Tender and Wet
I have owned both a Westsail 32 (7 years) and Cape Dory 28 (1 year), and, while both were fine boats, I believe the Cape Dory to be the better sailor.
The Westsail, with over twice the displacement (20k vs. 9k) and much higher free board, is a drier and more comfortable boat; in fact, the entire feel in the open sea is very different. And if a really bad blow were coming and I had to choose, I would pick the Westsail, provided there was enough sea room to run down wind.
On the other hand, if I needed to claw off a lea shore in that blow, then I would pick the Cape Dory. And this points out the main difference between them: the Cape Dory, with its truncated forefooted semi-full keel makes far better progress to windward than the Westsail did, both in terms of how high it could point and not pounding into oncoming seas.
As for tracking, I have sailed on many boats and our Cape Dory is among the finest tracking boats I know, both off and on the wind, which would make sense given her high wetted surface and semi-full keel. Our Cape Dory is very sea kindly and forgiving, in that she does not leap about in response to every gust of wind and responds slowly in a seaway. When you make mistakes handling her, she gently suggests a change is in order rather than lurching about so that you wonder if you will live to tell the tale. And because of her gentle ways, she gives you the time to handle her short handed, far less likely to get caught up in a set of cascading over-corrections.
As far as being tender, I think firm initial stability is an overrated attribute, unless you are racing on, say, Long Island Sound; it is not that important compared to the ability to carry sail under a press of wind. Our Cape Dory will go over 10 to 15 degrees quite easily, especially with our 160% headsail; however, after that she stiffens, capable of carrying considerable sail in a lot of wind without testing the helmsman's nerves.
In addition, once conditions call for reefing the main, one reef point is enough to allow her to settle in nicely as winds continue to pick up considerably. In our first season, we never put a second reef in the main, although sometimes higher gusts required easing the main sheet or briefly heading up a bit to spill some air. While any boat can be overburdened and easily mismanaged, especially running, our Cape Dory transitions gradually to the point where not reefing becomes a problem, handling well until discomfort or unease signals a reef, long before the boat itself would be in real difficulty. More often than not, we reef out of consideration for the comfort of our guests or ourselves or to ease a weather helm. At all times, we have found the Cape Dory 28 responds predictably and with a distinctive ease of motion, making sailing in a foul weather far more pleasant than it might otherwise be.
Let me tell you of our first experience with our Cape Dory. My wife Barbara and I took our Cape Dory 28 on our maiden voyage with her from Port Jefferson to Cape Cod, right after we purchased her. We had to motor in light airs a good deal of the way from Port Jefferson to Orient Point and we were beginning wonder about our decision, because she seemed to move quite reluctantly in light airs. However, once we cleared Orient Point and entered the open Atlantic toward our Block Island destination some 15 miles off, the light breeze suddenly change to a stiff 20-25 knot afternoon southerly and the seas went from the sound's light chop to a reported 8 to 10 foot seas (they seemed higher), built up by southerly winds blowing for several days. We quickly reefed the headsail from 160% to about 90% and the boat just settled into a course about 40 degrees off the waves. She was suddenly transformed from a light air dowdy slowpoke into a graceful sailing machine, moving over the seas with ease, dry and comfortable as you could want, making over 6 knots toward our destination. My wife, who is a better sailor than I am, looked over at me and said with a simile, "I love this boat".
And we haven't had an experience since to change our minds.
[No boat is perfect, no matter how cheap. So here is our one complaint about our Cape Dory 28, which has nothing to do with sailing: she does not respond predictably to the helm when going astern. Repeated practice sessions and information exchanges with other owners only confirmed the problem. Simply put: when moving astern, she does what she wants under influences of prop, wind and current, the position of the helm is of almost no interest to her. While she can back off a mooring or anchor well enough, how she will do it is always open to question, including a vague sidewards movement. If anything seems to work, it is very little throttle, subtle helm movements, and lots of a patience.
So, if you plan on going astern a lot and sailing in open water less, then the Cape Dory 28 is likely not the boat for you.]
Last edited by BillOfCapeCod; 03-23-2009 at 05:19 PM.