Custodian: Milton Green; 1986 – 2004
Jessie C44 was designed by Tim Phillips and built at the Wooden Boat Shop (WBS), Sorrento, Victoria for Milton Green.
Growing up in the seaside town of Mornington in Victoria and living close to Port Phillip, Milton had developed an obvious love for boats, especially wooden boats. His childhood days were spent hanging about the local Mornington Pier and sighting the fishermen coming home with their ‘catch’. See Appendix for an account of Milton’s early memoirs.
Milton continued to live in Mornington into his adulthood, establishing a family, growing a car dealership business, and buying a keel boat. However, in one of Mornington’s notorious northerly storms, his boat along with many others, was beached and written off.
The loss of his keel boat proved to be a pivotal point for Milton. In 1984, he happened to wander down to the pier and sight 12 or so Couta Boats from the Couta Boat Club on the jetty and on swing moorings. They had raced to Mornington Yacht Club (MYC) from Sorrento (the Connemara Cruise had a ‘round the sticks race’ the following day – the Williamstown and Gellibrand Trophies), then a return sail to Sorrento.
Milton’s interest in Couta Boats was piqued. He discovered that the fleet had formed a club and shortly after, he visited boatbuilder Tim Phillips in his new shed in Oxford Street, Sorrento. Over several visits, Tim came to see Milton’s interest in, and enthusiasm for, wooden boats. Milton recalls one such visit.
Talking with Tim on one of these occasions, as he continued on the tools, I picked up wood shavings from the spoke shave he was using, rubbed them through my fingers and just naturally smelt them. He later told me that was when he realised I was really serious about wooden boats.
In a subsequent visit, Milton informed Tim that he could access some Huon Pine planks from a friend in Tasmania. The planks were remnants from a ketch, the Solquest, on which Milton had frequently cruised around the Whitsundays, and entered and retired from the 1983 stormy Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
A deal was done. Milton was to supply the Huon timber, engine and sails, at a cost of $26,000 or $1,000 per foot; he also had to deliver the timber.
I purchased from the Launceston Mazda dealer a long wheel base van, hung my dealer trade plate and drove to Gary Smedley’s yard to load. Then onto the ferry to the Wooden Boat Shop.
And so Jessie C44 was constructed. She was named after Milton’s grandmother and was painted green to highlight Milton’s surname. Milton clearly recalls her launch day.
Launch day was on a wet day in October, with Tim’s small team assisting. Jessie headed to a swing mooring off Lentell Avenue in Sorrento.
Jessie is regarded as a much travelled boat. In the year after her launch she began the first of two extended journeys.
Bi-Centennial Year 1988:
In her travels, Jessie has been to Sydney on a number of occasions for pleasure cruising and sailing on Sydney Harbour. In the Bi-Centennial year of 1988, she was transported to Sydney for the Old Gaffers Regatta hosted by the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club (SASC) in Mosman Bay, to coincide with the Tall Ships Parade. The regatta race was conducted under the threat of a ‘southerly buster’, but with a crew of eight local Couta Boat Club (CBC) members, Jessie was prepared for the foreboding winds.
As predicted, we were hit with at least 25 knots on the beat home. We were all over canvassed, carrying number ones, but with our weight and judicious trimming, we were able to sail flatter and higher than anyone else. We saluted the finish gun with great excitement onboard and a cacophony of ships’ horns and sirens. 10 feet tall and bullet proof, we celebrated long into the night.
Not only was Jessie and her owner successful in taking the honours on Gaffers Day, she caught the eye of a French journalist who invited Milton to take her to France for the Douarnenez Wooden Boat Festival later that year. La Chaisse Maree, a French wooden boat magazine, agreed to finance the trip.
In 1988, Milton took Jessie to Dournanenez in Brittany, France by container ship to compete in the Classic Wooden Boat Festival. Milton’s fellow shipmates included Marcus Burke, Bryan Wales, Peter Kubale and Grant Wharington. It was reported that this iconic boat from ‘down under’ turned many heads at the regatta.
An iconic gaff-rigged Couta Boat from Victorian waters easily melded with over 740 wooden boats at the festival. And coming from afar, she won, amongst others, the Marco Polo award for having travelled the furthest. Her crew also won the Boat Handling competition, and Milton competed in the Change of Skippers race. Needless to say, he still retains a myriad of mementos. It was reported that Jessie turned many heads at the regatta. See Appendix for a detailed account of Jessie’s journey to the Douarnenez Wooden Boat Festival.
