Custodians: Rhett Kelly and Chris Robinson; 2005 – 2016
Couta-Tah was built in Berry, NSW by Rhett Kelly and Chris Robinson to a design provided by the Wooden Boat Shop (WBS), Sorrento. She was launched in October 2005 in Broughton Creek, Berry a tributary of the Shoalhaven River and near the Shoalhaven Heads, south of Wollongong, NSW. This was quite a unique setting for a Couta Boat to be launched. Unique also was her name, a variation of coup d’état, French for the seizure of power.
The historic town of Berry in the Southern Tablelands of NSW is far removed from Victoria’s Port Phillip where the Couta Boat originated, but it was on Port Phillip that Chris first sighted a gaff-rigged wooden boat. He was a crew on a state-of-the-art 40 footer that was competing in the Round Australia Race in the bicentennial year of 1988. He recalls the moment they were coming up to the finish line, hard on the breeze when:
These couple of old guys on a gaff-rigged boat were reaching and basically keeping up with us. When I got to shore, I went around and had a good look at it and said, ‘What’s this mate? She’s got a bit of go in her.’ I did not forget that encounter.
Some years later, Chris informed his close friend Rhett Kelly about his plans to build a Couta Boat. Unconvinced, Rhett exclaimed that a Couta Boat would be the hardest boat in the world to build. But the deal was sealed. And after purchasing a set of plans from the WBS and sourcing timber from Sydney, they began the build and worked on it over the next three years.
She has a traditional carvel planked hull with a plumb stem and transom stern. The planking is 20 mm Fijian Kauri on 40 mm x 20 mm Celery Top Pine ribs at 6-inch centres. The keel, mast step and centre-plate case are Spotted Gum. The deck is planked in Turpentine over a Marine Plywood sub-deck and finished with natural oils. The cabin sole is 12 mm Marine Plywood.
After her launch in 2005, Couta -Tah was rigged in preparation for her inaugural race at the Jervis Bay Cruising Yacht Club (JBCYC), at Nowra, NSW on the following day. Having never sailed on a gaff rigger, Chris and Rhett quickly learnt the intricacies of rigging and hoisting sails on this unique boat.
The arrival of Couta-Tah at JBCYC caused some bemusement as the race management team were not sure how to categorise her. Given her owners were veteran sailors, she was handed a stiff handicap. Hence, in her first race when other boats raised their kites and streaked ahead, she lagged behind.
Notwithstanding, Chris and Rhett committed Couta -Tah to regular competition sailing at JBCYC. In 2011, they won the Jervis Bay Challenge in 40 + knots.
We were passing boats which should have been in front to us; we were doing about 9 to 10 knots.
Couta -Tah also competed in the winter series out of Wollongong Yacht Club, NSW. In addition to competition sailing, she was used for pleasure sailing, undertaking a few journeys up to Sydney Harbour. However, personal circumstances intervened and it was time to sell.
Custodian: Andrew McMillan; 2016 – 2018
Custodians: Sam Armstrong, Ian Learmonth, Andrew McMillan, Julia Pincus, Justin Punch, Geoff Weir and Ross Youngman; 2018 – Present
In October 2016, Couta -Tah was purchased by Western Australian-based Couta Boat enthusiast, Andrew McMillan.
At the time, Andrew was considering the possibility of transporting his Perth-based Roulette to Pittwater NSW to compete in the Couta Boat Nationals. But after much encouragement from the Pittwater Couta Boat fraternity, he decided to acquire one locally. On the following weekend he returned from the west and journeyed south to Shoalhaven, accompanied by Terry Moran (Southerly), Larry Eastwood (Sylvia) and Kelly Holder (Kathleen Mary), where the transaction to purchase Couta-Tah occurred. Former owner Chris Robinson elected to sail her to her new base on Pittwater.
A major refurbishment was undertaken through to July 2017 by Michael Rich of Lovett Bay Boatshed, in time for the 2017 Sydney Harbour Couta Boat Series and the subsequent Couta Boat Nationals on Pittwater.
Because Andrew’s base was in Perth, he needed some local Sydneysider sailors to successfully campaign Couta-Tah. In 2018, a group of enthusiasts relatively new to sailing joined with Andrew to form a syndicate: Sam Armstrong, Ian Learmonth, Julia Pincus, Justin Punch, and Ross Youngman. But because they all lived closer to Sydney Harbour than to Pittwater, after a memorable year of sailing and racing out of the Avalon Sailing Club, in early 2019, Couta-Tah was relocated to Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club (RPEYC), Point Piper in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
The syndicate acquired an additional member, Geoff Weir. With some mentoring from Andrew and other experienced sailors, the syndicate enjoyed a successful season. Couta-Tah won the 2019 Sydney Harbour Couta Boat Series conducted out of RPEYC. Whenever there is an organised regatta in Sydney Harbour or Pittwater, the syndicate is intent on sailing Couta-Tah and enjoying the experience.