Why A Westsail?

Westsail the World
by John Vigor
Reprinted with permission from Good Old Boat magazine, issue 14,September-October 2000

From afar, in her element, the Westsail 32 is the stuff romantic dreams are made of. Her mast is tall, her bowsprit long. A wooden tiller sweeps gracefully over a pointed stern, and a deep gunwale forms a beautifully curved sheerline that runs unbroken from the bows to just aft of the cockpit.

Chicago makes a fine backdrop for Russ Oldfather's Elohssa Repus. The name has a long story and is a "backwards spelling," as his partner Judie McGlinchey explains tactfully.

Chicago makes a fine backdrop for Russ Oldfather’s Elohssa Repus. The name has a long story and is a “backwards spelling,” as his partner Judie McGlinchey explains tactfully.

But as you get closer you begin to realize that there’s brawn behind this beauty. The Westsail 32 is a massive boat in many ways. At 20,000 pounds displacement, 7,000 pounds of it in her keel, she is probably the biggest 32-footer afloat. Her fittings are huge. Her decks are wide. Her topsides are high.

Compared with other boats of her vintage, going below on a Westsail 32 is like entering a cathedral. Her 11-foot beam and 27-foot waterline was enormous for a 32-footer in the early 1970s when she was born. Here, against all the odds, was a boat big enough to swing a cat in, a mini studio apartment floating on the water, and one that could help you escape to the places you’d read about, romantic-sounding destinations such as Bora-Bora, the Galápagos, even Cape Horn itself.

The fact that the Westsail 32 could also be purchased as a kit, completed to various stages, helped fuel a frenzy of escapism in America. In the mid-1970s, demand for this boat was so great that the factory couldn’t supply ready buyers with one for 18 months. Between 1971, when it all began, and 1981, when the production run ended, about 1,100 Westsail 32s were launched. Almost all are still afloat, and almost all are increasing in value.

Bud Taplin, first general manager of the builders, Westsail Corporation, figures that the increase has been 3 to 5 percent every year for the past five years. Talk Westsail 32, and you’re talking $50,000.

“Westsail boats are one of the few lines that are worth as much now – or more, at 15 to 20 years old – as they were new during the 1970s,” he claims. Bud is the man Westsail 32 owners turn to when they need help or advice. His Worldcruiser company offers a wide variety of services, including spare parts, instruction manuals, service manuals, and original plans.

The brawny Westsail 32 came along at just the right time to tap into a huge pent-up demand for a solid, seaworthy boat built of maintenance-free fiberglass, and her sterling qualities have kept her in constant demand ever since.

Basic Design

The origins of the Westsail 32 are clearly Scandinavian. Bill Crealock, who had a hand in the design of the earliest models, believes the basic hull was a William Atkin design, greatly influenced by Colin Archer’s larger Norwegian sea-rescue ketches of 70 years before. Indeed, in his book Of Yachts and Men (Sheridan House, 1984), William Atkin features a gaff-rigged ketch called Freya which has the exact dimensions of the Westsail 32. Freya was, in fact, a 47-foot Colin Archer scaled down to 32 feet by Atkin, Art Hildebrand, and William Washburn Nutting, former managing editor of the magazine Motor Boat.

The Westsail 32 has a long, full keel with no pretense of a cutaway up forward. She’s a double-ender with a lifeboat stern and an outboard rudder. She’s beamy and high-sided and has a long bowsprit from which to set a lot of sail. She needs it. She’s about the heaviest 32-footer afloat.

Adagio, John Geisheker's Westsail 32 dances on Lake Superior's ice cold water before her move to Seattle's Lake Union. John and partner Michealle Wetteland sewed her sails themselves using Sailrite kits and acres of tables in a company cafeteria.

Adagio, John Geisheker’s Westsail 32 dances on Lake Superior’s ice cold water before her move to Seattle’s Lake Union. John and partner Michealle Wetteland sewed her sails themselves using Sailrite kits and acres of tables in a company cafeteria.

The hull is solid fiberglass, laid up by hand, while the deck and the long, low cabintop are made of plywood-cored fiberglass. The first 30 or so hulls were finished with a Crealock-designed flush deck and interior, but when Snyder Vick acquired the molds in 1971 he added a trunk cabin for extra light and headroom.

