The profiles listed in this Register have been documented from the stories and photos contributed by custodians and others who willingly shared information. Readers who have additional information about the history of any Couta Boat are invited to forward it to email@example.com so that it can be added to the Register.
Mitch Lacco, Queenscliff, Victoria
Planking: Kauri Pine
Deck: Queensland Beech
Renowned boatbuider Mitch Lacco built Jessamine in Queenscliff in 1922. She was built of Kauri Pine with Queensland Beech laid deck and still bears the Lacco Wattle insignia.
Jessamine was built to compete in a new interstate series for 21 foot Restricted Class yachts, the Forster Cup, which was instigated by Lord Forster, the Governor General of Australia (1920 to 1925).
The 21 foot Restricted Class was one of the first class of yachts created in Australia. It evolved from boats that sailed and worked in Victorian coastal waters. The fishing fleet, including the Queenscliff Couta Boat fleet, in part, influenced early designs, emphasising the strong connection this racing class had with the traditional fishing vessels of Victoria.
Jessamine raced in the 1924 Forster Cup selection trials for Victoria. She proved to be very fast on the wind, leading most races at the weather mark. However, she was no match for the more radical designs when running and reaching.
Following the 1924 race, a proposed sale to a Geelong doctor fell through and Jessamine was repurposed as a fishing boat. She then spent many decades fishing under sail along the coastline of the Bellarine Peninsula, Port Phillip, Victoria. Old timer, Vin Rigby from St Leonards on the Bellarine Peninsula, recalls a childhood experience of sailing in Jessamine through The Rip at Port Phillip Heads, to catch ‘couta outside. However, there is no other documented record of the specific location of Jessamine until the 1990s.
Custodian: Aldo Sodomoco; 1990s
Portarlington local, Aldo Sodomoco was the custodian of Jessamine during the 1990s.
Custodian : Dugga Beazley; Late 1990s
Dugga Beazley purchased Jessamine from Aldo Sodmoco. A restoration was then undertaken in the late 1990s by Dugga Beazley’s nephew Andrew Reilly, under Dugga’s guidance. She was restored back to a gaff-rigged boat and used for sailing. Dugga explained:
They were all gaff rigged. Just like a fishing boat type, but made better for racing. They had a V coaming for the front of the cockpit. They were pretty low and fast. They had six for crew and they raced them pretty hard, so this coaming would throw the water off a bit.
Custodians: Mark Taylor and Tom Snowball; 2000s – 2016
Jessamine was then on sold to Mark Taylor and Tom Snowball who is the great grandson of the original builder, Mitch Lacco. When Tom saw the ‘For Sale’ advertisement in the ‘Melbourne Trading Post’, he made contact with Dugga to purchase Jessamine.
Mark and Tom sailed Jessamine at Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club (SSCBC) for a few years. The initial deal between the owners was that Mark would teach Tom to sail proficiently, whilst Tom would teach Mark to become an expert fisherman! The other deal was that Jessamine might be sailed either out of SSCBC or Sandringham Yacht Club.
Jessamine competed in the Division 2 fleet and in 2000 she was successful in winning the prestigious Portsea Cup: Line Honours and Handicap.
Custodian: Tim Phillips; 2016 – 2017
In 2016, Tim Phillips from the Wooden Boat Shop in Sorrento became the next custodian of Jessamine and immediately carried out some significant restoration work on her including replacing her ribs.
In 2017, Tim raced Jessamine in the Winter Series at SSCBC and won several races in Division 2: both Line Honours and Handicap.
Custodian: Nicky Liemant; 2017 – 2020
Jessamine was sold to the Liemant family in 2017, with daughter Nicky listed as the owner. She was sailed occasionally by Nicky and her friends in the Division 2 fleet at SSCBC.
Custodians: James and Sunday Gibson; 2020 – Present
Father and daughter duo James and Sunday Gibson purchased Jessamine in 2020. As a veteran Couta Boat sailor, James was well-prepared to introduce his daughter, Sunday, to regular competition in the Division 2 fleet at SSCBC. However, Sunday is an accomplished sailor in her own right. On the purchase of Jessamine, Sunday’s response to her dad was:
I can’t wait to take Jessamine out.
