One thing that you can say about the Westsail 32ís, they are not all that easy to discuss in an objective way. They have a strong following amongst those that love them and they are the butt of jokes by people who donít. There is so much hyperbole and derision surrounding these boats that it is hard to really tell where the truth starts and the emotion ends. Hereís how I see them.......
To begin to understand the Westsails you need to look at where they came from. In a general sense, the Westsail 32 pretty closely based on the Atkinís designed ĎEricí. The ĎEricísí were a 1930ís era design. They were heavily
constructed as wooden boats with gaff rigs. Atkins was a master of adapting various burdensome (able to carry large loads) working craft designs, into smaller lighter yacht forms. He was a master of modeling hulls so that these extremely heavy vessels (heavy even for their day) sailed reasonably well as compared to a what you would have expected in that era from a boat of this type. In the case of the ĎEricí, Atkins based his design on a Colin Archer sailing yacht that was based on the world famous Colin Archer Rescue Boats. The ĎEricísí
carried enormous sail plans and really took some skill to sail. To stand up to that enormous sail plan, the ĎEricísí were heavily ballasted with external cast lead ballast. That combination gave them reasonable performance (for a heavy cruiser of their day) in a pretty wide range of conditions.
When the ĎEricísí were adapted to fiberglass there were a number of changes made. To begin with the fiberglass hulls actually weighed more than the wooden hull of the Eric. This was partially because the freeboard was raised and a high bulkhead included as a part of the fiberglass work. They were also not
quite as strong and stiff as the wooden hulled ĎEricísí. To help the boats float on their lines, the Westsails had less ballast than the ĎEricísí. This made them comparatively tender (when compared to the Erics) and as a result their sail plans were reduced in size dramatically from the ĎEricísí.
This ballast and sail plan change had a dramatic affect on the sailing ability
as well. Although the Westsails still carry huge sailplans compared to most 32
footers and/or most boats with their waterline length, they are next to useless as sailboats in winds under 8 or so knots. They are also not as good as the ĎEricísí in heavier conditions either. This is because the Westsails still have equal hull drag through the water to the Erics, and they have greater windage, a higher center of effort in their sail plans. To over come thatr esistance they need to carry essentially the same sail area as the ĎEricísí but since they have comparatively less ballast that means that they end up heeling more.
This ballasting issue is further complicated by the fact that the Westsails had internal ballast (which reduces the volume and height of the ballast) and that many of the home built Westsails had lower density ballast in the form of iron set in concrete, which further raised the center of gravity pretty dramatically. Even further exacerbating this situation is the fact that while many of these boats were factory-built, a lot were sold as kits and some were sold without ballast. The kit built boats varied hugely in terms of ballasting.
They also varied quite widely in terms of layouts down below and the quality of work being done. This variation resulted in a pretty wide range of sailing characteristics and a pretty wide variation in the amount of weight in gear and tankage that the boats can tolerate. They also seem to vary pretty widely in the quality of their equipment and their plumbing and electical systems.
Their sailing abilities are pretty well documented. By any objective standard
they are incredibly slow and do not point very well or sail well dead downwind. They tend to be very rolly and generally when fully equipped, do not like a chop. They were often equipped with Yanmar 2GM''s and 3GM30''s which are just not up to pushing around the weight and high drag of a Westsail.
All of that is somewhat offset by the fact that many Westsails have successfully gone offshore. They have a nearly admirable record as offshore boats and have been used successfully as live aboards by people looking for the biggest 32 footer they could find.
I find some of this last logis a little bogus. I think that there is a trap in thinking of boats as being sized by length on deck. As I have said here often, it really makes a lot more sense to think of boats by displacement. When you think of the Westsail as a 20,000 lb boat, suddenly the Westsail is a very small boat for a 20,000 boat. It is also not especially seaworthy or comfortable for a boat of that displacement. For a 32 footer, a Westsail''s 20,000 lbs requires a lot of physical energy to handle and frankly makes for a very tiring boat to sail in changeable conditions. When you
think that you pay dockage for the 40 foot length from the tip of the bowsprit to the tip of the boomkin, then you are also paying a lot of slip costs for a very small boat. At least that is how I look at these things.
When you talk about sailing ability, it has been argued that few Westsails have ever had
properly cut sails and that contributes to their poor reputation. That may be true but their high wetted surface and low aspect ratio rigs can never be made as efficient as a more modern rig (even when compared to a boat with the minor rig and hull shape improvements like the Tayana 37).