Spitifre was built by Alec Lacco in Rosebud, Victoria, in 1951 and was one of six boats of similar design built by Alec in this period. She was originally named Spitfire Rose
Long-time owner Alex Gillam saw Spitfire Rose advertised in The Age Newspaper when she was moored in Western Port, Victoria and owned at the time by a member and ex-pilot of the Royal Australian Air force. Hence, her name.
Custodian: Alex Gillam; Unknown
Alex missed buying her but by chance saw her re-advertised ‘For Sale’ from Williamstown, and was successful in purchasing her. He used her as a fishing vessel for a period of 15 to 20 years.
Custodian: Dugga Beazley; Unknown
Port Melbourne fisherman Dugga Beazley bought Spitfire Rose and co-opted Charlie Strong, a Port Melbourne boat builder, to restore her including: re-decking and installing a centre-case. Both Dugga and Charlie have had an ongoing involvement with a large number of the Couta Boats.
Custodian: Peter Gibson; 1984 – Late 1980s
In 1984, Dugga sold Spitfire Rose to Peter Gibson who re-named her Rose after his wife Janet Rose Gibson.
Two years later, on 2nd February 1986, Rose capsized and foundered north east of Policeman’s Point, in the vicinity of the Portsea Hole. The accident occurred in strong winds and an ebb tide, which is particularly strong at the convergence of the channels off Portsea at the bottom of Port Phillip. The crew of five was rescued after about 20 minutes in the water, but unfortunately Rose could not be found.
Years later, Rose was discovered by divers in 70’ of water. The Gibson’s had retained equity, vis-a-vis the Insurance Company and a deal was struck with the divers for the operation. The divers from Melbourne Diving School were led by Barrie Head who had rescued the crew after the sinking.
Salvage began in January 1990, but it was hampered by deteriorating weather as well as restricted dive times caused by depth and tide. Sand was jetted out from the hull revealing that her gear, including fire extinguisher, was fully operational. Most remarkable was that after four years in salt water, the Yanmar single cylinder, 8 horsepower diesel engine had not seized. There was still diesel in the fuel tank and oil in the engine block.
Rose was pulled free of the sand and held upright to prevent filling with sand while the ballast was removed. Airbags fitted to the traveller hawse, chain plates and stem providing a three tonne lift brought her to the surface, and she was towed ashore. After a year of slow drying, Rose was completely restored by the Wooden Boat Shop in Sorrento.
Custodian: Johnson; Late 1980s – 1992
After the construction of Cheviot C87 for the Gibson family, Rose was sold to a chap by the name of Johnson.
Custodian: Tony McNamara; 1992 – 1999
Then, in 1992, Rose was sold to Tony McNamara who sailed her under sail number C666 and reverted her to her original name.
For the next six years, Tony and his family utilized Spitfire for pleasure motoring and sailing in the waters along the Mornington Peninsula. In particular, the family liked to putt from beach to beach in preference to competitive racing. Spitfire, however, proved to be a successful competitor in the Couta Boat Club Division 2 fleet winning the inaugural Division 2 race in the 1998 Portsea Cup.
20 or so years later, Tony is still amused by the tactics that ultimately brought victory.
I was sailing with Richard Hurley and Ralph Wilson as my crew. As we came around one mark in the middle of the tail of the fleet, we started to head to the next mark when Ralph declared we were heading to the wrong mark. We tacked and went towards Ralph’s suggested mark and thought we were very clever. Then the rest of the fleet, a few at first and then the rest, started to follow us, and we were now well in the lead. Ralph then declared we actually should be heading to the original mark so we tacked again and headed towards the original mark that Richard had first suggested. The rest of the fleet continued for a long time to head to the wrong mark and then they too realised and all tacked. By this time we truly were well in the lead and crossed the finish line first.
What skill, what tactics, what a fluke!
Victory was sweet for Tony and his crew. The race was also significant in that it was the defining moment when the category of Division 2 racing was introduced by the Couta Boat Club and acknowledged by the Sorrento Sailing Club.
Soon after winning the inaugural Division 2, Portsea Cup it was time for Tony to sell Spitfire.
Custodian: David Barnes; 1999 – Present
She was sold in late January 1999 to fellow SSC member David Barnes. The deal included the purchase of both Spitfire and the mooring.
As David’s father had built Spitfire fighter airplanes in the UK, he was especially attracted to all that the name represented: the classic fighter aircraft that defended Britain in World War II.
David and his crew successfully raced Spitfire in the Division 2 fleet out of SSCBC for over 10 years, and in this period Spitfire was a regular handicap winner. However, when David became a syndicated member of Lucy C31 in 2010, Spitfire was utilised more for recreational sailing and the occasional fishing venture.
In 2019, David sold his share in Lucy C31 so that, again, he could focus on sailing Spitfire. A new Yanmar engine was installed and a refurbishment undertaken in 2019 – 2020 including: a new hardwood floor of Iroko planking fitted and fixed with bronze wood screws, and a two pack re-paint of both the interior and exterior. All in preparation for Spitfire’s return to the SSCBC Division 2 fleet.
Spitfire is moored off SSCBC jetty at Sorrento.
The Couta Boats of Australia and a sunken Yanmar treasure. (n.d.). Yanmar Scope. (Publisher unknown).