Weeroona was built by Cayzer Brothers in Queenscliff, Victoria, but the year of her build and identity of her original owner are not known. It is possible she was built in the late 1940s.
Custodian: Ric Lansell; 1984 – Mid 1990s
Weeroona’s documented history commenced in 1984 when Ric Lansell and Tim Phillips salvaged her from Limeburners Bay, Port Phillip near Geelong, Victoria.
Having observed Tim Phillips restore Amanda, Ric was drawn to the intricacies of the timberwork and was motivated to purchase a similar boat. He responded to a ‘For Sale’ notice advertising a seaworthy boat, with the intention of motoring her from her mooring back to Sorrento. She had been converted into a half-cabin fishing boat and was supposedly in working order. But the boat was barely seaworthy and had to be towed to Sorrento.
The restoration started in the backyard at Tim Phillips’ family home and was completed in his new shed at the Wooden Boat Shop in Sorrento. Ric says the process turned into a total rebuild.
Once we got into the detail we realised the hull was in particularly poor condition, requiring a new keel and a lot of new ribs and planking. Apart from the hull, everything else was new.
Earlier, Ric had become acquainted with Couta Boats through his close mate Jimmy Woods. In turn, Jimmy had observed how his two mates Dennis ‘Raza’ Horne and Denis ‘Den’ Wilkins utilised their boat for some high-quality entertainment on board. Ric and Jimmy wanted to replicate the experience!
As a mark of his youth and ingenuity, Ric incorporated a few new non-traditional designs including plywood boxes under the floor beside the centre-plate case to serve as eskies and a sound system with speakers mounted under the deck. He and Jimmy also routinely spray-painted the boat and had a few different colours over the years; one colour being a ‘Mediterranean blue’ over which their girlfriends painted the inside of the coaming with naïve fish shapes. This proved to be a great attraction.
As he planned to moor the boat in Weeroona Bay, Portsea; Ric aptly named her Weeroona; the choice of name was also prompted by a photo hanging in the local pub, of Weeroona the paddle steamer that operated as an excursion steamer between Melbourne, Queenscliff and Sorrento.
In the 1980s, the Couta Boat fleet did not have a central clubhouse so the racing calendar became a feature for social gatherings. Up to 10 events were scheduled not only in the Southern Peninsula area but also at the northern end of Port Phillip, including Port Melbourne and Royal Brighton Yacht Club. Weeroona always participated.
Ric and Jimmy regularly sailed Weeroona in heavy conditions. Most of the boats carried up to four head sails and had two or perhaps three reefs available in the mainsail. With the large rig brought down to a manageable size, the boat was very comfortable in the heavier wind. Weeroona won the Queenscliff Cup in about 1989 in a 25 + knot wind, which suited the boat perfectly despite being two up; proving that she definitely performed better in heavy conditions.
During the summer season, the boys spent most days on Weeroona and quickly gained a reputation as the party boat! Trips to Queenscliff were frequent. It wasn’t unusual to have dinner in Queenscliff and then come back at 11 pm or later in the evening. And in inclement weather, they would stay on the boats in the Fisherman’s Basin.
One of the usual activities was to sail backwards and forwards across the Port Phillip Heads in the afternoon sea breeze. The boat carried her beam well forward and was very comfortable even in the short standing wave conditions found in The Rip. On one occasion, the lighthouse keeper at Point Lonsdale phoned Tim Phillips and asked him to pass on his concern about this type of recreational sailing! Occasionally, they shipped some water but became fairly proficient at managing the boat in more difficult conditions.
Regular sail outings in Weeroona to and from Melbourne were a common occurrence; almost always shorthanded or alone, and sometimes at night.
On one occasion, we set off on a Friday night from St Kilda probably to get to Portsea for some social function or boat race. It was blowing a south-south-westerly at 30 knots plus. Right on the nose for the 200° magnetic course to the West Channel Pile. As was normal, we bought a roast chicken in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda with some takeaway rolls and coleslaw. No sails that night. Whoever was steering was getting a full face of wind and water every 30 seconds and the other crewmember was under the foredeck breaking up the chicken and making chicken rolls and passing the beers to the helmsman.
There was no one on the bay that night except the police boat that stopped us on the West Channel at about 11 pm complaining that they couldn’t see our navigation lights. They were on but the chop was so severe that the boat disappeared in between waves and made it invisible until there were almost on top of us.
Whilst most of Weeroona’s time was spent in Port Phillip, the boys also ventured outside The Heads to visit Western Port including Flinders, Hastings and Stony Point and San Remo. And west along the coast to Barwon Heads, and as far afield as Apollo Bay on the south-west of the Victorian coast.
In the Bicentennial Year of 1988, along with other Couta Boats from Sorrento, Weeroona was transported to Sydney to participate in the Old Gaffers Regatta hosted by the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club (SASC). The various races were conducted on Sydney Harbour and coincided with the Tall Ships Parade, providing a memorable experience for Weeroona’s owner and crew.
Having ventured beyond Port Phillip for the Bicentennial celebrations, Weeroona was destined for an even greater adventure just a few years later. In the early 1990s, Weeroona made one very memorable trip to the Whitsundays. Jimmy and James Mighell transported her, with mast and ballast, on a flatbed truck to Mackay in Queensland. Jimmy Woods recalls this memorable journey.
There was also a memorable trip to the Whitsundays. I reckon this might have been the early 1990s.
