PORT TOWNSEND — After 40 years of making sails in her loft in Point Hudson, Carol Hasse sits on her 1959 25-foot Nordic folk boat Lorraine, which is named for her mother, with a contented smile.
From her slip, Hasse can see her Port Townsend Sails studio. She and her staff of seven, some who have been with her for 30 years, make sails that, according to the Seven Seas Cruising Association, are world-renowned, considered the best offshore cruising sails available.
They are specially built from start to finish, by hand, with exacting specifications from the highest quality materials, Hasse said.
Her customers are from the U.S., Canada and other countries, including Mexico and Australia.
Hasse is part of the working waterfront in Port Townsend, the people who make up the maritime trades.
She is a founding member of the Wooden Boats Foundation and the Wooden Boat Festival, which continues today and runs through Sunday at Point Hudson.
She is on the board of the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St.
Her personal history is entangled with the history of this maritime community.
Hasse, 67, grew up in Camus on the Columbia River. She went to the University of Puget Sound with hopes of being a doctor, specifically serving on the ship HOPE.
Instead, she spent one year protesting the Vietnam War while coming of age.
“I realized the values of my country did not necessarily reflect my values, so rather than continue my schooling I decided to hitchhike the world,” she said.
“I visited 23 countries and ended up at the border of Iraq and Syria. I then realized how beautiful and unspoiled and lovely the Pacific Northwest is and how each nation has its own issues.”
She thought Canada might be a good place to land, but decided that there was no place like home and dedicated herself to the calling of the sea. She learned celestial navigation before there was such a thing as GPS. Her first trip was to Mexico on a 42-foot Cascade offshore boat that encountered “the worst weather I’ve experienced in over 45,000 miles of ocean travel.”
“I was 21 and fearless. By the time I got to the Golden Gate Bridge, I was hooked on this life,” she said.
Hasse worked on a communal boat project in Bellingham, building a 47-foot Skookum which helped her learn boat building from the ground up. Sails became her part of the project. She learned traditional sail-making techniques from Shattauer Sails Loft in Seattle.
“Franz Schattauer was a master sailmaker and old world craftsman from Germany, and I learned all the handwork to make a sail that’s durable and dependable, one any blue water sailor could take care of,” she said.
The crew sailed their community boat into Point Hudson in 1975 and Hasse knew this is where she wanted to be. She talked with some boat-builders and realized there was work available for those who had skills. Point Hudson had a series of buildings that were inexpensive to rent. She saw an opportunity, took it, and worked in the loft space for a couple of years.
“I ended up bucking up the courage, borrowed $5,000 from Harriet Deninson and talked a friend, Nora Petrich, to be a business partner. She and I opened the business in August 1978 and she left in 2005.
“I didn’t have two nickles to rub together. I lived in the shop for 2½ years under a big cutting table. The shop had a tar roof and no insulation; the bathroom had cold water. It was as comfortable as living on a boat.”
Hasse and others wanted to build Point Hudson into a campus engaged in sailing and boat making.
“We had a vision about a foundation that would host a festival that would share the joy of sailing and celebrate the ability to make things with our own hands, to rely on self-sufficiency,” Hasse said.
”All of those things that have made such a difference in our lives — on the sea in our little boats, doing riggings, making boats, making sails. We wanted to share what is happening in the Salish Sea with the world.”
Hasse has logged more than 45,000 offshore miles in northern and southern latitudes on boats ranging from 25 feet to 100 feet.
She sailed vessels with traditional and modern riggings, mono- and multi-hulls and has built both wooden boats and fiberglass ones, she said, adding that she has a Coast Guard license and has worked as a longboat captain and was one of the first mates on the newly re-launched tall ship Adventuress in 1980.
She feels strongly about sharing her love of the sea with others. She teaches and lectures, and is a regular judge at the Victoria Classic Boat Festival. She has taken women on trips to Tahiti, Fiji, Hawaii and Victoria and plans to continue sharing her love of the sea.
“We were all besotted with boats back then,” she remembers. “I can’t believe how magical my life has been because of sailing.”
During the 42nd Wooden Boat Festival going on now, Hasse will conduct an open house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. today to thank customers for four decades of success. Port Townsend Sails is located at 315 Jackson St.
She’ll present “The Essentials of Sailmaking” a 90-minute lecture about types of rigs, tools, materials and design, sewing and handwork at Port Townsend Sails at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Hasse will join Kaci Cronkhite — former director of the Wooden Boat Festival, who was succeeded by Barb Trailer — Nancy Erley, Behan Gifford, Wendy Hinman, Leslie Linkkila and Pam Wall for the “Women’s Offshore Panel” at 3:45 p.m. Saturday at the Adventure Stage.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]