Custodian: Bazil Seymour Newman; 1952 – 1962
Duchess was built by Alec Lacco in Rye, Victoria circa early 1952 to 1953.
Her original owner was Bazil Seymour Newman of Newhaven, Phillip Island, Victoria. At the time of her build it is likely she was unnamed. She was fitted with a cabin and a small lug rig.
Bazil was the only son of Charlie Newman, of the well-known Newman family that commercially fished the waters of Port Phillip, Western Port and Gippsland Lakes in Victoria. In his early years, most likely he fished with his father, Charlie, from Newhaven, in Charlie’s boat White Wings. His uncle Joe Newman was fishing with him after World War II.
After World War II, the fishing industry in Victoria expanded and the San Remo Fisherman’s Co-operative was formed. Hence, Couta Boats were in demand to supply the co-operative with their daily catch. Bazil’s boat was moored at Newhaven which is adjacent to Western Port’s Eastern Passage, so he had ready access to the local fishing grounds. Bazil’s son, Tony Newman, recounts that his dad fished mainly in Western Port, catching whiting and garfish. Then, when the ‘couta were running, he would go outside the bay around to Cape Woolamai at the entrance to Bass Strait.
On his return, Bazil chose to take his fish to the jetty shed at Newhaven where, using an ice crusher; he would crush the ice and put it on top of the fish. A truck would come from Cowes, Phillip Island to collect the fish at Newhaven, followed by a collection at San Remo, then transport the catch to the fish market in Melbourne.
Bazil fished out of the boat for some 10 years, eventually selling her in 1962 to a long-time resident of Rhyll, Frank Jansson.
Custodian: Frank Jansson; 1962 – 1975
Frank Jansson was a boatman and commercial fisherman and so the boat remained in the local fishing fleet. Frank’s son, John Jansson recalls that on purchasing the boat, his father named her Tania, after Tania Verstak, who was crowned Miss Australia in 1961. Tania was used mainly for fishing parties and for a few years in the 1960s, Frank dredged for oysters in Western Port.
Frank retired from commercial fishing in 1975 at the age of 70, although he still worked on the family farm until he died at 92. Vale Frank.
Custodian: Ken Holt; 1975 – 1977
The next custodian of Tania was another Rhyll local, Ken Holt, who purchased her from Frank in 1975. He did not use her on a commercial basis but instead for recreational fishing and sailing. However, he owned her for not much more than two years when he sold her in 1977 to Garry Walton, also of Rhyll.
Custodian: Garry Walton; 1977 – 1981
After several years spent in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), Garry returned home in 1976 and started shark fishing in Bass Strait in October 1977, which was his livelihood for most of his working life.
During his time in the RAN, Garry had served in the Vietnam War on the HMS Duchess, a Daring Class destroyer. Hence, upon his purchase of Tania, he promptly renamed her Duchess. She became Garry’s recreational fishing vessel. But, as he did not have a Western Port licence, he fished longlining mainly out of the Nobbies and Cape Woolamai. Garry says that he kept Duchess in survey: her registration number was U8T.
As was typical of the Couta Boats built in that era, Duchess was lug-rigged and did not have a centre-case. Garry tells also that, as she was always under motor, he removed the cabin to allow for more air-flow to her air-cooled Italian Lombardini 33 hp diesel engine. Because the cabin didn’t allow enough air to circulate, she would often seize, requiring the boat to drift around until her engine cooled down.
Garry regularly sailed Duchess but reluctantly, he sold her in 1981 when he and his wife were planning to marry.
Custodian: Sam Quigley (of Crib Point); 1981 – late 1980s
The new owner of Duchess was Sam Quigley of Crib Point on Western Port, who also worked on the HMS Duchess. There is no documented record about how Sam utilized Duchess. He owned her for a few years before he on-sold her in the late 1980s.
Custodian: John Carew; Late 1980s – 1994
Duchess was sold to Sorrento sailor John Carew. At the time of purchase she still had her lug rig but was in need of repair. She was transported to Sorrento by Tim Phillips who carried out the repairs.
John and his son Sean sailed Duchess in the Couta Boat fleet out of Sorrento. Records show that Duchess sailed in the Connemara Cup out of Mornington on Port Phillip in 1990 and in the 1993 Lagoon Trophy.
When John purchased Pearl C66, his son Sean took over Duchess.
Custodian: Sam Quigley (of Sorrento); 1994 – 2002
In 1994, Sam and Judy Quigley were on a borrowed runabout on Port Phillip when off Camerons Bight Judy spotted Duchess. Sam had been sailing on Jennifer with Peter Bennett. The rest is history. Duchess was sold to Sam Quigley a member of Sorrento Sailing Club. Sam Quigley, who was not related to the former owner of the same name, sailed Duchess in the Couta Boat fleet out of Sorrento for about 8 years. Judy recalls:
We had lots of fun on her both racing and socializing, we really loved her. Three particular experiences I remember were two Lady Skippers races, both with Sue Adams, b oth hilarious. The first we won but were disqualified, because for some reason we hadn’t registered! The second was on a dreadful windy wet day. Sue and I sailed off with an instruction to pick Sam up from Portsea pier, prior to the start. He had just returned from somewhere, was in a suit and tie. Only the jacket and tie were removed, in itself odd. It was a terrible race for us, there was a great deal of shouting and finally, a DNF!
A more pleasant experience was sailing in the winter series from Brighton. It was great fun, every race was beautiful. Slight breezes and a sunny sky. We came second in the series and won a lovely boat hook. Being out when the big ships came in, that was a great experience too.
