Custodian: Keith Young; 1992 – 2001
Whisper was built at the Wooden Boat Shop, Sorrento, Victoria for Keith and Marissa Young. She was launched in 1992 and is considered to be a big and powerful boat.
Keith kept Whisper near their house on Point Nepean Road, on a mooring just off the Lentell Ave. Jetty at Sorrento, Victoria. He stored a tender on the racks on the cliff at the end of the jetty. At first it was an ordinary tender, but Keith was so passionate about his new boat that he had Tim Phillips build him a beautiful clinker dinghy so they could row out in style. Whisper even had a cassette player and speakers under the foredeck!
Peter McKeand and Rob Wilson were introduced to the Youngs by Heather and Rae Biggart, and from just after her launch they became her regular crew. Other regulars included Toby Butler and Keith’s cousin. Col Anderson and Bruce Griffiths also went out on Whisper in her early days and helped Keith get up to speed on the helm. Keith soon became a very proficient helmsman and regular race finishes were in the top three or four places.
Other crew included John Elliot and Gary Morgan who were quite vocal, with instructions flying back and forth as to what they should do in any particular race. Lord Vestey and Tony Beddison also crewed on Whisper.
Peter remembers so well, going to the Young’s house prior to sailing, enjoying the delicious pre-race sandwiches and other food prepared by Marissa. After the race they were again back to the Young’s with their partners for French Champagne and Johnnie Walker Black Label scotch whiskey, plus a beer or two. Such generous hosts!
As well as racing, Whisper went on so many balmy sailing trips down to Port Phillip Heads with her crew and their partners squeezing on board… a great time for all!
Custodian: Nigel Abbott; 2001 – 2008
Having sailed in only a few Portsea Cups, Nigel Abbott decided to purchase a Couta Boat. At the time, he had a very young family and realised the children and their friends would be safe in the welcoming cockpit rather than plonked on the deck of a racing yacht. Soon after, he was summoned by Tim Phillips from the Wooden Boat Shop to inspect a Couta Boat that was for sale: Whisper C92.
At the Sorrento Ramp was this large 26’ Couta Boat, substantial in its physical scale and integrity of construction. Nigel fell for her at that first moment.
Such a beautiful looking thing, these Couta Boats.
He purchased her, although he never met Keith Young, her first custodian who, he gathered, loved every moment of his years with Whisper.
As her new custodian, Nigel also signed on to become part of her story. But first things first: he needed to find someone who knew what the gear lever did! He was a sailor but knew nothing about a donk! On sorting that out, their first outing from the mooring was for a picnic, baskets, food, wine, family and of course, children. A great day but Nigel had noticed, a little bit out to sea, a Couta Boat race was underway. For Nigel, racing then became more important than a picnic.
Whisper soon underwent a significant refurbishment at the hands of Nigel’s father in-law, Jim Sly. She was originally blue with a yellow and red racing stripe design, down both sides. They stripped the entire hull re-fairing her lines and she emerged in her current colours of a sandy coloured hull and a deep red gunwale with a sparkling finish.
Frequently, Nigel moved Whisper between Sorrento and Mordialloc, enjoying sailing her close to his home. Many times Nigel did the trip to Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club for a race, even a twilight race, returning home back to Mordialloc in Melbourne the same day, single handed most of the time with reef lines set ready to apply.
On one single-handed trip across Port Phillip from Mordialloc to Queenscliff, the wind was up and, upon hitting some floating wood, the prop broke. Flying just a small headsail, it was too windy to hoist the main but, by good fortune, a boat came out from Queenscliff with a crew ready to assist. On arrival into Queenscliff the waiting fleet gave a cheer and sang a welcoming song.
I can’t recall the name of the song but described it as quite overwhelming and certainly one of those ‘thank God’ moments.
With Nigel at the helm, Whisper became a proven on-water competitor, winning a few Portsea Cups and many other championships.
She is as fast as any Couta Boat on or off the breeze when keeping the tacks to a minimum.
However, Nigel, being ready for another challenge, purchased Vivienne from Peter Gale, renaming her Romy. Hence, Whisper was for sale.
Custodian: Milton Green; 2008 – 2009
In 2008, 20 years on from the 1988 Wooden Boat Festival in Douarnenez, France and at 67 summers old, Milton Green figured he had at least one big adventure yet to pursue. He did not want to be sitting back decades hence wondering what might have been, so he decided to again take a Couta Boat to Europe, this time to the much larger Brest 2008 Maritime Festival that had grown out of Douarnenez. He selected his new boat, Whisper, which was perfect as she fitted, just, into a standard 40 foot shipping container.
A special cradle was built at the Wooden Boat Shop and packed with ballast on a pallet, assorted sail bags, bubble wrapped spars and a couple of bicycles. All relevant paperwork, a frustratingly complicated process involving logistics, transport, customs and quarantine, was eventually completed and the container dispatched to Footscray a suburb of Melbourne, to be shipped to Brest, France.
