Couta Boats always under construction.
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The Couta Boat
Above left: Huge fleets are a common sight on Port Phillip Bay, a group of boats raft up at the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club before a race. The Portsea Cup often boasts a fleet of up to sixty boats in two divisions
Above Right: Muriel, Surprise and Sady racing at San Remo approx 1930. Surprise was victorious in this race under command of the famous Mitchie Lacco. The Muriel and Surprise are still racing today
It started with a fish... The barracouta (Thyrsites atun) was one of the most important food fishes found in Australian waters. "Couta" as they are known, are hooked by trolling lines baited with a strip of rawhide wired to a barbless hook. This fish became the mainstay of the fish and chips trade supplying Melbourne with an abundance of inexpensive fish. The first back to port got the best price and so began the development to build faster boats giving birth to the impressive performance they are known for.
When Tim Phillips first spotted "Mermerus" sailing in Port Phillip Bay she was one of only two Couta boats which remained afloat and in one piece. She was built in 1938 by Ken Lacco at Rosebud for the MacKinnon fishing family of Sorrento, who still own her today.
This encounter was a turning point for Tim who with considerable assistance from Ken Lacco set about turning his building skills to the preservation and restoration of the Couta boat fleet of Port Phillip Bay. With a committed kernel of enthusiasts the Couta Boat revival was started, an active fleet of over a hundred boats in three states of Australia are testament to their success.
Muriel - A fine example
Muriel was a product of the turn of the century engineless era and is very deep and beautifully balanced. Designed and built by Mitchie Lacco, she was launched in 1917. Her original owner, Gus Johnson, sailed her for only eighteen months before passing her on. The second owner, Andy Johansen renamed the boat "Muriel" after his sister who loaned him the money to buy her.
"Muriel" stayed with Andy until the 1980's, a period of over sixty years. In her working life, "Muriel" wore out twenty-eight mainsails and Tim believes that she has sailed well in excess of 300,000 miles - not bad for a boat that measures just 26' by 10' by 33". Like most of her type, "Muriel" is gaff sloop rigged with a loose footed mainsail. Her wooden mast is 5" in diameter, tall and stayed by a cap and lower stay. There is no running backstay. The jib is set on flying on a long bowsprit.
Above Left: Mary Belle, a 'huon pine' Couta Boat Above Right: Darney launched in 2004 one of the many Port Phillip Bay Type Couta Boats
The Couta Boats of today
The new Couta Boats Built at the Wooden Boat Shop are a very refined Craft, having completed major rebuilds on countless old timers and about 30 new 26 footers.
"Any new boat should have good sailing characteristics, be well balanced, and not too big down the stern. It should have good carrying capacity, and obviously, it should sail fast. The hull needs enough depth forward to drift well for flathead, which was also quite a big part of the early fishermen's activities. If the boat is too shallow forward it will drift off at the head".
"Attempting to follow the bottom-dwelling flathead fishermen would sail their Couta boats under a loose sheeted, luffing mainsail. The boats would drift along with tide and wind, lying ahull. They would occasionally luff up into the breeze, and if a hull was too shallow forward it would fall away, start sailing, and move too fast. Thus hull shape was (and is ) vitally important".
Above C44 Jessie went to Duarnenez in France 1988 and came home with a whole swag of trophies."The Couta Boat is a sight to behold, capable of holding her own and raising a crowd among any fleet in the world"
Above Right, Muriel Racing, reveered as the best Couta Boat ever buillt, she spent most of her life cray fishing out of Flinders. "As I told you she can get through the water alright. I often think of the days when I was at the Cliff, how she used to walk through the fleet, beating up from the easterly or westward" - Andy Johanson.
The Wooden Boat Shop have built and restored a huge amount of Couta Boats.
It is largely from this experience that the construction of these boats has been perfected, finding the weaknesses in the old boats and seeing where they have failed.
Our Couta Boats represent years of dedication to learning and applying the skills and traditions of a bygone era.
Left Patsy displayed Proud above the Imax Theatre at the entrance to the Victoria Museum, was restored at the Wooden Boat Shop in 2000. An important part of Australia's fishing, yachting and maritime history the Couta Boat and the Wooden Boat Shop are also represented by the beautifuly restored Thistle at the Australian Maritime Museum.
The ribs, laid deck, solid thwart and centreplate case have real substance. Rigging is simplistic and not over complicated. Controls run through wooden cheeked blocks, laced with white polyester line. A loop traveller hawse, cast rudder gudgeons and shrouds lashed to chain plates, carry on the traditional concept evident in boats old and new alike.
|Right Tenacity, one of the many Couta boats gracing Sydney's harbour and Pittwater. Strong numbers of Couta Boats are now sailing in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Perth.||
Right Solid timber spars top of the classic look in first class style. The Couta is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, performance and outstanding style.
|Right Wooden blocks are hand made, fitted with roller bearing sheaves.|
Above Left Camila Rose a huon pine Couta Boat cleaned off ready for Fitting out. Approx half way through construction.
Above Right A new 26'6" Couta Boat hits the water. Her proud owners christen her Sorrento after the town in which she was built
Left Wagtail Leads C97 in a hotly contested race to the finish. Couta Boat Racing has become a unique culture attracting all of the big names in yachting from Australia and abroad.
(Photo Steb Fisher)