Meet the Boss
In the modern world of laminates and foils, Carol Hasse and Port Townsend Sails spin gold by sticking to traditional methods of construction and paying attention to the little things that help sails withstand the tests of time. From our June 2012 issue.
Change and Challenges
It was a time of enormous change and cutthroat competition in the sailmaking industry. Lofts were modernizing and mechanizing with computer design and cutting machines. The bottom line demanded that new materials be thrown together in more expedient ways. There was little demand and less profit for sails made in the painstaking manner of the past, but Hasse remained committed to Schattauer’s philosophy: “Give it the same love that a fine shipwright would give the woodwork.”
At first her reputation as a traditionalist drew only the classic-boat enthusiasts, big schooner projects, and historic recreations. But with time, it became apparent that although a little more expensive due to all the handwork and attention to detail, a Hasse sail stayed the course whether flown in tranquil local waters or in the far-flung corners of a windy world.
Her commitment to quality paid off, and the business grew. As she expanded the loft to 10 employees, she had to reconcile her own liberal philosophies with the harsh realities of capitalism. She determined that she’d live out loud the philosophies she held and implemented extremely progressive programs of profit sharing, flextime, maternity leaves, “health days” instead of “sick days,” up to four weeks of paid vacation, and the like.
Those practices created an atmosphere of trust and respect at P.T. Sails, and that’s translated into an efficient and committed workforce, some of whom have been on the team for up to 25 years.
Hasse’s loft built the sails that took Ocean Watch on its journery around the Americas. Carol joined the crew for their last leg home to Seattle.
The loft builds 100 to 150 sails per year, mostly for vessels measuring 35 to 55 feet in length, but with occasional projects for boats up to 100 feet. Port Townsend sails have traveled to the ends of the planet, including on the recent Around the Americas expedition on Ocean Watch, which was chronicled in Cruising World by crewmember Herb McCormick, now the magazine’s senior editor.
Hasse doesn’t get her hands on a sewing machine much any more. She insists, however, on personally measuring up every boat that places an order with P.T. Sails. This keeps her out on the water and out of the loft for much of the time. She’s had opportunities to expand into additional lofts in San Francisco, British Columbia, and Hawai’i, but decided that if she’s to remain personally involved with every sail that comes out of her loft, she must remain small.
She came to the same conclusion with regard to the boat that she’d been promising herself. Her friend, Suzanne Abbot, who in the 1980s became the first female commodore of San Francisco Bay’s Master Mariners Benevolent Association, told her, “All boats are too big on the outside and too small on the inside.”
Taking that advice to heart, she fell in love with Lorraine, a lapstrake 25-foot Nordic Folkboat built in Denmark in 1959. Lorraine sits in the Point Hudson Marina, just below the P.T. Sails loft. Whenever Hasse has time to look up from her desk, which isn’t often, the sight of the lovely sloop puts a smile on her face.
When not sailing aboard others’ boats, she explores the Pacific Northwest on Lorraine, her 25-foot wooden Nordic Folkboat.
Lorraine is elegantly simple and simply elegant. Hasse absolutely lavishes her with loving care. Every year Lorraine carries Hasse and her teenage son, Grayson—he’s named after the American merchant sea captain Robert Gray, who named the Columbia River—through the local waters of Puget Sound and farther afield into the scenic backcountry of British Columbia.
Place to Call Home
Initially, Hasse thought that she’d committed herself to a life of wandering, and with 45,000 sea miles under her keels she’s done her share. But in the small village of Port Townsend, she found more than a boat and a business: She found a home.
And when Hasse commits to something, things get done. She’s held the position of secretary on the board of the Wooden Boat Foundation, which runs the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, for 33 years. This festival has grown into a national event and has been the centerpiece of the expansion of Port Townsend from a languishing old whaling town into a vibrant new maritime and tourist destination. In addition to her other board and association work, in her “spare time” she’s used her American Sailing Association certificate to teach sailing to young women on board such training ships as Alaska Eagle, earned a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton captain’s license, and lectured at women’s sailing seminars in Seattle. Add to this a busy schedule of participation in the Shoreline Advisory Committee and her involvement with various other local political, social, and environmental issues, and—well, you get the picture.
Racing to keep up with Hasse and bring some order to both her business and her life is her partner, Nicki Hopkins, who joined P.T. Sails nine years ago. Although technically the office and personnel manager, Hopkins has dubbed herself the “Chaos Manager.”
I asked Hopkins how she pulls together all of Hasse’s frenetic energy and diverse interests and commitments into something cohesive.
She smiled and said, “Hasse’s the boss, and I’m bossy.”
So while Hasse is out measuring sails, in a civic meeting, or flying off to Fiji to volunteer on an all-women’s sailing vessel, Hopkins sits at the fiscal helm of P.T. Sails. It’s a partnership that works well to the benefit of customers and community.
As I was packing up my tape recorder and notebook, Hasse dashed up to the second floor of her lovely home on Discovery Bay, which was built via barter with local shipwrights, to quickly pack in time to catch the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia, to measure up a boat for a potential customer and hammer down the final details concerning the upcoming Classic Boat Contest. She also hoped to squeeze in a talk with the captain of a Canadian coast-guard icebreaker who suspects that he might have found the location of some remains of the doomed 1845 Sir John Franklin Arctic expedition, for Hasse is interested in all things historical and all things nautical.
As Hasse dashed out the door, she pointed to her cellphone, shorthand directed at Hopkins to mean “We’ll talk.”
Hopkins shook her head, smiled, and said, “There goes the Hasse.”
Alvah Simon is a CW contributing editor.