A Brief History of Westerly
Around the start of 1963 Commander Denys Rayner, an established yacht designer, was approached by Hilary Scott, a man of some means, to design a GRP yacht to be built by a new company he wanted set up. Rayner designed The Westerly – a 22ft yacht similar in some respects to a wooden yacht he had designed earlier; the boat was subsequently renamed the Westerly 22. After some discussion, Rayner became MD of the new company, whilst Scott and a solicitor called Michael Hurd became its non-executive directors. That company, founded in March 1963, was called Westerly Marine Construction Ltd, the first of several companies to own the Westerly brand name, and usually referred to as just “Westerly”.
At the Earl’s Court Boat Show, four months before the company was set up, Lloyds had announced a new certification standard for the production of small glass fibre boats. Boats built to this specification, under the supervision of Lloyds local surveyor, were each issued with their individual Lloyds Series Production Certificate. Westerly went for that new standard from the first boat. It differentiated them from traditional damp, dirty boatyards at the waters edge, and justified their decision to base production in a clean modern factory unit on a new estate in Waterlooville, 7 miles inland from Portsmouth. The factory opened in May 1963.
With the prototype Westerly completed in September 1963 and advertising beginning, orders rolled in. By the end of the January 1964 Earl’s Court Boat Show, it became apparent that plans for producing 50 boats per year were inadequate; another factory unit on the site was acquired, the workforce increased, new management (including David Sanders) were brought in and production increased to 150 boats per year. By October 1964 a third factory unit on the estate was acquired beginning the Westerly tradition of shunting mouldings from one factory unit to another during the build process. Following Denys Rayner’s untimely death in January 1967, David Sanders took over management of the company.
Almost from the beginning, export markets had been important to Westerly. They were researching the American market as early as 1964, and by 1966 were showing at four American boat shows and four European shows in addition to Earl’s Court. They won prestigious Queens Awards for Export in 1969, 1970 and 1977. At this time all was going well. Westerly had up to 700 staff working in factory units spread around two estates in Waterlooville, building about 15 different Westerly Models, plus another unit in Poole building the J-24 under licence. They were turning over more than £10m a year, more than half of it in exports and had £1m in the bank. By 1977, with interest rates low and property prices rising, advisers at their bank recommended using the cash to buy their Waterlooville factories. That proved to be a mistake, because by 1980, life had changed. Interest rates had tripled, comercial property prices were falling and the exchange rate rose dramatically (memorably, the exchange rate against the Deutchmark rose 15% during the week of the 1980 Hamburg Boat Show). This had the effect of virtually killing their export market overnight. There was still a good business with new models like the Griffon and Fulmar in production, but the company was too large for its reduced order book. In a painful process for all concerned, the workforce was cut to around 250, with redundancies paid for out of bank loans since their cash was now tied up in unsaleable property. Finally in late 1981, Barclays Bank called in the loans and receivers were appointed.
1981 Westerly Yachts Limited
The receivers transferred the assets into a new company called Sphinxstone Limited, trading as Westerly Yachts, and shortly afterwards formally changed its name to Westerly Yachts Limited. The company, with David Sanders still leading the team, was sold to Tony Cross at Centreway Industries Plc in 1982. At this stage David Rubin was appointed as the new Production Director, and he slimmed down the workforce further to less than 200 staff, and shortly after, when David Sanders left the company, Rubin became MD.
Rubin continued to run the company through the 1980’s. However, by 1990, Edwin Paul had taken over as MD of Westerly Yachts Limited and the parent company had changed its name from Centreway Industries plc to Westerly plc. Inevitably the UK headed into another recession at the end of 1990, the parent company ran into financial trouble, and in May 1991 the bank pulled the plug on both companies and the receivers were back in.
1991 Westerly Yacht Construction Limited
Eddie Paul and two fellow directors Peter Thomas (Sales) and John Hinton (Production) firmly believed that the company was still a going concern, which could manage very well without the interference of its parent company, and put together a £2.2m management buyout backed by County Natwest Ventures. The new company was called Westerly Yacht Construction Limited. However, despite the confidence of the new management team, while the company managed to survive it was not able to make the profits necessary to make major investments in future models. Instead the strategy was to rework the interiors and layouts of existing models. The old Griffon was cleverly reworked as the Spirit, and then the Spirit, Merlin, Tempest, Storm and Typhoon were remodelled as the Regatta range, while other models were acquiring Ocean names.
