History of Hughes Boatworks

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Howard Hughes was the driving force behind the Hughes 38.  He along with his brother Peter founded and built the company from the ground up.

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Howard Hughes – Courtesy of Canadian Yachting

Many of the boats (including the Hughes 38) built by Hughes Boat Works were designed by another team of brothers – Olin and Rod Stephens of Sparkman and Stephens fame.

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Rod Stephens                                        Olin Stephens    

HISTORY OF HUGHES BOAT WORKS

HUGHES BOAT WORKS INCORPORATED

(edited by Howard Hughes May 2009)

1963 – Founded in Willowdale, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, Canada as a partnership of two brothers, Howard & Peter Hughes. The first boats the company built were 8′ to 16’dinghies (El-Toros to 505’s)

1965-1968 – The company relocated to the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Ontario – Hughes 24 (tooling purchased from Tanzer), Hughes 27 and the Hughes 38-design #1903 (Sparkman & Stevens was approached by Hughes in 1966 for the design). The Hughes 27 was designed by Howard in 1965-1966 while located in factories on Munham Gate, Scarborough, Ontario). Twenty Hughes 27’s were built at this location and then they moved the entire manufacturing operation to Huron Park Ontario called Centralia at the time. The Hughes 27 continued in production in Centralia until replaced by the Hughes 29.

Howard Hughes said that, “While the Hughes 27 and Hughes 29 are very different boats they share very similar hull lines with the exception of below waterline. The Hughes 27 was an older concept long keel design with the rudder attached to the aft end of the keel which had been the norm at the time. During the 1965 to 1969 period the concept of fin keels or separate keel and rudders was developed primarily by Sparkman and Stephens and George Cuthbertson of C&C and most production boats since then have been in that configuration. We worked very closely with S&S for many years and truly honed our production boatbuilding skills with a lot of personal input from Olin J Stephens and Rod Stephens. Olin and Rod became my very good friends during those seminal years in the industry and acted as our mentors passing on the lessons learned over many years designing the most successful boats ever. Olin passed away last year (2008) at 100 with Rod a few years ago in his very late nineties. They were the very best and I learned a great deal about building boats and life in general from both.”

Hughes Boat Works Limited was incorporated on February 23, 1967 for the “undertaking of the manufacture of pleasure boats” the company was registered as Ontario, Canada Corporation #200854.

1968-1969 – Production moved to Centralia, Ontario, a Royal Canadian Air Force Commonwealth Air Training World War II fighter pilot training airport near Exeter, Ontario which was converted into an industrial park after the war and re-named Huron Park. The factory was in a large building near the centre of the ground side hanger buildings (now the site of Exeter Machine) with a test tank pool outside of the building – The Hughes 22, H25, H29 ( all designed by Howard ), H38 & H48 design #1956 (both S&S designed and jointly developed)* a note of interest – Hughes also produced H38 hulls for Hinckley Yachts ( Hinckley 38) who produced their own deck and interior, and the H48 was originally designed for Seafarer who was unable to continue production.

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Hughes 38 SV Marita – produced 1986 as a kit

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Hinckley 38 produced in 1969 – (Notice the similarity of decks – leading some to presume that Hughes produced the decks for Hinckley as well as the hulls.)

1969 – Hughes Boatworks became a Division of United States Steel Corporation. Both Hughes brothers stayed on with the company.

1971 – Howard & Peter leave company.

1971 – 1974 – US Steel changes name to Northstar Yachts Ltd. The Northstar lines of sailboats were built to plans commissioned by Hughes Boat Works, most drawn by the design team of Sparkman and Stevens. The S&S designed Northstar 500 class – 25ft -later the NS600 design #2135, Northstar 1000 class – 30ft (1/2 ton) S&S design #2098-C6, Northstar 1500 class – 35ft (3/4 ton) S&S design #2166, and the Northstar 38 and the Northstar 80/20 – 41ft S&S design #2134 were launched. The Bruce Farr designed NS727 (7.27m / 24′) was also introduced during this period, along with a 30′ model the N900 were introduced in 1973. The Northstar 22 – 22ft was also built during this period. Either the Northstar 500 or the NS727 won the ¼ ton world championship.