Leaving James to wonder whether he will be allowed on the helm!
In 2021, Grace Cockman, Kate Hannah and Emma Phillips joined Sunday to campaign Jessamine, taking out Line Honours and 1st Handicap, Division 2, in the annual ‘Next Gen’ race. This youthful crew of highly skilled sailors intends Jessamine to be a regular competitor in the Division 2 fleet at SSCBC.
Jessamine is listed on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels and, for a boat that is approaching 100 years old, she is considered to be in exceptional condition.
Appendix: ‘The 21 footer Jessamine: A letter from Ken Lacco’
Transcript of interview with Ken Lacco.
My father (Mitch) designed and built the 21 footer, but he built it before they brought the ones out like the Royalist, with the straight bow. He had the round bow on her, like the old type. That was in 1922.
But he just built her a year too soon, as when the boat took off as a class, they built them with a straighter stem
He got first picked in Victoria to race in the Foster Cup (not named after the beer) the next year. Jessamine was alright on the wind, she beat them all around the weather mark, but the others could run and lead much faster then her.
They were a big class at one stage, they were the main racing boats, or even interstate racing class. There were some at the Royal Club, and Williamstown and St Kilda. They all had them, and in Tassie too.
The Foster Cup was started up in Melbourne, but fell through quite a few years ago, when the Tumlarens and others came in to being. They were open boats, and I think they had just had their day, and they just faded out. I s’pose that would be the late 30s. Anyway, after the war started, there wasn’t any more.
Dad built the Jessamine only, and if he had won the Foster Cup that year he would have sold her to a doctor in Geelong, but he didn’t win, so he finished up selling it to a chap at Port Arlington. They raised her plank for fishing; she was turned into a fishing boat.
The scroll at the bows was just a bit of decoration, but he didn’t put that on all his boats.
They were all gaff rig. Just like a fishing boat type, but made better for racing. They had a V coaming for the front of the cockpit. They were pretty low and fast. They had six for crew, and they raced them pretty hard, so this coaming would throw the water off a bit.
Course they’d go all weather. Didn’t matter about the weather, they’d go out. Dad had three sails for the Jessamine. I know he had one with the down cloths. Most of them had the cross cloths, and battens in the sail. But he had a loose footed one with down cloths he used to put on when it was blowing a gale. They’d all have at least three jibs, different sizes. And two spinnakers, you know, for different weathers.
But the newer style that came in after the Jessamine had the straight stem and more raked stern. You’d almost call them ‘cheating’ bows, more or less, where you could put the crew aft and lift the bow up.
But the Jessamine was the only one we built. On a wind she was very, very good. I remember being out on her as a boy, and we were running with a fair wind, and had the spinnaker up, and she rolled from one side to the other. She didn’t carry much ballast when racing, but we had big chaps and so on, and we used the crew for ballast.
Dad was a bit of a racer. We were a proper racing family, but I’ve only got one photo of the Jessamine, and that’s when she was getting christened. The mayor of Queenscliff is standing on the top of her and Dad’s standing on the bottom, and the mayor, he had the Ozone Hotel, is breaking the champagne on her.
There was a Fife boat came out from England to race, she didn’t do any good, which was like the Jessamine type. That was Lord Stonehaven’s boat. Anyway, he tried racing against the 21 footers and he didn’t do any good.
The picture shows launch day for Jessamine, with Mitch Lacco standing on a box at the bows.
Jessamine was the name of a creeper that grew next door.
Burnham, S. (n.d.). The 21 footer Jessamine: A letter from Ken Lacco. Steve Burnham Editorial Enterprises. https://burnham.net.au
The Wind is Free. (n.d.) Royal Geelong Yacht Club. https://www.rgyc.com.au
2000: 1st Line Honours, Division 2, Portsea Cup, Couta Boat Association, Portsea, Vic.
2000: 1st Handicap Division 2, Portsea Cup, Couta Boat Association, Portsea, Vic.
2021: 1st Line Honours, Division 2, Next Gen Race, Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club, Sorrento, Vic.
2021: 1st Handicap Division 2, Next Gen Race, Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club, Sorrento, Vic.