February 17, 2013

A deceptive turn of speed

AN ACQUAINTANCE who is looking for a boat says he’s attracted to the Westsail 32 for her space down below and her sheer solidity. But he’s heard the old rumor that she’s slow, can’t point, and is outdated, with her bowsprit and full-length keel. “Would you buy one?” he asks.

If I wanted to sail around the world, or take long cruises, or just live aboard, I would.  If I wanted to take part in Wednesday-evening races around the cans, I wouldn’t.

There are a couple of myths about the Westsail 32 that deserve to be dismissed. I tackled them in my book, Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere, in which I quoted David King, of Portland, Oregon, owner of at least two Westsail 32s, and a professional delivery skipper.

He was the one who convinced me that the Westsail 32, a design greatly influenced by Colin Archer’s Norwegian sea-rescue ketches, is not a slow boat. In 1988 he entered Saraband in the Pacific Cup race from San Francisco to Hawaii. She came first in class and first overall on handicap, a shock result that caused an uproar among the owners of larger dedicated racing boats.  What made it worse was that none of Saraband’s crew of five was a racer.

But once wasn’t enough. To hammer the point home, King entered Saraband for the Pacific Cup again in 1990. She was first in her class to finish, first in her class on handicap, and third overall on handicap.

How did this come about? “We have an automatic feathering propeller and it makes a big difference,” said King. “Saraband gets up to 7 knots pretty quickly.” But she sustains her speed well, too. “I did 184 miles all by myself in one day,” he said. “She goes best on a close reach. In fact it’s very interesting that she goes from her comparative worst (a beat) to her comparative best (a close reach) in a matter of a few degrees.”

Also very interesting is that fact that 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.

If you want to cross oceans swiftly, and take everything with you (including the kitchen sink), this rugged 20,000-pound cutter will do it in style and safety.

Today’s Thought
There is more to life than increasing its speed.
— Mahatma Gandhi

I see there’s a trend toward smaller cars again. Most Americans are not crazy about them, but they do have one distinct advantage. You can squeeze one helluva lot more of them into the average-sized traffic jam.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

Hi John, hey now our secrets out! I delight in embarrassing more modern yachts in my old ferro Atkins Thistle which is very similar to the Westsail 32. Mines got old sails and a fixed 3 blade prop and still sails well. I'm in NZ so we have enough wind to make these work hard and as they say " when the going gets tough the tough get going" and these types sure are that.
I've been considering changing mine to a junk rigged schooner so as to make it easier to sail into my old age. Also should be able to bring the SAD up to around 18 which would be neat in light conditions.

Will Miller said...

John, you neglected to mention what a great "Salish Sea Floating Summer Cabin" the Westsail 32 is. Comfy.