George Hinterhoeller, the well-known Canadian boatbuilder, died from complications of a stroke in the spring of 1999. We’d talked some over the years, most recently about his contributions to my history of the industry, Heart of Glass. His passing took me by surprise. I also felt a great sadness, that one of the most remarkable men in the business of building fiberglass boats had not only died, but died before I could show him the fruit of our collaboration.
George began boatbuilding in 1946 as an apprentice in his native Austria. Then, as he wrote for my chapter on Canadian builders, “I arrived in North America where the streets are paved with gold in 1952 with a box full of tools, a training in boatbuilding and $30 in my pocket. Thanks to a fellow Austrian boatbuilder who preceded my arrival here, I had employment waiting for me at Shepherd Boats in Niagara-on-the-Lake [Ontario]. This was the premier powerboat builder in Canada. The only trouble was that powerboats for me, an ardent sailor, were not my love.”
As you can tell from the above passage, George was quite literate, and not without a sense of humor.
In his spare time he began building sailboats. By 1956 he was taking numerous orders for the Y-Flyer one-design. He built 40 before “the market dried up.”
In 1959 he built one of the most noteworthy boats in the 50-year history of fiberglass sailboats. The Shark 24 was his own design. It has a cast iron fin keel and a displacement/length ratio of 123, extraordinarily low for its time.
The Shark’s race record was amazing. In the 1960 Lake Yacht Racing Association week, George took three guns in three races. In 1963, he completed the 80-mile Freeman Cup race averaging 10.8 knots. And in 1964, Shark owner Sid Dakin took line honors in the Blockhouse Bay race, covering 40 miles averaging 10.4 knots on a “tight spinnaker reach.” Second overall was the 56' Inishfree.
The boat also was cruised successfully. Randall Peart double-crossed the Atlantic single-handed and Clive O’Conner, with wife and two-year-old daughter, sailed from Niagara to Australia. George built about 1,000 Sharks in Canada and another 1,000 were built in Europe under license. The first boats were plywood, the rest of fiberglass.
George’s Hinterhoeller Ltd. grew to produce racer/cruiser auxiliaries such as the Redwing 30 and Invader 35. In 1969, he formed C&C Yachts, joining his company with yacht designers Cuthbertson & Cassian, and two boatbuilders, Bruckmann Manufacturing and Belleville Marine. All boats produced by the new group were called C&Cs and were noted for their sleek good looks and excellent performance.
In 1975, George had had enough of what had become a corporate life and resigned. But, “a boatbuilder without a shop is like a fish out of water,” he said. Two years later, in 1977, he formed Hinterhoeller Yachts. This company built the successful Nonsuch catboats, the Niagara 31 and 35 masthead sloops (designed by German Frers and Mark Ellis, respectively), and Limestone 24 powerboat.
In 1982, he was bestowed an honorary doctorate from Brock University for his contributions to “sailing, yacht construction and job creation.”
Six years later, he wrote, “I closed my toolbox for good and I now do what retired people do: get up in the morning, have nothing to do and by the time I go to bed even that is only half done.”
That’s difficult to imagine…he seemed like such an inveterate tinkerer, always trying to make things work better, simpler, more smoothly.
His last lines to me were, “I have done all my life what I really wanted to do and had lots of fun doing it. Amen.”
Rest in peace, George.