The Westsail 32 goes down in history as the boat that launched a thousand dreams. She’s generally credited for starting the cruising boom of the 1970s which brought “the cruising life” out of the fringes and into the mainstream. Designed by Bill Crealock as a heavy displacement double ender for long distance cruising, this boat is the epitome of seaworthiness; built strong and heavy with huge interior volume. The trade off is in nimbleness; she is slow through the tacks and slow to accelerate. In the early years, often sailed by beginners on badly setup rigs, boat speed was often lacking and she was ridiculed as the “Wet-snail 32” among the bluewater sailing fraternity, however some of this reputation has been shrugged off in recent years. When sailed well the Westsail 32 can surprise.
The Westsail 32 started out life as a flush-deck Kendall 32 when Larry Kendall approached Crealock to design a heavy displacement offshore sailboat along the lines of William Aitken’s famous 32 foot double enders Eric and Thistle. It’s said when asked how big the market for such a boat, Crealock estimated 10-12 boats. The Kendall 32 was introduced in 1969 and production exceeded Crealock’s estimates with a run of 30 boats.
It wasn’t until 1971 when a young electrical engineer turned boatbuilder by the name of Snyder Vick who bought the molds did sales begin to take off. He had Crealock redesign the deck layout, adding a cabin house and a revised interior. The new company became Westsail Corporation and the new boat was dubbed the Westsail 32. “Westsail the world” was the advertising mantra, oozing adventure in far away places. So successful was the marketing campaign that by June of 1973 Time Magazine featured a four page spread on “the cruising life” including a large image of a Westsail 32 in a suitably exotic location. It caught the imagination of the American public. The boat sold in incredible numbers, and along the way set in stone the shape and style of American bluewater cruising boats for nearly two decades.
In total 830 boats were produced by Westsail. To keep up with demand around 400 of these boats were sold as hull and deck kits; requiring interior finishing by their respective purchasers. Kits were sold in various stages of completion; Hull and Deck, Sail-Away, and a complete boat. With kits owners could add any option they felt they wanted including ballast, bulkheads, rigging, etc.
Although the Westsail 32 was a runaway marketing success, the company did not enjoy financial success. The petroleum crunch of the 1970’s hit the company hard. Their sales process involved taking orders for boats at fixed prices and selling them out in the order in which they received them. This meant that the company was selling boats up to eighteen months later at prices that were considerably outdated. The company ceased operations in 1981. The molds got sold to P&M Worldwide and another 15 boats were sold in kit form before production finally ceased.
The Westsail 32 follows a long line of traditional double-enders dating back to Colin Archer’s famous 19th century Norwegian pilot boat Regis Voyager which itself was influenced by Archer’s earlier work with designing lifeboats.
A cutter rig sits on top with a bowsprit forward and on some boats a boomkin astern. Below the waterline is a very full keel drawing 5 feet.
The deck arrangement has offshore work in mind. The lifelines are high and the high bulwark combine to provide a sense of security on the foredeck. The cockpit is suitably tiny as was the thinking for blue water sailboats, but it gets crowded quickly with more than two people.
Down below, there’s an enormous interior volume, definitely one of the largest and most livable interiors for 32 feet. There is a huge V-berth forward followed by the head, a port side dinette and starboard settee and a U-shaped galley to port and a starboard navigation station and quarter berth aft. An optional interior featured opposing settees and a centerline table. Later mods included a change in the head configuration and a sit down chart table.
The joinery was aimed more for function than all out beauty and the factory finish varied through the years. Many of the kit boats were finished by their owners superbly, however some are in serious need of TLC.
The hull is heavily built from hand-laid fiberglass in 12 layers with polyester resin resulting in a hull that ranges from 3/4 inch near the topsides to 1 1/8 inches at the turn of the bilge. The 3/4″ bulkheads are marine plywood and tabbed to the hull with fiberglass.
Ballast varied between boats, but always with at least 7,000 pounds. Some had 2,000 pounds of lead and 5,000 pounds of steel punchings. From 1974, cast lead was used in the keel cavity in three sections. One can easily tell the lead ballast because the keel sump is much deeper under the engine pan.
