Huey Long's proud veteran Ondine was first over the line at the finish of last week's 403-mile race around Florida from St. Petersburg to Fort Lauderdale, a fact which surprised no one. But when the final arithmetic was done, Ondine played a poor second fiddle to two saucy newcomers, each designed and sailed by comparative youngsters. First overall on corrected time was R. C. Dungan's 38-foot Sabre, the prototype of a new stock auxiliary ( Columbia 40), which promises to add many bright feathers to the yachting cap of its designer, Charles Morgan. First in Ondine's own Class A was Ted Hood's equally new 47-foot yawl Robin, the latest of a long line of that name to be designed and sailed by one of the few ( Charlie Morgan is another) quadruple-threat men in international yacht racing.
"Sailmaking is my business. Yacht designing is my hobby," says 36-year-old Hood in a summary that leaves no classifications for boatbuilding and sailing, at which he is equally skilled. Sails by Ted Hood dressed, in part or completely, every contender—including the Australian—in the America's Cup campaign of two years ago, and a Ted Hood boat—Nefertiti—was the surprise threat in the selection trials.
A quiet, unpretentious New Engender from Marblehead, Mass., whose family has lived near, by and for the sea for generations, Hood is unvaryingly phlegmatic in a sport distinguished by manic and depressive attitudes. At the start of last week's race, his crewmen somehow lost track of one of the vital warning guns, and Robin's skipper found himself far behind as the other boats slid over the line. Most skippers would have turned their crews to salt with invective. Hood slouched silently at the wheel, his eye fixed on the big genoa jib, urging Robin up, inch by inch, on the boats she should have been leading. "If I'd been Ted," said one of Robin's admiring crewmen, "I'd have killed somebody."
A little while later Robin—safely past all but her biggest rivals—was moving toward the small sub-surface hills of sand and barge-dumped debris that dot Tampa Bay and are known as "spoilage areas." To put more pressure on the boats ahead. Hood decided to sail Robin across rather than around the almost-invisible mounds. The crew, still shaken over the fouled-up start, were shaken anew at this seeming foolhardiness. As anxious eyes watched the bottom rise and fall under Robin's keel on the dial of the electronic depth-finder, Skipper Hood issued an order that sounded almost like an afterthought. "Somebody stand by the centerboard," he murmured, "and get it up quick if we touch." But Robin's centerboard stayed clear of the bottom, and Hood, still intently watching the sails, threaded her smoothly out toward the Sunshine Skyway that bridges the mouth of Tampa Bay.
Ted Hood belongs to the water, and at times his large nose, inquisitive eyes and benign, placid expression give him rather the look of a porpoise in khaki pants and an out-at-elbows sweater. Like most top racing sailors he got his first boat—a dinghy—when he was young. But, unlike most of them, he designed and built it himself and even made the sails. "She was an 11-footer and had double spreaders just like a big boat," he recalls wistfully. Young Hood cut and recut the sails of that little boat until he had just the fit he wanted and, with only a few interruptions, he has been doing the same thing ever since.
After dropping out of high school to serve a hitch in the Navy, Hood went back to graduate and face the realities of the future. Should he spend his life aimlessly messing around with boats and sails and getting nowhere? Or should he do something practical? Hood chose the practical course and spent a year studying business administration at a small New England college. Next he switched to Wentworth Institute for two more years to learn the building and housing business. But by the time he graduated he knew that houses were not for him—sails were.
Ted had spent all his vacation summers cutting sails and sewing them on a dilapidated machine, slowly but surely building himself a reputation as something of a genius among the Marblehead skippers whose sails he recut. When he finished Wentworth, he decided to expand his summer business into a full-time operation. He rented an old unheated loft belonging to a migratory sailmaker, laid newspapers on the floor so the sails would not get dirty and went on cutting and sewing. In that first year Ted Hood's gamble paid enough dividends to last him through the winter. A heated loft was available, so he rented it and carried on.
Business soon began to balloon as high as one of Hood's own beautifully shaped spinnakers and the Hood label became the hallmark of sailmaking quality. Hood sails blossomed on the best ocean racers, on champion 5.5s, on 210s and in every class that boasted sailwise skippers. Hood's success at making sails for bigger boats soon drove him out of his little loft.
"One reason I moved," he says, "was because every time I had to lay out a big sail I had to go out and rent the town hall. Finally people began to complain that I was using it too much. So I had to find a bigger loft of my own." Now he employs 64 people in a modern two-year-old loft, a boat yard and a weaving plant. Unlike many modern sailmakers, some of whom make their designs by computer, Ted Hood still believes that sailcutting is more art than science. He weaves his own Dacron sailcloth, a material even his competitors agree is the best there is. Most Dacron, when it rolls off the looms, is coated with an additive that supposedly stabilizes the slippery threads. Hood uses heat to set his fabric, and whereas other cloths tend to bag with use, Hood's sails seem to improve with age.
Hood's eye for a well-cut sail is matched by his eye for a well-turned hull. The first ocean racer built from Hood plans appeared in 1957 and immediately established herself as a threat. Hood began to get orders for boats as well as sails. But it was the 12-meter Nefertiti that spread Hood's name around the world. She was like no other 12 in history. Instead of minimum beam, which most designers favored, she was as wide as a barn door and in heavy winds went upwind as staunch and stiff as a church. When the wind died, however, so did Nefertiti—and the chance to defend in '62. Hood now thinks he knows how to correct her shortcomings. Meanwhile, his head is full of ideas for a brand-new 12.