EIGHT BELLS: Wallace (“Wally”) Craig Ross

Published on August 28th, 2013

Wallace C. Ross, former Noroton Yacht Club member, prominent yachtsman, pioneer sail maker, businessman and author, died on August 23, 2013 in Vero Beach, Florida. He was 90.

He was President of Hard Sails and Seaboard Marine from 1954 to 1974 which were among the nation’s leading sail loft and marine outfitters at that time.

His success at sail making came during a yachting boom in the 1950’s and 1960’s when synthetic materials were first made available for the crafting of sails. At Hard Sails, he made sails for over 100 national and international small boat champions, in addition to 12-Meter class sails and sails for many large championship boats of the day.

His company’s work with Dacron gave his sails a material that held its shape, permitted the application of aerodynamic theory to sailing and allowed mass production compared to the older sail making technique using cotton.

Seaboard Marine manufactured fittings for many America’s Cup boats in the 1960’s, in addition to many other marine product lines. He also sailed on many America’s Cup boats and became a first class racer in his own right.

Among his innovations were the radial spinnaker and the ball-bearing traveler.

In 1975, Wally Ross wrote the book Sail Power which was the capstone of the previous decade’s new intelligence about sails. The book became an established work on both sides of the Atlantic due to his practical sailing and sail making knowledge. He was credited with writing in layman’s language about a complex subject leaving the reader drawn along with the author as he introduced increasing more complexity.

In 1975, he founded Tortola Yacht Charters in the British Virgin Islands which was eventually acquired by Guinness Beer in 1982. He also created Ross Marine, Inc. which built the original mold and financed the Sonar class of club racing sailboats in the late 1980’s that were designed by Bruce Kirby.

Wallace C. Ross was born in 1923 in Bayshore, Long Island, NY as the son of James D. Ross and Nina Ross. He graduated from Cornell University and served with the 10th Mountain Division during World War II. He lived in Bellport, NY for a number of years with his first wife who is now deceased. He later married Jean Ritchey in 1978 and lived in Rowayton and Darien, CT, Martha’s Vineyard, MA and later in Vero Beach, FL.

He was a member of Noroton Yacht Club, New York Yacht Club, Edgartown Yacht Club, East Chop Beach and Yacht Club, East Chop Tennis Club, Edgartown Golf Club, Coral Reef Yacht Club, Moorings Yacht Club and the Cruising Club of America. With his interest in medicine, talent as a musician, a great golf game, easy writing ability and sailing achievements, Wally Ross was regarded as somewhat of a “renaissance man”.

He is survived by his wife, Jean R. Ross of Martha’s Vineyard, MA and Vero Beach, FL, his brother Douglas R. Ross of Clearwater, FL, his step-children, Douglas A. Bora, Jr. of Darien, CT and Carolyn B. Gould of Concord, MA, their spouses Lorene and George (Josh), and step-grandchildren, Scott D. Bora and Elizabeth (Libby) J. Bora.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, 2300 5th Avenue, Suite 150, Vero Beach, FL 32960.

By Doug Bora


From Donald Street:
Back in the dark ages of yachting in the 70’s at Cowes Week, the sailmakers would all bring in their top personnel and set up temporary shops in Cowes to repair and re-cut their racing sails. The late Wally Ross of Hard Sails , or possibly his assistant the late Dick “cue ball” Curry, came up with the idea of T shirt…


The boys working for the late Ted Hood, unbeknownst to Ted, immediately had T shirts printed up…


Ted, being a conservative and proper New Englander, was a little upset when he arrived in Cowes and saw the rival T shirts, but the die had been cast.

Ah to return to the dark ages when sailing was not so complicated and I think we all enjoyed it more.

Editor’s note: We received several emails recalling these Hard/Hood shirts. Warren Brown remembered during the early days of the Admiral`s Cup in Cowes, an extremely well endowed blond would walk down the street in an almost see through version of the shirt. Some things you just don’t forget.

From George W. Carmany, III:
Commenting on the passing of Wally Ross, for those of us to whom such things are important, let it not be forgotten that Wally’s salad days were making sails on the Great South Bay. I got my first set of dacs from him in 1956, and busy guy though he was while building his Hard Sails business, he always made the time to look at a sail and make whatever adjustments appeared necessary. He was a legend before his time to us down there.