The deck and cabin trunk is fiberglass cored with two layers of half inch plywood, with an extra two inch plywood base to reinforce below the mast step. Many boats had teak decks at an unbelievably thick (and heavy) 13/16 inches. There were three versions of the deck molds. The first mold had a forward hatch and large heavy sliding companionway with a lazarette hatch that sat up above the deck. The second mold added a center skylight hatch, and the last mold added a cockpit locker, flush lazarette hatch and tapered black anodized aluminum stanchions with aluminum built into the mold for easy on off removal.
Later hulls had fiberglass gudgeons, earlier hulls had stainless steel gudgeons with a bronze pintal.
The hull to deck join with its substantial bulwark is strong, though not impervious to leaking.
The Westsail 32 has a reputation for getting cruisers where they want to go, though not very quickly. According to most owners this is falsely deserved. Motion through the water is comfortable, but the ride has been criticized by some as being relatively wet. Often this is a result of owners overloading their boats. While the boat can easily carry all she needs for comfortable cruising, she will be affected by loading her below her water line. Some owners report the wetness comes from the cockpit seats being flush with the side decks, so any water channeling down the side deck is likely to wet your bottom (some custom boats have this problem solved with a cockpit coaming). Further; later models had a 3″ hawse pipe added midships that eliminated much of water entering the cockpit.
As with many boats with full keels, the boat tracks well but trades this off for maneuverability; both under power and while under canvas. Acceleration is sluggish due to its large wetted area and light weather performance (without the correct sail combination) is nothing to brag about; 10 knots or more is needed before the boats starts moving nicely. The best point of sail is a beam to broad reach between 90 to 120 degrees off the wind with an optimal heal angle of 20 degrees, with good trade winds owners report the boat is capable of 7 knots which is its hull speed.
In the early days the boat had a terrible reputation under sail, perhaps not entirely deserved. Many owners were new to sailing and didn’t have the experience to make a heavy displacement boat perform well. The early rigs weren’t optimal, the mainsails were too big and the headsails too small. The boat gained a reputation for weather helm.
In more recent years the Westsail 32 has turned its slow reputation upside down. In 1988 David King skippered his personally modified** Westsail 32 Saraband to a Trans-Pacific Cup victory, a remarkable feat given the light wind conditions that year. Additionally we hear reports of owners logging week-long consecutive runs of 140 to 160 mile days during trade-wind sailing. Record runs aside, most owners can expect to average around 110 miles per day in the trades.
** David King has documented his modifications for other members of the Westsail Owners Association. The tweaks include subtle modifications to the keel and a revised rig with a smaller mainsail
The Westsail 32 has suffered few if any structural problems over the years. It has a solid hull and osmotic blisters that appear on older boats are not an issue with the Westsail.
It’s worth checking out the fuel tanks, especially if they are of black iron. Other areas worth a check are the bottom fittings on the boomkin and the bobstay. Look for signs of rot in the plywood cored decking and signs of fiberglass compression at the mast step. As with any older boat, if the standing rigging is original consider replacing them.
Look for a boat that has 35 hp or more, the original 25hp Volvo MD2B is often reported as insufficient for a distance motoring into adverse weather.
There’s an active owners association at Westsail.org, it’s recommended interested buyers contact them for advice. Additionally, Bud Taplin is an known expert on Westsail boats, he was the first general manager at Westsail, and is now active in providing advice and surveying services for prospective buyers.
As at 2014 the asking price of Westsail 32s are in the range of $30k-$55k USD. Realistically these boats sell 10%-20% below asking price with most trading hands between $30k-$45k USD.
» Westsail Owners Association at Westsail.org
» Used Boat Notebook by John Kretschmer, an in depth look at the Westsail 32 (p73-p76)
» Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere by John Vigor, (Ch20, p125) an in depth look at the Westsail 32. ISBN:978-0939837328
» Boat US, Jack Horner’s review of the Westsail 32
» Wikipedia’s entry on the Westsail 32
» Westsail the World Documentary trailer on YouTube