North Sails NEWS

Story Contributors: Paul Abdullah


Hometown Couple Prevails at Class Championships

📸 Michael Brown

North Sails Expert Paul Abdullah grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and started sailing in dinghies at a young age and joined his father in various PHRF boats. Currently Abdullah competes across various one-design and PHRF class platforms and has won 17 National, North American, and World championships. However at 18, he got his first Thistle, beginning his journey to where he is today. Along the road he met his wife Marie who was also sailing in the Thistle Class, and they, alongside Barrett Rhoads just won their first Thistle National Championship.

The Thistle Class is known for its family- friendly culture, age – inclusivity, top notch competition, and the camaraderie fostered throughout the fleet. At the 2022 Thistle National Championships there were 10 skippers under the age of 30 and 5 skippers over the age of 70. There were 9 family boats and 13 husband and wife boats racing. Also, with 8 first-time Nationals skippers, there were also 7 past Thistle National Champions in attendance, making this a highly sought after Championship. Last but not least, Thistle #1 sailed in its 50th National Championship!

The 76th Thistle Class National Championship, hosted by Florida Yacht Club, in Abdullah’s hometown of Jacksonville, FL was a marathon event. Sailors faced high temperatures and light breeze for the majority of the regatta placing an emphasis on ensuring ample hydration to keep focus levels sharp throughout the duration of each long day. Seven races were completed, and with no drop allowed, teams were rewarded for low point consistency and minimizing high risk moves. Paul and his team placed no higher than 6th place in all but one race, but managed to secure the victory by eight points over the next finisher, Dave, Becca and Emily Dellenbaugh (another family team)!

📸 Deb Fewell

We sat down with husband- wife duo Paul and Marie to catch up after the big win:

Tell us about your team, and how you all prepared for the National Championships? 

Paul: Having a great team allows me to focus on driving. Barrett Rhoads kept me going in the right direction at all times and I kept the boat going fast. Barrett is a great sailor and tactician, and kept us away from too much risk. Marie is one of the best forward crews (she doesn’t think that) and keeps the boat organized for the next mark rounding. Together, we make a great team! Leading up to Nationals, we did a training session in January, won Midwinters East and finished 2nd at Orange Peel. We had a lot of confidence coming into the event.

Marie, tell us about your sailing. How long have you and Paul been sailing together? 

Marie: I grew up sailing with my dad in Y- Flyers on Lake Allatoona in Georgia. I later started crewing in the Thistle Class, sailing with my aunt and uncle, as well as in the Snipe Class with various skippers. Every weekend I was on a boat and I loved every minute of it. Paul and I started sailing together in 2009 and I wouldn’t change the last 13 years for anything!

What are some things you guys are especially good at? (Whether it be technique, conditions, starting in big fleets)…

Paul: I like starting in big fleets! We got off the starting line well and it allowed us to sail the first beat conservatively up the middle in most races. The bigger the breeze, the better we are, mostly because of our technique.

Favorite part about sailing with your spouse?

Paul: Sailing with Marie brings a sense of calm on the boat. Ever since we started dating, my success on the water and in life has improved.                                                          

Marie: My favorite part about sailing with Paul is simply being together doing what we love. Sailing was such a big part of who we were before we met, and getting to enjoy it together as husband and wife makes it that much more special.

📸 Deb Fewell

Florida Yacht Club is your home club, what does it mean to you to win at home?

Paul: Unbelievable! As Regatta Chair the amount of stress was huge but the team at The Florida Yacht Club kept telling me to focus on my sailing and that allowed me to sail with a clear mind. As soon as the first gun went off I was able to put my focus on sailing. Winning in front of family and friends was a dream come true. 

Favorite moment at the 2022 Nationals? Hardest moment? How did you and the team overcome obstacles (bad results, missed a shift, bad starts?) 

Paul: Having a 8pt lead going into Thursday and finishing 1-3 in races 5 and 6 to extend our lead. Race 7 was harder than we wanted it to be. Things were going sideways mid-race, but we knew our speed would give us opportunities later in the race. At the last leeward gate, we were just behind Dave and Dan and victory was in sight. We never panicked whenever things weren’t going our way. Our saying in our boat is “boat speed kills” and each race we found our way back in the top 10 by focusing solely on our boat speed and technique.

What products are you using and how did these products play into the result? Did you use our tuning guide? Do our sails seem to be ‘better’ in a certain wind condition?

Paul: I use the DSD sail designs that were designed prior to me joining North Sails. Our design team worked to make the sails better once we put them into our design software and the results really show it. North Sail designs finished 1,2,3..! Whatever it is, we have a sail designed to fit your sailing style. I personally prefer the DSD designs (DSD+ Main, DSD Jib), Dave Dellenbaugh likes the Proctor designs (Proctor Main, Proctor Jib) and Dan Hesse uses the VS designs (VS Main, VS Jib). You can’t go wrong with North Sails! Yes, I wrote the tuning guide and follow it exactly.

With several past National Champions in attendance, this year’s nationals were especially competitive. What differentiated your team from the rest of the pack?

Paul: Someone said when it’s “your time” it’s going to happen. There were a couple races that local knowledge worked out for us, but mostly we had great speed and opportunities just kept coming our way. Winning the Thistle Nationals is a dream come true!


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📸 Deb Fewell

Story Contributors

Paul & Marie Abdullah – Thistle National Champions headshot
Paul Abdullah

One Design Expert —

Paul is an accomplished sailor with multiple titles including the Thistle National Championship in 2022 and J/70 World Championship in 2014. Paul is a specialist in the J/24, Thistle and Y-Flyer classes.

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