- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - The Flathead Lake Lodge shipwright paced the sailboat’s familiar 51-foot deck to check if it was taking on water.

For seven years, Jon Derry had worked to restore the 1920s ship the Questa so it could set sail once again on Flathead Lake.

“I went below and didn’t have water to my ankles,” Derry said to a small crowd that gathered for the event. “So that’s a good sign.”

Sailboat owner Doug Averill said it had been a decade since the Questa had joined its sister ship, the Nor’Easter V.

“At the time they were designed, these sailboats were made to be the fastest in the world,” Averill said. “There’s none like them in Montana. In the world there’s about a dozen and only a fraction of those are still sailing.”

Most of the people who watched the 22,000-pound ship lowered into the lake were Montana timber and metal workers who never expected to help restore a historic sailboat.

Derry said he has been the caretaker for the sister ships for more than 20 years. After finishing a three-year-long apprenticeship repairing sailboats in Maine, he left the East Coast to return to his life in Montana.

“I work and think best when using my hands and have loved that the most on boats” Derry said. “I knew I needed to be back in Montana, but I had no idea I’d find a ship like this here one day.”

Since 2009, his workplace guide has been the Questa’s blueprint from 1929. The map marked the ship’s every inch of metal and curve of wood.

Dressed in Carhartts and with his graying ponytail tucked under a faded blue hat, Derry knelt on the dock and pointed to a line four boards below the ship’s deck.

“Everything beyond that line is new, and below that took some time and effort too,” he said. “Now, she’s stronger than the day she was built. It’s amazing to see a boat like this here.”

Averill said he never expected to buy a ship, let alone two.

He first heard about the Questa at a yacht club in Minnesota 28 years ago. He was taking a break from building up flight time for his pilot’s license.

“I got to talking with a guy who said he wanted to come to Montana to hunt, but said he had to sell his ‘old boat’ first. I told him, ‘I’ve got an idea,’” Averill said. “I figured it would be good for the lodge, but I soon realized I had something pretty amazing.”

The Questa and the Nor’Easter V can travel up to 12 knots or 13 miles per hour.

He said with an electric charge, the boats can travel more than four hours on the lake, with their sails down and the hum of an engine hardly heard over waves.

The wooden boats were drawn by L. Francis Herreshoffa, a naval architect who followed a formula crafted by his father, Nathanael Herreshoff. His father had been known for creating narrow boats with long overhangs - his designs produced a succession of undefeated America’s Cup defenders between 1893 and 1920.

Soon after Averill had the Questa sailing on the Flathead, he heard she had a sister ship that had been designed to race.

After two years of searching, a train ride and several stressful land journeys, the Nor’Easter V joined its sister at the lodge.

“These boats naturally suck you in,” Averill said as he watched a crane lift a 62-foot mast into place on the Questa. “This restoration took about six years longer than I planned, but we decided to do it right. And even though it’s unique to Montana, they both make sense here on the Flathead Lake.”

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Information from: Daily Inter Lake, https://www.dailyinterlake.com

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