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Sailmaker - Douglas Van Zandt

Sailing, wind and foils in the Van Zandt family goes back three generations. My grandfather was an avid sailor throughout most of his life. Sailing into his 90’s. His brother, Parker Van Zandt, was a pioneer in the aviation world (flying license #17). My father, Sandy Van Zandt, started sailing on a lake in Wisconsin at an early age, taught sailing in the summers during college and started making sails (Van Zandt Sails) in 1958 – the year before I was born. On that note I would suggest that I had a summer of sailing, attending regattas, and hanging out in boatyards during the summer before I was born in the end of August. Both my parents at 88 and 86 still sail regularly on their Tartan 30 during the summer.

I got my first sailboat at age 3 – custom designed and built for me by my parents. Never got it to sail very fast, but it was a great learning tool. Those who know me probably will not be surprised to learn that the same year I got my first bike.  57-years later sailing and biking are still my two main sports.

I spent my summers at the local yacht club’s sailing program sailing Dyer Dhows, Blue Jays, Lasers and 420’s.

One day in the spring of 1979 a Windsurfer showed up and my sailing life made a huge paradigm shift. Prior to that day my friends and I would spent very little time sailing just for the fun of it outside of the sailing classes at the yacht club. The summer of 1979 saw me sail every minute I had free time and there was wind. That summer I ended up windsurfing, on average, 4-days a week for 4-hrs a day.

In the spring of 1980 I told my dad I wanted some smaller hi-wind sails. As a result we built my first custom sails – Well I helped where I could, but watched and learned a lot. The graphics painted on the sails were all my doing.

With the new custom sails came a long string of custom boards I built starting with getting a waterlogged stock windsurfer, cutting a couple of feet off the stern (let it dry out first) and then epoxy on a new wood transom and two fin boxes and foot strap inserts in the deck.

In 1982 I quit my job as a foreign car mechanic and moved to Virginia to help my parents finish building the 39’ steel sailboat, designed by my father, they were building. Other than grinding a lot of metal and a lot of painting I was responsible for making everything made out of stainless steel on the boat such as boom gooseneck (mast/boom connection), bow and stern pulpits and the lifeline stanchions. I had previously spent a year or so working at Hall Spars in Bristol, RI so I was also tasked with building the mast. My work over the years with fiberglass, wood and epoxy earned me the task of building and faring the bilge boards (think centerboards but there were two of them). My parents lived on the boat for 14-years and during that time sailed around the world and across the Atlantic a couple of times for a total of 95,000 miles.

While in Virginia I commissioned a local sailmaker to build a quiver of sails of my design. Other than not having a loft to build them in, we were also being pressed for time to get the boat finished. After the boat (Sequel) was launched I headed off to the US Virgin Islands for a winter of windsurfing.  I started off in St. Thomas, but ended up in St. Croix. I did not get much sailing in due to a knee injury but I did get to experience foiling on a windsurfer. My friend Henry DuPont brought down a foil system that fit in the centerboard trunk of a stock windsurfer. It was really cool to zip around Christiansted Harbor (St, Croix) and make no noise or wake. 

I flew back home in January to regroup for the next year. In the fall of ‘83 I headed back down to St. Croix with a new custom board that Ed Angulo shaped and I finished as well as a quiver of Island Windsurfing custom sails that were designed and built by Monty Spindler (Loft Sails).

During that winter I earned my Captain’s License and got a job taking care of, living on, and being the captain of a 42’ Dick Newick designed racing trimaran. We hit 20-knots every time we went sailing. I also met a sailor named Jack Petith, who was based in St. Croix who has a 38’ Newick Trimaran. 

An experienced single-handed ocean racer, Jack had the desire to race in the 1984 Observers Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) that year which started in Plymouth, England and went across the Atlantic to Newport, RI. I volunteered to help him get the boat ready. Halfway through the 6-week process I volunteered to help him sail the boat to England. Three weeks later the two of us set off on my sailing adventure of a lifetime. We covered 4,000 miles averaging 9.5-kts. During the voyage we experienced a full range of conditions from near calm to 40’ seas and 55-kntos of wind for the last day out of the English Chanel. We had to aggressively but cautiously sail the boat to keep it from jumping the massive swells. Having a 38” boat getting “Air” would have, more than likely, damaged the boat.