In this period, Andrew Creek, who became the next custodian of Duchess, began to crew for Sam. Andrew and Sam were deeply attuned to the pleasures of sailing a heritage Couta Boat and to each other’s humour.
Get that rusty crusty coal barge from Newcastle?’
was a common cry from Sam when a larger vessel came within sight. When Sam became ill, he insisted that Andrew should buy Duchess. This of course he did.
Custodian: Andrew Creek; 2002 – 2020
Having owned and sailed dinghies since childhood and having graduated to ocean racing as an adult, including numerous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Races, Andrew came to the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club with a remarkable sailing pedigree. Refer to the following Appendix for an account of Andrew’s sailing history.
In the years of sailing Duchess, Andrew recounts a memorable experience from when the Commonwealth Games came to Melbourne in 2006:
We (SSCBC) were invited to provide 36 Couta Boats to anchor on the Yarra River to represent the countries competing. We anchored in midstream and raised the flag of our representative nation.
It was at this particular event that Andrew approached long-term crew, Sally Law.
I saw Sally on the pier in Docklands and we spoke briefly. I asked Sally if she would sail with me on Duchess but she replied, there are better offers out there!
But Sally did take up Andrew’s offer and has been sailing on Duchess ever since, along with others, including Robin Gardner, Jane Morgan and Dean Paulberg who in 2021 are the permanent, regular crew. Sally has her own memorable tales to tell of sailing Duchess:
Many years ago after just finishing a fantastic competitive race over in Queenscliff on Port Phillip, a strong hot easterly breeze began to build. In order to get home to Sorrento without bashing into the easterly we sailed as far into shore as possible. As we got into the lee of the land and into Leprosery Bay, I popped my head up to work out how far we had come in, informing Creeky the skipper, ‘I think there is a reef somewhere around here.’ Next thing we hear is a loud thump as her plate hits rock. ‘Well, I guess we found Duchess Rock then, Sal!’ someone yells. Up goes the plate, down come the sails, engine on and off the rock we get. To this day we still refer to it as Duchess Rock.
Sally’s reflection is that the success of Duchess on the water is a result of the very loyal and reliable crew, combined with the skills and measured approach exercised by Andrew. In particular, Sally pays tribute to the late Ted Seibereisen who was sail-maker for Australia II, and the late Doc Rob:
Together the pair of them could have started a comedy club. For some reason the jokes would always start once the 5 minute warning gun had gone off. Ted would start with ‘A guy walks into a bar…’ then at the 4 minute warning gun, Doc Rob lighting a cigarette: ‘Did you hear the one about…’ and so it would flow throughout the race.
We obtained one of our crew one day after asking around if anyone had spare crew as we were only three up. Fellow Couta Boat owner, Jeffery Richardson told us he had too many crew as it was going to be a light day and pushed one of his crew over to us and said ‘Go sail with them’. And this is how we met Robin Gardner, wine maker, sailor and all round awesome good guy. He sailed with us that day, I don’t remember how we went, but we’ve never given him back to Richo. He was ours from that day forward.
Often while we’re sailing, one of us will start with ‘Do you remember the time?’ It’s always a memory about which we smile, laugh and joke. I guess that’s what makes sailing on Duchess so special.
Andrew also reflects that the winter months in the boat yard are also enjoyable, and when the sun comes out, very social.
Custodian: Sally Law; 2020 – Present
When Andrew Creek retired from competition sailing in 2020, Sally Law became the custodian of Duchess.
With the same loyal crew and her father David Law, Duchess achieved the pinnacle of Couta Boat racing and won the 2021 Portsea Cup. It was the perfect Duchess breeze of 10 to 12 knots, strong tides and summer sun. With the majority of the fleet set for a pin-end start, Sally noted that while the tide favoured the pin-end start the wind direction meant that a start near the start boat would be most advantageous. It paid off, with Duchess around the top mark first beating the bigger boats in Division 2 and setting her up for taking the Cup.
It was with absolute joy that Sally lifted the Portsea Cup for the first time, thanking Andrew for entrusting Duchess to Sally and her amazing crew, including those that sailed on Duchess in the past and were there in spirit, Ted Silbereisen and Doc Rob. Vale Ted. Vale Rob.
Duchess continues to be sailed weekly out of Sorrento and is used as a recreational fishing boat on days without wind.
Appendix: Andrew Creek’s Sailing History
My parents moved from Geelong to Melbourne in 1955 and I was 11 years old. We were located in Hampton, a Melbourne suburb in Victoria. I joined Sandringham Yacht Club (SYC) and attended sailing training classes on Tuesday evenings.
The 1956 Olympic Games involved Finn Dinghy sailing at SYC and I became totally involved. Colin Ryrie was the Australian sailor. The American sailor John Marvin who won the Bronze Medal, quickly became a good friend and virtually lived with us, although my father drove him back to the Olympic Village in Heidelberg every evening. My mother continued to write to his mother until recently (in 2020).
As soon as the Games were over, my father cleared our garage and we built a Yachting World Cadet. Then several years later, I sailed a Gwen 12. Much later I owned and sailed a Yachting World Diamond Hot Stuff at Royal Victorian Yacht Club at Williamstown, Port Phillip.
I owned and sailed a Peterson 30 named Half Measure at SYC and was involved in numerous Sydney Hobart races on Bacardi whilst at Sandringham. Bacardi was owned by John Gould and it then passed to John Williams and Graeme Ainley and was moored at Sandringham. SYC has been part of my life since 1955.
Patricia and I decided to buy a property in Sorrento in 1996 and we built a house there, although we were still living in Mount Waverley. I immediately linked up with Sam Quigley at Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club and sailed with him on Couta Boat, Duchess.