Custodian: Mr McAlister; Late 1930s
Marlena’s (formerly Marleena) date of build can be traced to before the World War II. Reliable sources establish that she was built by Ken Lacco at Rosebud in the late 1930s as a fishing vessel for Mr McAlister of Mornington. She still bears the Lacco insignia on her bow.
In the early 1940s, a young 12 year old Mornington girl Gwyneth Hawkins was the ‘first mate’ on Marleena for three years. Now in 2021, aged 89, Gwyneth clearly recalls Marleena’s custodian Mr McAlister of Mornington who is believed to have commissioned the boat primarily for the purpose of business. His company made the very first monofilament nylon fishing line in Australia and although he was not a ‘boatie’, he used Marleena to take potential customers fishing, to test his product.
In this time, Marleena was managed by a local professional fisherman Max Lewis, who helmed her on the fishing expeditions. Max took the young Gwyneth as his ‘first mate’; her task was to untie the knots for the customers and generally attend to their needs. In between fishing expeditions for the customers, Max and Gwyneth would undertake their own fishing trips.
Gwyneth regards the three or so years spent on Marleena as idyllic.
My youth was totally coloured by my time on Marleena. It was such fun. I would spend every weekend and all the school holidays as the ‘first mate’. We would have customers out fishing and I would undo their knots. Then when there were no customers, Max and I would go fishing and catch amazing fish such as pike. It was amazing that my parents allowed me to go.
Such was the trust that Gwyneth’s parents had in Max and Marleena, they granted permission for their daughter to undertake a rescue mission on Marleena.
One day when there was a raging storm, Max came to the house as he couldn’t get anyone to help him to salvage a boat which was adrift down at Dromana. He asked my parents if they would allow me to go with him. Off we went and I looked up to see my parents standing on Flinders Point, watching me disappearing among the waves. The boat, in distress, was heading for the rocks at Safety Beach, Dromana. When we located her, Max jumped on and left me on Marleena controlling the tiller. We salvaged the boat and towed her back to Mornington Harbour.
After Mr McAlister’s custodianship, it is not known in which year Marleena eventually left the waters of Mornington. What is known is that in the 1970s the O’Donnell family was her custodian.
Custodian: The O’Donnell Family; Early 1970s – 1995.
From the early 1970s to 1995, the O’Donnell family kept Marleena penned at Blunt’s Jetty in Williamstown, from where she operated as a private snapper fishing boat on Port Phillip. In this time, she was known as Marleena-AE71.
Greg Blunt from C Blunt Boatyard in Williamstown reports that in the early1980s her Kauri-planks were fitted with a fibre-glassed deck and Spotted Gum frames. Her 4-cylinder diesel is relatively heavy by modern standards, and has four mounts, with two for the Borg Warner gearbox. An electric harness runs by loom to a mounted control panel. The engine operates comfortably at 2,000 rpm with a cruising hull speed of seven to eight knots. A hand bilge is mounted on the stern deck, and an electric pump in the rear bilge is wired to the battery.
When the snapper started disappearing in the early 1990s, due to increased scallop boat fishing, the O’Donnell family decided it was time to move to Cairns in Far North Queensland, to barramundi territory. Hence, Marleena was surveyed in preparation for a sale transaction.
Capt. Christopher M. Will of J.P. Williams & Associates surveyed Marleena on 8th September 1992 and described her thus:
The owner used the boat for fishing in the Altona and Point Wilson area of Port Phillip to a distance of 3 nautical miles offshore. Generally, the boat is of proven design and construction. In our opinion, the hull is in good condition for the age of the boat. She is a particularly well-presented example of the traditional Couta Boat. From a point of view of soundness of the craft and fittings, we would suggest she represents an acceptable insurance risk.
Custodian: The Cable Family; 1995 – 2000
At the commencement of 1995, Marleena was purchased by Nick Cable. She was renamed Lady Virginia after Nick’s wife, Virginia.
In 1996, Nick motored Lady Virginia from Williamstown to Sorrento. She was in excellent solid condition but required a refit with spars, a centre-plate, new sails and a lighter Yanmar 2GM diesel. These works were undertaken in 1996-97 by Tim Phillips at the Wooden Boat Shop in Sorrento. The paint colour was changed from naval light grey to off-white, with red antifoul. Nick and Virginia sailed her as a picnic boat in 1997, then entered her into competitive sailing at Sorrento Sailing Club (SSC) in 1998.
Nick was Commodore at SSC in 1998-1999 when a Division 2 class was formed for those Couta Boats less than 26 foot; Lady Virginia sailed in this division and won numerous races on Handicap.
Lady Virginia sailed with the Couta Boat fleet to San Remo in Western Port for a Couta Boat weekend return cruise to the Newhaven marina, near the Phillip Island bridge. Ken Lacco, who built Lady Virginia, spent his final years in a nursing home nearby; the Regatta was a tribute to his wonderful legacy. Vale Ken.
In January 1999, Lady Virginia competed in the Australia Day Regatta at Geelong, winning the Couta Boat Division 2 Handicap passage race from Port Arlington to Geelong.
Custodian: Rod Austin; 2000 – 2001
Nick and Virginia sold Lady Virginia to Rod Austin in the 2001 sailing season. Rod sailed her for a season in the major events, with John Day as crew. One year later, Rod and John became joint custodians for a brief time. Then the Day family became the sole owner in 2002 and renamed her Marlena.
Custodian: John Day; 2002 – 2020
What followed for Marlena and the Day family was over a decade of fun, family picnics, fishing and participation in the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club (SSCBC) social and sailing programs. In the early days, such was Marlena’s popularity, a volunteer’s roster was required to manage her winter maintenance program.
Marlena, despite her cabin, was always a formidable competitor. Of the many highlights was the SSCBC fleet’s involvement in the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Melbourne in March, 2006. In addition, Marlena was the ‘chauffeur’ for a bride and groom from the SSCBC Jetty to The Baths for their wedding and reception. She was taken on many family picnic trips to the Mud Islands, at the southern end of Port Phillip.
By the 2012 sailing season, Marlena was, again, a Commodore’s boat when John Day was elected Commodore of SSCBC.
Marlena has had two major refurbishments: at Corsair Boats in Rosebud and at Mornington Marina, in Victoria.
Since 2014, Marlena has spent less time in active sailing, moving about Port Phillip from Sorrento to the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria in Williamstown, to Mornington, to Blairgowrie, back to Sorrento and then to Flinders on Western Port.
Custodian: Julian Cox; 2020 – Present
In 2020, Marlena was sold to Julian Cox, a qualified shipwright at Yaringa Boat Harbour, Somerville on Western Port. Julian has since undertaken a significant refurbishment.
Currently, Julian and his young family enjoy sailing and fishing on Marlena in Western Port.