The smallest vessel in the collection.

Thistle is the smallest of the museum fleet.

Thistle is a 'couta boat', a distinctive type of fishing vessel built for the barracouta fishery in Bass Strait off the coast of Victoria. Crews, usually two, fished with poles or trolling lines for couta and later, shark. Couta boats evolved in Australia to suit local conditions. Hand-lining for barracouta (once the mainstay of the fish and chip trade), these open-hulled sloops dared the unpredictable waters of the Victorian coast and treacherous rip of Port Phillip Bay. Thistle fished out of Port Fairy and has survived amazingly well. The vessel was restored and rebuilt to original specifications by a Victorian couta boat specialist.


Thistle fished out of Port Fairy for most of its working life. It was built on the Maribyrnong River by JR Jones in 1903. The couta fishery began to decline from the 1920s. In the 1960s, with an engine added, Thistle was used for towing, and in the 1970s was converted to a houseboat. In 1990 it was restored to its early 1900s configuration.

The boats were sturdy and broad beamed, with a centreboard which could be raised and lowered for good handling and drift fishing. Their powerful rig, with tall sails and down-turned bowsprit, gave them speed to outrun bad weather and for racing each other home to get the best price for the catch.

Ship specifications


8.61 m on deck


7.07 m


2.44 m centreboard down


5.78 tonnes


Carvel planking, New Zealand kauri, stem keel and sternpost Western Australian jarrah, frames blackwood, spars oregon, sails cotton


Lug-rig sloop, area 55.43 m


Tim Phillips, Sorrento, Victoria