Oakville's Ontario Yachts was founded by Dirk and Maria Kneulman. Although he worked as a boat builder before emigrating from the Netherlands in 1951, Kneulman started a construction company when he first moved to Canada. But by 1961 Dirk was building boats-mostly kayaks and dinghies. After only a few years in the business, Ontario Yachts established a reputation for high-quality workmanship and soon Kneulman's Snipes were sought after by North America's top one-design racing sailors. Next, Dirk established a world-wide market for his dinghy, 6 Metre and Dragon masts.
Dirk Kneulman: one of Canada's foremost builders
As Kneulman's reputation as a boat builder grew, he began to build Olympic-class boats. In 1968, his penultimate year building Olympic boats, nine of his shop's 5.5 Metre yachts raced in the Mexico Olympics. Kneulman accompanied his fleet at these Olympics as a shipwright on the shore support team to ensure his boats were properly tuned and repaired. One of these 5.5's, owned by media magnate Ted Turner, won a world championship in 1972.
During the late '60s and on through the mid '80s, Ontario Yachts established a reputation as a builder of quality fiberglass production boats like the Viking 22, 28 and 33, and 33, and the Ontario 28 and 32. During these boom years Kneulman forged a successful partnership with C&C, which acted as the design team for these yachts.
The Ontario 32 was conceived as a quality performance cruising boat incorporating the industry's latest design features. Kneulman did his homework before he began work on this boat and first visited a number of European Boat Shows for inspiration. Some of Dick's new ideas for the 32 included: a deck anchor locker (a North American first), the lavish use of teak in refined interior cabinetry, a T-shaped cockpit and wide-for-her-length beam. At 11 feet, the Ontario 32 is one of the beamiest cruisers of its size. Even Ted Gozzard's Bayfield 32 is a half foot skinnier. Only the ultra-broad Nonsuch is a wider load.
Design with C&C
The C&C partnership worked on the design for Ontario Yachts, with Cuthbertson drawing the hull and Cassian modeling the interior. Underwater the 32 features a long trapezium-shape, flat-bottom fin keel. The rudder is a semi-balanced spade section which is radically different from the swept, scimitar-shaped rudders and keels of the C&C racer/cruisers of that era.
The '70s were the era of a large number of locally built cruising boats like the Bayfield 32, Douglas 32, Aloha 32 and the Niagara 35. Each was built to combine a roomy interior (accomplished by raising topsides and increasing beam) and current design principles for spirited sailing performance. And the Ontario 32 is a fine example of how Ontario Yachts has combined plenty of headroom and an open main salon in a performance cruiser.
In front of the mast the interior is fairly conventional, with a V-berth, head with shower and hanging locker. The main salon consists of a starboard side set-tee and pilot berth positioned just above the salon bench. Moving aft along this side is a smallish U-shaped galley, an aft-facing chart table and nav seat. Finally, an L-shaped settee runs forward to the head bulkhead.
The cockpit is deep, protected and roomy. With their high coach roof and large cockpit, a number of 32s have been retrofitted with full cockpit enclosures which offer cabin cruiser size shelter. A full coach roof distinguishes the Ontario as a cruising boat-not a racer/cruiser. The Ontario 32 strikes a nice balance, looking robust and cruisey without any traditional wooden boat gingerbread. The production run of 158 Ontario 32s ran from 1977 through to 1986.
Ontario Yachts is also a workshop for the national sailing team, where Olympic-class sailors are welcome to shape centerboards, build new rudders or make other modifications to their boats. Dirk is an avid sailor and has followed his father's footsteps in that he acts as a shore-base repair and boat-prep expert at international competitions. In this capacity he has been shipwright for Canada's National Sailing Team for the past three Olympic Games.
In 1977 my long-time friend, Don Allin, was looking for a cruiser that he and his wife could handle while short-handed. Don has a physical disability, with the full use of only one arm. During a visit to Ontario Yachts, Don was impressed with Kneulman's work and, while he could have purchased a new Alberg 37 for the same money, ordered hull number 45, named Salut.
Don had only sailed three times before he took delivery of Salut, yet aside from larger self-tailing winches and beefier offshore sails, he requested few other changes to the stock boat. He recalls that he was so green when he first motored off the dock, he shouted back to ask how to shut off the diesel engine!
In 1981 and '82 the Allin's sailed Salut more than 20,000 miles. Though Don is now single, he still sails about 1,000 miles annually in Georgian Bay, mostly single-handed.
A cavernous cruiser
Allin comments that the boat has an amazing amount of interior volume for a 32-footer. He claims the Ontario is forgiving to sail and takes all of his mistakes and learning experiences in stride. In knock-down situations the boat just side-slips and carries on. Allin says Salut has never leaked around the port lights or hatches, and 18 years later she remains dry and comfortable.
The Ontario 32 is not a competitive club racer but because of its wide beam to length ratio it is a solid off-wind cruiser. Given the 32s shape and size its performance is decent, though a big breeze helps the yacht get up to speed.
Don Allin wasn't satisfied with the stock 12-hp diesel auxiliary and has since upgraded to a 20-hp model. He observes that even with the larger diesel Salut will not motor well into steep chop because of its wide beam and high top-sides. The propeller shaft is offset (as it is on several C&C designs) and exits the hull on an angle. As a consequence the propeller will cavitate in certain rough conditions and she is slow to get moving under power.
Allin has also added bow anchor rollers, increased freshwater tankage to 66 gallons and installed a larger 40-gallon holding tank. As this enthusiastic and long-time owner sums up his boat, "If you are looking to sail and live aboard, she is a beauty."
A second-generation builder
Ontario Yachts is still located on Speers Road in Oakville, but is now run by Kneulman's son Dirk. It is still a beehive of activity, although OY no longer produces large keelboats. During my recent visit, General Manager Don Oakie showed me the moulds for their newest dinghy called the Mosquito -- a variation on the Optimist. Both he and Dirk also build the Sonar, Ideal 18, E22, Albacore and Optimist. In 1995 Oakie expects to produce close to 100 boats at the shop.
I recently visited Kneulman, now retired, at his modest country home near Oakville. While we fed the chickens and collected eggs, he told me of his experiences at the Olympic Games and of the friendships he had formed over the years with the people for whom he had built boats. Dick impressed me as a solid and quiet man, proud of his accomplishments. His workshop was cluttered with other left-overs of his boat-building years; photos of favorite boats and a small fleet of half-hull models. Outside his yard was littered, as one might expect with boat parts and hull moulds. Stacks of timber lay about. Nearby, the plug for the mould of the keel of he Ontario 32 lay weather-beaten and warped under an apple tree.