After returning to the US, I spent the summer recuperating from a broken leg I got from jumping on to the beach off a windsurfing kit, just like the one I had sailed on all winter. That fall before heading back down to St. Croix I picked up some of the new Neil Pryde RAF sails, and built a 70 sqft sail at my dad’s old sail loft in Old Mystic, CT. that was now Halsey Sailmakers. Note: my father sold the business and retired in 1974 when I was 14.

After a winter full of windsurfing by day and bar tending by night I headed back to Noank, CT for more windsurfing by day and bartending by night. The restaurant shut down for the winter so I decided to build some new sails for myself. Hurricane Sails was born in the fall of 1985. 

After three years of learning how to build sails growing the business, I decided that it was time to move to a place that had more windsurfers per square mile.

I first looked at the Newport, RI area. During the search I called up my friends Moe and Trish Dixon who had started to windsurf the same time as I did in Newport, but spent much of their summers in The Gorge. Moe suggested the Gorge over Maui or Newport. I flew to Hood River and spent a week meeting folks and looking for a place I could set up a sail loft. On the second to last day a realtor I’d met introduced me to Dana Lance who owned the Paris Fair building on 4thand Oak. We went up to the third floor and I knew I’d found the new Hurricane Sail Loft. My dad's first two sail lofts were on the third floor of their respective buildings.

I asked a great friend and first Hurricane Team Rider, Michael Clemett, if he’d help drive out to Hood River. Never one to pass on a good road trip he said yes. With the largest rent-a-truck I could get loaded full of the sail loft and almost everything I owned, we set off on a grand, almost non-stop adventure across the USA. We arrived in Hood River on April 11, 1988. Thus was the beginning of my next big adventure. After unloading the truck - he started building tables and I started designing and building the sails in the line that were not done yet. 

Mo had suggested that I talk to Victor “The Inflictor” Roy to see if he wanted to be my Gorge Team Rider. He said Yes. Life was magical being in the Gorge and Hood River at that time.

After three years in the Paris Fair building things became intolerable with the buildings new landlord/owners and I decided the business needed to move to a better location. After lots of searching I decided to rent the old Schlosser Machine building and remodel it to be the new Hurricane Sail loft. After a winter of hard work changing the corner of the town we moved in and opened. 

The space was fantastic and sales increased for the first couple of years, but the windsurfing industry started to struggle and Hurricane was feeling the same.  I made the hard decision to downsize and become a one-man show in the winter of 1997.

I found a space in Bingen, WA and moved the loft there. After a year I sent out a letter to all my customers that it was going to be my last year (or so I thought) of building Hurricane Sails “Final Edition”. Enjoyably I took orders for 100 sails and spent the next season just making all the sails by myself.  I forgot to mention that I love to build sails. Once all the sails were built, I built, what I thought was going to be my last quiver. On January 14, 1999 I did my final sweep of the loft and ended an era for the Hurricane brand and myself. 

I moved on to remodeling my house and then in the fall @ the ripe old age of 39 I headed off to learn some things at Mt Hood Community College. After 2+ years I transferred to Portland State University where, in 2004’ I graduated with Honors with a degree in Marketing and Management at Portland State University’s School of Business Administration. 

After college I started working in the Solar Industry. I worked my way up to Director of Operations in two different firms, but when the last one ran out of money I decided that I’d had enough of driving to the Portland area every day for better part of ten-years.

One benefit of not driving to Portland every day was more time to sail. Not that I’d ever stopped, but the passion was re-kindled and in looking at my 18-yr old quiver I knew that I needed new sails. I looked around and did not see anything I really wanted to ride on. So Hurricane Sails came out of retirement in the spring of 2017.

(C) Robert Stawicki Photography
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