Presenting the greatest hits (and a few misses) from two turbulent decades at C&C Yachts
From C to C
Presenting the greatest hits (and a few misses) from two turbulent decades at C&C Yachts
By Doug Hunter
For the first time in more than two decades, visitors to the 1990 Toronto International Boat Show in January could not tour the product line of C&C Yachts, which for many consumers had been a flagship of the Canadian sailboat industry. The day after the show closed, C&C had announced that it was up for sale; and with no new owners in sight and creditors losing faith, the company was placed in receivership in September. The search for new ownership continued, but none was found in time to take the company to the most recent edition of the country's leading boat show. But C&C staff were on hand, talking optimistically of a potential new ownership structure with Hong Kong interests.
With the possibility of another chapter being opened in the C&C saga, it occurred to us at Canadian Yachting that the time was right for a retrospective on the company. If new owners are found, such a retrospective will help the consumer view the reborn operation within the context of the company's storied past. Should the company not be revived [which it was, ed.], we would at least better appreciate what it was the Cs in C&C had stood for. This is not an obituary. Rather, our august editors (in consultation with former C&C associates), have dared to assemble an idiosyncratic overview of the company's activities, focusing on the aspect of the operation that meant most to the average boater: the boats.
C&C has built a lot of boats in a lot of different styles for a lot of different purposes. Any company that could create both Evergreen and the Landfall 43 has had the right to call itself diverse. But ultimately C&C built its reputation and success on the ubiquitous racer/cruiser, a concept it approached from any number of angles. The sheer variety of models encountered in poring through files of drawings and photos is numbing. Say "C&C 27" and you're talking about five different boats: the four versions of the original model, plus the MORC-influenced 1980s model -- not to mention the Wave 26, which was a stripped-down entry-level version of the last 27. In discussing the C&C 29, one has to be very careful to differentiate between the 1976 model and the 1982 model -- they're world's apart in quality and popularity.
We did our best to date the designs, and in the case of production boats the date refers to the approximate year of introduction to the marketplace, although the design may have been built for many years after that. The C&C 27, for example, is dated 1970, although it stayed in production until 1982. We haven't tried to discuss every boat C&C ever built. Instead we've hit the highlights -- the Masterpieces -- and just to make sure you aren't left with the impression that the company has had a Midas touch, we've offered some miscues -- the Anomalies. If you happen to own one of the few models to which we've given a raspberry, we're sorry, but you can take solace in the fact that even the worst efforts by C&C would make a lot of other builders proud. Besides, we know people that love the Mega. God bless them, every one.
C&C: A Whirlwind Corporate History
September, 1969: The design firm of Cuthbertson & Cassian Ltd. joins forces with Belleville Marine Yard, Hinterhoeller Ltd. and Bruckmann Manufacturing to form C&C Yachts. A share issue is floated by Walwyn, Stodgell & Co. on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Ian Morch of Belleville Marine Yard becomes the first president. The duty barrier on U.S. boats is at 17.5 per cent. C&C achieves sales of $3.9 million.
1971: Ian Morch wants C&C's operations to become a homogenous whole. George Cuthbertson wants the plants to operate as individual profit centres. Morch's vision finally carries the day, but boardroom animosity is such that Monarch is compelled to step down as company president. He leaves C&C and takes with him the assets of Belleville Marine Yard, then sells most of its shares to Credit Foncier. George Hinterhoeller succeeds him as president.
1973: After repeated efforts to extricate himself from an unwanted post, George Hinterhoeller has resigned as president. George Cuthbertson agrees to take his place in what all view as a temporary stop-gap measure while they search for a corporate pro. He ends up running the company for eight years.
1975: The company scraps a plan to expand its custom facilities in Oakville, Ont., selling half of a 22-acre block of land acquired for the purpose. Instead it decides to move into international manufacturing. In July the Rhode Island Port Authority and Economic Development Corporation authorizes the sale of US$1.5 million in tax-exempt industrial development bonds to C&C, payable from receipts. C&C is also arranging a low-interest loan from the city of Kiel and the state of Schleswig-Holstein in West Germany to open a 27,000-square foot plant.
