Dolly C is an example of a typical Williamstown fishing boat built by acclaimed boatbuilder Harry Clark. She was built to the account of Mr Clarrie Grimmet in Harry’s boat building shed at the rear of his home in Newport, a suburb of Melbourne, in 1953. Harry built many fishing boats in his iconic shed, generally either in lengths of 15 foot, 18 foot or 22 foot, and some up to 28 foot, many of which are still in regular use and moored in various locations around Port Phillip, Victoria.
Dolly C was the first of the 18 footers constructed by Harry and was planked in New Zealand Kauri with Jarrah being used in the keel, stem and stern post. The boat was built with a tabernacle allowing for a lug rigged auxiliary ‘get home’ sail but did not have a centre-plate fitted for regular sailing use.
Harry was born in Williamstown in 1914 and at the age of 13, rather than attending school, he preferred to go sailing with Joey Wells and his sons Reggie and Jimmy on his Couta Boat Lillian, the design of which was instrumental in developing his own unique design expertise and boatbuilding skills. Harry was an accomplished sailor and fisherman and later sailed extensively on famous yachts such as Royalist and Sayonara, often with Reggie.
After qualifying as a shipwright with the Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners at their shipyard at Williamstown, Harry later built over 40 boats of varying sizes in his shed at Williamstown, culminating in the construction in 1960 of the 36’ fishing boat Jennifer, named after his youngest daughter. Harry returned to commercial scallop fishing with Jennifer but in later years specialized in repair and restoration work, including the refurbishment of many original Couta Boats.
Construction work on Dolly C commenced on 30th March 1953 when Harry, according to his detailed construction ledger, started cutting out the keel. By the 8th of April, Harry had secured finishing and fitting the stem and sternpost and by the 1st of May, all planking had been installed.
Custodian: Mr Grimmet; 1953 – 1992
The boat was finished on 28th June 1953 for a price of £312 and delivered to Mr Grimmet, a local barber located at the Williamstown Beach Railway Station who named the boat Rita Ann after his daughter. Harry’s son Ronnie, later to become an accomplished shipwright in his own right, remembers Mr Grimmet coming over to Newport while the boat was being built and cutting his hair at their home on a regular basis.
Mr Grimmet, as Harry always referred to him, moored the boat in the Hobsons Bay anchorage off the Williamstown Sailing Club where he regularly used the boat for fishing in the upper reaches of Port Phillip.
Custodian: Tim Brown; 1992 – 2002
In around 1992, Rita Ann was acquired by Williamstown shipwright Tim Brown who, with the assistance of Harry Clark, restored the boat to its original configuration and replaced the bulky original Coventry diesel engine with a smaller Yanmar unit.
Custodian: Bobbie O’Donnell; 2002 – 2013
In 2002, the boat was sold to Williamstown identity Bobbie O’Donnell who had sold his beloved Couta Boat Marleena C75 (now Marlena) in 1995, as the family had moved to Queensland before returning to Melbourne that year. Renaming the boat Seaholme, Bobbie was a prolific fisherman and updated the boat with a new powerful Yanmar GM20 diesel engine.
On almost a daily basis, leaving Blunt’s jetty at Williamstown before dawn, Bobby would motor down Port Phillip as far as Werribee and Point Cook, often returning with a large haul of snapper and whiting.
Custodian: Tim Ryan; 2013 – Present
In 2013, a founding Couta Boat Club member, Tim Ryan, acquired the boat from the O’Donnell family and re-named her with a dual name after Harry’s wife Dolly Clark and also Tim’s grandmother Dolly Castles, an acclaimed early 20th century opera singer. He continues to use the Dolly C on a regular basis, alternating between the moorings at Lentell Avenue in Sorrento and either at a berth at Blunt’s Jetty or its moorings in Hobsons Bay, Williamstown.
Tim tells that it was a privilege to have Harry Clark showing many of his boats moored in Williamstown including the Dolly C after its 1992 rebuild. Harry regularly sailed with him in the 1980s on his Couta Boat Royal in some of the early regattas, and up and down the bay on many occasions reliving his memories of his early days crewing on the Lillian, at Queenscliff with Joey Wells. Harry’s son Ronnie summed up his father perfectly as:
The old man of the sea, the tiller held in his fingers, feeling every movement in the rudder, not gripped in his fist like a lifeless lump of wood, but a living thing, squinting into the sun, checking the flow over the sails, watching for any wind shifts…