Almost half of the hulls produced were sold for home finishing in kit form. You’d think this would lead to a wild array of different interiors, but in fact choices were limited by the components provided, so most 32s ended up looking pretty much alike down below. The differences are mainly in the quality of the joinerwork and the quality of the fittings. Many amateur-built boats are as good as the factory-built boats, if not better, but some, naturally, fall short even of average. You can tell which boats were home-built by checking the hull identification plates. If the ID number contains the letters WSSK, the hull was sold to be finished as a kit; if it contains the letters WSSF, it was factory-finished. Incidentally, Westsail 32s were produced on both the East Coast and the West Coast.

Her keel is 5 feet deep for almost the full length of the boat, which adds up to a very large underwater area of resistance. The 7,000 pounds of ballast, originally a mixture of lead pigs and steel punchings, is contained within the hull. From 1975 onward, the ballast was a solid casting of lead.

The decks are spacious, making for easy movement fore and aft, even with bulky sailbags in tow. The cockpit is tiny and exposed, little more than a footwell with 9-inch coamings on two sides, but it does have a substantial bridgedeck to separate it from the main companionway. It’s an extremely seaworthy cockpit, of course, but it offers about as much comfort and protection from the elements as does a bicycle in a hailstorm. If you approve of hair coats and self-flagellation, you’ll like this cockpit. If not, you’ll want to invest in a large dodger.

A choice of engines was offered, the three most popular being the Volvo Penta MD2, the Volvo MD3, and the Perkins 4-107. The MD2 is not a good match for this boat. It’s just too weak in the knees. The MD3 has a little more muscle, but the Perkins is the workhorse that gets the job done when the chips are down.

Accommodations

In a boat with a cavernous interior like this one, you’ve pretty much got room for all the necessities of life, with a few luxuries thrown in. In comparison with other boats of its length, everything down below on the Westsail 32 is huge. If you want to become a liveaboard, and can afford only a 32-footer, this is the one to choose.

Just aft of the generous chain locker in the bow is a wide, very wide, V-berth. It’s actually a giant double berth to port and a fat single to starboard, very suitable for a seagoing ménage à trois.

Aft of this sleeping cabin there’s a bathroom to port with a hand basin and storage for linen, while to starboard there is a bureau. A hanging locker with bedding storage is outboard of the bureau.

A door in the main bulkhead leads through to the main saloon, where there are four additional berths: a double to port, formed by dropping the dinette table, and a transom berth with an outboard pilot berth to starboard. All very suitable for an additional ménage à quatre, of course, except that crossing an ocean cheek-by-jowl with seven people on a 32-footer, even one of this size, is apt to spawn the wrong kind of emotions, certainly not those of the cordial type. Another hanging locker for wet oilskins is opposite the large galley, and a proper navigation den to starboard has a chart table big enough to bring tears of joy to any navigator’s eyes. After all this profligate use of space, there’s precious little room left for a cockpit, and neither (luckily) is there a quarterberth.

The Rig

The deck-stepped mast and the 16-foot boom are made of aluminum painted with linear polyurethane. Most of the masts were made by LeFiell, while others were supplied by Sparcraft, Superspar, and Royal Marine.

She’s a masthead cutter with a sail area of about 630 square feet, 300 of which is in the mainsail, 150 in the staysail, and 180 in the jib. The original rig had one forestay and one jibstay. A single backstay ended on a small boomkin outboard of the rudder head. The mast had a single set of spreaders, with a topmast shroud and sets of forward lowers and after lowers on each side. It’s a strong and conservative rig, although not particularly close-winded because the shrouds, fastened to outboard chainplates at one of the beamiest parts of the hull, preclude narrow sheeting angles for the headsails. No matter, she needs the added drive anyhow.

The mainsail will normally have jiffy reefing with three reef points, and the large, fairly flat cabintop provides a roomy, stable working platform for the crew doing the reefing at the mast.

Performance

Ah yes, performance. Despite her racing successes, there are many people who give the Westsail 32 poor marks for performance. Practical Sailor, for example, claims “its performance is mediocre, even offshore” and adds: “It can be wet to sail and clumsy under power.”

On the other hand, the Northern California PHRF rating list gives the Westsail 32 a rating of 216, which means her performance under sail is certainly nowhere near disgraceful. It gives her the same speed as Gary Mull’s Ranger 23 and the Downeast 38 cutter. It makes her much faster than a Folkboat, at 234. Furthermore, Westsail 32s often surprise fellow competitors by doing very well in ocean races. One has even won the Pacific Cup outright on handicap, as noted under the heading “Owner’s opinion.”

