The 31 Footers

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The 31 Footers

(First published in WOA magazine No. 47, Winter 1991, this updated version was published in WOA magazine No 65, Winter 2000)

In the first years of the 1970s, Westerly established the base upon which fame and fortune were to be built. By the end of 1971 they had a range of small cruisers, which in terms of interior volume, handling and build quality is unsurpassed to this day.

These were the Warwick 21, Pageant 23 and Centaur 26. They all have the distinctive “Westerly Look”, with the knuckled bow and tall square superstructure. The secret of their success lies in a variety of factors. The long waterlines make for maximum speed, the transom stems give lots of room in the cockpits and the big semi-balanced spade rudders ensure manoeuvrability and ease of handling under sail and power. In addition the capacious interiors, wide side decks, separate heads and big diesel guaranteed their popularity from day one. Engines were Volvo MD II series 23/25hp with the option of MD III 36hp.

The coincidence of the availability of these truly revolutionary yachts, with the growing affluence of an increasingly adventurous middle class led to a boom decade for the company. The time was ripe to build a bigger ‘Flagship’ yacht. Laurent Giles was asked to produce a fin keeled sailing cruiser with rather less beam and freeboard in relation to waterline length than her three smaller sisters. The result was, in essence, a big fin keeled Centaur. However, apart from the usual excellence of accommodation and handling, this was a fast yacht as well. She was called Longbow (with aft cockpit and fin keel) and was first launched towards the end of 1971. At the 1972 London Boat Show she was joined by a centre-cockpit sister, the Renown. All the 31s were to have a choice of sloop or ketch rigs, but it was not that which determined the name, but rather the position of the cockpit and the number of keels.

At the time, it was thought that there would be no demand for a twin keeler of this size, so it wasn’t until the middle of 1973 that the Berwick (aft cockpit, twin keels) and Pentland (centre cockpit, twin keels) were seen.

The interiors, in the style of the day, were strictly practical. GRP mouldings featured heavily, with sapele trim, Formica faced bulkheads and PVC upholstery; all good, low maintenance, wipe clean stuff.

The best position for the galley was thought to be forward by the main bulkhead, so that the cooker was away from the draught of the companionway. Navigation was given much less importance, since everyone was assumed to know the local area. This led to the chart-table being a fairly low-key affair, which had to be extracted from beneath a berth cushion and set up by the starboard quarter berth. By the end of 1975 more than 500 31s had been launched and the time had come for improvements.

The 1976 London Boat Show saw the advent of bigger and better chart-tables (which slid out of the port quarter berth on rails) and an optional aft galley layout. By the end of 1978, numbers had risen to nearly 1000, but the boom was fading and the move up market had begun. For the 1979 London Boat Show Westerly produced a very smart all wood interior with fixed chart-table, a permanent saloon table with flaps and bottle stowage and an easily assembled saloon double berth. Best of all, the galley was aft, to be by the companionway.

This was very much the definitive ‘British Standard Interior’ and served as the prototype for the 31s’ successors, the Konsort 29 and the Fulmar 32, which were to remain in production for 14 and 17 years respectively, making them two of the most successful yachts in history!”