Obituary: Ted Hood / Sailing innovator and champion

May 5, 1927 - June 28, 2013

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Ted Hood, a yachtsman, sailmaker, rigging builder and boat designer, not to mention a helmsman who captained Courageous, the 1974 America's Cup winner, died June 28 in Middletown, R.I. He was 86.

The death was confirmed by his son Richard, who said his father had contracted pneumonia and had had heart problems.

A lifelong sailor, Mr. Hood was 7 when he jerry-built his first sailboat, fitting a mast and centerboard into a flat-bottom rowboat. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he began repairing sails to help pay for college, using his grandmother's sewing machine in a bedroom of the family home in Marblehead, Mass. After discovering that sails, then largely made of cotton canvas, were often badly sewn or sloppily cut, he took them apart and remade them into stauncher products that improved the performance of boats.

During the postwar years, cotton sails, which were prone to stretching and disintegrating, began to give way to Dacron, a new synthetic fabric. Mr. Hood and his father, Ralph Stedman Hood, an engineer and chemist, experimented with various chemical treatments of the new material and came up with a process for making their own sailcloth, which had a tighter weave and held its shape better than many commercial cloths.

By the 1970s their company, Hood Sailmakers, was serving sailors worldwide. Its sails were used by every America's Cup winner from 1958 to 1977.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Mr. Hood, who also made spars and designed innovative rigging, built a series of racing yachts, which he skippered to myriad victories in top-flight competition.

In a six-race series sponsored by the Southern Ocean Racing Conference in 1974, his 37-foot sloop, the Robin Too II (a successor to Robin and Robin Too), triumphed over Ted Turner's Lightnin', which finished second, and 109 others. The same year, as skipper of the Courageous, he successfully defended the America's Cup, shutting out a boat from Australia, Southern Cross, in four consecutive races.

Something of a legend among yachtsmen for his physical strength as well as his knowledge of yacht hardware and sailing technique, Mr. Hood was often sought by his competitors for advice and aid. During the 1962 America's Cup defender trials, Mr. Hood, who was captain of a boat he designed, Nefertiti, helped a rival captain, Bus Mosbacher, adjust his sails. Mosbacher's boat, Weatherly, won the competition between them and went on to successfully defend the cup against the Australians. Mosbacher died in 1997.

"Oh, I wanted to win, but against the best possible boat," Mr. Hood said afterward. "And I'd rather have lost to Bus than to the Aussies."

Frederick Emmart Hood was born in Beverly, Mass., on May 5, 1927, and grew up in nearby Danvers and Marblehead, where he graduated from Marblehead High School. Except for a brief period after the war when he attended Wentworth Institute in Boston intending to become a builder and contractor, his focus was on sailing.

"Ted was born in May, so he was about a month old before the yachting season began and we got him into a boat," his father told The New Yorker in 1967. "I think he missed that month -- he's been trying to make up for it ever since."

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