of last year," said principal race officer Carole Bardes, looking at a rapidly filling parking lot at the St. Petersburg Sailing Center.

Since 1958, Bill Richards has been pulling his 17-foot Thistle racing sailboat down from Ossining, N.Y.. Demen's Landing at the St. Petersburg Marina was a patch of sandspurs with a railroad track through the middle of it at that time. Next week he will attend his 46th yearly regatta.

Thistle No. 1, built by designer Sandy Douglas in 1945, also will compete.

"My dad saw No. 1 advertised in the Bagpipe, the class newsletter, back in 1957," said Chris Klotz of St. Petersburg. "Sandy had it for sale, so Dad snapped it up."

Klotz won the national championship with the original wood boat in 1990 and has been top 10 many times.

For years after fiberglass revolutionized boat building, old wooden boats were thought to be faster because of their stiffness. Finally Greg Fisher, a champion of many types of sailing craft, brought an off-the-shelf 'glass boat and won the midwinters. Thereafter, the class embraced the new boats.

While many classes have declined in popularity through the years, the Thistle has remained strong.

"It's the people," said Kathy Frinefrock, who teams with husband Jack and their college-aged son for a threesome for their boat. "This class counts the gatherings after the races just as important as the competition on the water."

Another feature of the week will be organized teaching aimed toward improving the level of skill of the sailors. Classroom sessions and narrated videotape of the action on the water are used to instruct those new to the sport as well as those in the middle of the fleet.

Boats will pass the Pier on their way to the race course at 9 a.m., and return to the Sailing Center in the early afternoon each day.

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