February, 1976: C&C opens a three-bay 56,000-square-foot plant in Middletown, Rhode Island. By year-end, worker training is underway in Kiel.
1976: George Hinterhoeller sells his shares in C&C and goes back into boatbuilding for himself as Hinterhoeller Yachts. Designer Mark Ellis leaves C&C to supply Hinterhoeller with the lines for the Niagara and Nonsuch series.
1978: Production begins at the C&C plant in Kiel.
1979: C&C is forced to close the German factory, mainly due to a strong deutschmark that makes it more economical to build boats in Canada and ship them overseas. Since beginning the Kiel plant program, the mark has leapt from 32 to 65 cents Canadian. The company declares a $496,000 loss for the year and 350,000 new shares are issued to bring $1.1 million into the beleaguered company treasury. The death of George Cassian casts the greatest shadow.
1980: The company meets its sales objectives, which exceed $30 million, but pretax earnings fall from 35 cents per share to 29 cents after a disappointing fourth quarter directly attributed to a massive raw materials shortage at the Middletown, R.I., plant. The missing materials reduce gross profit by $485,000. Heads roll in Rhode Island as a result.
January, 1981: A stellar year, with sales a record $39.7 million, a 20 per cent profit margin, and earnings of $1.24 per share. But the stock remains undervalued, trading at only $3.50 per share. A takeover bid is launched by Air Ontario Ltd., led by principle Jim Plaxton, a C&C customer. Air Ontario offers $4.50 per share (the original issue price) for 51 per cent of outstanding common shares. The board turns down the offer, and goes ahead with a plan to elevate vice-president David Gee to the president's seat as George Cuthbertson carries on as chief executive officer. Plaxton agrees to come back with an offer for all outstanding shares at $5.25, this time with a partner, Austin Airways of Timmins, Ont., to help finance the deal.
January, 1982: The Plaxton group succeeds in acquiring all outstanding C&C shares, with the share purchase price having climbed to $6.00. C&C becomes a private company for the first time. David Gee is reaffirmed as president, while George Cuthbertson withdraws from the company.
1983: Having vowed to return to the race course,
C&C manages its finest results since the early 1970s. Canada's
Admiral's Cup team assembles an all-C&C line-up -- the 45-foot
Amazing Grace V, the 41-foot Silver Shadow III, and the 39-foot
Magistri -- and finishes an impressive 6th overall, an all-time
high for Canada.
1985: C&C experiences its first bona fide racing disaster with the company-backed custom 44 Silver Shadow IV. The yacht performs poorly at SORC, and estimates of the total cost of the project to C&C approach $1 million. In November, the company closes its plant in Middletown, R.I., thereby bringing to an end its foray into multinational manufacturing. When the custom shop is also closed, C&C is left with a single manufacturing operation in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
1986: The year begins auspiciously with the resignation of president David Gee, who decides to join Havlik Technologies of Cambridge, Ont. -- but hangs on to his C&C 41, which he keeps in Penetanguishene, Ont. Gee is replaced as president by Bill Deluce of the Deluce family of Austin Airways. C&C is looking less like a leading yacht builder than a means to an end for the Deluce family. The financing of Plaxton's 1981 takeover bid allowed the family to gain effective control of Air Ontario. Erich Bruckmann, left without a custom shop to run, goes back into business for himself in Bronte, Ont., in the old Metro Marine facility, where he started his boatbuilding career in Canada as a foreman 30 years previous. Bruckmann is the last of the original C&C partners to leave the company. For many industry watchers, the unthinkable then happens. C&C goes on the rocks, falling into receivership. A consortium of limited partners, packaged and backed by Mutual Trust and led by Brian Rose of North South Yacht Charters, takes over.
1988: Concerned by the performance of C&C, Mutual Trust conducts an internal audit and decides to assume control of day-to-day operation. Mutual Trust vice-president Robert Steubing replaces Rose as president. Total sales are in the $15-million range.
1989: C&C launches a joint venture with Neptune Yachts of Holland. C&C begins building Neptunus motor yachts for the North American market, while Neptunus agrees to market C&C sailboats in Europe.
