Red Jacket

Racks up Victories

It's 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 almost instant success.

The boat is called Red Jacket and was designed by George Cuthbertson of the design team of Cuthbertson and Cassian Ltd., (later to become C&C Yachts Ltd.). The boat was launched in May 1966 and can now be found docked at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto.

Red Jacket was designed for Perry Connolly and featured a first in sailboat construction - an extremely light weight balsa core, which allowed the vessel to compete and beat other 40-foot boats in the Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC), also called "the circuit." It was the first Canadian boat to win against a fleet of about 85 others, many being the cream of U.S. racers.

Designer George Cuthbertson recalls a batch of orders for racing boats after the big victory. "She came out of the north completely unknown," he said. "The Americans sat up and paid attention".

Red Jacket also made use of a spade rudder instead of hanging the rudder on a skeg, and also featured a bow sprit as a lighter way to reduce pitching. Red Jacket, which draws 7-foot and has an 11-foot beam, weighed 17,455 pounds at launch, which is heavy by today's standards, with some low-density foam cored boats of comparable size weighing in at about 8000 pounds.

But in its day, Red Jacket was very light. And very fast.

Boat builders at the time were worried about the balsa becoming wet and deteriorating, and Red Jacket was pulled out of the water and weighed each year, along with core samples being taken, but no damage to the core was discovered. Eventually, the testing stopped.

The boat changed hands over the years, and has been owned for the past 20 years by Paul Phelan, who is part of the family that controls Cara Operations that operates Harveys and Swiss Chalet Restaurants. Phelan who is no 80 no longer races the bot but watches a hired crew lead by Bryan Gooderham sometimes from a motorboat nearby as Red Jacket rounds the weather mark.

"He like a good gybe set," said Gooderham of the boat owner. "He's terrific with his crew. He refers to us as his young bucks, although some of us are in our mid 50s."

Gooderham says the boat is still competitive "which says something for the workmanship" and the design of the 33-year-old racer. And the skipper is now talking about entering some very competitive races this season in Bermuda.

In its heyday, Red Jacket won 11 of 13 races in her first season, including the Freeman Cup and the Lake Ontario International. In the 1967 SORC race from St. Petersburg to Venic in Florida, Red Jacket finished first, and so began the spotlight on the boat.

Over the years, Red Jacket has had some redesign work, including the addition of a teak deck and a more comfortable interior, a shaved down keel, a hydraulic backstay and boom vang, a larger rudder and some other changes.

The previous owner, Phelan, a past commodore of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and former President of the Canadian Yachting Association, has helped many racers over the years, and some have trained and raced on Red Jacket, Gooderham added.

Addendum: Red Jacket is currently owned by Peter Milligan, Toronto attorney, who is Vice Commodore of the Royal Canadian YC and has raced competitively for years including the infamous 1979 Fastnet race.