Eight Bells: George Cuthbertson
Published on October 5th, 2017
George H. Cuthbertson, aged 88, passed away on October 3rd at his home in Toronto, Canada. Cuthbertson was best known as one of the original four founders of C&C Yachts, a Canadian yacht builder that dominated North American sailing in the 1970s and early ‘80s.
His was the first “C” in C&C, with his design associate George Cassian, being the second. Cuthbertson would go on to be president of that company for many years, establishing plants in Rhode Island and Kiel, Germany, boat production in England and Italy, in addition to their existing Production Plant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, and Custom Shop in Oakville, ON.
Cuthbertson designs would also be built by Dirk Kneulman of Ontario Yachts in Oakville even after the creation of C&C Yachts, and prior to that by Whitby Boatworks, Capital Yachts, Paceship Yachts, and Mirage Yachts.
He came to the Presidency after an exceptionally successful design career starting immediately after graduation from the University of Toronto in 1950. George was instrumental in selecting and optimizing the 8-Metre Venture II to challenge for and win the Canada’s Cup in 1954.
George then went on to design the 54’ CCA racing yawl Inishfree for Norm Walsh in 1955, a commission which established Cuthbertson’s Canadian Northern company as primary a yacht design company that also imported CN-35 steel yawls from Germany.
Early owners of CN-35s included Ian Morch who would go on to establish Belleville Marine in the 1960s to build the Cuthbertson designed fiberglass keel centerboarders Corvette and Frigate. Belleville Marine would become a founding member of C&C Yachts. Another early CN-35 owner was Perry Connolly who would go on to commission the design and building of Red Jacket.
In 1961 he took George Cassian into the company, and established the design firm of Cuthbertson & Cassian which designed a number of successful steel and strip planked wooden boats for Great Lakes and East Coast customers.
These boats included Galatia for Tony Ronza, Sr., Vanadis for Payson Mathew, Laura for Doug Hood, Courtesan for John Young of Shelter Island, NY, Inferno I for Jim McHugh, La Mouette and Thermopylae for Gordon Fisher, and the little motorsailor Pipe Dream for Sonny Slemin.
However, their breakthrough project was the 40’ “mean and hungry” composite offshore racer Red Jacket, designed for Perry Connolly in 1966. Red Jacket, built by Erich Bruckmann, was the first fully cored hull in North America. She would win her division in the 1967 SORC and return to win SORC overall in 1968, the first non-American boat to do so.
That victory was quickly followed by a successful defence of the Canada’s Cup with Manitou in 1969. This racing success resulted in the formation of C&C Yachts in the same year with the amalgamation of the design firm and the three builders producing Cuthbertson & Cassian designs.
The C&C designs that came off George’s drawing board in the early 70s for production building at the Niagara-on-the-Lake plant of George Hinterhoeller are legendary and include the C&C 25, 27, 30, 35, and 39. The Custom Shop under Erich Bruckmann built such Cuthbertson & Cassian designed classics as the Redline 41, C&C 43, C&C 50, and the remarkable C&C 61. The Redline 41 Condor would follow Red Jacket’s lead and win SORC overall in 1971.
The custom yachts that came off George’s board in this time period further consolidated Cuthbertson’s and C&C’s reputation on the race course under the CCA rule, and included the 53’ Inferno II for Jim McHugh, the 54’ Bonaventure for Bernie Herman, True North for the 1969 Canada’s Cup, and Mirage and Merrythought for the unsuccessful 1971 defence of Canada’s Cup, both of which would go on to achieve great offshore racing success under Gerry Moog and Jack King.
The high water mark of Cuthbertson’s design career was the 1971 SORC where Cuthbertson & Cassian designed boats not only won overall, but also won three of the five divisions. A truly remarkable feat, which has never been achieved by another designer.
After the introduction of the IOR Rule in the early 1970s, the sailing world changed dramatically with the rise of a whole new cohort of young designers. This, combined with the increased demands of running what was becoming a large multi-national public company answerable to a Board of Directors, led Cuthbertson to hand the design responsibilities to Rob Ball, and in 1973 George took on the position of President, a position he held until an outside acquisition of the company in late 1981.
In 1982, Cuthbertson left the company he created to relaunch his design career with a new company, Motion Designs, producing drawings for Ontario Yachts and other local Ontario builders. By the mid-80s, though, the boating market, especially the sailboat market, was in steep decline and the heady days of the late 1960s were long gone.
George became the official historian of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, and for many years sat on the Board of Directors of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston, to which he donated the majority of his papers and drawings.
It is difficult to say that without George Cuthbertson there would not have been a fiberglass sailboat industry in Canada, but with George it a truly was a Canadian industry with Canadian builders producing Canadian designed boats which would dominate the Racer/Cruiser dual purpose boat market for many years.
George was the last surviving member of the original founders of C&C, being predeceased by George Cassian, Ian Morch, George Hinterhoeller, and Erich Bruckmann. Remarkably, Perry Connolly of Red Jacket fame, died just five days before Cuthbertson.
George’s passing truly marks the end of an era in yacht design. He is survived by Helen, his wife and life partner of 58 years, children Michael, Jill, and JohnKelly, and five grandchildren. In all respects, a remarkable legacy. George H. Cuthbertson was inducted into the Canadian Sailing Hall of Fame in 2014. – Rob Mazza