Milton is known to be a very skilled yachtsman, never missing a race. Sadly though, Milton was injured in an industrial accident in 1990 whilst he was removing the ballast from Jessie in Sydney. Jessie continued to be sailed by John Coates, Martin Bryan and John Nash. In 1998 they won the Division 1 Handicap honours in the Portsea Cup race.
Custodians: Tim Dixon, Peter Karay, Trevor Neate, and Graeme Pimlott; 2004 – Present
In 2004, Milton sold Jessie to local Mornington sailors Tim Dixon, Peter Karay, Trevor Neate, and Graeme Pimlott. She was subsequently moved to Mornington Harbour where she has been moored since.
The new owners were committed to maintaining Jessie’s status in the Couta Boat fleet, sailing out of Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club (SSCBC). This entailed sailing her on a very regular basis from Mornington to Sorrento, a distance of almost 30 nautical miles. She competed in the Winter and Summer Series, and in 2010 claimed Division 1 Handicap honours in winning the prestigious Portsea Cup. Additionally, she was always available for special event days, such as the KPMG lunch and sail.
In 2011, the number of Couta Boats at MYC increased to five, enough numbers to form a regular fleet. So the syndicate decided to join the fleet and concentrate on sailing in local waters. Jessie became a regular competitor and won the Season’s Trophy Race in the 2016 season.
In addition to competitive sailing, Jessie has been used for recreational sailing, and has even been used for weddings and for the ritual of spreading ashes.
In 2018, Jessie suffered serious damage over a couple of hours after hitting the Mornington Pier in a massive storm, which caused significant damage. But it was thanks to MYC member Chris Jackson’s efforts that the damage was not more extensive.
Jessie was taken to Corsair Boats in Rosebud for repairs by Mark Abbott. Incidentally, she had been the first build that Mark worked on as an apprentice at the WBS, so he was familiar with her structure. However, in the process of the repairs he discovered that teredo seaworms had eaten the keel, which is the spine of a Couta Boat. After an almost complete rebuild involving the removal of all the internal structures to replace the keel, Jessie was ready for sailing again.
In 2020, Jessie was back racing with the local MYC fleet until COVID-19 hit. She remains moored in Mornington Harbour, Port Phillip.
Appendix 1: ‘Early Memoirs’ by Milton Green
Growing up in Mornington just 300 metres from the beach in the immediate post WW II years, we, as in my brothers and mates, spent all our summer days there jumping off the pier, hanging around the fishermen and running home barefoot, only when hungry or it was dark. Population was only a few thousand; no one locked their doors – life was simple.
As neighbours, we had three fishermen who would provide us with ‘couta, salmon, trout and the plentiful ubiquitous flathead, sold then for threepence each or five for a shilling! We would stack up the broadsheet Herald and leave them tied with string or take them down to the pier; there were at least six boats stern in to the pier, summer and winter; mainly Lacco’s although probably a Locke or two.
Decades later Alec Lacco had a factory near my dealership. The most memorable ‘fisho’ was undoubtedly Stan Hutchins whose nephews still net and longline off Fishermans Beach where the family have been for over a century.
A colourful big personality, he was Captain of the Fire Brigade, President of the Football Club and many other community activities. He owned the largest boat in the harbour, a clinker double ender named Victory. Mast and yard were always on deck with sails bent but he rarely sailed. Tragically, after spending years behind a shop in a makeshift museum, she was burnt. Nancy survives to this day as does the former Edna, restored by Ken Woods and renamed.
Fast forward 30 years and I have a family, a business and a keel boat in the same town I grew up in. Much had changed – not a timber boat to be seen.
In one of Mornington’s notorious northerly storms, my boat along with many others, was beached and written off.
Australia Day weekend in 1984, when I would normally be competing at Geelong, I wandered down to the yacht club where to my delight there were at least a dozen Couta Boats on the jetty or swing moorings. A big sense of deja vu! The then Couta Boat Club had raced to MYC from Sorrento, had a ‘round the sticks’ race the following day, then sailed, or maybe raced back.
This of course piqued my interest. I then discovered the existence of the Club through Marcus Burke whose family had a Mornington beach house and, hence, met Tim Phillips who, after working out of his Delgany Street carport, had moved to his first shed in Oxford Street, Sorrento.