Milton had already rented a house and vehicle in nearby Plougastel, France, a 20 minute drive from the event. Co-incidentally, the Tour de France started on a nearby bridge, enabling the crew to be caught up in the festivities of the mammoth spectacle of over 200 support team and sponsors cavalcade.
The crew comprised Col Anderson, a 1988 participant Peter Kubale, Warick Leeming, David Todd and last but most importantly Gil Flanagan, who as Project Manager had departed earlier. The boat was unloaded at the famous Moulin Blanc Marina, home of the record breaking Trimaran Fleet and starting point for various Round the World races.
But, having ‘cooked’ in the container traversing the tropics, the hull had opened up, requiring re-caulking and painting, all carried out, under Gil’s supervision, by the locals who really appreciated Whisper being there. Also in attendance was the owner of My Girls, Vernon Powell, on an interesting Bristol Pilot Cutter out of the UK.
The crew had a crew uniform and dressed the boat with SSCBC, CBA and WBS flags along with the Australian Red Ensign and Boxing Kangaroo made famous by Alan Bond’s America’s Cup win in 1983. They sailed each day amongst an armada of over 2,000 craft ranging in size from Sabot dinghies to the Tall Ship Cedov, a Russian navy vessel ex German war prize and her American sister ship Eagle, now a Coast Guard Cutter.
The Festival was huge, but not as friendly as the more compact event of 20 years prior, and spread over a mile of many different piers, jetties and marinas. As a comparison, Brest is to Geelong as Douarnenez is to Queenscliff. The Navy, Coastguard, Customs, the fishing fleet and all recreational keel boats had been relocated with pop up restaurants and wine bars scattered along the quays.
The atmosphere was fantastic, food and wine; well it was France!
The boat created enormous interest and, were it not for the depressed French economy of the day and the prohibitive import duties, Milton was tempted to leave the boat there. But, wisely, he freighted her back to the Wooden Boat Shop, Sorrento from where she was sold to two local SSCBC sailors. It took until 2020 for Milton to tick off his bucket list and to finally own, albeit a share of, a boat in France.
Custodian: Stephen Gillon and Robbie Hiam; 2009 – Present
The new custodians, Stephen Gillon and Robbie Hiam, had been crewing on the Couta Boat Eliza with David Douglas when David decided to move the boat up to Melbourne. No doubt, over a glass of red or three, Steve and Robbie then decided to buy a boat together. C92 Whisper was chosen; they regarded her to be a beautiful boat and well looked after by her previous custodians.
The joy of having the boat has been without doubt a joyous experience, sailing with family and friends. All of Steve’s family have at some point been part of the crew. Robbie’s children, being younger, were encouraged to support the ‘Kids on Coutas’ events at the SSCBC. A highlight was when Paul Ross and Robbie hopped off Whisper and onto the club’s rescue rib and watched a group of 12 to 14 year olds not only take over Whisper, but rise to the challenge and try and sail away from them. These young sailors were all products of the Junior Sailing classes at Sorrento, with Brian Case as their coach; they were all very comfortable with the boat and their own ability.
The friendship that has developed over the years has been a highlight from owning Whisper. Robbie and Steve have been lucky to have long term crew like Paul Ross, and Steve’s children and son-in-law, while other crew have moved on to purchase their own boats or join a syndicated ownership. Steve’s history is from championship rowing and Robbie’s is from ocean racing, with many Sydney to Hobart races completed as well as snow ski-ing and snow sports, world-wide. Having enjoyed sailing so many long distance races and deliveries, they still enjoy the passage races in Whisper more so than short course racing.
One of the most memorable and enjoyable sails for Robbie and Steve was heading back to Sorrento after racing at Mornington on Port Phillip in the State Championships on a Saturday. As usual it never always goes to plan, the gearbox failed when Whisper was at Mt Martha on Port Phillip, and so she had to sail home in a fading breeze.
Negotiating the South Channel and shipping traffic was challenging. Robbie was a Flag Officer of the SSCBC at the time, later to become Commodore, and was concerned that he did not want to attract the attention of a Ship’s Pilot for seemingly interfering with them in the shipping channel. At one stage they had to sail parallel to the channel to let a ship go past; with no motor to help, it made them work on sailing the best angles.
Whisper finally ghosted into the SSCBC in the dark, where they had arranged for a rib patrol boat to tow her to their mooring. They concluded that a flowing tide and a light breeze were not favourable to easy sailing in the shipping channel at dusk.
Whisper still has a core crew who, unfortunately, are time poor with work commitments and parenting so it is a constant juggle to find the time to sail. But the benefits are great! Robbie says:
One of the greatest things about sailing Couta Boats is the great friendships that have been created, this class of boat brings people closer together, probably because we are all half mad.
Whisper is moored at the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club, Sorrento and continues to be an impressive competitor in the Division 1 fleet.