The annual information return of February 23, 1975 lists 4 Canadians and 3 Americans as directors of the company. The 3 Americans are named as the President, Secretary and the Treasurer respectfully are J.T. MacKenzie, D.F Tuthill, and D.M. McAvity (possibly the directors of US Steel). The corporation profile report lists December 10, 1975 as the cancel/inactive date.

The retail price of a Northstar 500 with standard options in 1973 was $CAD 11, 004, FOB Huron Park. At that time the Canadian dollar was worth slightly more than a US dollar, so the price was essentially the same in both the US and Canada.

1977 – Howard purchased assets of Northstar and name was changed back to Hughes Boatworks Inc. The NS600 was modified to become the H26. A new model called the H27 was introduced. The NS1000 was modified to become the H31 by rolling out the sides and stretching the transom. The NS1500 was renamed the H35 and the NS80/20 became the H40 (Hughes also sold H40 hulls to Tartan Yachts who like Hinckley (38) produced their own deck) Hughes sold the Farr designed tooling (only producing a small #), deciding to focus more on family cruisers not racing.

1978 Columbia (Coronado Yachts was also blended into the Columbia line) closes down because of labour problems, but another reason which also maybe true, is that it was due more to lack of cash flow. Columbia sold a reported $250,000 worth of parts to a marina in Virginia to cover payroll and expenses.

1979 – 1980 Hughes purchased Columbia Yacht Corporation, one of the worlds largest builders of sailboats and moved all production to the Huron Park factory, Centralia, Ontario, Canada. Name changed to Hughes~Columbia Inc. The Hughes~Columbia 36 was launched (designed by W.Tripp Sr.), along with production of the Alan Payne designed 8.3(27′), 8.7(29′ Motorsailer), 10.7(35′) & 11.8(39′), 42 and 48 – Production of the H31, H35, H38 & H40 (Ketch) also continued. All models were available fully finished or in kit form.

1982 – Hughes~Columbia went into receivership (largely due to debt incurred by the acquisition of Columbia closely followed by a deep recession and high interest rates – people stop buying boats when int. rates are 18%)

1982 – Aura Yachts takes over Columbia. According to the USCG website, CLY, Columbia’s Manufacturers Identification Code (MIC) was retired August 28. Aura Yachts built the Hughes 35. The Hughes 35 was also built by South Hants Engineering in Great Britain (called the S.H. E. 36). South Hants Engineering may have also built some Northstar 1500s. The last hull number might have been 102.

1986 – Howard with some partners again purchases assets after the failure of Aura and mainly produces custom built H40’s in Orangeville plants.

1989 – 1991 Diversifies into the manufacturing of large one piece fibreglass swimming pools. A tremendous success, unfortunately a fire broke out destroying the factory, and the insurance co. (Firestone Insurance) turned out to be a fraudulent company, leaving Hughes empty handed. At this point most tooling for the boats had been moved outside the plant where they still remain to this day.

Hughes Boat Works Ltd. Was the largest sailboat manufacturer in Canada for several years, building a total of approximately 3,500 boats. During the company’s peak years it employed 250 to 300 staff.

MIC HBW was issued to: HUGHES BOAT WORKS and then HOFEMAN BOAT WORKSHoward Hughes
Canadian Yachting Magazine – September 1980———————————————–
Bibliography: Sorry but the above was borrowed from various sources on the internet and a number of generous people who used to work for the Hughes brothers. In May 2009 Howard Hughes edited the above history which I thank him for.

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History and photos courtesy of Bill Sokil http://danceonavolcano.ca/hugheshistory.htm

More History can be found HERE:

Courtesy of Bill Sokil

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