When George Hinterhoeller arrived in Canada from Austria in 1952 he brought his family, his master boat-builder's certificate, a love of sailing and little else.
He found work in Niagara-on-the-Lake with Shepherd Boats, and within several years had his own small shop beside his house where he built a Lightning, some Penguins and Y-Flyers, and in 1958 a smart 24-foot multi-chine fin keel sloop for himself which he named Teeter Totter. She was built of plywood, ha yup d a small cabin and a self-bailing cockpit, was quick and agile and, given a fresh breeze, could plane like a dinghy. Good sailors took notice and in 1960 Hinterhoeller delivered to Glen Dickie of Oakville a round-bilge variant of Teeter Totter of moulded ply construction. Named Shark she promptly won her class in the LYRA regatta. Three moulded ply sisters followed and then Shark #5 was first to be built of fiberglass.
A class had been launched, a class which would in time number over 2000 boats and which continues to thrive over a quarter of a century later – and not only in North America as hundreds of Sharks have been built overseas under licence – in Sweden, and notably in Austria where George Hinterhoeller first sailed and learned his trade.
George Hinterhoeller died on Thursday, March 18, 1999 at Niagara-on-the-lake Hospital.
"A little of George will always sail with every Shark." GEORGE ANTON HINTERHOELLER
Wednesday, April 14, 1999
Ian Coutts Boat designer and builder.
Born in Mondsee, Austria, on March 16, 1928; died after a massive heart attack at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., on March 18, 1999, aged 71.
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 whose father-in-law sailed Shark 147.
THE SHARK - from "A Touch of Class" by Judy Kingsley (#606 Windrift) published in Canadian Yachting, June 1994: Judy Kingsley's "Windrift" off Coboug in 1981
When George Hinterhoeller designed the Shark in 1959, he was looking for a boat that would "go like hell when the wind blew." Growing up sailing in Austria's Salzkammergut region, Hinterhoeller was used to light displacement finkeelers; fast, responsive and exciting. The few sailboats he found on Lake Ontario when he immigrated to Canada in 1952 had heavy displacement hulls. They were ponderous and had a bad habit of hobby-horsing in the rough Lake Ontario chop. The young boat builder/designer was bored by their performance. Announcing that he could build a boat that would sail circles around the rest, he retired to the shed behind his Niagara-on-the-Lake home and built Teeter Totter, a hard-chined 22-foot sloop made of plywood. It was the forunner of the Shark.
And when the wind blew, it did go like hell. Its designer loved it and so did his friends. There was an immediate demand for the nimble little boat 35 years ago, so that winter Hinterhoeller increased the length to 24 feet and began building plywood Sharks in his shed. Hull number 5 was for a customer by the name of Bill O'Reilly who demanded that his boat be built of a substance relatively new to boat building; fiberglass. He even offered to teach Hinterhoeller how to use it. With fiberglass it took 18 man-hours to produce a hull instead of the 128 hours devoted to a wooden hull, and fiberglass was virtually maintenance free. That made his boat the affordable yacht and Hinterholler and Shark were on their way to International success.
Since then, more than 2500 Sharks have taken their place in the fleet, both on the North American continent and in Europe. It rapidly became the biggest one-design keelboat fleet on the Great Lakes and today their are active groups on the east and west coasts and in the Montreal and Ottawa areas. About 500 Sharks sail the large lakes of Austria, Switzerland and Germany and the waters off the Swedish archipelago. There have been changes since Hinterhoeller first designed it, but they have been cosmetic. The sleek hull, straight stem, and long flat run at the stern, fin keel and spade rudder made it a racer that climbs easily over its bow-wave to achieve speeds in excess of 10 knots. The six-foot beam and doghouse accommodate a V-berth, two quarterberths with sink, stove and coldbox, making it a pocket cruiser with sitting headroom. It draws less than four feet, making it an ideal boat to tuck into anchorages denied deeper draught boats.
The Shark's prompt success was due in no small part to its early racing record. In 1960, Hinterhoeller crewed for George Steffan, later President of Mirage Yachts, in the Freeman Cup. They cleaned up with three 1sts using brisk 18-knot winds to put a leg them and their nearest competitor in the race. In the 1963 Freeman Cup the Shark did it again. For small boats, the course was from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Rochester NY, 80 nautical miles along the south shore of Lake Ontario. There were no spinnakers and no genoas on Sharks in those days and the race was sailed with main and working jib only. "We thought our biggest competition would be the "Thunderbirds," Hinterhoeller said "but after the first surf, we knew that there would be no contest. We barreled down the course in seven hours and 44 minutes." In 1963, using a spinnaker on a close reach across Lake Ontario, Sid Dakin, one of the first to own a Shark, sailed the blockhouse Bay race from Toronto to Olcott, NY, with an adrenaline pumping average speed of 10.2 knots, beating the 56-footer Innisfree on a boat-for-boat basis.