January, 1990: Following the Toronto International Boat Show, C&C announces that it is on the auction block as Mutual Trust moves to withdraw from its financial participation. Price-Waterhouse is hired to find a new owner. Steubing pulls back from hands-on management.
July, 1990: C&C hits a credit crunch. The Royal Bank refuses to increase its $4.4 million in secured financing. To keep the company afloat, Mutual Trust, which already has $2.5 million in loans extended to C&C on which no interest has been paid in some time, advances another $2.5 million backed by a note from the bank of Montreal as the search for a new owner continues.
September, 1990: With no firm offer for the company having materialized, Mutual Trust and the Royal Bank call it quits and appoint Price-Waterhouse receiver-manager. Rob Ball leaves to join Concordia Custom Yachts.
January, 1991: Price-Waterhouse has been unable to find new owners, although there are rumours of Hong Kong financing in the works. For the first time in its history, C&C fails to exhibit at the Toronto International Boat Show.
January 1992: Assets of C&C Yachts are purchased by C&C International. Anthony Koo becomes president of the new company.
What makes a great boat great? In the case of production models, it's hard to argue with volume. Herewith is a mix of bestsellers, notable custom projects, and boats we just happen to like a whole lot. C&C 35 (1970) When the newly formed C&C Yachts decided to overhaul its product line (cobbled together from the designs like the Redline 41 and Corvette 31, already in production), it began with the C&C 35, introduced in 1970.
C&C 35: the first success
The boat had actually been designed for Hinterhoeller Ltd. and initially went into production as the Redwing 35. The first one, Red Head, was taken to SORC and sailed by Bruce Kirby. While Red Head did not shine in the heavy-air series (a broken rudder shaft didn't help), the C&C 35 went on to score other victories, including division honours in the Newport-Bermuda Race, and the design proved to be one of the company's best loved. The 35 had phenomenal stability, a long waterline for its time, and a handsome interior. It was also lighter than the average racing boat of the day. The 35 enjoyed one of the longest production runs in the company history. Its delivery of quality fibreglass construction on a high-volume basis was unique for the day, and helped establish C&C's reputation as a first-class builder.
C&C 27 (1970)
Shortly after the 35 was introduced, C&C unveiled the 27, which proved to be the company's most popular model, which nearly 1,000 produced. It went through four "Mark" versions, and replaced the model -- the 26 -- that was created to replace it.(See "Classic Boats" this issue for more on the 27). It shared many of the 35's admirable qualities. Most notable were its phenomenally solid construction and incredible stability. It was not an outstanding performer upwind, but was a great reacher, which suited cruisers just fine. All in all, a terrific cruiser that still attracted a racing following.
C&C 38 (1975)
Introduced in 1975, the 38 stood out for not standing out at all. It can best be categorized as "wholesome." A true racer-cruiser, the design performed well around the cans, had good middle-of-the-road stability, and came with a nice interior. It was the perfect size for the cruiser who wanted room below but not too much to handle up on the deck. The market loved it. At 98 units, it was C&C's best-seller of 1976.
C&C 40 (1977)
The company's success with the 38 paved way for a big sister that proved to be one of the most profitable projects in the company's history. Launched as a limited series production design, interest in the 40 was initially low -- C&C had been beaten to the market by boats like the North American 40 (which it had been approached to build under contract), Swan 411, Islander 40 and Tartan 41. Initially 19 were built by the custom division, and as these customized versions - such as Amazing Grace (for Robert Herron of Port Credit, Ont.) and in particular Coyote and On Rush for Long Island clients -- began chalking up racing successes, the orders came rolling in. In all 167 were built at a 25 per cent profit margin, which helped offset the company's difficulty building models under 30 feet profitability. The 40 was a major success for C&C in the tough Long Island Sound market, where an association just for C&C 40 owners was formed.
This custom 67-foot schooner, commissioned by Michael Davies, publisher of the Kingston Whig-Standard, was launched in September, 1980. She is notable for several reasons. She remains the largest pleasureboat commission ever receiverd by C&C, and as such was an enormous project -- six months in design and 14 months in construction. Most important, she epitomized a trend within C&C that has mostly been overlooked -- a move toward more cruising-oriented designs under George Cuthbertson's direction, best illustrated by the development of the Landfall series. The transition into a cruising-driven company was never made.
