C&C’s George Cuthbertson Dead at 88

George CuthbertsonCourtesy George Cuthbertson

George Cassian, left, joined George Cuthbertson, center, in 1961 to form the C&C design firm. At right is a customer, Perry Connolly, the successful yachtsman who skippered Red Jacket to back-to-back victories in the SORC.

Preeminent and influential yacht designer and builder George Cuthbertson died last October at his home in Toronto, Canada. In 1969 he formed C&C Yachts, a partnership that included his design partner “Little George” Cassian; George Hinterhoeller, the Austrian émigré and master builder who took control of the company’s production models; Bruckmann Manufacturing, which specialized in custom raceboats; and Belleville Marine, which took on some production models. Among several yards, the company boasted more than 100,000 sq ft (9,294m2) of shop space with five production lines and 180 employees, turning out 480 boats a year. Facilities in Rhode Island and Germany were added. A thorough history, “C&C—Then and Now,” can be found in PBB No. 92. The company went public. Sales were terrific—$9 million annually. Then it collapsed.

Cuthbertson’s sailboat designs were mostly lightweight fin-keel racer/cruisers with crisp, contemporary lines that had wide appeal, making C&C Yachts a dominant force in North America. The L-shaped aluminum toerail, perforated to receive fairlead snatch blocks, became an easily identifiable signature of C&C. The company also was ahead of the fashion curve in abolishing nearly all wood from the exterior, making the boats easier to maintain than teak-laden competitors.

Cuthbertson graduated from the University of Toronto in engineering and began building boats in 1953. His big break in design was the 54 (16.5m) yawl Inishfree, which was launched two years later. George Cassian, a designer from the automobile industry, joined him in 1961, helping in the development of a number of notable designs including Galatia, Vanadis, Inferno, and Thermopylae—constructed of strip-planked wood.

Red Jacket, 40' (12.2m) sloopBlythe Heepe

Red Jacket, the 40′ (12.2m) sloop that won class in the 1967 SORC and overall in the 1968 running of the event, cemented Cuthbertson’s reputation as a hot-shot designer. Red Jacket is also thought to be the first sailboat built with a balsa-cored FRP hull.

The ascendance of Cuthbertson in the world of yacht design was assured with the 40 (12.2m) Red Jacket, ostensibly the first sailboat built with a balsa-cored FRP hull. Constructed by Erich Bruckmann, she won her division in the prestigious 1967 SORC (Southern Ocean Racing Conference), and won overall in 1968—a difficult feat. Three years later, his designs won three of the five divisions, including overall—a record never accomplished before or since.

In 2012 I had the privilege of visiting with the retired Cuthbertson in conjunction with a C&C Yachts reunion in Burlington, Ontario (see PBB No. 138, page 11). We talked about his design philosophy, in particular two C&C trademarks of yacht appendages. The apparent swept-back keel with highly angled leading edge was not swept-back at all, he told me. Rather, he’d simply removed a triangular-shaped piece of deadwood on the trailing edge that gave it the angled appearance. And the swept-back scimitar-shaped rudder? Cuthbertson said tow tests at the Stevens Institute of Technology tank showed severe cross flow that gave the appearance of weather helm, with and without the rudder in place. “That told me to absolutely minimize the connection between the rudder and the hull,” Cuthbertson said. “That’s why for years we have a scimitar-shaped rudder to minimize the breadth of rudder at the hull to allow the cross flow to pass under the counter unimpeded.”

Portrait of a C&C 61 (18.6m) Christopher Pratt, “Big Boat,” oil on canvas. Collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Reproduced with the artist’s permission.

Another C&C customer was Canadian artist Christopher Pratt, who painted this beguiling portrait of a C&C 61 (18.6m) partially exposed in the building hall. Its fishy underbody is representative of the thousands of other models designed in the 1970s and ’80s, many by Rob Ball, who took over as chief designer in 1973.

C&C’s success didn’t last. Nothing that good ever does, it seems. The economic vagaries of the early 1980s took their toll. Cuthbertson had already retired once from running the company he founded, and after a rest resumed management, finally serving as a director until its dissolution in 1986. Colleagues remember his strong, silent personality, referring somewhat humorously to him and Cassian as “Cumbersome and Casual.” He was a big man and could be imposing. His accomplishments are noted worldwide but nowhere more appreciated than in his homeland. At the C&C reunion, Don Green, who won the 1978 Canada’s Cup in a C&C design named Evergreen, said, “We Canadians too often have an inferiority complex, but with C&C, we did it, and we won.”