Christa C54

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Boat Details

Current Custodian:
Mike Lonergan and Richard Lonergan


Custodian: Dick Whitaker; 1998 – 1994
Christa was built at the Wooden Boat Shop (WBS) in Sorrento, Victoria during 1988 – 1990. She was commissioned by Dick Whitaker whose interest in Couta Boats was sparked when he sailed for a time in the weekly twilight races on Will Baillieu’s Ajax, when she was moored at Blunt’s slipway in Williamstown, Melbourne.

Inspired by Will’s enthusiasm for Couta Boats and the lines of Ajax, Dick decided to have his own boat built. Tim Phillips from the WBS worked alongside Dick in her construction. Christa shares the same lines as Phoenix C41, which was built for Alan Quick at the WBS around the same time. For Dick, the building process was challenging but rewarding.

Christa’s keel was built from a beautiful piece of Grey Box that was purchased from Will Baillieu; her planking is Huon Pine, the ribs and lining boards are of Celery Top Pine and the deck is Queensland Beech. Cyprus ‘grown knees’ were used throughout. The hull planking is fully rivetted, not clenched.

Dick moved to Port Albert in the Gippsland region of Victoria for work in 1989, and the hull fit-out, traditional rigging and painting were finished there. The sails were made by Paynesville sailmaker Russell Broomhall, who had formerly worked for sailmaker Col Anderson.

Christa was launched in 1990. Dick sailed her around the estuaries of Port Albert, Port Welshpool and Corner Inlet, on the Victorian east coastline for four years.

I knew she was a quick boat as we regularly beat an RL28 from the Port Albert Yacht Club. She is also a very seaworthy boat as we sailed her out into Bass Strait through the Port Albert bar entrance quite a few times. We always used a higher cut No. 2 headsail in Bass Strait.

In 1994, due to work commitments, Dick reluctantly sold Christa to a member at Royal Brighton Yacht Club on the northern shore of Port Phillip who replaced her hand spliced traditional rigging with stainless steel wire. It is believed he sailed her for a year before selling her to a West Australian syndicate.

Whilst on business in Fremantle, Western Australia, Dick sailed on Christa once again in a race out of Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club (RFBYC). He recalls that Christa performed well against the bigger Couta Boats, with a podium third place. He still has the burgee!

Custodians: Tony Fitzgibbon, Tony Packer, Willy Packer and John Stokes; 1995 – 2010
In 1995, Christa was purchased by Tony Fitzgibbon, Tony Packer, and John Stokes from Perth, Western Australia, all of whom were experienced sailors. Later, Tony’s brother Willy Packer, who was a renowned Olympic class sailor, joined this syndicate. For Willy in particular, sailing Christa provided some relief from the competitive world of high performance sailing. And from Tony’s perspective, Couta Boat sailing was gentlemen’s racing, and fun.

Shortly after the purchase, Christa was re-rigged in stainless steel wire and fitted with a new Oregon retractable mast, which was required for sailing on the Swan River. The mast had to be lowered to sail beyond the Stirling Traffic Bridge and the Fremantle Railway Bridge. They also inserted windows in the sails as a mandatory safety precaution.

The syndicate sailed Christa competitively out of RFBYC where she competed against the longer Couta Boats Ajax RF16 and Merlin RF444 who usually claimed Line Honours, but Christa often won on Handicap. However, sailing in a class where victory was usually determined by the length of the boat rather than by the skill of the crew, was sometimes frustrating for these skilled sailors.

But owning and sailing a Couta Boat had some great advantages. The owners relished in taking their children sailing on Christa in the weekly twilight races, often with up to 10 children on-board. In these races, Christa became the family-friendly boat where a focus was on enjoying the moment rather than sailing with a competitive edge.

There were times, however, when Christa’s competitive edge in the fleet was tested. Tony recalls one particular race when multiple boats in the fleet were affected by a mighty wind gust. As Christa came around a bottom buoy at Dolphin West, the jibboom on a contending boat broke, causing the rig to come down; another boat’s mast broke, while on another, a gaff broke; and neither did Christa escape untarnished – her boom broke. Tony likened the drama to the Battle of Trafalgar!

A few other on-water mishaps included being rammed by a S80 keel boat which gybed and rotated out of control, causing a gaping hole in Christa’s side. With a sail bag used to stem the water flow, Christa had to limp back to shore.

One of the yearly highlights for the RFBYC Couta Boat fleet is the race to and from Rottnest Island, located about 10 nautical miles offshore. Held over a long weekend in March when the prevailing winds are usually light, the conditions are usually conducive to pleasant sailing. The regatta includes a race to Rottnest on Friday, a race around Rottnest on Saturday followed by celebrations, then a cruise back to RFBYC on Sunday.

But it is not always calm cruising. John Stokes recalls sailing in some huge swells:

The western end of Rottnest Island is known for some notoriously huge swells. We sailed in some of these swells, in rolling seas, going into troughs where the waves were above the mast. Then surfing down the face of these enormous waves; the boat would sit down to the gunnels with swirling water all around the stern.

The syndicate owned and sailed Christa competitively for 15 years, until Willy and another owner Julian Harding decided they wanted to return to serious sailing, while Tony headed off around Australia in a power boat. So they sought a buyer. The creamy-coloured, then orange-coloured, then yellow-coloured Christa that had given so much pleasure to the owners and their families, was sold to a father and son duo from the east.

Custodians: Mike and Richard Lonergan; 2010 – Present
Mike and Richard Lonergan purchased Christa in 2010. With a background in architecture, Mike was predisposed to the versatility of timber materials, in particular, the beauty and texture of wood. So the idea of owning and maintaining a wooden boat was appealing. Additionally, Mike looked upon the acquisition as a positive ‘father-son’ partnership.

After searching multiple boat sales and considering some local Couta Boats for sale, Richard sighted Christa’s advertisement, prompting him and Mike to travel to Perth, to view the boat. They spent a day sailing Christa on the Swan River with her crew and shortly after, they purchased her. Two notable features of Christa that were mandatory regulations for sailing on the Swan River were her retractable mast to sail under the bridge, and windows in her sails.

Christa was transported back to her previous home waters, to a mooring at the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club. She is sailed socially, primarily by Richard and his friends, but the long-term intention is to ensure she complies with the regulations of Couta Boat Association and becomes a regular competitor in the local Division 1 Fleet.

Over the years Mike has ensured that Christa is an integral part of the Lonergan family:

I bought the boat not for my generation but for those who belong to the next generation – my son and his children. We want to keep her in the family; the grandchildren are learning to sail, so it is our hope that the next generation will use her – the serenity of being on the water with the sails up is just amazing.

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