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George Hinterhoeller

George Hinterhoeller just wanted "a boat that would go like hell when the wind blew." In fact, he helped launch a revolution. It was 1959. Mr. Hinterhoeller was a 31-year-old Austrian immigrant, a trained boatwright working for a Niagara-on- the-Lake yacht builder. But what he had in mind was a personal project, a boat of his own big enough to sail on Lake Ontario but faster than the full-keel wooden boats common in those days.


He called her Teeter-Totter. Twenty-two feet long, she was light and easy to sail. Also, thanks to her design, which featured a fairly flat bottom with a fin keel and a straight bow, Teeter-Totter was very fast. People saw the little sloop and wanted one for themselves. George made a few changes to the design, added two feet to the length, and went into business manufacturing the boat he now called a Shark. Originally it was plywood, but when a customer asked for fibreglass, George obliged, although he didn't then care for the stuff. Because no one was sure yet how well this wonder material would wear, to be on the safe side he built his fibreglass Sharks extra-heavy.

George Hinterhoeller had created the right boat out of the right material at the right time. Because fibreglass boats were cheaper and easier to maintain than wood, sailing was no longer restricted to the very rich or the very eccentric. One of the first mass-produced fibreglass boats, the Shark was the seagoing equivalent of the Model-T, but with the sporty feel of an MG and the durability of a Jeep. Soon people were racing Sharks all around the Great Lakes, on the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers and off both Canada's seacoasts.
The Hinterhoellers were among them, "among the first to race as a family," according to George's wife Nona. At a time when most racing crews were grown men, George and Nona were out there with their children, Gabrielle, Richard and Barbara. The family would take over whatever Shark was sitting around the factory each spring -- perhaps one whose final colour the customer hadn't liked -- sail it for the summer, and then sell it in the fall.

Today there are about 2,500 Sharks in North America and Europe, where they sail the Baltic and the mountain lakes of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. After the Shark, George kept going, although more as a builder than a designer. In 1969, with yacht designers Richard Cuthbertson and George Cassian and others, George became one of the founding partners in C&C Yachts. Before he left in 1976 (complaining, as Nona remembered, "that he spent more time in the boardroom than building boats"), he helped turn out hundreds of popular, well-built sailboats, among them the C&C 27, C&C 29 and the Redwing 35.

George's first love was building boats, but he also liked the logistics of running a factory, figuring out how to set it up so his workers could work more efficiently or could turn out boats more cheaply. After C&C, he set up Hinterhoeller Yachts. In the late seventies, when Gordon Fisher of Southam Press was looking for someone to build his idea for an unusual cruising catboat to be called a Nonsuch, George Hinterhoeller was his choice. His yard turned out close to 1,000.

Sadly, George Hinterhoeller outlived the success of the Canadian yacht-building industry he helped start. In the late 1980s, he sold his stake in Hinterhoeller Yachts, partly because it was time to retire, but partly because he feared that the market was getting saturated with used boats, and none of the companies making them seemed willing to slow down production. Today, those companies are gone. The Shark is no longer in production in Canada -- although given how strongly George Hinterhoeller designed and built it, it may well last forever, a speedy, attractive memorial to their creator.
Ian Coutts is a Toronto writer

 
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