The point here is that this hull does not reach its maximum speed quickly. She’s not a fast-accelerating boat, responding quickly to every puff, so she will fare poorly on an Olympic course around the buoys. But her waterline length of 27 feet 6 inches gives her a theoretical top speed of more than 7 knots and, even if she normally reaches only 90 percent of that speed, she’s going to be sailing faster than most other 32-footers with shorter waterlines. That’s why she does well on long passages, where it’s not maximum speed that counts, but sustained high average speeds.

As for her being clumsy under power, she’s only as clumsy as the person at the helm. There are ways to maneuver a heavy-displacement boat like this in confined areas, but they require the skill that comes of goodseamanship, practice, and familiarity with the capabilities of the boat and her engine. To describe her as clumsy is really to expose one’s own limitations.

This, incidentally, is not a paean in praise of the Westsail 32’s maneuverability. It’s merely a plea for fair play. Compared with a fin-keeler, she takes more careful handling, just as a school bus does when compared with a family minivan. Nobody calls a school bus clumsy. Like the Westsail 32, it’s just built to do a different job.

Known Weaknesses

Watch out for:
* Low-powered engines. She needs a very hefty shove against high winds and seas.
* Leaky toerails.
* Rot in the bowsprit, Sampson post, boomkin, plywood deck, and cabintop core. Check the rudder cheeks for rot also, but it’s not a structural weakness because the load is taken by a metal fitting underneath.
* Osmotic blistering. Some Westsails have blistered, but usually not badly.
* Check the swaged ends on the standing rigging for hairline cracks or corrosion.
* If it hasn’t been done recently, recaulk all the deck hardware.

Owner’s Opinion

David King of Portland, Oregon, has owned two Westsail 32s in a period of 23 years. He is a professional delivery skipper who also works on boats. He has had his present boat, Saraband, for 11 years. In 1988, in Saraband, he won the prestigious Pacific Cup race from San Francisco to Oahu, Hawaii. Saraband, a stock Westsail 32, came first in class and won first place overall on handicap.

Naturally, there was an uproar, especially among the owners of larger racing boats commissioned at huge expense and carrying trained racing crews. There was not a single racer in Saraband’s crew of five, although all were experienced cruisers.

In 1990 King decided it was his duty to show the racing world that the Westsail 32’s success had not been a one-time fluke. He entered Saraband for the Pacific Cup again, and this time she was first in her class to finish and first in her class on handicap. She came third overall on handicap. Three protests were handed in, and all three failed. One protest charged that Saraband’s spinnaker was too large. When it was measured it was found to be a 168 percent spinnaker, rather than the 180 percent spinnaker the rules allowed.

What was the secret of Saraband’s success?

“Most Westsails suffer from having to drag a big three-bladed propeller through the water,” King said. “We have a Max-Prop automatic feathering propeller, and it makes a big difference. Saraband gets up to 7 knots pretty quickly.”

She sustains her speed well, too. She has sailed more than 180 miles in 24 hours on three occasions, two while racing and one during a singlehanded passage. “I did 184 miles all by myself one day,” he said. Saraband experiences a little weather helm as she heels over, “but it’s never excessive,” he added. “She’s always under control.”

If the wind rises while his cutter’s on a beat, the first action King takes is to reduce the size of the genoa jib. “I reef it down to the size of a working jib,” he explained. “The next step, if the wind continues to rise, is to tuck a reef into the mainsail. Next in order is a second reef in the main, after which I’d drop the jib completely. Now, under double-reefed main and working staysail, she’s good for 40-knots-plus.”

Westsails are often criticized for not being able to beat.

“That’s a huge exaggeration,” King said. “It’s just not so. She goes to windward at the speed of a 29-foot or 30-foot boat. OK, that’s not so good because she’s a 32-footer, but it’s not terribly bad either because most 30-footers are half her displacement and don’t have her comfort or seaworthiness.” King and his wife once sailed Saraband from Palmyra to Hawaii, a passage of about 1,000 miles, in “reinforced trades” and averaged 110 miles a day on a hard beat.

“Compared with other boats, she goes best on a close reach,” he said. “In fact, it’s very interesting that she goes from her comparative worst (the beat) to her comparative best (the close reach) in a matter of a few degrees.”

