The provenance of Pearl C12 is not clear. Her builder is unknown, as is the year in which she was built. It is said she was built in Queenscliff by Peter Locke around 1926, but there is no documented evidence to support this view; others have a contrary view.
It is likely that in her early years, Pearl was used to fish on Port Phillip and out of fishing ports along the south-west coast of Victoria. Each winter, it was the common practice for Queenscliff fisherman to follow the ’couta along south-west coast of Victoria, seeking out fishing grounds. Some of the fishermen chose to settle in Portland for the long term, where they were assured of a market for their catch.
Custodian: Gordon Sealey; 1940s or 1950s – Early 1980s
When local Portland fisherman Gordon Sealey purchased Pearl sometime in the 1940s -1950s, she was fully rigged for fishing.
Pearl was owned by Gordon from that time to the 1980s. Gordon decked-in Pearl and had a dog-house fitted so he could use her for cray fishing. Portland fisherman Garry Kerr recalls that Pearl was already outfitted with the dog-house when he commenced fishing in 1961. The dog-house kept Gordon sheltered from the southern waters where his cray pots were set some distance offshore near Cape Nelson. In addition, Gordon also caught barracouta, the trademark fish of Couta Boats.
Custodian: Ernie Jennings; Early 1980s
After his long association with Pearl, Gordon eventually sold her to another Portland fisherman, Ernie Jennings. For some years, Ernie had fished professionally with Gordon.
As Ernie used Pearl for commercial fishing, he fitted her with a cabin. Stewart Fechner who, later, became Ernie’s son-in-law, learnt to sail on Pearl and tells that she was fitted with a 6 inch galvanized pipe mast with a 4 inch pipe section extension, and had a gaff rig.
Stewart recalls sailing from Portland to Port Fairy with Ernie on a few occasions, with the only respite from wild seas being at Lady Julia Percy Island which is located between the two fishing ports.
Custodian: Alan Liebolt; Mid 1980s
When Ernie’s commercial fishing days were numbered, he sold Pearl to Alan Liebolt. It was Alan’s intention to restore her. He had custody of her for two to three years and had her on the slip at Portland Wharf, Victoria but didn’t get to embark on the restoration. He sought potential buyers but to no avail. So Pearl remained at the wharf until Tim Phillips came across her in the mid 1980s.
Custodian: Tim Phillips; Mid 1980s – Early 1990s
In one of his regular trips along the Victorian coastline scouting for Couta Boats, Tim Phillips purchased Pearl on behalf of her new owner who intended to help with the restoration. Tim re-ribbed her, but when the owner withdrew from the arrangement, the boat was transported to Melbourne.
Custodian: Unknown: Early 1990s – 1995
The name of Pearl’s custodian in the early 1990s is not known, nor her location until she was sighted on the grass at Pompei’s Boat Shed beside the Mordialloc Creek in the southern suburbs of Melbourne. She remained there for some years.
Custodian: Dennis Horne and James Mighell; 1995 – 2000
In 1995, two friends Dennis Horne and James Mighell replied to an advertisement listing Pearl for sale and bought her for $3,000. She was still sitting outside Pompei’s Boat Shed in a sorry state of disrepair.
Dennis recalls that the hull was in such an appalling state that she looked ‘much like an avocado skin’. She didn’t have a thwart, however, she had been re-ribbed. James remembers buying her and on one evening, Dennis and he, with a borrowed trailer from Jack Pompei, with ‘no lights no worries’, carted her from Mordialloc to Kensington, an inner west Melbourne suburb, to shipwright Richard Blake’s shed. Here they spent at least a year or so doing a full restoration thqat included: a new plate and centre-plate case, thwart, floors, deck beams, Celery Top decks, coamings, gunwale belting, re-caulking, engine installation, all electrical systems, mast, boom, rigging and new Hood Sails. She was relaunched in 1997.
Many happy hours were spent by the Horne and Mighell families assisting Richard with the project, then sailing Pearl in Couta Boat Club events at both the northern and southern ends of Port Phillip.