From Tom Duggan:
I did not have the opportunity to know Wally ‘back in the day’ but I spent fair amount of time assisting him with sailing events at Edgartown in his later years. He was a true gentleman, always intent on doing the best job possible for the sailors, never interested in the least whether or not his efforts were recognized. And he was ‘sneak up on you’ funny. Since he was such a gentleman, when he would slide in a wiseass remark, just the surprise of it would crack me up. My guess is that many people who only knew him in retirement did not know of the extent of his accomplishments- as it was not his style to spotlight himself. A few years ago I was talking with someone about Wally and they said “He used to be quite something, wasn’t he?” I had to correct them a bit, “He still is.”

From Ted Jones:
I am saddened by the news of the passing of Wally Ross whom I knew well for many years. Wally and I met on an airplane flying to Tampa in the 1950s and had been friends since.

His Hard Sails made the Dacron sails for my 24′ Shark Mk II, Teazer. We had one of the first “deck sweeper” genoa jibs which captured the air below the sail, increasing the “end plate” effect and the aspect ratio of the sail. The mainsail was so perfect that I never reefed it for fear of spoiling its shape. Instead, I had Wally make an enlarged storm trysail which we used instead of the main in heavy weather. Marine photographer Peter Barlow captured a classic shot of Teazer under spinnaker in a MORC day race which Wally used on the cover of his Seaboard Marine catalog. https://www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/hard-ted.jpg

My heart goes out to Jean and Wally’s extended family. Wally Ross was an icon among sailors. His innovative mind and humorous spirit will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.

From Andrew Besheer:
To carry a little further the double entendre theme of Hard Sails advertising that was discussed in Scuttlebutt 3913 following the passing of Wally Ross, I recall a New York boat show, probably in the late 70’s, where Hard Sails were giving out hats that said: “A Hard man is good to find”.

My mother got one look at that thing and it disappeared pretty quickly.

From Alex Watters:
In response to the Hard / Hood quasi T-shirt war, whilst working at the North loft in Toronto in the 70’s we decided we also needed a snappy shirt….our effort was ‘Fast between the Sheets’. The slogan, dreamed up by a rep in Montreal, was very successful in Canada and remains a favourite of mine to this day…..sadly they have all disappeared.

From Dick Wall:
Wally Ross, Jack Price and I were co-owners of the Hard Sails loft in Miami from 1969-74. Wally and Jack provided the brains, I provided the brawn.

Located on the second floor of the Merrill-Stevens Yacht Yard building in Coconut Grove, the 6000 square foot loft was originally the fabric shop in the old Pan American Airways clipper base. The loft overlooked the interior of the yard on one side, and Biscayne Bay on the other.
Wally was a very frequent visitor to the Miami loft, using Coral Reef Yacht Club as his social base and the loft as his business address.

Fond memories bring back many vibrant days with Wally discussing sail shape, CCA, IOR and MORC ratings, and racing together with countless clients on bay and ocean. One particular memory stands out as a grace note to many of Wally’s fine adventures.

In the autumn of 1970, Wally Ross, Wally Gaffney and I flew from Miami to New York on an Eastern Airlines flight. Our eventual destination was the Hard Sails home loft in Islip, on Long Island. After landing in La Guardia, we claimed our bags and followed Wally Ross out to the long term parking area. His eagle eyes spotted his car and we walked over to a new, white, Datsun 240-Z. I looked at the three of us, at our bags and at the car and wondered how we were going to manage this! It was apparent that Wally had already been thinking of the solution.

He directed Wally Gaffney and I to help him into the back of the open hatchback. We shoe-horned him into the small space. He then told us how to pack the bags behind him, and directed Wally Gaffney into the passenger seat and me into the driver’s seat. Wally Ross, now in the fetal position, faced forward, peering between the seat backs towards the front.

We started up, and drove out of the parking lot. Wally, in his pretzel position in “the lazarette”, told us to go left, go right, turn here, turn there, and after a half hour of this, we finally arrived at the loft in Islip.

Wally Gaffney and I got out of the car, opened the hatch, removed the bags, and slowly unfolded Wally Ross from his very cramped position. He looked a little stiff, but that big smile of his came out and he exclaimed; “That was fun!”

Wally Ross was greatly admired and respected by the Hard Sails staff and sailing world alike. He had a brilliant mind, was always thinking outside the box, possessed the skills of an extraordinary salesman, and was the consummate gentleman.

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