Robin Sodaro runs the HOOD loft in Sausalito, CA with his wife, Vicki. Robin has been with HOOD since 1975, which makes him one of the longest reigning HOOD sailmakers in the history of the company!
How & when did you become associated with HOOD? When did you open the loft in Sausalito?
I started working for HOOD Sails in Costa Mesa, CA in 1975 and worked there until I moved to Marblehead, MA in December 1982 where I worked in the HOOD Sail Design office at HOOD Marblehead. There, I was able to convince Ted Hood and Chris Bouzaid that there should be a HOOD loft in San Francisco, so I only worked at HOOD Marblehead until the early summer of 1983. In July of that year, I raced in the TransPac to Honolulu and put together the deal with Allen Mitchell to take over the Mitchell sail loft and assets.
My wife, Vicki, and I were married October 8, 1983 in Southern California, we had a three-day honeymoon at Lake Tahoe, and then off to start HOOD Sausalito. We merged with Mitchell Sails. Allen Mitchell had been a sailmaker since the late 1950’s and Allen stayed on with us until around 1995.
In 1985, I purchased the HOOD Loft in Costa Mesa. The Costa Mesa loft was getting their sails from HOOD MH, and we started building the Costa Mesa loft sails here in Sausalito. In 1992, we changed the sail loft in Sausalito to a sales office and sail repairs with two sailmakers and a smaller sail loft in Costa Mesa.
How did you get involved in sailmaking?
I have been sailing since about age 5 when my parents bought a Snipe. I grew up sailing at Balboa Yacht Club in Newport Beach, CA. I raced a lot all over Southern California and in college. A friend I had sailed with for years, Steve Ross, was working at the HOOD loft in Costa Mesa, and he asked me if I had wanted to join HOOD. So, after college graduation the summer of 1975, I started working for HOOD Costa Mesa at the minimum wage of $1.75/hour.
Your loft has been a family run organization since inception, with your wife, Vicki, and children being an integral part of the business. Can you talk about that?
Yes, Vicki and I run the HOOD loft. Vicki worked for Skip Elliott Sails in Newport Beach before I knew her. She also graduated from Cal and worked part time at the North Sails loft in Alameda, CA — she was their first employee, hired by Tom Blackaller.
All three of our kids grew up around the loft. Steve, our son, also works here part-time. He and his wife were runners at UC Berkeley, CA. Steve is one of six runners at Cal to break the four-minute mile and also holds the school’s 3K-steeple chase record. Our daughter, Christine, works for Marin Bikes and races bikes and our other daughter, Leslie, works for an orthodontist.
Tell us about your clients and your area, what happens at HOOD Sausalito?
We have all sorts of clients here in Sausalito and the Bay area: racing, cruising and small boat clients. The average size boat we sell sails to is around 40’. We offer new sails, sail repair and washing, pickup and delivery of sails, canvas work and consulting. I travel all over the Bay area and spend a bit of time racing here and Southern California.
How have you seen sailmaking change through the years and what about HOOD do you think keeps customers coming back?
In my 41 years at HOOD, I’ve have seen many changes in the sailmaking industry; but customers come back to HOOD as the sails we sell are very durable, and we give great customer service.
Over the years, sailmaking has become a little more automated and precise but does still require sailmakers to put together the sails. All the larger sail lofts now have centralized manufacturing, this helps make the sails much more consistent in design and finish. Most of the larger sail lofts have manufacturing offshore to save on the cost of labor in a very competitive sailmaking market.
With the development of laminate string sail construction and better laminate roll goods, the laminate sails are getting more and more popular. I like the Vektron Sailcloth that we launched in 1997; its life is as long as HOOD Dacron but holds its shape better.
Tell us a little about some of your favorite projects and sailing that you’ve been part of or are currently involved with.
There were/are many; most revolve around racing. One of my customers has had a few Swans and currently owns the Swan 53, Katrina. We mainly race Katrina in Southern California but over the years have sailed the boat in Sardinia, Cowes, St. Maarten and Antigua. The same owner purchased a Reichel Pugh 78 last year, so we are racing Zephyrus quite a bit now and sailed the TransPac last year and may well do it again in 2017.
We have made many Swan sails due to my relationship with the Swan dealer that was in Newport Beach, CA. We’ve made sails for the Swan 57, Flyer, and the Swan 46, Kookaburra.
I also race quite often on the 8-meter Yucca, locally here in Sausalito. Yucca is a fun boat to race on as the crew has been together for decades.
Do you own a boat? If so, what kind?
We have a J 24 that we dry sail out of San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere. I got a J 24 back in 1979 and raced it a lot in Southern California. We replaced the ‘79 J-24 with a new J 24 in 1981. In fact, I towed it across country when I moved to Marblehead thinking I would be staying there for a while. As you know, that changed when I opened the HOOD loft here in Sausalito! That J 24 came back across country with me and didn’t touch the Atlantic once.
Vicki raced the J 24 quite a bit in the 80’s and 90’s. She towed the J 24 across country to Newport RI to race in the Woman’s Keelboat Championships. Unfortunately, being sailmakers, our J 24 does not get sailed as much as it used to since we have too many clients looking for us to race with them. Vicki does get out on the water quite a bit these days umpiring all around the US.
Any other stories or memories from the years that you’d like to share about your time with HOOD?
Lots of good HOOD memories. The best of which were in the late 1970 and 80’s when we had the yearly seminar at the HOOD loft in Marblehead. Those were always good parties, with all the lofts worldwide attending.
The Marblehead loft was amazing. They had so much work they added a second shift in the spring and summer. The HOOD compound in those days had the two-story sail loft, sail lab (that manufactured all the one-design sails), Marblehead Manufacturing (made all the HOOD cloth in Marblehead), Ted HOODs Design office, and HOOD Yacht Systems.