Sometimes, things seem to fall into place in a way that can only be described as kismet. Such is the case with the most recent announcement from the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes.
At the end of July, the Kingston’s historic Marine Museum announced it had purchased its former site back from developer Jay Patry, and would be reopening after sitting dormant for a number of years. This week, the museum made another announcement that is sure to excite the many local sailing enthusiasts that call Kingston home.
The legendary Canadian racing yacht, Red Jacket, has been bequeathed to the Marine Museum by the late Peter Milligan. The remarkable boat, the first of its kind in North America, will take the space left vacant by the sale of the Alexander Henry, allowing locals and tourists from across Canada and around the world to appreciate the boat against the backdrop of Lake Ontario – the very lake Red Jacket dominated races on beginning in 1966.
Designed by the Canadian design firm Cuthbertson and Cassian of Port Credit, Ontario in 1965, Red Jacket was commissioned by Perry Connelly. Connelly requested that designers George Cuthbertson and George Cassian create “the meanest, hungriest 40-footer afloat,” according to the Marine Museum.
Red Jacket was then built by Erich Bruckmann in Burlington in what the Marine Museum describes as “a new and experimental concept in yacht design – cored fibreglass sandwich construction, wherein two load-bearing skins are separated by a high-compression balsa core to create an ‘I-beam’ panel of exceptional stiffness and minimum weight.” Red Jacket was the first boat in North America to be built this way, which is now the common construction method for all high-performance composite structures, from racing yachts to wind blades, according to the Marine Museum.
Launched in May of 1966, Red Jacket immediately won 12 of its first 15 races on Lake Ontario, and continued that success by winning in its division of the 1967 Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (SORC) in Florida against the best racing yachts in North America. The following year, Red Jacket returned to SORC to take overall honours, becoming the first Canadian and first non-American boat to do so.
The legacy of Red Jacket didn’t end there. According to the Marine Museum, the success of Red Jacket on an international level led to the creation of C&C Yachts, amalgamating Cuthbertson and Cassian design firm and the builders Bruckmann Manufacturing, Hinterhoeller Yachts, and Belleville Marine – all building C&C designs. C&C Yachts went on to dominate the fibreglass sailboat industry for nearly two decades, bring Canadian design and construction to the international stage. Many C&C Yachts still sail today, and will continue to for many years. Often, boats built by C&C Yachts are handed down within families.
And while that may not be the case for Red Jacket, Milligan bequeathed the remarkable vessel to the Marine Museum so it would be appreciated by all Canadians and recognized for its incredible sailing history. Milligan, who referred to himself as the ‘custodian’ of Red Jacket and not its ‘owner,’ wasn’t expected to transfer ownership of the boat for many years – Milligan was not an elderly man, and was still actively racing the boat on Lake Ontario out of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto when he announced his intentions for Red Jacket’s next ‘custodian.’ Sadly, however, Milligan passed away suddenly in November of 2018.
As fate would have it, this bequest not only coincides with the recent announcement that the Marine Museum will once again take over its original home – it also befits the collections already established at the museum. The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes holds both the George Cuthbertson collection of drawings, including those of Red Jacket, and the entire design and drawing archives of C&C Yachts. This was one of the reasons Milligan felt that Red Jacket belonged in Kingston, representatives from the Marine Museum said.
“We could not have predicted that the gift of this sailboat would occur in sequence with the fact that we now own the 55 Ontario Street property, our former Museum location. But it has,” said Chris West, Chair of the Board of Directors for the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, noting that the museum is humbled by Milligan’s remarkable gift. “We are excited by the possibilities this give us to honour this great vessel as a piece of significant Canadian boating history, and celebrate it with our Museum members and visitors. One day soon, we expect she will have a place of honour along our remarkable Kingston waterfront as an interactive part of the refurbished Marine Museum of the Great Lakes.”