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These boats were originally used as traditional fishing boats around the coast from around 1870 until the 1930’s, although it survived as a commercial fishing vessel until the 1950’s.
Fishermen used to chase the sought-after fish Barracouta, which is where the name Couta boat comes from !
The boats would head out to the grounds before dawn, most often out through the entrance of Port Phillip, and once their quota of Barracouta’s was met, for fishermen would sail back to port as fast as they could the get a winning price.
So while load carrying capacity was important, the need for speed under sail was paramount.
The typical couta boat carried a gaff sail and jib set out on a long and curved bowsprit.
Over time in fact a rig peculiar to the couta boat evolved, which allowed for sail to be carried a lot higher than was usual at the time, and included the very distinctive curved bowsprit.
Efficient and competitive as a commercial fishing vessel, the couta boat reached its peak around the 1920’s and 1930’s. After World War 2, they became a victim of the modernisation of the fishing industry and only survive today thanks to the efforts of a small group of local sailors with a keen sense of history and admiration. From the late 1970’s onwards, a few dedicated people – including Tim Phillips from the Wooden Boat Shop in Sorrento, sought out and restored the boats.
Today the Couta boats have become a quintessential recreational sailing boat, which was also brought to Sydney.
They are sought after and keenly compete in races.
Many are built from scratch today, and the original ones are well looked after in the Sorrento and queens cliff boat clubs in Victoria.