An Owner’s View of the W32
by John Geisheker
Reprinted with permission from Good Old Boat magazine, issue 14, September-October 2000
I once knew a lady who collected dolls obsessively at age 80 because she failed to get one for Christmas at age 5. I bought my Westsail 32, Adagio, seven years ago solely because the “Westsail the World” brochure hung like a taunt on my office wall while college, children, grad school, and work sped by.
The W32 is the Humvee of any marina: old-fashioned lifeboat lines, high bulwarks, massively over-built, the look of indestructibility. With something like 200 ounces of glass in every square yard, it has one of the hardiest lay-up schedules in the fiberglass boat world, creating a hull that could withstand, it is said, decades of osmosis. (In one famous anecdote, a W32 took a week’s pounding on a coral reef, only tobe sailed off dry.) Unfortunately, the resulting 10 tons must be lugged around for the boat’s life, a combination of armor plate and millstone.
This weight and a full keel create an ultra-heavy displacement-to-length ratio of 418 and give the W32 the feel underway of a mini tall-ship, rather than the sports car handiness of a more modern fin-keeler. Luckily, the motion is easy on the queasy. The hull is so rigid that even in a breeze there are no Hollywood Foley machine sounds of wracking bulkheads and torquing deck.
The reassuring motion offshore is purchased at a frightening cost in harbors, however. Maneuvering awkwardly in any confined space, she wields that long bowsprit like a weighted centerpunch. This is a boat meant to travel, rather than frolic in harbor or club race -or dock.
So naturally, on 15 minutes notice, I sail this ocean behemoth for an hour or two, quite content, on a freshwater lake in downtown Seattle barely one mile long. Thirty seconds clear of the slip, both furling headsails are drawing, and we ghost on fluky winds glancing off skyscrapers. I tack a lot.
Contrary to the rumor that W32s need a gale even to stir, mine sails best, all plain (and home-sewn) sail, in 14 knots of wind. She must be reefed at 18 knots of wind. Lots of fin-keel cruisers can stand up to their sail area better than that. This bottom-of-the-wind-scale performance is partly explained by the large sail areafor her length. Adagio carries a 40-foot boat’s sail area of 800 square feet on a 27.5-foot waterline, 500 square feet forward of the mast. (Owners who upgrade find that larger headsails and short-foot mains set to leeward balance the famously wearisome weather helm.) And the W32 has less ballast than you might guess: at 7,000 pounds, only 30 percent of total provisioned weight.
Below decks there is storage for everything except people, though the W32 is a popular liveaboard boat. Like a Victorian home, the stock boats designed for long-range voyaging had way too much “furniture” and even when alone, I find myself occasionally daydreaming of pushing everything back a foot on each side. Fortunately it’s nice furniture, if dated; barely a hint of fiberglass and much 2-inch Burmese teak (now unaffordable by mortals).
The many lockers – I was still finding more in my second season – when filled, do keep the below-decks quiet in a marina.
I have sailed her alone in winds above 50 knots, worrying only about captain mishaps, not structural failure, and logged a few 150-mile days (also alone), a tolerable mid-pack average of 6 knots. The foamy wake is a sure sign there is no rocketship potential here. And I’ve found that with a bluff entry, full midsections, and slack bilges aft, W32s “porpoise” atrociously in a steep chop and must tack through head seas when motoring.
But at $45 grand or so – like hamburger, $2.25 per pound – and for all their faults and lack of modernity, W32s are still a lot of cruising boat. Much sought after and easily re-sold, the 800-plus hulls are unlikely to disappear anytime soon and will continue to be a familiar sight in marinas all over the planet.
After stints in the U.S. merchant marine and careers as an English teacher and maritime lawyer, New Zealand native John Geisheker now directs Sailboats Inc. Sailing School, in Superior, Wis. When he is not teaching on the Great Lakes, delivering boats, or visiting his native land, he lives on his Westsail 32 on Lake Union in downtown Seattle and sails Puget Sound. He has sailed the Great Lakes since 1967 and has taught sailing and cruising, as the expression goes, “man and boy these 30 years.”
In Short Westsail 32
Designer: WilliamAtkin/W. I. B. Crealock
LOA: 32 feet 0 inches
LWL: 27 feet 6 inches
Beam: 11 feet 0 inches
Draft: 5 feet 0 inches
Displacement: 20,000 pounds
Sail area: 663 square feet
Ballast: Encapsulated, 7,000 pounds
Designed as: Roomy, rugged world cruiser
* Safety-at-sea factor: 8 (Rated out of 10, with 10 being the safest.)
* Speed rating: Not as slow as some people think.PHRF rating 216.
* Ocean comfort level: Four adults