(First published in WOA magazine No. 46, Spring 1991)
The Westerly 22, from which the Company took its name was our very first design back in 1963. Westerly was then Commander Rayner’s company and the 22 was a development of the plywood West Coaster. The 22 was followed in 1964 by the Westerly 25. Both had simple, open plan layouts and were powered by Gunter rigs and outboard engines (typically the lovely old Evinrude’s with their wonderful ‘Henry Moore’ shapes). There was also an optional Bermudan rig which soon replaced the Gunter in popularity.
1966 saw the first of the Westerly 30s which sported a main bulkhead, behind which the heads and forecabin could be hidden. This was seen as a great improvement and this treatment was meted out to the 25 and 22 which became the Windrush and Nomad. These ‘Mark Ils’ use the same hull as the previous boats but had extended deck lines which helped with the accommodation. Apart from their separate forecabins (and heads) these have diesel in-boards and the option of a Gunter rig was dropped.
By now David Saunders had arrived on the scene and some radical re-thinking resulted in a complementary range of fast fin keeled cruising yachts being commissioned from John Butler. John came up with three smashing designs: the Westerly 28, Cirrus and Tiger; which were just as roomy and seaworthy, but which proved easier to handle as well as being faster and close-winded to boot. The first of these, launched in 1967 was the Westerly 28, sadly, like the Westerly 30, she was a little big for Westerly’s established market and didn’t sell as well as she deserved.
However 1968 saw the advent of the most successful Westerly so far, the 22 ft Cirrus. Here was a proper ‘little ship’ with four good 6’3″ berths, separate heads, inboard engine and standing headroom. All this was allied to much better performance achieved by fine lines as well as the fin keel. Here were all the qualities which Westerly has striven for ever since. Three hundred and ninety eight were sold in five years.
1968 also saw the birth of the Nimrod. The Nimrod is an eighteen footer designed by Ian Proctor, which, although terrifically fast (a bit like a miniature J24) didn’t have the accommodation expected of a Westerly (even an 18′ Westerly!) and so sold a mere one hundred and eighty six. 1969’s new model was the lovely Tiger. This excellent little yacht has much the same layout as a Cirrus and is much loved by today’s owners, who tend to be great enthusiasts.
Meanwhile in 1966 and 1967 Laurent Giles had been playing around with a design which was to revolutionise the British Yachting Industry. In 1968 this gelled into a twenty six footer which had everything the cruising yachtsman could wish for. She had six berths in two cabins, separate heads compartment, a good galley, 6′ headroom, a big engine, wide side decks, and a deep safe cockpit. As if all this wasn’t enough, she was easy to handle, highly manoeuvrable under power, stood up to her canvas well, and had none of the vices associated with many of the other yachts of her day. This remarkable design was sold to Westerly in 1968 and appeared for the first time in 1969 as the Centaur, selling at just over £2,500. By the end of 1970, two hundred and eighty four had been sold and hundreds more were sold each subsequent year until her replacement in September 1979 by the Griffon. Even then, despite punitive pricing another forty were sold with the last one being delivered in August 1980, sail no. 2444. The Centaur was thus enthroned as the most successful cruising yacht ever built in this country and rivalled the Vega as Europe’s most successful yacht.
In 1972 the original layout was joined by two others, of which the most popular was the ‘B’ layout. In the same year the Chieftain was produced which is a truly remarkable centre cockpit boat on the same hull and along the same lines as a Centaur. The design of the Chieftain relied for success on the large quantity of space used up by the helmsman with the Centaur’s long tiller. Part of this space was made into an aft cabin, which was effectively a pair of displaced quarter berths. A wheel replaced the tiller which left plenty of cockpit room without eating into the saloon and forecabin arrangement which were much the same as the Centaur.
In 1976 when the Tiger had run out of steam, a fin keeled version, exactly alike in other respects, was produced and named the Pembroke.