The Plaxton-led takeover the year after Archangel's launching resulted in Cuthbertson's departure and an aggressive return to the race course.
C&C 37 (1981)
Its marginally reversed transom and springy sheer recalled the best of the C&C racecruisers of the 1970s. It looked like it had never been within ten miles of an IOR certificate, never mind measured for one. A few years later C&C would launch its antithesis, the new 38, which was actually a few inches shorter than the 37 but a foot wider. It was an oddball IOR-ish effort with tumblehome in the topsides, a performance-enhancement exercise gone slightly amok. On aesthetics and popularity, the 37 won hands down.
C&C 41 (1981)
This was a bread-and-butter boat for C&C during the early '80s. A semi-custom version, Silver Shadow III, was part of the all-C&C Canadian Admiral's Cup team in 1983. A handsome design with respectable speed on the race course. Evergreen (1977) Few yachts have created more controversy than Don Green's 1978 Canada's Cup winner. A radical, dinghy-like 41-footer designed only with winning the above trophy in mind, its extreme design and controversial features ruffled feathers around the world. The C&C design team exploited rule loopholes -- ruthlessly -- the galley, for example, had a sink, as the IOR prescribed, but it had no drain (to save weight), which the rulemakers didn't think to mention. Her deck hatches opened inward, raising heated debate about her seaworthiness.
After winning the Cup, rulebooks were tightened to make sure nothing like her ever sailed again. Her complex rig hydraulics were banned, her gybing daggerboard deep-sixed, and despite her having won the cup, no-one ever asked C&C to design a Canada's Cup boat again. All controversy aside, Evergreen was an astonishing technological tour de force. Fourteen years later, she'd still more sophisticated than any IOR design today.
Not the rechristened Marauder of 1975 Canada's Cup fame -- this Magistri, a custom 39-footer, was designed and built for Peter Farlinger, a former member of the syndicate that had purchased and renamed Marauder. Our Magistri never earned the reputation in Canada that she deserved -- mainly because Farlinger sailed her exclusively offshore and only for a short period before selling her to Swedish interests. But she campaigned with distinnction, winning the Channel Race as part of the Canadian team at the 1983 Admiral's Cup. An excellent, if small-ish, ocean racer that reaffirmed there was no more to C&C's design touch than a wildcard like Evergreen.
C&C 44 (1985)
Proving that trophies aren't everything in sales promotion, the C&C 44 survived the disastrous performance of the custom prototype, Silver Shadow IV, at the 1985 SORC to become a solid top end to the C&C product line. With the fin keel version drawing more than eight feet, C&C offered a centreboard configuration to reduce draft to five feet, four in. The 44 continued a C&C tradition for nicely proportioned boats.
Inevitably much of what C&C is remembered for predates the 1980s, not only because the 1970s were the company's finest years, but because during the former decade C&C was setting the pace in the pleasureboat industry. In the 1980s the company, like so many others, was coming to terms with a tough recession, a shrinking market, a used boat market of its own making that was providing daunting competition for its new models, and an invasion of French yachts that set the pace in interior design.
As a result, some of C&C's early achievements no longer stand head and shoulders above the marketplace. Still, they're worth remembering. Construction excellence: Although high quality was not uniform over the years, C&C earned its reputation for excellence early, through models like the C&C 27, 30 and 35. In fact, the company's reputation preceded it.
The Cuthbertson & Cassian design team and builder Erich Bruckmann gave the world its first balsa-core hull with Red Jacket in 1966. C&C engineering, combined with the boatbuilding skills of Bruckmann and George Hinterhoeller, proved to the consumer that a fibreglass boat didn't have to be built like a brick outhouse to be good -- light and rigid was perfectly fine. Before entering receivership last September, C&C was making its strongest statement in years on high-quality construction with its use of Kevlar composites in the 34 and 37 models.