Dennis sold his half share to his friend James in 2000.
Custodian: James Mighell; 2000 – 2015
James moved Pearl from her mooring at Portsea to the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club (SSCBC), the year when the Sorrento Sailing Club and the Couta Boat Club merged. He and his family became keen sailors at Sorrento, winning many significant races in Pearl including the CBA Portsea Cup and CBA Nationals. In 2001, Pearl won the Portsea Cup, with crew that included Dennis Horne, ten year old Harry Mighell and Michael Heath, an original Sorrento Sailing Club member and legendary Laser sailor.
During the time that James was Pearl’s custodian, he served as Commodore of SSCBC and then President of the CBA and, later, in 2020, was awarded Honorary Life Member of the SSCBC for his significant work undertaken in promoting Couta Boats.
James sold Pearl in 2017 to a syndicate comprising Neil Clubb, Andrew Ellis, Mike Ellis and John Hamilton all from Pittwater in NSW.
Custodian: Neil Clubb, Andrew Ellis, Mike Ellis, John Hamilton; 2015 – Present
For several years, the new custodians had been keen on the idea of buying and enjoying the sailing and racing pleasures of a Couta Boat. In 2015, they journeyed to Stanley in Tasmania to inspect a likely Couta Boat but upon their arrival, the boat they were considering was found not to be a Couta Boat at all. Neil said that after this misadventure,
It was time to pull our finger out and do it.
They contacted Tim Phillips of the WBS who mentioned that Pearl was for sale. Pearl was sold to this Sydney syndicate in May 2015 and although they were new to Couta Boat sailing, they were keen to learn.
Pearl was shipped by road from Sorrento to the beautiful waters of Pittwater, NSW and spent her first year there at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club (RPAYC), sailing in the Classic Series with the Pittwater Couta Boat fleet.
We were total newcomers, both in sailing experience and in our knowledge of the layout of Pittwater. We had dreadful trouble in understanding the starting procedure and countdown for each start. One race it was misty rain and fog and what we took for the 5 minute gun was in fact the start. Pearl was heading away from the start as the gun went and by the time we realised our error and made the start line, the rest of the Couta Boat fleet was out of sight in the fog. We had no idea where the turning marks were and had no one to follow, so our intrepid crew had no option but to retire and adjourn to the RPAYC bar.
The syndicate, however, found the travel from the suburbs of Sydney where they lived, to Pittwater somewhat of a time challenge, so at the end of 2016 Pearl was relocated to Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club (RPEYC) on Sydney Harbour where she was moored alongside several other Couta Boats, namely: Eloise, Makama, Dawn and Rob Roy.
Pearl is raced regularly in combined races involving Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club, the RAN Sailing Association (RANSA) and Sydney Amateur Yacht Club (SASC). Mike Ellis declared:
We are self-confessed enthusiastic amateurs with a love and respect for old wooden boats. As a consequence, we aren’t regularly on the podium at prize giving although, due to our generous handicap, we are often not far off.
Pearl has also sailed a few times on the open seas up to Pittwater to race there. This is a four-five hour transit off Sydney’s northern beaches and on each occasion she has proven to be a wonderfully seaworthy boat.
When we sailed Pearl down to Sydney harbour for the 2016 Couta Boat Nationals, we saw lots of whales on the passage down, but on rounding North Head, Sydney we could see a small juvenile whale exiting the harbour and breaching. The problem was, it was heading straight for Pearl. We hastily reviewed our exit plan in case the whale joined us in the cockpit. Its last breach was about 30 metres ahead of us and it then turned on its back and glided past about two metres below the boat. Beautiful white belly and flippers just below us and we could imagine the laugh it would have had, for the scare it gave us all.
Today, Pearl is sailed out of the Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club and the Sydney Amateur Yacht Club, and is registered on the RANSA register at the Naval Academy, Sydney. She has pride of place moored beside the Balmoral Boatshed at Balmoral Beach, Mosman on Sydney Harbour, NSW.
Regular maintenance has kept Pearl in good condition; her Vetus engine was rebuilt in July, 2017.