King said he couldn’t recall either of his boats having any structural problems. “Nothing stands out. I did know of one boat where the mast compression post tended to impale the cabintop, but Bud Taplin worked out a quick and easy solution by fastening bolts through the coaming to the main bulkhead.”

Conclusion

This is a serious world cruiser, a rugged example of a traditional design that excelled in everyday conditions in Northern European waters in the days of sailing workboats. She is roomy, exceptionally so for a 32-footer, and performs safely and adequately, sometimes brilliantly.

At $50,000 she is not the cheapest used 32-footer around (nor, by a long chalk, the most expensive) but she does offer good value for money and – significantly – seems to maintain that value indefinitely. There are times when boat values rise and fall en bloc – witness the sudden plunge of the early 1990s, for example – but the Westsail always appears to bounce back.

A few people, particularly singlehanders, might find this boat a little bulky sometimes, a lot of hard work for one person to handle and maintain, but most adventurers have no need to be intimidated by her size, which shrinks with familiarity.

There is no sign, even after nearly three decades, that the Westsail 32’s strong appeal to would-be world cruisers will wane any time soon.

John Vigor is a professional journalist. The author of The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge, The Sailor’s Assistant, and The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat, he has worked for major newspapers around the world and is a frequent contributor to leading sailing magazines. He has sailed for more than 40 years in boats 11 to 40 feet in length and logged some 15,000 miles of ocean voyaging. In 1987 he and his wife, June, and their 17-year-old-son sailed their 31-foot sloop from South Africa to the U.S. This series of boat reviews is based on articles from John’s book: Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere, which is available from The Good Old Bookshelf.

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Westsail History

westsail logos

Bud Taplin, the Godfather of Westsail, provides his recollection of the company

( http://westsailparts.com)…

A History of the Westsail

Part One

I was recently asked to try to remember how Westsail started, and what my involvement was in the grand scheme of things, so I will try to put it down in an article or two.

Back in the dark ages ( the late 1960s) , Larry Kendall and a group of 4 or 5 other boatbuilders wanted boats for themselves, but did not want to build wood hulls. They chose, instead, to pool their resources, make a mold, and build fiberglass hulls for themselves, each helping the others do the lamination, but paying for their own materials and a share in the cost of the molds. They picked the Atkins 32′ Thistle design, and had the naval architect Bill Crealock modify the lines slightly, and advise them on the design details.

The guys laminated their hulls, and started building, with flush decks. They were all lined up in a small yard in Costa Mesa, with an old house in front, used as an office, and a small garage, used for laminating and as a workshop. Other interested boat owners and builders would come by, and ask if they could get one of the hulls for themselves. Most of the guys only wanted a boat for themselves, but Larry was able to convince the rest to let him use the mold, and so the Kendall 32 was born. Larry also put a small ad in Yachting Magazine, and got a very big response. He was able to build about another 25 or so hulls, before the real world of trying to operate a business on a shoestring, and being a better boat builder than a businessman, caught up with him. The bank and the feds closed in on him, and he had to declare bankruptcy.

Snyder and Lynne Vick had been watching Larry build boats, and decided they wanted to go into the boat building business. They made a deal with Larry that if they could get the mold at the auction, they would hire Larry to build at least two complete boats he had orders for. As the story goes, the auction opened up, Snyder made a bid of $1000, the auctioneer slammed down his gavel, and the auction was over. I talked to some other people who were at the auction, and were also interested in the mold, but they were out of luck. Despite protesting to the auctioneer, the deed was done.

The two owners who wanted complete boats both wanted a trunk cabin rather than flush decks, so Larry built a trunk cabin deck on hull #33, fiberglassed it, then made a deck mold. They laid up a fiberglass deck, and put it on hull #32. Hull #33 was a ketch rig, with wood masts, and #32 was a cutter rig, also with a wood mast. While these were being built, Lynne, who had her own advertising business, was busy enticing people to buy their new Westsail 32s. She and Snyder were soon able to get orders for four complete boats.

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Hull #33 was completed first, and when #32 was almost complete, Larry and Snyder had a falling out. Actually, it was Larry who fell (or jumped) out of the company van, with Snyder driving, as Snyder’s dog was attacking Larry in the van, going down a side street in Costa Mesa. Now Westsail had four orders, and no production manager to build them.

