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What Is a Couta?

By Christian Petersen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A couta is a type of wooden sailboat commonly found in Australia, particularly around Victoria and surrounding areas, along the country's west coast. It was originally designed as a fishing vessel and was used as such in that region in the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th. The name for this type of boat is derived from the name of the fish most commonly pursued by the fishermen who operated it, the barracouta, a perch-like food fish found in the area. The term couta is also sometimes applied to another type of fish, the king mackerel.

Sailboats of this type were usually single-masted sailing vessels, typically between 20 and 30 feet long (6 to 9 meters). They were designed with a broad beam and fairly shallow draft and lacked any kind of cabin. The hull design was intended to provide the greatest possible cargo capacity while maintaining the best possible speed. As these vessels were used as commercial fishing vessels, these two qualities were of the utmost importance.

These boats were also distinguished by their rigging. Couta boats were rigged with a gaff-type sail and a jib sail, which was anchored to a long bowsprit or a spar extending out from the prow of the boat. The bowsprit on couta boats is typically and distinctively curved downward. The main sail was of a type which incorporated features of both a standard gaff sail and a gunter-type sail with a gaff or spar at the top of the sail that angled sharply upward. This allowed the sail to be carried much higher than would normally be possible, increasing the boat's speed.

Today, the sailing characteristics of couta boats have made them popular recreational sailing vessels in the regions of Australia where they originated. New boats of this design are still made just for this purpose, as original couta boats are becoming rarer with each passing year. Clubs devoted to the enjoyment and racing of these boats can be found in the region as well. These clubs have set out rules that define the design for the purpose of racing.

A couta is also a type of fish found in warm waters of the world, particularly in the Indian Ocean. It is also known as the king mackerel, a name shared by closely related Atlantic species and is an important and popular game fish. A long, sleek, torpedo-shaped fish, its color fades from grey-blue on its back through silver to white along the belly. They are swift predators with sharp teeth and can reach as much as 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length and attain a weight of 100 pounds (45 kg).

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