Custodian: Alan Quick; 1987 – c1989
Phoenix was commissioned in 1987 by Alan Quick, a long time Sorrento Sailing Club member and built by Tim Phillips at the Wooden Boat Shop (WBS) in Sorrento, Victoria and launched in 1988.
After her construction, Alan installed a Vetus water cooled diesel with flexible shaft coupling. Phoenix was then sailed at SSC by Alan for about two years before his business commitments took him to Sydney to live.
Custodian: Bruce Griffiths; c1989 – Present
Bruce Griffiths, whilst searching for a Couta Boat to buy after his recovery from a traumatic cancer treatment over a distressing two year period, found Phoenix on a mooring at Williamstown, needing attention and some tender loving care. Given Bruce’s health challenges at the time, the significance of her mythological name of the phoenix rising from the ashes, was appropriate to him and held a strong appeal.
Once Phoenix was pulled out of the water at Williamstown, Bruce immediately fell in love with her lines.
She was returned to her home at Sorrento and then began a long and most successful racing and sailing career as an integral part of the Couta Boat Club and then the merged Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club (SSCBC) of which Bruce had a leading role in being part of the team that successfully and smoothly joined the two Clubs together as one. Without Bruce’s vision and governance skills the merger probably would not have happened.
The engine was replaced in 1991 by the WBS with a 27 hp Yanmar marine diesel. Then over the years various boat upgrades have followed, with laminated spruce spars; more than 10 sets of sails, and more recently a raising of the floor to accommodate the aging athletic capabilities of the seasoned or ‘rusty’ skipper and crew.
Her builder Tim Phillips recently explained that Phoenix and her sister boat Christa, which was built for Dick Whitaker, are the only two boats built to this design. The criteria applied was to be the fastest reaching boats possible, constructed with a flat transom that curves away quickly, all designed to enhance reaching performance. The design intent was motivated by the outstanding reaching performance of Wagtail that had been built a few years earlier, it was the intent to match or exceed her performance.
Over the years, Bruce has drawn together a great group of loyal and devoted Phoenix crew, many with multiple years of sailing experience on all types of racing boats and yachts. Hence, the Phoenix team has continued to compete and participate with an enormous amount of fun and adventure for over 30 years. With Bruce as her custodian and skipper, she has become part of the lives of a wonderful team of now lifelong friends.
In particular, Bruce and his crew have sailed and raced Phoenix keenly, having been very competitive in her early career at a line honours level and more recently sailed well to her handicap.
Clearly, Phoenix performs well in fresh breezes. However, in the adventure of sailing her in very strong winds, some breakages were inevitable, including: four or five broken masts, three or four gaffs, a couple of booms and bowsprits. Veteran foredeck ‘warrior’ Alan Pitman recounts:
The number of broken pieces is testimony to how seriously the boat has been driven in pursuit of the win or place, and the pure thrill of the challenge.
Another longstanding crew member Richard Toye declares:
Mostly we recovered from each breakage by tidying up the boat, firing up the trusty iron foresail then breaking out the VB!
But one mishap wasn’t so easily resolved.
On one of those ill-fated Queenscliff days the centre-plate cable parted. As you know, this can have dire consequences. Despite strenuous objections from ‘Gashy’ who can always be relied upon for a second opinion, we chose an alternative course of action. We dropped a weighted line down the plate-case and our able bodied and only ‘next gen’ crew member went over the side and made the necessary attachment. Well done Jhay!
For her owner and loyal crew, over the last 30 years Phoenix has meant so much more than her success in racing. As Richard Toye reminisces:
Most of us had one thing in common – we were lamenting matrimonial and portfolio reversals. Phoenix owned and skippered by Bruce provided an environment that was supportive and inclusive during difficult times. For this I am ever grateful.
And for the Bruce, Phoenix has become a well-respected and vital part of the family. She has helped, watched over, given solace and entertained Christine (Chris), Bruce and the extended family that has grown to 4 children and 11 grandchildren.
