The Griffon and Fulmar

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(First published in WOA magazine No. 50, Spring 1993)

By 1979, Westerly were casting around for a change of image, and felt that a great leap forward had to be taken.

This soul searching resulted in Ed Dubois being asked to produce two new designs. These were to be fast, easily handled and even roomier than the Laurent Giles boats, and yet still cruising yachts, rather than toned down racers.

The first of the new Dubois boats was to be the bravest step the company ever took, a Centaur replacement, no less. While the Griffon was undoubtedly a superior craft in almost every respect (faster, roomier, easier to handle and with all-wood interior), no-one had reckoned with the fierce loyalty that the Centaur had accumulated. As a result, the company was practically forced to build an extra fifty Centaurs, after the planned change-over at the 1979 Southampton Boat Show. The Centaur was finally laid to rest in August 1980, and by the end of that year 248 Griffons had been built.

In all the excitement an interesting design fault had slipped past Dubois, Lloyds and Westerly’s own in-house team. In the Spring of 1981 a Griffon which had been moored in deep mud all her life failed to rise with the incoming tide. The problem lay in the fact that the Griffon’s keels were much narrower than the Centaur’s, so that more leverage was applied by the keels to the keel-stubs, as they sank into the glutinous Welsh mud. Since the bracing of the Griffon’s keel-stub was much the same as her predecessor’s, the strain proved too much and cracks appeared at the front end of the stubs. If unnoticed, these would eventually widen until the inevitable happened.

I believe that the last Griffon without fortified stubs was sail number 281. Sadly the Warranty work involved in correcting the problem was one of many factors that made Westerly Marine Construction sink as well. About 20 boats were brought back and modified before the demise of W.M.C. in October 1981. The good news is that, once identified, the problem is easily rectified with some additional stiffening ‘floors’ bonded across the stubs. It is unlikely that there are many unmodified Griffons around nowadays, but this is not a job for the amateur.

As the excitement of the Griffon 1 keels died down, it was decided that she should be uprated and a number of improvements were put in hand. From about July 1981, the Sapele finish was changed to teak, a fixed table was mounted in the saloon and fancier joinery was designed. It was also decided to fit the 20hp Bukh diesel that was already fitted to the Konsort and Fulmar.

The 1982 London Boat Show saw the launch of the final version, known as the Griffon 2, which must be one of the finest 26 footers ever built The standard and quality of joinery was up to the mark of much bigger and more expensive yachts. Although the engine was a trifle over-large the extra weight had minimal effect on sailing performance, which was further enhanced by bringing the reefing lines aft for quicker, easier reefing. The only problem was that the improvements put her out of reach of all but the deepest pockets, so only 97 Griffon 2s were built before the decision was made to cut costs, and the Griffon Club was produced in 1985.

The Club reverted to the Griffon 1’s simpler joinery, a 10hp Bukh as standard, and a slightly smaller rig, all of which saved about £1,500 and allowed production to trickle on until the last Griffon was built in July 1989. The last boat was sail number 454, the 27th Club.

Meanwhile, in 1980, the company launched the second Ed Dubois design, the Westerly Fulmar 32. In some ways she is Westerly’s most successful yacht. Not in terms of numbers certainly since they have yet to build the 440th Fulmar, and although this is a very good innings, it is no world record.

However, the design was so close to perfection that there have been no significant changes since the first one was launched; quite an achievement. The joy of a Fulmar lies in the sailing performance and handling, it is extremely rare to find a yacht which is both fast and supremely easy to handle under sail and power. One does not really have to sail a Fulmar, one just lays a hand on the tiller and lets the boat take care of everything else, which she does without appreciable effort.

Having said that there have been no real changes in thirteen years, I now have to contradict myself. There have been three, but you will see that none has altered her steady progress down the years. The first was an early adjustment (in 1981, I think) to the engine box, when it was realised that it would be a simple matter to reduce its intrusion into the cabin by about 4 or 5 inches, thus gaining easier access to the galley as well.

The next alteration was not a great success, partly because it was too far ahead of its time and partly because it was not very well executed. This was the addition of an after cabin version to the range. I believe that this was a 1981 modification as well, but only a few were sold (probably 4 or 5) and so the option was withdrawn at the end of 1983.

The last change was to add a "sugar scoop" to the stern, and revamp the interior to Westerly’s new and improved standard of joinery. Undeniably useful though the "sugar scoop" is the net result of the revamp is the loss of a little lockerage and a prettier interior, so I think that we can still regard the Fulmar as having had "no significant changes."

In conclusion, the new designs were a great success. They broke the mould of the 70’s and produced the basis of a first class range for the 80’s. The all-wood interiors were here to stay and the new yachts were faster, handier and even roomier than before. As things turned out, the 80’s were to be a much more difficult decade than the booming 70’s and the shift to a more modern designer had been made with perfect timing.”