Eight Bells: Ted Hood
This past June, the sailing community marked the passing of Ted Hood, a true innovator who played a central role in making the sport what it is today through his work in sailmaking and cruising hull and rig design.
His Marblehead, Massachusetts, based company Hood Sailmakers, which he founded with his father, was a pioneer and long-time leader in the manufacture of Dacron sails, while his many designs strove to find the perfect balance between speed, comfort and safety afloat.
Hood was also a true gentleman of the sport; a man of few words whose word was his bond, and the winning skipper of the 1974 America’s Cup aboard Courageous.
Few, however, knew Hood well, and even at the zenith of his career, he could be painfully quiet at times, something his colleagues and friends say was largely a protective measure. “He said very little but he reacted to things. His eyebrows were very expressive. He wasn’t shy like Olin Stephens, but he didn’t want to give anything away, because he knew so much,” says yachting historian and author John Rousmaniere.
Dev Barker, one of Hood’s oldest friends who wrote extensively about Hood in the 1960s and 1970s as an editor for Yachting magazine, says Hood became much more relaxed in social settings as he got older, but that “for a long time it was very difficult for him.” Barker adds that during his time as race committee chairman for the 1970 America’s Cup, he shared a number of experiences with Hood that not only illustrated Hood’s high regard for the sport, but his unique stature within it.
“He was virtually the only sailmaker building sails for the 12s,” recalls Barker. “Everybody trusted him to make the fastest sails for them, even though he was competing against them. That is truly remarkable.”
In 1968, Barker convinced his friend to compete in the Bermuda Race aboard Hood’s self-designed 50-footer Robin, one of a series of Hood-designed performance cruisers that carried that name. In a fresh breeze, crashing into the Gulf Stream, Hood called for a No. 2 genoa that had never been fitted to the boat. Worrying about the bow wave being caught in the foot of the jib, Hood switched the halyard pennant from the head to the tack to raise the sail clear of the waves. “That was the sail we wound up using for the bulk of the race, and we won,” says Barker. “That was Ted. ‘Let’s try it.’ And it was always absolutely the right thing. That was his genius.”