Custodian: John Mitchell; 2004 – Present
Montalto was commissioned by John Mitchell and built by Tim Helliwell at the Wooden Boat Shop (WBS) in Sorrento in 2004. She was built at 26 foot 6 inches, the standard length of Couta Boats that were designed and built at the WBS in that period.
After years of catamaran sailing then trailer sailing, John decided it was time to settle into a vessel that would be his sailing commitment alongside other big lifestyle choices such as vineyards, the Austin Healey and ocean kayaks to name but a few. The decision was made.
The first ever sail in a Couta Boat was my boat. No test drives or advice from owners, simply a confidence this was the answer shared by friends who had been part of my sailing story.
Motivated by tradition, craftsmanship and aesthetics, the path led to Tim Phillips at the WBS. In discussion with Tim on design, materials and fit out, there was only one path: a traditional build ‘Queenscliffer’, to be built of Huon Pine (hull and deck), Celery Top Pine (stringer’s) plus Rosewood and Oregon. Every element was to be based on the traditional style and built as it was intended for a heritage boat.
WBS boat builder Tim Helliwell was assigned the build and a journey commenced from regular inspection visits to finishing touches. A rare find was of a charge log for timbers recovered from the depths of a Tasmanian river. During the build the hull was trailered to Montalto Winery for a viewing of the craftsmanship by her owner, the master winemaker! The sail number C2004 signifies the launch year and naming of the boat, which was two years after John’s Montalto Restaurant was opened, a fitting namesake.
John says the first happy years of owning Montalto were spent at Sorrento.
Sailing was often challenging in large fleets, with the crew on a steep learning curve but all was good.
Montalto was usually well positioned in the fleet and the crew’s confidence grew. However, John’s affection for the Western Port setting, together with his home at Balnarring Beach and long association with Westernport Yacht Club and Flinders Yacht Club won the day and the boat was moved to Flinders.
This is the most perfect sailing environment, bringing the class home to the fishing grounds of Western Port and Bass Strait. Muriel, owned by Tim Phillips was also once on a mooring here, as was Wattle owned by Russell Barrett, and Peter Gale was sailing Vivienne (since renamed) in both bays, and multiple Couta Boats were used here for recreation especially fishing.
Tim’s cousin, David Wilkins, a retired Bass Strait fisherman and passionate wooden boat man joined the regular crew and maintained the link back to Sorrento. John says the sailing at Flinders is a joy.
Swells, blue water or bay, shelter or blow. All there! Great racing in a mixed keel boat fleet; pushing an Adams 10 knots downwind along with a J70; often reminding others that they’ve just been passed by a fishing boat! Great spirit at the Club and all love the visual of the Couta Boat in full flight.
Now in his late 70s, John says the need for flexible younger crew is important but the desire and enjoyment is still in place, a great decision some 16 years ago.