Hopefully our sailing days will continue, and her home can be continued within the family. If not, her next owners will have the benefit of her spritely behaviour and elegant charm.
Phoenix’s foredeck ‘warrior’ Alan Pitman offers some recollections:
I have had something like 27 seasons on Phoenix and each season has had its moments of excitement, joy, fear and the sense of being truly alive. The number of broken pieces of the boat, stand testimony to how seriously the boat has been driven in pursuit of the win or place and the pure thrill of the challenge.
My favourite was not during a race but on a sail home from a Queenscliff race. As we came back towards the Quarantine Station at Portsea, the breeze had bumped up after the race to 30 + knots so we decided to reef the main (Toye’s work) and head for ‘quarra’.
I was so impressed by how the boat handled the conditions and sliced through the water; it was pure joy, on the rail with legs hanging out, as we should sail, and with a can of VB in hand. How good does it get! My recollection is that we turned at the Quarantine buoy and went back to Queenscliff to do it again before returning to Sorrento – cold, wet, windy, a beer in hand. Peak sailing!
There was another memorable Queenscliff race. One more mark to round close in to shore and a short leg to the finish line. Breeze is up 20 + knots and suddenly, ‘snap’. The tiller has broken leaving about 30 cm splinter to steer the boat. Somehow Bruce keeps control as we were heading towards shallow water and lots of angry rocks. I do ‘the rat up the drain pipe’ manoeuvre up under the deck to get the spare tiller and make it back to the Members’ section to hand over the replacement. All in time to recover before going aground, and then turning to round the mark and then crossing the finish line. Amazing adrenaline in every vein!
Let’s not forget the grace of our lady Janet Douglas on ‘Lady Skippers’ day who managed to go ‘heels overhead’ off the back of the boat holding tiller extension, sunglasses, hat and then managing to bring all equipment and belongings back onboard the boat, with a little help from the crew. Lots of laughs. No more needs to be said!
Sailing Phoenix meant so much more to us. Like the patchwork quilt for males, we shared the big moments in life that touch us all: death, marriage, divorce but also the wonderful adventures. And it has been a free space to release and scream obscenities, sometimes at each other or just to feel the breeze on your face; the cold spray, the salt, the sunburn; the taste of VB!
One last reflection to tell. After John Baird had joined the crew and maybe a summer or two had gone by, we were completely becalmed two nautical miles off the SSCBC on a hot day, so we jumped in the water to float and cool down. John and I, adrift from the boat, after having known each other for decades and finding ourselves in this spot, looked at each other and noted how lucky we were. It was a ‘not to be forgotten’ moment between friends.
Standing close to the mast and holding the coaming in a 30 + knot wind, beating into a rising short chop and feeling very uncomfortable in cold, wet, windy conditions, to my amazement the jibboom lifted and bent back to point towards the back of the boat. For me it was as if it was all in slow motion and not quite real. Next, I took a step back as the mast snapped above the deck and folded. We were blown to port, with sails and all rig overboard. No one was hurt. We were at the back of Mud Island so needless to say, once the mast and rig was lashed on-board it was a long way back to home port.
And, likewise, crew Richard Toye shares some reflections:
While I still have a huge fondness for Phoenix and her crew (past and present), my active involvement finished in 2010.
During the early days we were motivated, enthusiastic, capable and bullet-proof. Most of us had one thing in common – we were lamenting matrimonial and portfolio reversals. Owned and skippered by Bruce Griffiths, Phoenix provided an environment that was supportive and inclusive during difficult times. For this I am ever grateful. We laughed a lot.
Alas, my memories of sailing on Phoenix take me to visions of near and actual catastrophes rather than Churchillian speeches on Presentation Nights.
You name it we broke it!
* Deck fittings,
* Torn sails including a mainsail left on the No. 3 South Channel beacon,
* Engine break downs, and
I am more than happy to hand-over the ‘bullet proof’ mantel to the next generation whom I am sure will generate as many fond memories and friendships as we have had on Phoenix.