Red Jacket

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Illustration by Jim Ewing

Illustration by Jim Ewing

Between periods at a hockey game at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens in 1965, Canadian hotel builder and inveterate yachtsman Peter Connolly asked sailboat designer George Cuthbertson to build him the “meanest, hungriest 40-footer afloat.” The result was Red Jacket, named after a record-setting White Star Line clipper ship from the 1850s. Launched in May 1966, the fiberglass racing machine won 11 of 13 races in Canada that season, including the prestigious Freeman Cup and the Lake Ontario International.

Spurred by his boat’s success, Connolly took her south to the “conch-shell-and-flying-fish circuit,” otherwise known as the Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC) series. It drew world-class racers to the waters off Florida and the Bahamas. When Red Jacket won the St. Petersburg-to-Venice race, yachtsmen took notice. She came out of the north completely unknown,” Cuthbertson said later. “The Americans sat up and paid attention.”

They were up against a revolutionary boat, one that changed how boats would be built. Cuthbertson used balsa wood to build up the hull; the low-density tree wood was sandwiched between layers of fiberglass to produce a lightweight, easily driven hull. Red Jacket is acknowledged as a pioneer in the type of construction, which was quickly imitated. (Balsa-core skeptics worried the wood could get wet and deteriorate; yearly testing of Red Jacket never found a problem.)

In 1969, Cuthbertson and his business partner, George Cassian, formed C&C Yachts, producing a series of cruiser-racer boats that included a C&C 40. They built them in Canada and Germany as well as in the United States.

Cuthbertson was eventually inducted into the Canadian Sailing Hall of Fame and died in 2017 at age 88. Connolly, no longer able to board boats in later life, used a radio-controlled Laser to teach young people the rules of racing. He died within a few days of Cuthbertson. Their legacy is Red Jacket, which C&C describes as “a celebrated sailboat that revolutionized the construction of boats in its day, won lots of races and resulted in a little-known Canadian boat designer vaulting to success.” 

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.