I rented a flatbed truck from Budget, loaded Weeroona including mast and ballast on it and drove to Mackay in Queensland over three or four days with James Mighell. An amazing six weeks or so ensued living on board. I had built a boom tent which gave very good protection forward of the thwart. With a rollout foam mattress, a comfortable bed could be made either side of the centre-board case. Food and supplies were stored in a waterproof box which stowed under the foredeck and was brought out in the evenings to serve as a table in the cockpit. There was a stainless barbecue which bolted onto the horse at the stern. The only downside was that we needed ice every couple of days to keep the drinks cold. There were a succession of visitors and of course, when Weeroona hove into a port or harbour, it wasn’t difficult to make new friends.
Every day provided a new adventure but there is one that should be put on record. Early in the trip, James and I had a couple of days in the anchorage at Brampton Island. I recall a couple of giant trevally being caught on handlines. The plan was to make a passage from Brampton to Hamilton Island to meet Raza Horne who had flown in from Melbourne. This was about a 30 nautical mile trip and with the south-east trade wind blowing at 20 to 25 knots, it wasn’t too different from the Portsea to Melbourne run with the sea breeze that was bread-and-butter for Weeroona.
Readers need to remember that in those days, there was no satellite navigation and we didn’t carry any communication device at all. Position fixing was done by coastal navigation and I had a laminated chart which was laid out on the cockpit floor. It was very rough and ready.
We had the wind almost directly behind us and we favoured a very broad reach on the port tack for comfort. Making good speed we sighted what we thought was the start of the Whitsunday Passage between Cape Conway and Shaw Island. However, I had mistaken Cape Conway for Shaw Island and instead of heading north up the Whitsunday Passage, we left Cape Conway to starboard and went north west into Repulse Bay. The wind was rising and we were down to one reef and the number three headsail. On realising the mistake, I turned the boat around and put the centre-board down only to find it was touching the bottom. Of course, we had made the classic mistake of underestimating the wind speed as we were broad reaching. It was now blowing 30 to 35 knots. The number three headsail came down and we put a second reef in the main and turned on the motor. In the very shallow water, the seas were short and steep and the occasional wave broke over the windward bow. The electric pump plus James on the hand pump (to that point, everybody thought they were for traditional decoration only) was managing to clear any water in the boat.
Once we got into deeper water, we recalculated our position and realised where we were. This was aided by darkness approaching and the light on Cape Conway giving us a clear indication of that position. We had about 15 miles to sail – 10 of which were against a lee shore and then another five across the Whitsunday Passage to a safe anchorage at Shaw Island.
The deeper water provided some relief as the distance between the waves became greater but this was offset by the increasing size of the waves and increasing wind speed. Raza Horne chartered a plane to see if he could find us and reported seeing only white water and spume. The pilot remarked that if they are out there in a 26 foot open wooden boat they are in big trouble.
The trouble on board only got worse when a wave came over the windward bow and knocked James over. As he went down, he dislocated his shoulder and was in very significant pain. It was a pretty hairy situation and for the first time in my sailing life, I called for lifejackets to be worn.
Despite having only one operational arm, James continued to man the pump and filled the fuel tank from a jerry can to make sure we had enough fuel to get us to our destination. We then dug in and battled for four or five hours to get into a safe anchorage in the lee of Shaw Island. I reckon it was about midnight before I put up the boom tent and cooked a risotto. James was unbelievably brave during this ordeal never mentioning the obvious difficulties he was in. When we were safely tucked in at Shaw Island, James performed a bone crunching manoeuvre on himself to re-position the collarbone and shoulder.
But it wasn’t quite over yet. In my anxiety to put us in a very safe anchorage, we were pretty close to the shore. At about 0300 hrs, the tide had ebbed and the boat started to touch the coral underneath. The trusty dolphin torch showed that we were in about 3 feet of water. This is a rookie mistake when tides have a range of between 20 and 30 feet. I put on my shoes, jumped overboard and walked the boat through the coral. The anchor was retrieved and then repositioned in a safe place. ‘Huey’ always has the last word.
The following day, we had an uneventful sail into Hamilton Island where we met up with Raza and had a few days on shore to lick our wounds.
Weeroona and the boys eventually made it home to Sorrento. But after just another season or two racing on Port Phillip, she was sold to a syndicate from Perth, Western Australia, headed by Murray Cutbush.
Custodian: Murray Cutbush; Unknown – Mid 1990s
Weeroona came to Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club (RFBYC) in Perth, Western Australia.
One of the early syndicate members Simon Farrell, known as ‘Squirrel’ to his friends, was a keen twilight sailor, however, after several incidents was politely asked by the club not to skipper the boat as the sound of splintering timber was all too frequently disturbing the tranquillity of these social evening sails!
The boat was also a regular Saturday racer and Frostbite Winter Series participant, far more competitive on the heavy wind days. She was a good pointer but not as responsive as most of the rest of the fleet in the lighter conditions.
Custodian: The Pope Family; Mid 1990s – Present
The Pope family’s involvement with the boat commenced in the mid 1990s, with a regular skipper needed and some of the original syndicate members losing interest in the boat or moving on. Jon Pope skippered the boat for a season before Murray invited him to take a stake in her.
The current custodian Michael Pope, having skippered the boat for many years and only having sunk her on the river once, acquired full custodianship in 2018. With Jon having died some years earlier, Murray finally came to the point that his sailing career was over and, as the many fond memories had faded sufficiently that he was willing to let his share in the boat go, it was time for the next generation. Vale Jon.
In recent years Weeroona has been used more as a social boat, although she is at presently awaiting a slip booking and a lick of paint to resume those duties for the 2021 season.
Weeroona is currently penned at Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club in Perth, Western Australia.