That sort of speed boggled the minds of sailors unaccustomed to semi-displacement hulls.
Racing boats come and racing boats go, but the shark remains. With its flexible rig and planing abilities, it is as up to date as anything on the market today. And, with its low-aspect, 7/8ths rig and heavy keel, it has a sea-kindliness and seaworthiness to match its speed. Hinterhoeller admits that the Shark's scantlings are better suited to a tank, but the proof of his wisdom in overbuilding the boat has been in its longevity. Virtually each of the 2,500 Sharks built in the last 35 years is still sailing and many of the first hulls off the line are still winning their share of races. The Shark is seem sailing happily in all major Canadian cruising waters, but some owners have taken them much further afield.
In 1972, Clive O'Connor, his wife, two year old baby and their guitar sailed their Shark from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Melbourne, Australia. They arrived in good form, still speaking to each other and their Shark, at last report, was still being used for research on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Randal Peart sailed his Shark from Windsor and then crossed over to England, cruised the French canals, and then sailed BACK across and cruised the Caribbean for a year. He's still alive and well and eccentric.
If you'd like to correspond with him, he'd be happy to hear from you at: StMaker@aol.com (Editor's Note: The text of the above paragraph has been changed from the original, to reflect new information from Randal's wife, Patricia, received on Sept 11, 2000)
On his return, he reported no structural damage and no bulkheads adrift, but he did ask for a new set of gudgeons to replace his worn ones. More recently, Bob Lush added a foot to the stern of his Shark to bring it up to a minimum 25-foot size for the OSTAR single-handed transatlantic race. His biggest problem crossing the Atlantic was getting stuck in the doldrums and listening to empty sails slap for too many mind-destroying days. The Shark is a forgiving boat which makes it appealing to novices, but with 14 separate lines to tweak, it is as technical as any sailor could wish.
An active class association defined the Shark's measurements and specifications as early as 1966 and in 1984, the association adopted a more formal measurement form patterned after a number of international one-design classes. The fact that all Sharks, both new and old have been built to these specifications has kept the racing fleet viable and maintained the market value of the boat.
The association is active at the international, national and regional levels giving Shark owners who are not part of a local fleet a point of contact and an active racing program. In addition to regular club races, there are regional, provincial and national Shark Class regattas. The highlight of each year is the Shark World Championship, a seven race series held for two consecutive years in North America and, in the third year, in Europe. Host for the 1994 Shark Worlds, won by Don Ruddy in #268 Dartos, was the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club, the club Hinterhoeller helped found. Fifty-six Sharks competed in the 1994 event The World Championship in 1995, won by John Clark/Don Ruddy was held in Freidrickshaven on Lake Constance. Several Canadian Shark sailors competed in this event.
Boats designed by George Hinterhoeller . . .
1959 - SHARK 24
1965 - HR20 (Cygnus 20 in 1967)
1967 - NIAGARA 30
1967 - HINTERHOELLER 28
1969 - HR-25
1969 - HINTERHOELLER 30
1969 - HINTERHOELLER 25
1974 - CYGNUS 20 1977 - NIAGARA 26 Not including all the C&C models George oversaw building, the boats actually built by Hinterhoeller Yachts were. . .
1959 - SHARK 24
1965 - INVADER 36
1967 - NIAGARA 30
1967 - HINTERHOELLER 28
1967 - REDWING 30
1968 - FRIGATE 36
1969 - HR-25
1969 - REDWING 35
1969 - HINTERHOELLER 30
1969 - HINTERHOELLER 25
1974 - CYGNUS 20 - by Skene Boats, Ottawa ON
1976 - AURORA 40
1977 - NIAGARA 26
1977 - NIAGARA 31
1978 - NIAGARA 35
1978 - NONSUCH 30
1981 - FRERS F3
1982 - NONSUCH 26
1983 - NONSUCH 36
1984 - NONSUCH 22
1984 - NIAGARA 42
1988 - NONSUCH 33
1994 - NONSUCH 260
1994 - NONSUCH 324
1994 - NONSUCH 354
Canadian Sailing Hall of Fame 2022
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