In Mid 1993, the next in a rapidly increasing series of corporate changes took place when Westerly acquired/ merged with/ were taken over by Victoria Marine of Warsash who had a 6 acre site at the mouth of the river Hamble. Victoria made comercial craft such as Pilot boats, patrol boats RIBs etc as well as Victoria Yachts. Peter Gregory of Victoria Yachts became the Chief Exec and Eddie Paul his Finance Director. All production moved to Waterlooville, while Head office, Sales, Repairs,Spares and Demonstrations moved to Warsash later renamed as Port Westerly. It was at this stage that to save money, Westerly finally stopped selling boats with Lloyds certificates, although they did continue to build to Lloyds Standards. The new combined company became Westerly Group Limited, and the yachts were presented as three ranges of Westerly the Oceans, the Regattas, and the Victorias.
At the end of 1994, Peter Gregory retired, and in Summer 1995 Victoria Yachts (but not their comercial craft) were devolved from Westerly Group Ltd. in preparation for the next change when, in August 1995, Westerly Group was acquired by Tony Davies Bowman Group, the parent company of Rival Bowman and Starlight Yachts. Bob Finch was appointed Managing Director. This at last was a change of ownership which appeared to offer some new vigour to the Westerly name. In 1996 the Group announced that new designs were underway, which in 1997 were launched as the Ocean 33 and the Ocean 43; the first all-new models since the Typhoon had been launched in 1990. In Late 1996, Bob Finch became Chairman of both Westerly Group Ltd, and Bowman Group. Ian Atkins, formerly of Ancasta brokerage, was appointed Managing Director of Westerly Group. During this period Westerly formed a comercial arrangement with the Trintella Yard in Holland, and began moulding both Westerly and Trintella hulls at Waterlooville, using the advanced SCRIMP process. And in 1997, after a break of some 15 years, Westerly returned to the Annapolis Boat Show and began signing new US dealerships.
In April 1998 Bowman hit financial problems as Bowman Yachts Limited went into receivership. As a result Westerly Group Limited was sold to Marigot Group (the parent company of Trintella). At first it looked as though this might be the lifeline that Westerly needed to continue its investment in all-new models, but as it turned out the only additions to the range in this period were the racy GK33 based on the recent Ocean 33 and the Ocean 37, an excellent yacht based on the ten year old Typhoon hull. At the end of 1999 Ian Atkins moved on, and Steve Hardgrave was appointed, it would turn out, to be the last Managing Director of Westerly Group Limited.
The Final Receivership
In April 2000, rumours were circulating that Westerly was in trouble again and in May the receivers were back again. However, on this occasion no buyer could be found to take on the business as a going concern. The staff were laid off. The plant and machinery was sold to US Hunter, who were just starting up in the UK as Legend. In July 2000 Gordon Mowat and Jeremy Hood, both Westerly owners based in the USA, trading as Ocean Yacht Sales, bought the moulds, the Westerly name, its logo and trademarks, with a view to manufacturing the larger vessels again. However, Jeremy Hood said that the two most modern hulls which he would have liked to begin building again (the Ocean 33 and Ocean 43) were not included in the arrangement.
By early 2001, Adrian Clarkson, trading as Caledonian Yachts of Stirling, Scotland had bought the Konsort, Fulmar, Spirit, Merlin, Tempest and Storm moulds and licensed the use of their names from Ocean Yacht Sales. Although brochures of several of the yachts were produced, it is thought that only one Spirit and one Storm hull were ever moulded.
Meanwhile, the moulds for the larger yachts were shipped East, with a view to starting a production facility in a country with lower labour costs. However, it is believed that none were built and most of the moulds were eventually scrapped.
But that was not quite the end of the story. By January 2005, three young composite engineers in Slovenia working together as New System Yachts had developed a vacuum-infusion epoxy and carbon fibre process, acquired the original Westerly GK33 mould, and produced a new carbon fibre yacht to show at the Dusseldorf Boat Show. By September that year, they had an agreement in place with Mowat and Hood to market it as the Westerly GK35 (that’s the GK33 plus a bowsprit!) and it was shown at the Southampton Boat Show, where it attracted a lot of interest, but no orders. By 2006 when it appeared at the Southampton show again, it was advertised in 4 different variations, but again no UK orders were forthcoming, although it is believed that a small number were built for the Slovenian market.