This is the point at which I stepped into the picture. At the time, I was working for another boatbuilding company, setting up their production line, and had the job almost completed. Lynne Vick was doing the advertising for that company, and she asked the owner if he knew of anyone available that could set up a production line and manage the workforce to build these first four boats. I was recommended, and within a few weeks I was working for Westsail.

The workforce was small, about 15 hippie boatbuilders, a secretary, and myself. We inherited from Kendall a small yard, with a house for an office, and a garage to do inside work. The yard still had a number of the Kendall hulls in various stages of completion by their respective owners. Half the crew worked Monday through Thursday, 10 hour days, and the other half Tuesday through Friday, also 10 hour days. That way we had everyone available three days a week, and a smaller workforce on Mondays and Fridays. We used those midweek days to have the manpower to move molds, and do lamination.

We would move half the hull mold into the garage (as that is all that would fit), laminate that half, then move it outside. We would then move the other half in, laminate it, then move it outside. We had to do the joining of the two halves of the mold and the centerbond lamination outside, as the garage was not big enough to hold the entire mold. We laminated all four hulls, then all four decks, before starting the completion work on the boats. The newest guy on the crew had the distinct pleasure of doing the centerbond lamination down in the bottom of the aft end of the keel. We usually tied a rope to him to be able to pull him out when he passed out from the fumes. Of course, there were also other plumes of light blue smoke drifting around the yard (remember, this was the early 70s), and the good stuff was coming over from Maui, and readily available without hassle from the cops.

The first four boats that Westsail built were:

W32 #37 Misty for Ty Knudson – still named Misty – owned by Larry Rouse in SF; W32 #38 Ten Brooks for John Whitney – now Sumna – owned by R. J. Burns in CT; W32 #39 Inoui for Louis le Clerc – now Restless –  owned by Ed Rogers in OR; W32 #40 Petrel for Fred Dennis – still named Petrel – owned by Watson Ackart from GA.

Each of these four boats had something different in the layout. If my memory serves me, some with a portside dinette, some with center table, some with lockers forward instead of a single berth, etc. I believe all had teak decks, Volvo engines, some with spruce wood masts and some with aluminum masts, etc. They went out the door at the hot price of about $25,000 each.

Part Two

I will continue to try to recall what happened in those early days of Westsail history, but forgive me if I have memory lapses, after all, it has been about forty years now since those fun days of building the new Westsail boats.

During the time we were completing the first four boats, the company had been able to get orders for four more complete boats, plus some kits, so we were off and running. We decided to build six complete boats, plus the kits in this production run, using the same small crew, and the same location.

  • W32 #41 Alondra was a kit and it still owned by Mel Smith of WA
  • W32 #42 Born Free was a complete boat
  • W32 #43 Sunrise was a kit for Ralph Alder, one of the original Kendall employees
  • W32 #44 Blue IV was a kit
  • W32 #45 Nan Browning was a kit
  • W32 #46 Wandarer was a complete boat
  • W32 #47 Karen L was a complete boat
  • W32 #48 Quimera was a complete boat, used as a demonstrator by Westsail
  • W32 #49 Summer Wind was a complete boat
  • W32 #50 Panacea III was a complete boat

While we were working on these boats, the company made a decision to move to larger quarters, and set up a production line, instead of building one at a time. We found space at a nearby boatbuilding facility, Crystaliner Corporation on Placentia Street in Costa Mesa. Crystaliner was noted for the construction of powerboats for the Harbor Patrol and Lifeguards, as well as doing excellent fiberglass lamination. We contracted with them to do all of the fiberglass lamination for the Westsail boats, and it proved to be a very good decision. The Westsail boats have never had any serious problems with the fiberglass lamination, despite some blistering that has occurred on just about every fiberglass hull laminated with polyester resin.

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We built a long four foot wide and eight foot high scaffold setup, where we had room for four boats on each side, and room under the scaffolding for saws, workbenches, and storage rooms. We also had rolling end scaffold pieces for working on the bows and sterns of the boats. Space was rented on the waterfront for a commissioning dock and demo slip, as well as a waterfront sales office, in addition to the yard sales office. Lynn Vick was doing a great job in advertising and promotion, and the orders started rolling in, especially after we had #48 in the water as a demo boat.