My monthly meeting with my Rosebud manager in those days was conducted at the Portsea pub – well, it was the 1980s!
I called in on Tim several times asking if he had, or could he source an old boat for restoration as I had become very interested in owning one. He was always busy being on the tools then and I’m sure he thought that this bloke in a suit who regularly interrupted his work was, to use car trade jargon, just a ‘tyre kicker’.
Talking with Tim on one of these occasions, as he continued on the tools, I picked up wood shavings from the spoke shave he was using, rubbed them through my fingers and just naturally smelt them. He later told me that was when he realised I was REALLY serious about wooden boats.
In a subsequent visit, while chatting I mentioned a friend in Tasmania had some Huon pine planks left over from a 46 foot Robert’s ketch that at that time could only be used by Tasmanians. That boat is Solquest, the host boat on ‘Gourmet Farmer Afloat’, and on which I had frequently cruised the Whitsundays, and entered and retired from the1983 stormy ‘Sydney to Hobart’ race. In what was an emotional moment for Tim and me, he asked if I would consider a new boat using the Huon, if we could get it to Sorrento. Given the scarcity of older boats I thought why not.
I remember saying to Tim I always wanted a boat with a history but I have the feeling that, in the Lacco tradition, you may be creating the start of something historic here and one day your boats may join them. This was 1986 with Wagtail being lofted up.
We shook hands on the deal, with me supplying the Huon, engine and sails. $26,000 or $1,000 per foot. To deliver the timber, which was not full length, I purchased from the Launceston Mazda dealer a long wheel base van, hung my dealer trade plate and drove to Gary Medley’s yard to load. On to the ferry, thence to the embryonic WBS.
Launch day was a wet October the following year, with Tim’s small team and a youthful enthusiastic Nick Williams assisting. Jessie headed to a swing mooring at Lentel Avenue in Sorrento.
Appendix 2: Jessie’s Journey to the Douarnenez Wooden Boat Festival in France by Milton Green
In the Bi-Centennial year of 1988, the Club arranged transport of six boats to Sydney, NSW for the Old Gaffers Regatta, to coincide with the Tall Ships Parade. We were hosted by the wonderful waterfront Sydney Amateur Sailing Club in Mosman Bay. I had been in Europe for a new model launch and flew into Sydney where the Burke brothers, Peter Kubale and Tim Phillips had set up the boat.
One short practice then it was race day. The atmosphere was colourful, bunting aplenty, dressed ships with everyone keen to win. Bill Davis on Kate had picked up some local talent from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYC) across the harbour and was out practising early. We were probably last to leave the pontoon but before us went the historic Rossman ferry with the Governor, Club Commodore and Officer of the Day, Bill Gale and assorted media.
I had known Bill for many years, as in an earlier life, coinciding with my first involvement with the then Sorrento Sailing Club in 1958; we met while staying at his brother Roger’s Mosman home while competing in the Gwen 12 Nationals. Another story there! As Bill was boarding he said, ‘Milton, if you can get more crew, grab them, because before this race is over we will be hit with a southerly buster, so more weight the better.’
Luck’s a fortune. A very disappointed Marcus Burke and Sue and Adam Leeming had been bumped off Kate for the CYC hotshots, so they happily joined us. We went out about eight up, did not get the best start, in fact, bad, but avoided a big mess of tangled boats at the first mark, sailed around them to leeward into clear air and took off after the fleet. The event was handicapped to allow for the multiple differences in size and speed. From the Athol Bight start, the course was north, around a laid mark at Shark Island, a beat back to the finish, in the area of the Sydney Hobart start lines.
As predicted, we were hit with at least 25 knots on the beat home. We were all over canvassed, carrying number ones, but with our weight and judicious trimming, we were able to sail, flatter and higher than anyone else. As we were chomping our way through the fleet, I remember passing Arkarana, the Maritime Museum’s NZ Logan boat with a metre of her long boom trailing in the water.
