Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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While Westsails are certainly venerable cuising boats, they are very much a mixed bag. They are really terrible in light to moderate air. Generally needing 12 to 15 knots of air in order to move at a reasonable speed. Even at that they tend to be quite slow making for long, slow passages.
As a result, conversations that I have had with distance cruisers with Westsails suggest that they spent huge percentages of thier time motoring.
Then there is the issue of build quality. The factory built boats were simple and pretty nicely built but a large number of Westsails were owner built. This results in a wide range of builder errors getting incorporated into the boat. Some of these are quite serious such as poor electrical installations, improperly glassed in bulkheads and other structural elements, improperly sized and attached deck hardware, improper through hulls and seacock installations and so on. A lot of these boats were assembled by the sailing equivilent of the 1960''s era hippies. Intermittantly, I watched one being built by a such a guy. He had almost never been sailing in his life and thought that the boat would somehow save him form harm. In hindsight the boneheaded moves on this guy''s part were amazing.
One of the most serious build quality issues that can occur with a home built boat is under ballasting using iron scrap metal and concrete. This problem is related to a serious consequence of being as heavy as they are. These boats have a very hard to drive hull form and a huge amount of wetted surface. As a result you need to carry an enormous amount of sail area compared to a lighter boat to go at all. To carry a lot of sail area you need a lot of stability. Since these are round bilge boats all of that stability comes in the form of ballast. When you look at the relative weight of the ballast to overall weight on these boats, as designed they don''t carry a lot of ballast. While the bowsprit and cutter rig let you carry the large sail area closer to the water which helps with stability issues a little, it is important that these boats have the full amount of a high density ballast placed as low as possible in the water. Those boats that have some owner/builder improvised ballast are short on the kind of ultimate stability that these boats really need to be able to sail in moderate to heavy winds. There is really no easy way to tell on a home built what was done for ballast but I do know of a fellow who ended up jackhammering out a lot of concrete and iron pellets and putting in his own lead ballast on one.
Then there is the motion. Westsails are famous for their slow rolling motion. There are two factors that affect the comfort of motion of a boat, the speed at which the boat naturally wants to roll or pitch and the size of angle that the boat wants to move through. The slower the roll or pitch weight rate and the smaller the pitch or roll angle the more comfortable the motion. In the case of the Westsails, they rotate quite slowly but through comparatively large angles of pitch and roll.
In U.S. Navy studies of motion sickness,it was found that individuals have differing degrees of tolerance to roll speed and roll angle. In other words, there are individuals who cannot tolerate motion at all, and others that can tolerate a lot of motion but can''t tolerate a snappy roll rate, and still other individuals that can tolerate a snappy motion but can''t accommodate to large roll angles.(I tend to fall in this last category.)
If you fall in the first or last category, the large roll and pitch angles of the Westsails would be a problem for you.
Now I must admit to certain biases here. I am a big fan of boats with more easily driven hulls for cruising short handed. One aspect of that is spreading the displacement over a longer hull form. In all studies of safety at sea in extreme weather that I know of, the one single conclusion that seems to come through is ''nothing succeeds in extremely bad conditions like hull length''. With all of the stuff hung on a boat like the Westsail you pay all of the ownership costs of a much bigger boat without the advantages in terms of comfort at sea, safety, speed, or space of the larger boat. You pay for price for big slips (because of the bowsprit and boomkin), or bottom paint(because of the surface area of the bottom), or heavy duty gear, or cost of sails for a much bigger boat than you actually end up with. You are handling the huge sail loads of a bigger boat. Operating the boat requires all of the strength and energy requirements of a bigger boat, but its is crammed into a small package making it all the more difficult to operate and live with. Viewed that way, the Westsails are not even all that cheap. At least that is how I see them.
I also like, have owned and have spent a fair amount of time sailing on traditional boats. They have thier own aesthtic which is its own reward. The Westsail is an Atkins designed ''Eric'' with minor changes. The ''Eric'' was designed in the 1930''s and was based on larger Colin Archer designed Victorian era rescue/pilot boats. These were great boats for the day but they required big strong crews to handle them. They were workboats. Even Colin Archer designed offshore yachts did not look like these boats. Much has changed since the Victorian era. We have better hull, rig and sail materials; we have a better understanding of how the sea behaves and taking advantage of 100 plus years of development, are able to design and build better offshore boats than were concieved of back then. To me the Westsail is a throw-back that neither benefits from the lessons of the past century nor offers the full advantages of the either past or the present design principle.
I know there is a lot of people who own and love their Westsail 32''s and if you live in a venue like those found in some areas of the Carribean where the winds are consistently above 12 knots, they make reasonable boats, but for most people these boats make little or no sense at all.