A Boat for When the Wind Blows
Canadian Yachting, June 1994
by Judy Kingsley (#606 Windrift)
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 hoppy-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 Hinterhoeller and Shark were on their way to
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 between 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
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 seen 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: email@example.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
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
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.
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
The Globe and Mail, Lives Lived
Wednesday, April 14, 1999
by 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.