Sailing Into Our 70th Summer

It has been over 10 years since the Questa has sailed Flathead Lake. This summer we will be launching the Questa back into the water to rejoin its sister ship, the Nor’Easter V.

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The Questa and Nor’Easter sailing on Flathead Lake in Bigfork, Montana.

Both the Questa and Nor’Easter V are Q-class boats, which are built to the standard set for racing in the America’s Cup. These Q class boats were built following a formula developed by Nathanael Herreshoff in 1903, first called Herreshoff Rule, only later to set the standard for the Universal Rule, the qualifying rule for the America’s Cup. Both Questa and Nor’easter V were drawn by L. Francis Herreshoff, the son of Nathanael and would end up being the only two Qs he designed. L. Francis Herreshoff would complete the builds of his design for the Nor’Easter V in 1928 and Questa in 1929. Today there are only 16 Q-class boats in restored condition worldwide with the Nor’ Easter being the winningest boat in the Great Mackinac Island Race.
It’s a long way from Long Island Sound and Marblehead, Massachusetts, where the class started, to Flathead Lake, and it all began 28 years ago while Doug was in Minneapolis, Minnesota, building flight time for his pilot’s license. He happened to strike up a conversation with a Gentleman named Bob in a yacht club that he says went like this:
Bob: “Gee, I wish I could afford going to Montana to hunt deer, but not until I am able to get rid of this old boat.”
Doug: “Old boat? What old boat?”
Bob: “I have this dilapidated old racing sloop.”
Doug: “How bad is it?” I’ve been thinking about buying a sailboat for the lake at my guest ranch near Glacier National Park.”
Before the night was over, Doug agreed to buy the boat if the Bob would haul it to Flathead Lake. In return, Bob would receive the Montana hunting trip he had always dreamt about.
The Questa was not quite as bad as Doug had feared. With a bit of cosmetic attention made it possible to launch her that summer with a crane from a cow pasture next to the Flathead River. By 1989, the Questa was put in the shop for a structural restoration, not an easy undertaking considering the proximity of Montana to the closest ocean and capable shipwrights.
The Questa and Nor’easter raced for many summers and in 2005 the Questa went back to the shop for a new deck, house, sheer plank and structural reinforcement of the mast step. This summer, the Lodge’s 70th year, the Questa will again join the Nor’Easter sailing Flathead Lake.

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The Questa dry docked while she was being restored.
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The hull of the Questa
Scott applying one of the fifteen coats of varnish.
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Scott reinforcing the hull of the Questa.

Shipwright, John Derry has been maintaining the Nor’Easter and the Questa for over 20 years now. John started his career in carpentry and mason work, but soon found himself fascinated with the dynamic make up of boats. John gained most of his knowledge working on the coast of Maine in his two year apprenticeship. Following his time in school he worked at numerous ship yards along the Coast. In the late 80’s he came back to Montana and found the Questa through a friend that had gone on a sail earlier that summer. John visited the Lodge in the fall of 88’, but it wasn’t until the following summer and a post card to Doug asking if he could trade out sailing time for labor, did he start working.
Still to this day John is astonished and extremely proud of what the Nor’Easter and Questa have become. Over the years John along with his crew have not only completely refurbished the sailboats, but they have made the Questa stronger than it was when it was originally built in 1929.

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John fitting one of the hatches on the Questa.

Every winter both boats get a fresh coat of paint, 15 coats of varnish, rigging fixes and updates to any other parts that may have worn over the course of the summer.
Depending on lake levels, but typically the second week in June we bring in a crane to lower the sail boats into the water and raise the masts. There is only one crane in this part of the state capable of launching the boats, and to this day only two operators, a son a father who have taken on the challenge. Although it only takes a few hours to get the boats in the water, it can take up to a week before the boats wooden structures swell up closing the many leaking cracks. This time is also used making sure all the rigging is in its proper places.

The only crane in this part of North West Montana capable of launching the boats, and to this day the only two operators, a son a father who have taken on the challenge.
It can take up to a week before the boats wooden structures swell up closing the many leaking cracks.
Securing all the rigging on the Nor’Easter.
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Scott hoisting Arianna to the top of the main mast to secure the rigging.
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With the Lake level being lowered in the winter it creates a huge sand beach on the north end of the lake in Bigfork.
Flathead Lake, Bigfork Montana.

According to the Flathead Lake Biological Center, “The Lake level and its outflow are regulated by Kerr Dam, which is located on the Lower Flathead River near Polson. Kerr Dam was completed in 1938 by the Montana Power Company, raised the Lake level 10 feet above its natural level, and generates 194 megawatts of electricity. It is cooperatively operated by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Regulation by the dam results in the Lake level fluctuating seasonally 10 feet between 2,883 and 2,893 feet above sea level. If snowpack conditions in the mountains do not threaten flooding, lake level is brought to 2,890 feet by the end of May and to full pool by June 15 for summer recreation.
Due to its large volume and fetch (distance of water across which wind blows), Flathead Lake requires very cold and calm conditions to freeze entirely. Therefore, most winters it does not freeze over, although some bays and margins have ice cover. The biological station’s historic observations show that the Lake froze over about once each decade, however the Lake has not entirely frozen since 1988-89 (March only) and 1989-90 (January only).” Flathead Lake is 27.3 miles long, 15.5 miles wide and 370.7 feet deep.

After many years of hard work and dedication we are extremely excited to get the Questa back in the lake. We would love to have you and your friends and family come sail the Nor’Easter or Questa. Check out flatheadlakesailing.com for more information and to book your Flathead Lake Excursion.

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