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Old 01-10-2005
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WESTSAIL 32 and similar

The Westsail 32 is the antithesis of a good boat upon which to learn to sail. They also make a very poor choice for a first boat. I would suggest that you start out with a boat that is more responsive. Also reasonable speed is more important to a cruiser than to a racer. A racer with a slow boat merely loses a race, but a reasonably well performing cruiser means being able to better chose when you will enter a port, or the amount of supplies that need to be carried on a long pasage, or a reduction in the amount of motoring time relative to sailing time that is required and so on. In any event this is a prior review on the Westsail 32 that I had written:

One thing that you can say about the Westsail 32''s, 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 don''t. 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. Here''s 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 Atkin''s designed ''Eric''. The ''Eric''s'' were a 1930''s 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 (even for their day) sailed reasonably well as compared to a what you would have expected in that ear from a boat of this type. In the case of the ''Eric'', Atkins based his design on a Colin Archer sailing yacht that was based on the world famous Colin Archer Rescue Boats. The ''Eric''s'' carried enormous sail plans and really took some skill to sail. To stand up to that enormous sail plan, the ''Eric''s'' 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.

There are varying stories about how the Eric design was adapted to become the Westsail 32. William Crealock seems to be credited with drafting the adaptation. When the ''Eric''s'' 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 ''Eric''s''. To help the boats float on their lines, the Westsails had less ballast than the ''Eric''s''. This made them comparatively tender and as a result their sail plans were reduced in size dramatically from the ''Eric''s'', which is not to say that they have a small sailplan, just that they have a small sail plan for thier drag.

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 ''Eric''s'' in heavier conditions either. This is because the Westsails still have equal hull drag through the water, but they have greater windage, a higher center of effort in their sail plans. To over come that resistance they need to carry essentially the same sail area as the ''Eric''s'' but since they have comparatively less ballast that means that they end up heeling more than the wooden Erics.

This ballasting issue is further complicated by the fact that the Westsails had internal ballast (which reduces the volume and depth of the ballast) and that many 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, interior appointment, rig, deck hardware weights and postions.

They also varied quite widely in terms of layouts down below and the quality of workmansip 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.

I know that there are strong proponents of this venerable design, but in my mind they only make sense in some narrow range of venues and for certain types of owners. While a bit of breeze brings these boats into life, even in 15 to 18 knots of wind they are slow compared to more modern designs. While they have a slow motion, they are real rollers, which personally I would rather accept a little quicker motion with less rolling. (When you talk about motion comfort there are two factors at play, the speed of accelleration at each end of the roll and the angle of the roll. In US navy studies of motion comfort, about half of the people in the studies preferred a slower roll through a wider angle, and the other half preferred a perhaps snappier motion through a narrower angle. If you fall in the slow roll camp then the Westsail would be a comfortable boat for you. If you fall in the ''can''t deal with large roll angles (like myself) then the Westsail probably is not an ideal boat for you.) If you are looking at a Westsail for coastal cruising in most US east coast venues (comparatively light winds) then a Westsail in probably not an ideal choice. BUT if you live in an area that has predominantly high winds or you plan a lot of offshore passages then the Westsail might make sense for some.

Westsails contain a lot of compromises that make them miserable boats as coastal cruisers and to a lesser extent as live aboards. They cockpit is cramped and uncomfortable. They lack good ventilation, being quite dark down below. It is hard to find a suitable way to store a reasonable dinghy. They are expensive to own, requiring the sail inventory of a much larger boat. With their bowsprit and boomkin in many if not most marinas end up paying for a 40 foot slip, while only having the room of a 32 footer. You also end up paying for bottom paint and deck hardware for a much larger boat than you actually get the advantage of owning. These are exhausting boats to sail with high helm loads in a breeze (which can be offset by greatly reducing sail, which is fine if you do not have to claw off of a leeshore or don''t mind the very leisurely pace that results.) They also have anachronistic compromises that make them less than ideal for offshore work. For example in this day and age, going offshore with a headsail tacked at the end of a bowsprit makes no sense at all. There is a good reason that bowsprits were known as ''widowmakers'' during the era of working sailing craft.

Lastly, no matter how you look at it, the Westsails are slow by any objective standard. Their design is based on thinking that is well over a hundred years old. While the ocean has changed little in 100 years, our understanding of what makes a boat safe, fast, durable and comfortable has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Even if the generally historic ideas of reflected in the design of the Westsail appeal to you, there are other designs, similarly priced, that offer a lot better sailing performance, ease of handling, seakindliness and equal seaworthiness.

Respectfully,
Jeff
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