We saluted the gun with great onboard excitement and a cacophony of ships’ horns and sirens. 10 feet high and bullet proof, we celebrated long into the night. In his role as President of the then Couta Boat Club, Marcus was interviewed by various reporters from home and abroad. We met a French journalist who was, in typical Gaelic manner, telling us what superior seamen and boats were in their Maritime Provinces. Ignoring, but in all likelihood not, we refrained from mentioning Waterloo, La Perouse, being eclipsed by Cook et.al. and, in contemporary time, Baron Bich and his many ill-fated attempts at the America’s Cup. He was, however, very impressed with the Couta Boats, came sailing with us and, in what we did not, at first, take seriously, offered to organise transporting Jessie to France for the Douarnenez Wooden Boat Festival later that year.
With our boats back at Sorrento, and me at work finalising the sale of part of my business, it was some time later, Marcus confirmed the offer was genuine and La Chaisse Maree, a French wooden boat magazine, had agreed to finance the entire trip if I could get a crew to Brittany. Could I ever! But writing the cheque to cover costs would have been the easiest part. The boat had to be packed for the trip, with mast strapped to the deck, spars and bumpkin in the hull, sails stowed under deck forward, sheets bagged in the bilge, with the lead ballast shrink wrapped on a pallet. Paperwork was a nightmare, with insurance, Carnet so the boat could re-enter Australia, customs, custom agents and freight forwarders, just to get the flat pack, no sides, container to Footscray, to be loaded. Jessie was carried top load on a container ship berthing at Zeebrugge in Belgium, from where an oversized truck carted her overnight to Brittany, France. I had to meet Customs in the Zeebrugge docks – an adventure in itself in those pre-GPS days.
I had picked up a new, yet to be released in Australia, BMW 535 in Munich, drove into Belgium, spending a few days in Brugge, the well named Venice of the North, before heading to Paris to re-connect with Marcus, our fellow shipmates, Brian Wales, stepson Jeremy, Peter Kubale and then girlfriend Suzanne, already in Douarnenez. A few days R&R in Paris, then the long, but fast, drive into Douarnenez, where we had rented a house on a farm nearby. In those early days of mobile phones, we could not contact the others to locate our accommodation, had no idea where it was, were tired, hungry and thirsty – not necessarily in that order, as it was probably 10pm and dark. When Grant asked ‘What do we do now?’ I well remember, with him promptly agreeing, that we drive to the waterfront, find the restaurant bar with the brightest lights, loudest music and best cars parked out front.
Mission accomplished, except for accommodation. While struggling with a pay phone to call the house for directions, I asked a woman for assistance, as the person who answered had no English, spoke rapid fire French and I was running out of coins. To my surprise, she said ‘Wait a moment Mr Couta, I will be with you after I pee!’
Annie Ravarch was a teacher at the Convent, fluent in English, an accomplished Dragon sailor, was on the organising Committee of the Festival and aware of our presence in town, perhaps due to us wearing Australian Rugby tops I had sourced for the trip. We obviously bought her a drink or two and as the place was closing, had no accommodation, had no idea where it was anyway, we followed her home, where we stayed the night.
At breakfast the next morning, we met her family – a son, two daughters and an adopted brother and sister, orphans from Peru. ‘My little Incas’, she fondly called them. It transpired she was a widow; her violent and drunkard ship’s captain husband had been killed by his crew and tossed overboard. The Incas father was implicated; the mother could not afford to keep them, hence kind-hearted Annie adopted them. Twenty years later, in 2008, I caught up with the family again, with the exception of Gwenola, her elder daughter, who had a torrid love affair with Grant and soon after, arrived in Australia – another story or two there!
We eventually found the house, one of two on the property, the younger family moving in with the parents to generate extra income over summer, which was our comfortable base for a fortnight. We were one of 747 boats in the Festival, now at Brest 2000 strong boats, but had obviously won, amongst others, the Marco Polo award for having travelled the furthest. We were treated like rock stars, with two dedicated car spots on the bluestone jetty, the other being Kube’s Renault he had bought for his extended stay.
Douarnenez is a quaint fishing village with narrow streets running down to the quay, reminding me of the Cornish Looe and Polperro. In the way Queenscliff is to Geelong in Victoria, Douarnenez and Brest are paired. The cavernous fish market on the jetty, along with most of the commercial harbour, had been emptied to accommodate the myriad of craft from all over Europe. Each day, when we weren’t eating lunch on board, the market became a huge food hall, with Breton oysters, langoustine, coquille St Jacques, smoked, raw, fried fish of all types served with lemon wedges. On board, lunch was usually the ubiquitous baguettes with ham and assorted cheeses, washed down with Gamay. Jessie’s thwart made a great table.