The history of the Couta boat is an important part of SSCBC. The Couta boat’s humble beginning dates back to as early as 1885 when the couta boat was traditionally used for fishing for barracouta along the coast of Bass Strait, thus named “couta”. Fishermen earned their living catching barracouta and crayfish and would race their boats back to market to secure the best price for their catch.
Many of the couta boats still racing at SSCBC today are restored originals built as far back as 1885 and race competitively alongside newer boats. Ask one of our skippers for the history of their boat and they will be delighted to share their story with you.
SSCBC is privileged to enjoy the largest Couta boat fleet in Australia.
An example of one of our beloved Couta boats and her story can be read below.
A Story About Lucy C31
When the well-known wooden boat builder, Tim Phillips, purchased Lucy in the early 1980s, she had been renamed ‘Diane’. For the current owners, this is a surprise discovery and indicates that Lucy has a history that is yet to entirely unfold. As is often the case with heritage boats, Lucy’s 86 years of history will take some unravelling, relying largely on the oral records proffered by her various owners and crews from the 1980s and onwards.
Lucy was built by Ken Lacco in 1931 at Rosebud and it was widely assumed that she was named after Ken Lacco’s mother, Lucy. But according to Tim Phillips, Lucy was named after Ken’s elder sister, Lucy, who created her own pedigree in the world of wooden boats. For some time, Lucy worked locally as a sailmaker, and when she was living in Queenscliffe, she made oil skins under the instruction of their father, Mitch Lacco. Later, Lucy worked as a sailmaker at Radins, a Melbourne company, thus demonstrating her own dedication to the family tradition.
Lucy was one of the first of the Couta boats that Ken Lacco built after the Lacco family relocated from Queenscliffe. Of note, the first Couta boat he built back in Rosebud was Rob Roy, currently owned by former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Lucy was built for Ken to go long lining snapper ‘up the bay’. She was used as a fishing boat in the vicinity of Rosebud, Mordialloc and Williamstown. She was also used to fish out of Apollo Bay and then at San Remo where she was worked as a fishing boat until the 1960s. Suffice to say, it is difficult to obtain any detail regarding this period in Lucy’s life. We can assume however, that in keeping with the tradition of couta boat vessels, as a working fishing boat, Lucy made an invaluable contribution to the fishing industry in Victoria, and of that we are proud.
From the information provided by Tim Phillips, it is apparent that Lucy underwent some alterations in her time as a working fishing vessel but, sadly, she also deteriorated into a state of disrepair. When Tim salvaged Lucy in the early 1980s from her resting place in Hastings on Westernport Bay, she was not far from sinking on her mooring and, in Tim’s words, “full of worms”. Further, she had been substantially altered from her original couta boat configuration. The centre-case has been removed and a cabin had been added by Jack Pompei, the boat builder from Mordialloc. But sadly, Jack is no longer around to reveal his working knowledge of Lucy. When Tim purchased the derelict Lucy she was, in fact, named ‘Diane’ but he instantly recognised her as a ‘Lacco boat’. Ken Lacco was able to verify that the boat was actually Lucy, which he had built in 1931. ‘Diane’ was quickly reverted to Lucy, her original name, much to the pleasure of Lucy Lacco.
Lucy remained in Tim Phillip’s ownership for a short time until she was purchased by Warick Leeming in 1983. They worked together in the carport of Tim’s mother at Delgany Ave Portsea to restore Lucy to her original condition. Tim declared that he worked ‘round the clock’ on the restoration. They were ably assisted by Warwick’s 12 year old son who had the pleasure of sailing Lucy in the Scotch College Sea Scouts regatta in Portsea over the coming Easter. In the process of this massive restoration, Tim used wooden shearlegs and a block and tackle to install the centre-plate. When finished, Lucy was striking in her navy blue and Cumberland stone colours, and beautifully restored and preserved for her future life on the water as a racing Couta boat, after her many years of service as a fishing vessel.
In the following years, Warick Leeming raced Lucy out of Sorrento Sailing Club and was successful in winning numerous races, including the Portsea Cup. Warick maintains that Lucy is a very fast upwind boat. Having proven Lucy’s successful racing pedigree over the next five years, Warick sold Lucy to buy Kate, a Division 1 boat.
Lucy was next purchased by Andrew Molloy who moored her off Shelly Beach in Portsea. It was in this period that Lucy, again, almost succumbed to the elements, having slipped her mooring in a gale and ending up on the beach.
In 2002, Lucy passed into the hands of David Todd. David undertook an overhaul of Lucy to restore her to pristine condition, including applying 2- pack epoxy paint on the hull and fitting her with new Rimmington sails. David painted Lucy in the port-wine colour to match Kate. The current syndicate is intent on maintaining this classic colour to highlight Lucy’s heritage features. After eight or so years of successfully racing Lucy (see Results Section), David passed on the custodianship of Lucy to a syndicate of sailors at SSCBC.
Lucy was sold to the syndicate comprising David Barnes, Michael Golding, Tricia O’Brien and Stephen Wyatt in 2010. The syndicate members have continued to sail Lucy regularly in both the Summer and Winter Series at Sorrento and have been successful in ensuring that Lucy continues to preserve her racing pedigree. Significant wins are recorded in the Results section.
In addition to the regular Club racing, Lucy has competed in the annual ISAF Regattas conducted out of both Sandringham and St Kilda. She has also been successful in regattas at the Bi-annual Wooden Boat Festival at Geelong in 2014 and 2016. The journeys to and from such regattas constantly test her crew’s capabilities in terms of endurance and sailing skills, but the pure sensation of sailing an 86 year old Couta boat through the waters always brings immeasurable pleasure to her owners.
Beyond the racing competitions, the current owners are also intent on maintaining the ‘heritage’ pedigree of the historical Lucy by using her for recreational pleasure. On occasions, Lucy is used for fishing, she is a regular participant in the annual “Catch a Fish Day’ held on Good Friday.
Acknowledgement is made of the following contributors: Tim Phillips, Warick Leeming and David Todd
Compiled and Authored by Tricia O’Brien in 2017.