A gem called Yeulba by Bruce Stannard

In the first half of the 20th century the magnificent topsail cutter Yeulba was, far and away, the most famous racing yacht in Australia. Under a succession of high profile owners including the Governor General, Lord Forster and the Governor of Victoria, Lord Stradbroke, she won all the major trophies and remained for many years unbeatable.
Yeulba now stands ready for a major restoration. Bruce Stannard reports from Sorrento.

In the warm spring sunshine, the bustling yard at Tim Phillips’ Wooden Boat Shop in Sorrento is a hive of pre-season activity as a fleet of lovely Couta Boats and launches are made ready for what promises to be another hectic summer of racing.
With their polished topsides gleaming and their bottoms freshly anti-fouled, the procession of much-loved boats makes an impressive sight as it snakes its way down to the water’s edge at Sorrento. But it’s not all celebration.
There is an element of sadness here as well. As boat after boat leaves the yard, they pass beneath the bows of a forlorn looking old yacht propped up under covers by the gate, her long and narrow hull showing all the sad signs of years of neglect. Her paint is crazed and peeling and her seams have opened up.
Culwulla sail plan. / Culwulla sailing.Like a tottering old lady, she appears to be on her last legs and yet there’s something about her graceful lines and indeed in her elegant presence that commands attention. I wondered how many of those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young sailors realised that they were passing a piece of Australian sporting history: the mighty Yeulba, once our most famous racing yacht. The answer, I suspect, is not many.
Yeulba has languished here in Sorrento for the past 13 years, waiting for a new owner, someone with the imagination, the passion, the courage and the money to breathe new life into her lovely old hull. She had been given up for dead by the time Tim Phillips found her at Fremantle in 1998.
He realised at once that here was a boat of national significance, a vessel that really ought to be enshrined in a museum and one that certainly could not be allowed to simply fade away, much less die. He bought her on the spot and had her trucked across the country to his Wooden Boat Shop in Sorrento, one of the few places in Australia with the professional skills and the experience to undertake a comprehensive and sympathetic restoration.
Over the years Tim has talked with various dreamers, but none that were brave enough to plunge into what would no doubt be a significant six-figure investment: perhaps $400,000 and two years work.
Yeulba, originally named Culwulla, was commissioned in 1901 by the prominent Sydney yachtsman, lawyer and parliamentarian, Walter Marks, the Vice Commodore of Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and sometimes referred to as “the Thomas Lipton of Australia.”
She was designed and built in Kauri at the famous Logan Brothers yard on Auckland’s north shore. When she arrived in Sydney aboard the Union Company steamer Maranoa, The Sydney Morning Herald report named a veritable Who’s Who of Australian yachting turned out to welcome her. The Herald recorded her dimensions as LOA 42ft 6in, LWL 27ft 6in, Beam 7ft 10in, Draft 5ft and went on to wax lyrical about her hull shape.
“As seen before launching,” the Herald said, “she presented a beautifully fair underwater body which promises both power and speed. Compared with Petrel or Heather (two of the then crack racers on Sydney Harbour) she is about 18 inches longer overall and has about an inch more beam. She has a slightly flatter floor, is more hollow in the garboards, has a somewhat harder bilge carried well out to the ends, a little less depth of body and some eight inches less draft of water.
Yeulba had a great history and that deserves to be recognised in a really beautiful restoration. “She is designed as a fast cruiser and from appearances should certainly enhance the reputation her builders have already earned in turning out speedy craft.”
Logan Brothers were then the pre-eminent yacht designers and builders in the southern hemisphere.
Wearing the finest English-made sails, Culwulla immediately won her maiden race, demolishing all the local cracks in the Sydney Yacht Squadron’s 100-Guinea Cup. By the end of her first racing season a fair swag of the Squadron’s silverware bore the name Culwulla.
In 1909 Walter Marks sold Culwulla to Mr A. Mullins who renamed her Yeulba. She continued on her winning way adding the Gascoigne Cup and the Basin Cup to her list of trophies.
Her next owner was Frederick Doran, General Manager of the Port Jackson and Manly Ferry Company, who campaigned her hard and with continuing success until 1920 when he sold her to Lord Forster, the distinguished English sportsman who was then the newly appointed Governor General of Australia. Lord Forster, who had played cricket for England against Australia in 1893, had also been a fencing and tennis champion at Oxford.
Lord Forster had Yeulba shipped to Melbourne where as Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria he campaigned her with outstanding success on Port Phillip Bay.
Opportunities to acquire an historic boat like Yeulba are few and far between. She is an absolute gem and she’s here, waiting for the precisely right person to come along.When Lord Forster was recalled to London in 1925, Yeulba was sold to Lord Stradbroke, the Governor of Victoria and under the vice regal pennant she continued an impressive succession of race wins.  
In 1926 she was sold to a prominent Tasmanian yachtsman, E.H. Webster, who sailed her on a hazardous eight-day voyage across Bass Strait and down to Hobart. Soon after her arrival she was sold again, this time to Angus Cumming, known as the King of the Derwent. ‘King Cumming’ went on to win many races in Yeulba including the coveted Hobart Regatta prize, which she won twice.
In 1947 she was sold to Neil McAllister whose only distinction with her seems to have been a successful passage back to Melbourne. From there she was sold to owners in Perth where for many years she raced on the Swan River.
By the time Tim Phillips stumbled across her she had been standing on the hard in Fremantle for several years. If he hadn’t stumped up the money to buy her immediately she almost certainly would have been destroyed.
“I bought Yeulba,” Tim said, “because she played a vital part in Australia’s yachting history and deserves to be preserved. She is right up there with Australia II as far as I’m concerned.
“As a sporting nation we cannot simply turn our backs on boats of her calibre. In New Zealand, the Kiwis are doing a superb job in restoring their historic Logan and Bailey boats. They now have a whole fleet of restored classic yachts racing in Auckland.
“It’s the same in Europe and America where there’s a tremendous pride in high quality restoration. There, the classic boat regattas are crowded with magnificent restorations. Yeulba could be part of all that. She had a great history and that deserves to be recognised in a really beautiful restoration.
“It’s an undertaking that requires an owner with patience and passion, someone with an eye for beauty and for sporting history. She is a one-off. Opportunities to acquire an historic boat like this are few and far between. She is an absolute gem and she’s here, waiting for the precisely right person to come along.”
For further details contact Tim Phillips wbs@woodenboatshop.com.au