Chad Crist's Sailing Story

Updated: May 23, 2021

"Chad said that sailing is a “mystical thing.” Sailing allows him a sense of freedom from his day-to-day work and activities, and an “escape” from his everyday responsibilities.'

When Chad Crist hopped on a Zoom call to be interviewed, his sailboat was his background – it looked like a large sailboat gliding across the well-known picturesque Flathead Lake on a bluebird Montana day. The picture was an introduction to the grand gift Chad had received from a fellow sailor turned mentor, who taught him how to sail, and who Chad also considers a great friend. When a sailor becomes old and their time on the water becomes less, it’s normal for an old sailor to give their sailboat to a younger sailor.


When Chad was starting out, he would work on side projects and trade for sailing instruction. The gentleman who gifted Chad his sailboat, Bill, gave Chad the key to his sailboat and Bill said that Chad could use it whenever he wanted to, as long as he took care of it. Chad did just that and he cared for Bill’s sailboat as if it were his own. Bill was unable to take his sailboat out on his own so eventually gifted his sailboat to Chad because Bill knew the sailboat would be in good hands, hands that would maintain it, and care for it, just like he had been doing since Bill let Chad borrow it. Bill had been sailing since he was 8 years old, had put a lot of miles on his sailboat, and all because of a shared love of sailing, had become a mentor and a good friend to Chad. Chad originally met Bill because Bill was easy to spot in the small town of Ronan. Bill’s license plate read “SAILBUM” and when Chad saw it, it spurred him to ask Bill about sailing. They’ve been connected ever since.


Chad is a current instructor at Go Sail Flathead Lake, and he described himself as a “big family guy,” because he literally is a man with a big family. Him and his wife have five children, some of which enjoy sailing with him on Flathead Lake.


Chad shared that he took his kids and some family members on an annual camping trip on the sailboat which started being coined “sailboat camping.” It served as a good bonding experience for him and his children, and because everyone enjoyed it so much, after one outing, it became an “annual trip with Dad.” These trips were times when Chad shared that these trips gave “mom a break” and where they enjoyed the time together by “staying up late, swimming at midnight, and eating bad food.”


On one such adventure, the wind came up and the waves grew larger. The crew, consisting of Chad and his family, decided to go south on Flathead Lake to watch the fireworks from the sailboat because it was a holiday, the Fourth of July. Chad’s mother came with him and the children and there were five people total on the sailboat. Chad said that that day there were “crazy people on the lake” and it was like a “freeway of boats.” They made it safely to a cove to steer clear of the wind and the waves and were glad to find protection because Chad said there wasn’t a lot of it where they were sailing. He set the anchor, stayed up for an hour, then everyone went to bed.


Chad said that “you learn what feeling the feel of a sailboat feels like,” and specifically, how the boat swings at anchor. The line snugs up and then goes back and forth. The wind kept on howling and the waves kept on growing. When Chad woke up a few hours later, it was the middle of the night and he could see “lights sliding by,” which could only mean one thing… the anchor hadn’t stuck. He lurched up, assessed the situation, and then immediately went into “get it done mode,” and took action. He stepped over kids to get to the helm, use GPS navigation to find another protected bay because he didn’t want the sailboat to run aground, and then he worked to reset the anchor. Chad shared that it was “humbling to experience it.” Once the family was back safely on land, Chad called his buddy Bill and shared the story of their harrowing experience. Bill laughed and said, “that’s just really good for you – and it won’t be the last.”


Originally from Kansas and having spent time in Indiana, when his father worked as a computer programmer, Chad shared that he wasn’t a fan of the flat land and humid climate. After he graduated, he took a summer job in the tri-cities in Washington. That summer gig allowed him to make a move out west, where he fell in love with the place and the people. From when Chad was 21 years old until the age of 25, he took summer trips to Montana to visit Saint Ignatius.


For the last 16 years, Chad has sailed Flathead Lake, captaining the same sailboat, and utilizing the same slip. He currently calls the town of Ronan home, and he owns and runs an auto repair business.

Chad said that he didn’t anticipate that sailing would become a big part of his life, but because “most sailors love every excuse to take other people out on the water,” he was “taken out once and loved it!” From that moment and onwards, he was hooked on sailing. So much so, that in 2017, when Chad connected with Go Sail Flathead Lake, he started out by teaching day classes.


At that time, he had no certifications, but he did have a love of working with people, so from there, he became an ASA Instructor and joined the Go Sail Flathead Lake team as an official instructor in 2018. Chad loves being on the water and every year, when he first takes his sailboat out on the water for the first sail of the year, he said he has a big smile plastered on his face because it’s an amazing feeling that never gets old.


His goal as an instructor is to “allow students to do things” and practice, and also to “show people a good time,” he said. He hasn’t been teaching long enough where he’s burned out, but rather he finds teaching enjoyable, relaxing, and fun. He mostly teaches the 101 and 103 classes and used to teach introductory classes; it’s important to him that he leads by example. It’s like therapy for Chad, and he keeps on sailing because he “just loves it!”

Chad said that sailing is a “mystical thing.” Sailing allows him a sense of freedom from his day-to-day work and activities, and an “escape” from his everyday responsibilities. He’s constantly researching and reading about sailing. He learns about himself when he’s on the water and shared that he becomes calm when he settles down in the seat on the sailboat, grabs the tiller, and finds his place on the water. He said that “everyone has a place” and for him, his happy place is on the water. When he thought about it more, he said that he “likes places less when they are absent from water.” Even when it’s forty-one degrees outside, Chad throws on a hat and gloves and goes sailing – that is love, folks.

Chad referred to himself as a “purist” because when he’s sailing, it’s just the wind and the water – no distractions, no radio, just the wind and the water, and if he’s lucky, some sunlight too. “Sailing is peaceful,” he said, “with not a lot of noise” and slow speeds, “slightly faster than walking.” He likes to sail in all kinds of weather and said that sailing isn’t a complicated thing because it’s something anyone can learn how to do. “I learned,” he said, so everyone else can too! He wants to empower people to try sailing and believe that they can do it. “Everyone is capable”, he said.


As an instructor at Go Sail Flathead Lake, Chad said, “we will show students how to sail, equip them and teach them how to know their limits and capabilities.” His recommendation to new sailors is to “find resources and to make it easy for themselves to get out there and learn.” The school is one way to get out there and try sailing and he said it best because it’s “attainable.” If you’ve been itching to spend some time on the water, learn from seasoned instructors and passionate leaders in the industry, check out Go Sail Flathead Lake, and be sure to ask for “the guy who loves the water” and maybe you’ll get lucky enough to have Chad as your instructor.