The race course: When C&C started out, launching a new production model by taking a prototype to SORC was par for the course. The racer-cruiser soon became an endangered species in big-league regattas, but C&C couldn't resist returning to the race course in the ensuing years. Ever since Red Jacket became the first non-American boat to win SORC in 1968, racing had been a fixture of C&C's image and a heritage it never turned its back on. Every Canadian yacht that contested the Canada's Cup from 1969 to 1978 was a C&C product. No other Canadian sailboat builder -- few others in the world, for that matter -- had such a love-hate relationship with yacht racing. Even when the players in the big leagues stopped calling on C&C for custom designs, the company was still committed to producing yachts best defined as racercruisers.
Its most recent 34R and 37R models represented the strongest commitment C&C had made to chasing racing clientele in years. In retrospect, some of C&C's problems in the 1980s were caused by trying to serve a market that no longer existed. The days of the dual-purpose racer-cruiser -- at least one that could win a major title like SORC -- were long gone. The IOR was king on the race course, and it was difficult to create a design that could find success in gran prix events and then be transformed into a production series racer-cruiser.
What C&C needed was the IMS rule, but IMS would take until the end of the decade to catch on. Recent designs like the 34R and 37R were created with the IMS in mind, and were offered in racer/cruiser "+" versions. It's too soon to tell whether or not these latest efforts rank with the greatest of C&C's designs.
The boardroom: C&C prided itself in being a company first and a boatbuilder second. In a business often typified as a cottage industry, C&C strove for corporate respect. This was partly a natural outgrowth of being a public company for its first dozen years -- accountability to shareholders and trading status on the TSE made it inevitable that the company would have to behave as a company. But there was also a natural discipline to its approach to business. The company didn't just build what it felt like, or what everyone else seemed to be building. It conducted market studies, built what the market wanted and built it well, and in the 1970s was a deserved industry leader, despite miscalculations like the European plant, the Mega, and the 24-26-29 product line. Brilliant performances like the 25, 27, 30, 35, 38 and 40 more than made up for them.
It was only in the 1980s that the company began to lose its aura of superiority. Privatized in 1982, stiff competition from maturing Canadian builders and French products that overnight set new design standards put C&C on the defensive. Its first receivership in 1986 burst its bubble of invincibility.
Other peoples boats
Not all C&C Design Group designs were built by C&C. Throughout the 1970s the company was happy to have its design group create boats for other builders. Among the phantom C&Cs that can be found sailing today are the Ontario 32, Whitby 45, Boston Whaler sailing dinghy, Mirage 24, Viking 33 (designed by C&C in 1971, redesigned as the 34 in 1974; the Viking 28 was a pre-C&C Cuthbertson and Cassian effort), Northern 1/4 Ton and several models for England's Trapper Yachts and Finland's Baltic Yachts (the 37 and 43, for example). An honourable mention goes to the Great Lakes 33 trawler, built by Ontario Yachts. John Atkin was always publicly credited as the designer, but its lines were drawn by C&C's Rob Ball.
C&C had such market momentum that if it was often possible for it to produce less-than-perfect designs that still sold well. It also introduced models with great fanfare that quickly disappeared without a trace. Here are a mix of barefaced failures and efforts that fell short of the company's own high standards.
Ford had its Edsel, C&C had its Mega. At the height of its success as a builder and designer of first-class yachts, C&C produced this turkey. The concept of a one-design 30-footer at the price of a 25-footer was admirable, but too many cooks - or concepts - spoiled the broth. By the time C&C had finished making the Mega trailerable (with 8-foot beam and retractible fin keel) and giving it standing headroom, a self-tacking jib on a seven-eights rig and a transom-mounted rudder (with tiller steering), they had a slab-sided brute that didn't go to weather well. In 1977 the company leased the 23,000-square-foot-shop of the defunct Grampian Boats ostensibly to build the Mega (but actually to provide an alternate plant should the Niagara-on-the-Lake facility go on strike, which it didn't), and also reserved a line at the new European plant for it. Less than 100 were ever built, and trailerability was probably the single criterion that led the concept awry. The demoralized design office held its own "what to do with a Mega contest" - one entry suggested sinking them to make breakwalls. Custom shop head Erich Bruckmann made the best of a bad thing by converting a Mega hull into a cruising powerboat. Mega Putt Putt is still tooling around at eight knots.
