Couta Week 2015 – The countdown to the Victorian Couta fleet’s most ambitious penetration into New South Wales from their historical home port of Sorrento on the lower Mornington Peninsula is in its final days.
A likely six Sorrento based crews are due to join the fast-growing NSW fleet for series of racing and social events from October 16 to 25, under the umbrella ‘Couta Week’. All up a 20 strong entry list is looking promising.
President of the Couta Boat Association’s NSW chapter, Larry Eastwood, predicts, “The big challenge for the fledgling NSW fleet is how it shapes up against the established expertise of the Sorrento heavies, who have decades of knowhow as opposed to the Pittwater ‘Johnny come late-lies’. The other great challenge is the fight between the proven original and replica fishing Coutaboats and the new lightweight Couta Yachts at half the weight.”
The southern Couta fleet is described tongue in cheek by the helmsman of Emily, Bob Fowler, as, “classic old money boats – a bit like the European Classic boat scene – whereas in NSW we are more your gauche new money. Even the PM has an interest in one, called Rob Roy.”
The inaugural Couta Week starts with the Pittwater fleet sailing down to Sydney Harbour for a Friday October 16 race with the Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club.
Next on the program is linking up with the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club’s Gaffer’s Day race on Sydney Harbour this Sunday, October 18. Organisers are talking up a record fleet of 100 classic yachts for this year’s edition, creating a spectacularly grand outing not seen since the harbour came alive for the country’s bicentenary celebrations in 1988.
A return 20 mile ocean passage from the harbour along the stunning sandstone cliffs of the Sydney coastline will transport the Coutas north to Pittwater in time for the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club’s Wednesday twilight race on October 21, followed by a Thursday twilight race.
Lastly, the famous two day Wattle Cup regatta, October 24-25, will mark the end of the first ever Couta Week program. The Wattle Cup will comprise three races windward / leeward on the Saturday on Pittwater and a passage race on the Sunday ahead of the final presentation dinner at the RPAYC that evening.
Designed over 100 years ago as a fishing boat for Port Phillip, the Coutas were superseded and largely out of business by the 1930s. Tim Phillips from The Wooden Boatshop at Sorrento resurrected Couta Boat building back in the late 1970s and has restored and built hundreds over the decades from his and Ken Lacco’s designs. For Couta Week Phillips ingeniously arranged to truck the local fleet north, including his beloved 1917 built and resurrected Muriel.
“Couta Week means the acceptance of the Couta Boats as a national class,” Phillips said. “The Sydney owners have put a really exciting week together; I read the flyer and made an instant decision to be part of it. The Couta Boat Association has agreed to run the 2017 nationals in Pittwater and this is the ideal precursor.”
On the resurgence of interest in Couta Boats, Phillips believes they have a unique historical point of difference to keelboats, and the passion and excitement of racing in a big open hull is sentimental for many sailors whose first chapter of a lifelong involvement in sailing was messing about in dinghies.
The gaff-rigged Coutas carry 600 square feet of sail and weigh in at over five tons. Performance-wise they are as fast as most 26-30 foot modern yachts of half that weight Fowler reckons. Because the Coutas are quite heavy to work, crews need plenty of strength as well as gaffer technique.