Some of the more notable early boats were W32 #51 Catapha, built for Dave White, who sailed her to Japan on a single-handed race. W32 #52 Aegir, built for Len Thornbeck, who went to work for Westsail as an engineer and salesman, and worked on improving the sailing performance of the boats. W32 #54 Pegasus, built for John Carson, who sailed the boat to the South Pacific, and later did a lot of promotion and sales on the boats. There was W32 #58 Lezarder, built for Anthony Clark, son of a prominent Southern California swimming pool builder, and a true hippie, who I had to refuse entry into the building area until he put on a pair of shoes. He also sailed the boat all through the South Pacific, as his father just wanted him out of the way. W32 #64 Pelican, was a kit boat sold to Tim O’Conner, a Hollywood actor who also had a television series at the time, and did some promotion for the company. Del Bair, who opened a Northwest sales office, took the first Westsail to Alaska, purchased W32 #67 Tenaru.

By now, it was late 1972, early 1973, and the orders were flowing in. Westsail was putting a demo boat into the major boat shows across the country, and the lines were the longest of the boats in the shows. This was the time of inflation in the country, and an interest in second homes, condos in vacation areas, and buying a boat and taking off to see the world. The promotion and advertising that Westsail did tapped right into this new trend. It was a time when the small home that was purchased for $5,000, or inherited from the old folks, was now worth $50,000 or more. You could sell the homestead, buy one of these Westsail boats for $30,000 or so, load up with supplies, and still have money left over to cruise on.

By the middle of 1973 we were building W32 #100, and the company put on a big party for all of the employees, and announced that we were backlogged with another 100 or so orders, and that they were negotiating to open an East Coast plant in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. This plant was opened in the fall of 1973, and a number of West Coast employees went back to start it up, along with a local plant manager who came out to learn our construction methods.

By now, the original Kendall hull mold was getting very tired, and because the method of hull to deck attachment was very labor intensive, we decided to build a new hull mold, with an improved hull to deck attachment method. The Kendall hull mold did not have any flange on the hull, plus the ends did not have the distinctive dipped down look of the Westsail 32. Each hull had to be cut down on the ends with a saber saw, and a wooden sheer clamp bonded and fastened to the top edge of the hull to attach the deck. Then the exterior joint had to be filled, sanded, and gelcoated to match the sheer color. Most of the other boatbuilders had an inward turning flange at the top of the hull for the deck to sit on, but they had the same problem of filling and gelcoating the exposed joint. Two of our own boatbuilders came up with the idea of an improved flange design, and it has worked so well that many other boatbuilders have adopted the design to their own boats. The molding flange was made removable, and the first two layers of fiberglass on each hull went up to the top of the mold. The molding flange was then attached to the mold, it was 1/2″ down from the top of the hull, and extended 2-1/2″ inward. A piece of fiberglass rope was laid in the joint, then the subsequent layers of fiberglass came up the hull and inward on the flange. When the hull was out of the mold, it had a strong inward turning flange, plus a thin piece of hull extending 1/2″ up. The deck was laid on the flange, with the outer edge trimmed so that it was just inside of this piece of hull, sealed with caulking and screwed down. Then this piece of hull was sanded down to match the deck flange. Now the joint was buried under the caprail, and no touch-up was required.

Another improvement we made on the new deck mold was to make the cockpit walls and bottom flange part of the deck, with a removable floor. Previously we had a full cockpit tub that had to be installed, and the top flange buried under a teak coaming piece. A new rudder was also designed, with a straight trailing edge parallel to the leading edge, and more area down at the bottom of the rudder. A set of fiberglass gudgeons for the hull was designed, with bronze pin in the rudder. This replaced the stainless steel straps that were being used that were subject to electrolysis.

Part Three

In continuing to recall what happened in those early days of Westsail history, I do remember these incidents.

With both plants going full tilt, and a very large backlog of orders, we were straining to get production up, and then we were hit by the oil embargo crisis in late 1973 and early 1974. I trust many of you remember the long lines at the gas stations, and the shortage of heating oil. Well, the boatbuilding industry had a real shortage of resin, which of course, is a byproduct of crude oil. All the boatbuilders were put on a quota, based on how much resin they had purchased in the past from a particular supplier, and also how much they were willing to pay for a gallon of resin. Without resin, we were stopped from laminating hull and decks, and of course, production would grind to a halt. The time was ripe for the bootleggers to appear on the scene. We would get a call from one of our “sources” that a few thousand gallons of resin was available, we would negotiate a price for it, and set a day for delivery. Actually, the delivery was at night, and about 2 AM an unmarked tanker would show up at the back gate. We would have the necessary number of empty 55-gallon drums available, and crew to unload the resin. A few hours later the tanker would be empty, our drums full, the cash would change hands, and the truck would disappear into the night, no questions asked. It was hard to say who formulated the resin, or where it came from, but the lamination foreman would take some samples, determine the correct catalyst ratios for this load, then mark the drums accordingly. I don’t think we had any particular problems with the resin we acquired this way, however I do believe that for most of the boatbuilders, it lead to the beginnings of the blistering of the underwater portions of the hulls that was experienced by most fiberglass boats in later years.

