Sally Anne was one of a number of Couta Boats that were built by Higgs Brothers in Geelong in the late 1930s. As in the case of many working boats, it is unlikely that she was named Sally Anne at the completion of her build. Her length is 22 foot.
Once the ‘couta fishery was established in Lorne in the early 1930s, boatbuilders around Port Phillip, Higgs Brothers included, built boats to meet the growing demand for fishing vessels along the Victorian coastline.
Because she still has a lifting hook in her stern, it is likely that Sally Anne fished for barracouta out of Lorne. As a smaller vessel she would not have withstood the force of exposed seas; after the day’s catch, lifting hooks were used to lift the smaller fishing vessels out of the water and onto the pier.
It is likely that through the 1940s – 1960s, Sally Anne also fished as far as Apollo Bay as did other Couta Boats in this period and, as was usual among the fishing fraternity, and her custodianship might have changed hands a few times. At some time in this period, she returned to Port Phillip.
Custodian: Eric Hudson, Mick Hudson, Eric Skelton;1960s
In the 1960s, Eric Skelton found Sally Anne at Port Arlington on the Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria and brought her across to Sorrento at the southern end of the Mornington Peninsula. Eric purchased the boat along with two siblings, Eric and Mick Hudson, to use for recreational fishing. She was moored off The Baths at Sorrento.
Custodian: Peter Maher; Early 1990s – 2015
In the early 1990s, the next owner Peter Maher first sighted the boat putt-putting off Point King, Portsea and learnt that she was for sale. In that moment he decided to purchase her. At the time of purchase she was known as Sally Anne.
Peter recalls his first impressions when he became her new custodian:
Obviously the boys had a great time in her – she smelt like an old fishing boat and the Lister was fairly unreliable and problematic. We’d row out to the boat and there were a few handles on the darn thing that you would have to pull on. Once it got going you almost had to wear a gas mask, but it was okay.
The first challenge for Peter was to have the boat converted to a sailing vessel. A boom and mast came with the purchase but they were in storage along with a tatty, old sail; there was also no centre-plate. Peter realised that she was in need of a total refurbishment.
Tim Phillips from the Wooden Boat Shop undertook the conversion. First, a centreplate was inserted, but this configuration left no room for the old Lister, so it was replaced by a new Yanmar engine. Then the deck, which was in a decrepit state, had to be replaced. The mast that had come with the boat was cut to size for a new boom, and a new mast was built. In addition, a set of sails was purchased.
The new Sally Anne was once again ready for fishing and sailing.
Soon, she was on the water and even racing against the other Couta Boats in the Couta Boat Club fleet. And although she was an old boat with a new look, her owner was soon to discover that appearances can be deceptive. Peter entered Sally Anne in the high-stakes Portsea Cup race at a time when the Couta Boats would raft-up at the Portsea Pier before the race. With friends on board and the champagne flowing, he happened to notice that water was fast seeping through under the floorboards. He promptly phoned Tim Phillips who upon a close inspection, discovered that seven ribs were cracked and a chain plate had loosened on one side – a sure side of rotted wood!
Sally Anne returned to Tim’s boatyard for further restoration. Peter says that despite the initial expenditure, owning Sally Anne was a wonderful experience for his family. For close on 25 years, she was used for both sailing and recreational fishing, with children and, later, grandchildren on-board. However, with a busy working life sometimes impeding on his leisure time, there came a time when it was difficult to fully utilise her.
The catalyst for selling Sally Anne came after a dramatic experience one afternoon when Peter went out fishing in Sally Anne with his four year old grandson. Unfortunately the weather turned, a sign that he needed to get back to the mooring. With an easterly blowing and an ebb tide flowing, mooring the boat proved to be difficult. In quickly moving from the tiller to the front of the boat, he ruptured a tendon. And so brought to an end his days of sailing and fishing on Sally Anne.
Custodian: Michael Cantwell and Louise Rolfe; 2015 – 2021
In early 2015, sister and brother Louise Rolfe and Michael Cantwell became the next custodians of Sally Anne, to be enjoyed as a recreational boat for family adventures, fishing and sailing. At the time of purchase there was no thought of racing her, she was acquired just for family recreation. However, being a seasoned sailor, Michael could not resist an opportunity to sail her competitively. Sally Anne competed in the local Division 2 fleet at Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club over three seasons.
Being very well maintained and rigged traditionally she was reliable, fun to sail, and an easily managed size. She continues to provide many hours of great adventures and even some very good results.
Sally Anne was sold in early 2021 and departed from Sorrento to a small coastal town of Denmark in south-west of WA.
Custodian: John Sampson; 2021 – Present
Sally Anne’s new custodian John Sampson became familiar with the sight of Couta Boats when he was a member of Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club in Perth. He was attracted to their classic, graceful lines and knew that a Couta Boat would be very much at home on the local Wilson Inlet with the other gaff-rigged boats.
On Sally Anne’s maiden voyage on Wilson Inlet in early April, 2021 Couta Boat notables Tim Phillips and Garry Kerr were on board for the occasion. This was thrilling for the new custodian John who promised Tim that one day Sally Anne would be returned to Victorian waters, where her history belongs.
In the meantime, the small coastal community on Wilson Inlet is an ideal location for Sally Anne. John intends to use her for recreational fishing and sailing, and hopes that a competition for classic gaff-rigged boats will evolve in the near future.