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‘The Godfather of Rigging’

2020 August 1

Brion Toss 1951-2020

The news arrived from his family as softly as mist on a cool Northwest morning. “Last night as Venus departed from its intimate planetary visit, our beloved Brion Toss, surrounded by his loving family, caught a peaceful ride on the glorious tide of a Strawberry Rose Full Moon.”

Toss was a legendary master rigger who could be found merely by listening for his booming beacon of a laugh. But he was so much more, and the community mourns his loss.

He died June 6 at age 69 in Port Townsend, Washington, where he had a rigging shop, Brion Toss Yacht Riggers in Point Hudson Marina.

Toss had a reverence for the traditions of the craft and its importance to the safety and well being of sailors and others. But he was also a musician, poet, writer, teacher, voracious reader of literature and a terrible punster. Called Mr. Knot and the Godfather of Rigging, he had a lifelong fascination with good knots, not just for their utility, symmetry, or strength, but also for the sheer joy of their mathematical complexity. 

He turned his vast knowledge of working loads and breaking strengths of wire and cordage into poetic meditations, like the stories in his book “Falling,” and in the often hilarious text in his magnificent book, “The Rigger’s Apprentice,” now a classic, and required reading on every sailor’s shelf. 

Toss could come down to your small sailboat and tie a good luck knot for your voyage, or he could completely re-rig a square-rigged ship, and his famously accessible explanations made sure you would know how to rig one too, if you listened. He was as interested in sailing newbies as he was in circumnavigators.

“His teachings, books and videos were not just the obvious gifts to anyone who learned from them, or just gifts to the self-sufficiency of sailors, they were a shout-out to the world. They enhanced all of our collective marine trades’ reputation and brought renown to Port Townsend,” said Carol Hasse a sailmaker and longtime friend of Toss. “They put us on the map in a way that showed this place really honors craft and the value of work for the sake of what it can bring to the world instead of what it can bring to us individually.” 

Toss loved extravagantly. His love for his wife Christian was so deep that you couldn’t help but notice it pouring out of him in his every gesture near her. We knew he’d had cancer, and it was bad. But the pain of such a loss, even when expected, is the heart’s tribute to a man
so beloved. 

He once signed my copy of “The Rigger’s Apprentice” with a subtle reference to the Clock of the Long Now, a clock buried deep in a mountain whose chime sounds will not repeat themselves in 10,000 years. I think that’s a perfect analogy for who Toss was, and how he lived his extraordinary life.