If you’ve been to Point Hudson at any point in the past 30 years you’ve probably seen him up a mast or directing from the deck. At the very least you’ve heard his laugh—to call it “booming” papers over the full-body joviality it seems to express in an explosive and often surprising manner to those around him.
Brion Toss is the epitome of Port Townsend’s casual greatness that risks being overlooked because it’s so familiar. Brion is both just the guy who works down the street and the author who quite literally wrote the book that became the bible for a worldwide generation of maritime enthusiasts—myself included. I was 22 and a newly minted tall-ship sailor when I bought my blue bound copy of The Rigger’s Apprentice. I still have that copy, pine tar thumbprints and all, and it’s still my go-to when I need to tie some new kind of bowline, remember how to lace up the mainsail on our New Haven Sharpie, or just remember what it felt like to be at sea in my 20s.
More than his technical expertise and a laugh that pegs the decibel scale, Brion has a rare talent as a teacher and communicator.
Beyond The Riggers Apprentice, Brion has engaged tens of thousands of students through books, blogs, classes and apprenticeships, all to impart wisdom and skill, and to make more competent humans. Part of what lured me to my second sailing ship was the chance to rig under the direction of who I then referred to as “THE” Brion Toss. Before he was the guy down the street, he was a legend to me. I was starstruck while I served, spliced, leathered, and seized, for the better part of 6 months, the entire rig of a newly built three-masted schooner.
My favorite Toss Sutra: I had just finished my very first wire splice under his watchful eye, and as I looked up in satisfaction he lopped it off with bolt cutters. What was going to be the main forestay lay decapitated on the floor. “Never keep your first one for anything other than hanging on the fridge.” He was right, the next one was better.
Brion was my first connection to Port Townsend, and his skill and genial nature was part of what drew me here. To honor the contribution he’s made to our community, to traditional sailors everywhere, and to his trade is an honor in itself.
(Side note: Festival poster artist Hannah Viano was once an apprentice of Brion Toss. Her wire splices were significantly better.)
Celebrate Brion and our other Lifetime Achievement Awards winners at the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Awards, Friday September 6, 5:30 PM at the Northwest Maritime Center. More information here.
Photo by Off Center Harbor/Brion Toss