We had requests from many interested buyers that the Westsail 32 was too small for them, and could we build a larger version. We contacted Bill Crealock, our Naval Architect, and he had a design for a long keel, canoe stern sailboat that he had worked out, and thought we might be able to use. The hull was 42′ 11″ long on deck, 32,000 lbs. displacement; and he had two different deck designs, one a center cockpit version with raised house and aft cabin, and the other a long trunk cabin version with aft cockpit. Not being able to choose which one to build, we decided to leave it up to the prospective buyers. A decision was made to have a sales meeting of all of the people who had shown an interest in a larger Westsail, and whichever version had the most interest, we would build first. Over a hundred people showed up at that meeting, and Bill Crealock and others gave talks about the new boat. As it turned out, we received about ten orders for a center cockpit version, and about four for the aft cockpit version. The die was cast, and now we had to come up with a name for the boat. It was a marketing decision by Lynn Vick that won out, and thus the Westsail 42 became the center cockpit version, and the Westsail 43 name was reserved for the aft cockpit version, although both would use the same hull from the same mold.

This was now the spring of 1974, and I was put in charge of getting the hull and deck plugs and molds built. I hired Dale Greer, a very experienced boatbuilder whom I had known for a number of years to build the plugs and molds, and he did a very good job completing the project, and well within budget.

Another production manager was hired to keep the 32s coming off the line, both in kit and complete versions. The kits pretty well-kept the cash flowing in, as we could laminate a hull and deck, install the ballast, main bulkheads, deck and rudder, and have the kit ready to ship in less than a week. The company got paid for these boats even before it had to pay for labor at the end of the week, much less for materials which were on a 30 to 60 day open account. A finished boat at this time took about 1600 to 2000 man-hours to complete, in about a six to eight week time period.

Two events then conspired in late spring of 1974 to cause me to leave Westsail. One of my responsibilities was to keep track of the labor hours and cost, and the material costs, going into the boats. I did an analysis of costs at this time, and because of the resin shortage, and generally escalating parts costs, the material costs on the boats had risen dramatically. Even more so, the man hours and labor costs had risen because, in an attempt to increase production, we had to hire many more workers who were not as experienced, and also our old timers had to spend time teaching the newcomers how to build the boats. An average complete boat with some factory and sales overhead included, which had been costing us about $18,000 to $20,000 to build, was now costing us $24,000 to $28,000 to build. I brought this information up at one of our regular Monday morning management meetings. The sales manager brought up the fact that we were taking orders at about $40,000 for a complete boat, so what’s the problem. I brought up the fact that we were not delivering boats that he had just taken the orders for at $40,000, and that because of our backlog, they would not be built for a year or more. The boats that were coming off the line now were ordered 6 to 8 months previously, at a selling price of $26,000 to $30,000. With any dealer commission figured in, we were losing money on each boat we delivered. We were making a good profit, and good cash flow, from the kits, but not from the complete boats. My suggestion at that meeting to solve the problem was to not give a boat coming off the line today to someone who had ordered the boat six months ago at $28,000, but to give it to someone that had ordered last week at $40,000. The idea did not go over with a bang with top management, nor with the sales department. Oh well !!!

The other idea I proposed was regarding special construction on the complete boats. Early on, we offered any buyer choices of interior layouts and special items, such as sit-down writing desks, special sailing hardware, etc. Now, in an attempt to increase production, the new production manager made the decision to only offer a limited number of choices, and if someone wanted a special item, then the sales department would tell them to buy a kit and have a custom builder construct it for him. I proposed to set up a special area in the yard, with a few very experienced boatbuilders, and an engineer in charge, to build these special boats for anyone willing to pay the extra costs necessary. This idea was also shot down. Oh well, again !!!