One Tonner (1973)
This boat had so short a production span that few people even realize it existed. It was a time when C&C was finding the race course increasingly less kind. The era of the dual-purpose racer-cruiser was beginning to wane as the new International Offshore Rule and its-purpose-built racers came to the fore. Hill Blackett's Condor, a Redline 41, had won SORC for C&C in 1972, but the IOR Two Tonner Mirage had failed to defend the Canada's Cup for the Royal Canadian Yacht Club that year in a close match with Ted Hood design Dynamite. C&C launched the semi-custom One-Tonner project in hopes of generating a series of orders, but the design did not impress. Only two were ever built.
C&C 26, 29 (1976)
C&C found great success in the early 1970s with its 25, 27 and 30 models, but as the decade progressed the designs were (supposedly) getting tired, though not necessarily selling badly. A big problem was the expense of building them, and instructions were given to the Design Group to find more cost-effective replacements. The result was the 24, 26 and 29 models. Only the 24 ever found a foothold in the market, though with its comparatively austere interior it never matched the 25's success.
The marketplace remained overwhelmingly loyal to the 27 and 30. In 1976, the theoretically over-the-hill 27 proved to be the second most popular C&C model, outpaced in production only by the new 38. The 25 was finally dropped from production in favour of the 24, but returned in a Mark II version with new deck tooling and higher aspect keel and rudder. The 26 and 29 ended up being phased out in favour of their predecessors. C&C had a more successful whack at the 29 concept in the early Eighties. The "new" 29 was 13 inches shorter, 14 inches narrower and 800 pounds lighter than its namesake. The market's rejection of the 26 and 29 only exacerbated the start-up problems of C&C's International plants. While the European plant's main problem was soaring deutschemark, its product line consisted of the 30E, which was a Europeanized version of the 29, the ill-fated Mega and the indifferently received 24. The Rhode Island plant got the 26 and 29 and another new design, the 33. It also got the Mega for a spell.
C&C's decision to cease production of the 34 cost it dearly in customer relations -- a large (still-active) one-design racing fleet had been established in Toronto, and owners didn't like the thought of their boats being "orphaned" by the builder. But C&C made the right decision. The 34 was by no means a bad boat: it simply wasn't one of C&C's better efforts. It wasn't as aesthetically pleasing as the marketplace had come to expect of C&C; more important, it had low stability, an Achilles' heel it also shared with the 29 (1976) and 36 models. The C&C 36 that followed was a far superior design.
Ask George Cuthbertson to name off the top of his head the company's most outstanding boats from his tenure, and he freely admits that the creation of many of them hail from the company's earliest days, some even predating it. He agrees that the original C&C 35 was a standout, and adds several other models from its era. The Redline 41 Condor earned C&C its second -- and last -- SORC title in 1972. At that same SORC, the C&C 61 Sorcery was first overall in two races. Socery had amassed a trophy case of victories in 1971 for owner James Baldwin of Locust Valley, N.Y., and Cuthbertson feels the fame of this design has been largely overlooked in Canada because none of the 61s ever sailed in "local" waters.
The Corvette 31 is another favourite. First built by Morch Marine in Belleville, Ont., the centreboard-equipped cruiser entered the C&C product line when the company was formed and stayed in production until 1972. Cuthbertson also recalls fondly the C&C Customs 43, examples of which twice won Class B at SORC. Finally, Cuthbertson acknowledges a design that ran counter to his philosophy of the proper yacht: "Evergreen. Of course."
The C&C legacy
More than individual yachts, Cuthbertson would like the C&C he guided to be remembered for its business success. "As far as we could figure it from industry statistics, we had a larger share of market than any other company. We had about 20 per cent of the U.S. market. When the company was created we had more capacity than was needed for the Canadian market and made a conscious decision to go after the export market. And at the time the Canadian dollar was at par or higher. That was one of the big satisfactions. As a Canadian I don't have an inferiority complex and I get angry when I meet people who do." In today's atmosphere of anxiety over free trade and Canadian competitiveness, Cuthbertson feels the successes C&C achieved are worth remembering.
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