Sailmaking Passion Thrives in Port Townsend

Schelleen Rathkopf Community Nautical News

Hasse giving a presentation

For over four decades, Port Townsend has corralled the most ardent boaters together at the Wooden Boat Festival, and this year was no exception. The event once again showed its true colors with an impressive collection of boats on display inside Point Hudson Marina and interesting seminars delivered by passionate presenters to audiences (like me) who were willing to sit on the floor when all the seats were taken.

The piece de resistance for passion at the festival came in the form of Carol Hasse of Hasse & Co. Port Townsend Sails, world renowned as the premier sailmaker of voyaging sails. Having just recently announced her retirement after four decades as a sailmaker in Port Townsend, Hasse is fervently looking for her successor who will take over her business and continue the craft of historical sailmaking.

As a passionate sailor, Hasse joined a small consortium of sailors in Port Townsend who founded the Wooden Boats Festival in 1976. She learned to make sails from famed Master Sailmaker Franz Schattauer, whose own career began only after a four-year sailmakers apprenticeship, followed by a 10-year journeymanship, some schooling, and rigorous exams. During her presentation (and once in an earlier conversation Hasse and I had on the phone), she mentioned that if sails were made properly in the first place, the need for sailmaker repair would be all but non-existent.

The art of sailmaking involves the exact measurements of the boat, the proper materials and hardware to withstand the elements, and the stitching techniques that holds it all together. Done properly, the sail has been designed to counter its bitter nemesis: chaffing and UV rays. Hasse’s sails, which are designed to function perfectly in all wind ranges, are of the highest quality and each one is handmade in her loft in Port Townsend. This is a rarity as the industry often has turned to mass production and the acquiring of sailmaking materials from large factories, primarily in Sri Lanka and China.

Hasse’s enthusiasm about the sailmaking process was infectious and captivating at her seminar. Before we all knew it, an hour and a half had passed and we felt that we were only just beginning to grasp the complexities of this craft.

“Boats are our temples to the sea. They bring us joy and pride as a sailor. They need to be made right,” she said. There was an urgency in her presentation, one that can only be described as deep passion for the subject matter. She wants so badly to find someone to carry on her work. “I can teach people how to make sails. That’s the easy part. But to be a good sailmaker, you have to have a passion for sailing. And passion isn’t something I can teach. No one can.”

Hasse is right about that. And one thing is certain; the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend is a magnet for those who are passionate about boating. And anyone who visits the festival knows that being surrounded by this kind of passion is a very special treat.

Schelleen Rathkopf

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Schelleen Rathkopf is a native Seattleite who grew up cruising and racing in the Puget Sound waters. She is producer of Whidbey Island Race Week (now Point Roberts Race Week) and SHE, a new all women regatta in Seattle. PointRobertsRaceWeek.com

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