I left the employment of Westsail in the middle of 1974, and at the time they had about five million dollars worth of orders on the books, and a half million dollars of customer deposit money in the bank. Two and a half years later, in the spring of 1977, they filed for bankruptcy, owing about ten million dollars to suppliers, employees, the government, and to customers for orders taken, deposits made, and nothing to show for it. Oh well, it wasn’t MY problem anymore !!!

I decided to start my own company in 1974, Worldcruiser, with the idea I had about building special boats for special customers with a small crew of very experienced boatbuilders. I also decided to not build my own molds, but to buy hulls from the production boatbuilders who were offering kits for sale. After building about 100 boats in about 10 years, I decided to stop building, but continue offering parts, information, and surveys on Westsails. I am still doing that after almost another 40 years, but maybe now I would like to retire. However, you owners won’t let me, as you keep calling at all hours of the day and night, and on weekends too, crying “Bud, help me, my boat is broke and I need help fixing it”.

The final chapter of the Westsail history is in part 4, but the boats live on and are being used, and some abused, worldwide.

Part Four

The middle part of the Westsail story, from the time I left in the middle of 1974 until the bankruptcy in the spring of 1977, I cannot say too much about as I was not there. There was a nice article in the Nautical Quarterly about Westsail.

Here is the last of the Westsail story, as far as I knew it.

At the time of the bankruptcy of Westsail in 1977, Hans Weerman, the plant manager for Westsail who replaced me in 1974, made an offer to purchase the company. It was approved by the court, his Dutch relatives put up the money, renamed the company Westsail International, and he ran it for two more years.

In 1979, they decided to close down because they were not making any money, and sell off the molds and equipment. At the sale auction, Ed Parker, who owned P & M Worldwide, a small fiberglass laminating company in Perris, CA, purchased the 32 and 39 molds. Don Jones, who owned Jomarco, a small boatbuilding company in Santa Ana, CA, purchased the W42 and W43 molds.

The W28 molds were purchased by someone else, and he shipped those molds to Mexico, and never did build any boats from those mold. He did call me and ask me if I wanted to come to Mexico and build boats there, but I declined. I saw the hull mold years later near the highway next to a tortilla factory between Guyamas and San Carlos, Mexico. The chickens were living in the molds.

Ed laminated a few W32s and W39s, and sold them as kits. He shipped the 39 molds to Taiwan, and had a company there build two boats for him, while he and his family lived there and he supervised the construction. He had the 39s shipped back to the US, he and his family returned to the US, and eventually he sold the two boats. The yard in Taiwan eventually contracted with another company who wanted to import the 39s, so they built them and they were brought into the US as the Fairweather Mariner 39.

Don Jones built a few W42s and 43s, and the last W43 was one he kept for himself. He was also building a 55′ Roberts design, and called it the Jomarco 55.

By the mid 1980s the boatbuilding business was flat, and many of the companies in Costa Mesa decided to close down. Since Ed had a large piece of property in Perris, he offered to store any molds there, if he could use them to laminate boats when he had a customer. A win-win for both his company, and the other companies that wanted to hold onto the molds instead of cutting them up. He eventually had the W42 and W43 molds there when Jomarco closed own, as well as some Columbia, Islander, Downeast, and other company molds. He even had all of my scaffolding there when I closed down my boatbuilding company in 1988.

When Ed decided to sell his property in the early 1990s, he contacted everyone he could to come get their molds, or he would give them away, or the new owners would have them cut up. Someone from the San Francisco Bay area took the W32 molds. I could never locate who it was, but I heard that they were possibly in Petaluma. Another person got the W42 and W43 molds, and took them to Kinney, TX. To my knowledge, he never did build any boats from them. The chickens enjoyed their Mexican home in the W28 molds.

Here is the numbers of boats from my records. I can’t guarantee it is absolutely correct, as I am missing some of the numbers, and there may be some errors in the latter numbers.

  • W28 – #1 to #78 by Westsail
  • K32 – #1 to #31 by Kendall
  • W32 – #32 to #825 by Westsail and Westsail International who took over after the bankruptcy in 1977
  • P & M Worldwide – another 9 from the W32 molds
  • W39 – #1 to #6 by Westsail
  • P & M Worldwide – another 7 from the W39 molds
  • W42 – #1 to #116 by Westsail
  • Jomarco – another 3 from W42 molds
  • W43 – #1 to #55 by Westsail
  • Jomarco – another 6 from W43 molds

Now you know the rest of the story.