For $17,500 Ross and Paige got a barnlike building and a company with a leaky volume of business, roughly equivalent to the purchase price. Ross took immediate command, kept the name and plugged the holes with new management. Then he quickly found that his entry into sailmaking coincided with the coming of synthetics. "We stuck our neck out and decided to use only Dacron," he says, believing that Hard was the first to work exclusively with this material. The decision gave Hard a big jump on the competition. An even bigger one came in the 6-foot-2, 175-pound person of Owen Torrey. Ross and Torrey had known each other for years as Long Island Sound racers. Torrey had his own ideas about sails and, shortly after Ross bought the company, the two met after a race in the convivial gloaming of the Tap Room of the Larchmont Yacht Club. Torrey promptly became a stockholder, a vice-president and the designer. With his slide rule, he began plotting curves on the commuter train. His first formula-cut mainsail appeared about a year later. Told by a group of Connecticut hotshots that the curve was too radical, Hard made it anyway. Bill Cox put it on his Lightning, won the world championship in Buffalo, and Hard's orders began to soar.
"It seemed to be the miraculous answer that sailmakers had been dreaming about for years," Ross later wrote to his customers. "But we were soon to find out that the picture was not so rosy." They had calculated the draft only. At that time Lightning racers sailed with a rigid mast, but some of the other one-designs raced with a bend in the mast. So Torrey went back to work plotting a second curve to allow for spar flexibility. Later he computed a third for differences in cloth.
During the six years it took them to evolve their formulas, Ross and Torrey also experimented drastically with spinnakers. Drawing extensively from parachute research, they innovated a crosscut spherical chute that sold more spinnakers than any other company. They've since worked out a flatter shape that they believe to be even more successful.
Hoisted by its own spinnakers. Hard grew fast, but with expansion came competition. Since Hard's initial success with Lightnings, other analytically designed sails have appeared. "Now Murphy & Nye of Chicago have one that's tough to beat," says still another competitor—Bob Seidelmann of New Jersey. "A sail to a skipper is like horsepower to an auto driver," says Murphy & Nye's Dick Stearns, world Star class champion. "He is interested in only one thing, how fast can it make the boat go? Cost, durability and other considerations are way down the list." In this tough, Detroitlike arena, the leaders must constantly improve to stay on top. Lowell North has, for example, brought forth a roach-reef system, which is a complicated name for an ingeniously simple way of varying draft even while racing by trimming the main with a line connected to the tack. One of the more dazzlingly unorthodox new designs comes from a young industrial designer, Andrew T. Kostanecki, who developed a way of laminating sails by using glue and nylon spinnaker tape. Manufactured by Ratsey & Lapthorn Inc., the Laminair is probably the smoothest sail ever made, but only time and use will tell whether the experiment will stick.
For, despite scientific techniques, sail-making is still a trial-and-error process. "There's still not much useful research about what really makes a boat go," Torrey says. "We don't have millions to spend on wind tunnels and, even if we did, there are so many variables like wind changes, how the mast is stepped, a dirty bottom, how the skipper handles the helm and so on. But with mathematics, we can at least get into the ballpark."