The Westerly 33 and Discus
(First published in WOA magazine No. 49, Winter 1992, this updated version was published in WOA magazine No 66, Summer 2001)
Westerly’s first all wood interior was seen in the GK24 in 1976. As suspected, this proved to be an even stronger method of construction than the GRP interior modules seen on the Centaurs and 31s. Also, steeply rising oil prices meant that wood had become an economical alternative.
Business was booming in the second half of the 1970s and Westerly had to buy or lease extra factory space for their expanding range of boats, and even then could not cope. For the first time the hull and deck mouldings were sub contracted, in the first instance to Halmatic over in Havant, whence they were brought on lorries to the fitting-out shops at Waterlooville. The first Westerly 33 was launched in 1977 and by the end of 1979, when they started producing the MkII Westerly 33 (or Discus), they had built 235 boats.
In many ways the Westerly 33 hull was the pinnacle of achievement for Laurent Giles, giving an unbeatable combination of high interior volume and sea keeping ability. I have heard of two of these hulls which have cheerfully survived full Force 12s in deep water, which is an extraordinary achievement by any standard.
The interior was decidedly up-market from the start with a very spacious saloon, paneled in Sapele, with a solid, well built feel to all the fittings, a convertible double berth to port, and lined lockers on each side of the saloon. Pressurised water was standard with the early boats using a gas water heater, while some took the option of engine calorifier heating. The Westerly 33 has a particularly nice saloon with a friendly, spacious feel, which remains practical at sea due to the rock solid table and ample grab rails and handles.
For many years afterwards the removable seatbacks, which acted as leeboards and gave room behind them for sleeping gear stowage, were to be a feature of Westerly boats and is one of the best features of interior yacht design I have come across.
She was destined to be one of the last boats popular as a ketch, due to the development of headsail roller reefing in the late 70s and its rapidly increasing popularity in the early 80s. This rig gives terrific versatility. You can spread an awful lot of sail in light airs (especially with a mizzen staysail and a spinnaker on a broad reach), and yet a mizzen and working jib will take care of beating up to around F7 or even 8. Thus one can set off upwind with all plain sail, simply dumping the main as wind velocity passes F6. Nice and easy for single-handers and those who suffer from mal de mer.
The first few Westerly 33s had a Thorneycroft 90 diesel which was a 35 hp unit, but this was soon superseded by the Mercedes OM 636, 42 hp, 4 cylinder engine which was very popular by virtue of its reliability and the safe feel all those horses gave.
At the London Boat Show of 1980, the Westerly 33 started to give way to the Discus. Initially the W33 herself was given a revamp with a walk-through to the after cabin with the cockpit access companionway blanked off. A year or so later the name of this layout was changed to “ the centre cockpit Discus”. However, to start with the name Westerly 33 remained, with the title “Discus” going to the aft cockpit/bridge deck version.
The bridge deck Discus had her cockpit moved right to the back of the boat with a raised “bridge deck” about three feet long just forward, which gave onto the companionway hatch. You may feel that crossing a raised bridge deck in heavy weather could be a little daunting, but with four stainless steel “Granny bars” conveniently placed by the hatch and on the coaming, one soon gets used to it. After all, Swan owners seem to manage very well with the same system.
Unfortunately the figures are no longer available, but my estimate is that only 10% to 20% of Discuses were produced in the centre cockpit version. This is because the aft cabin on this version has no standing room, consisting as it does of one vast double berth with a Perspex hatch above it. This meant that the aft cabin was purely a sleeping room, whereas the bridge deck version had a smaller double with standing room for two, two seats and a double hanging locker.
Around 300 Discuses were delivered before the enormous 34 foot Seahawk replaced the marque in 1984. Most 33s were sloops, which was due in part to the popularity of the bridge deck version, but also to the increasing popularity of roller reefing genoas.
Towards the end of 1981, the trim was changed from Sapele to teak, a wood which was to become de rigueur for British yachts until the late 90s. Environmentally speaking this was good news as the Burmese teak forests were much better managed than their African and South American equivalents. Happily, it is now relatively easy to source all sorts of hardwood from well managed forests which are regularly replanted. Hence the current proliferation of choice veneers.
The very last Discus was built in the Summer of 1983, featuring at the Southampton Boat Show before being handed over to an American owner in the early Spring of 1984. She was a centre cockpit boat, and subsequently sailed to the States with her new owner.
The Discus has remained one of the most popular Westerlys on the secondhand market, resulting initially in their prices outstripping the W33s. However, the W33 has been doing some catching up lately, against the general downward trend of secondhand prices. As mentioned earlier, this hull is one of the best ever produced by the winning combination of Laurent Giles and Westerly. Her popularity can be put down to moderate lines, with a longish fin keel for directional stability, deep bilges with all their practical advantages and a roomy and airy interior. But capping all is her unbeatable ability to cope with heavy weather.
Anyone planning a long distance cruise should take a long hard look at a Discus or Westerly 33. In my opinion two of the great classic deep water cruisers.”