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A Skipper from Scratch
Erik Lund
March 27, 1961
Marblehead's Ted Hood, known as a sailmaker, now not only races his boats but builds them, too
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March 27, 1961

A Skipper From Scratch

Marblehead's Ted Hood, known as a sailmaker, now not only races his boats but builds them, too

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Frederick E. (Ted) Hood of the famous sailing port of Marblehead is a laconic fellow, but he has a combination of talents seldom found in a single sailor. At 33, Ted Hood is one of the top half dozen sailors in the country. He is one of the two or three top sail-makers. Recently he began designing sailing hulls—with immediate success. If Roger Maris manufactured the bats he used, sold them to all the very best players and successfully managed the Giants, he would hold a comparable position in baseball.

One of Hood's most recent feats in competitive sailing was in August when he came down to the New York Yacht Club cruise (a series of prestige events) with a new centerboard yawl of his own design carrying Hood sails, and beat the fleet for the Astor Cup.

"Our crew was just three couples," said Hood, "and the girls weren't too used to sailing. The men got pretty tired running around and changing the sails. Some of the other boats had seven strong men on board."

This is a long speech for Ted. He probably made it because he couldn't resist giving the New Yorkers the old Yankee rub. Ordinarily he is a mixture of grave reserve, some shyness (which lessens considerably after a drink) and deep underlying warmth.

In the office of his sail loft, he is ill at ease with strangers. He glances quickly from under a mop of dark hair when asked a question, fiddling with objects on his desk. The questioner is likely to have a long wait for the answer, such as it is. John Collins, a close friend, says he sailed with Hood for three years without being able to remember a single instance when Ted spoke long enough to complete a paragraph. When sailing, Ted's young and pretty wife Susan never bothers to ask her husband what is going on, but always asks the crew instead.

Yet Hood makes it clear that, in his opinion, he is a successful sail-maker because he makes better sails than anyone else. And he is not bashful about seizing opportunity. When the 1954 hurricane hit New England, Hood bought boats for salvage, fixed them and sold out at a good profit. These profits were added to those of the loft, which grossed $80,000 that year and which will gross $300,000 this year.

In the last America's Cup trials, three boats used Hood's sails wholly or partly, and the successful defender, Columbia, flew a Hood spinnaker. This is about as much prestige as a sailmaker can get.

In the America's Cup trials Hood's talent for sailing came in just as handy as his sails. He was picked for the sailing brain trust on the 19-year-old Vim, which almost defeated newer and presumably faster candidates. When Hood arrives at any race, he mixes sailmaking with sailing. He spends much of his time helping skippers with their sails. He makes mental notes—so his friend Collins says—on how the next sail for that particular boat should be cut.

A lot of faith

In 1949 Hood was a year away from graduation at Wentworth Institute in Boston. He decided to try sailmaking full time. His total resources were himself, one stitcher and a lot of faith. The first sails were laid out in a room over a tavern in a building picturesque even by Marble-head standards. It was located on State Street, one of the town's narrow, hilly and cobbled streets. When he started making money, Ted moved to a larger place a few feet from the ocean down on Marblehead's craggy, rock-laden Little Harbor. Here he set up looms to weave his own cloth. He doesn't think that anyone can make cloth the way he wants it, so he weaves his own—the only sailmaker in the world who does.

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