(First published in WOA magazine No. 67, Winter 2001)
There were 5 Regattas. The little Spirit, which itself came from an altered and shortened Griffon mould, became the 260 in late 1993. The recently lengthened and improved Merlin evolved into the 290 at the same time. The Tempest gave way to the 310 by the end of the same year. The Storm emerged as the 330 at the same time as the 310. Last of all the 370 grew from my favourite Typhoon at the beginning of 1994.
For some time the Westerly range had been pulling in two directions, with the fast Storms, Typhoons and Tempests seeming at odds with the very cruisey Ocean Rangers, Quests and Lords. In the early 90s, the Company was just reforming itself from bankruptcy and needed to have something new to claw back some of the attention and sales that had been going Moody’s way since the turn of the decade.
There was no money to do anything dramatic, of course, so no new boats could be developed (it costs at least half a million to bring on a truly new yacht). Which is why the idea of making a whole new range out of existing boats was so exciting.
The Regattas would capitalise on the fast image of the Storms that had been such a success in the late 80s, while the Oceans would carry forward the proud tradition of generations of Westerly cruising boats. But how to make the marketing hype seem more real? At least one of the new ranges must be really new, not just re-badged.
There being so little money to spare, the Oceans were more or less left to their own devices, the odd tweak excepted, apart from strengthening the Ocean name. This allowed the Regattas to be given the full treatment with totally new interiors, designed by famous boat interior designer Ken Freivokh. And the full treatment is exactly what they got.
Ken’s expertise went far further than the avant garde appearance, by adding design updatings of real worth. The sleeping and living areas were made to look and feel as separate as they are in reality, a strong departure from the homogenisation of the usual boat interior, where everything matches everything else. The simple part of this transformation was achieved by covering the bunk cushions in mattress ticking (though dedicated followers of fashion would call it something much more elegant). The subtler changes were seen in such details as the curve to the forepeak double in the 290 and 310 – so much more elegant that the usual Vee.
When aft toilets were first introduced, saloons moved forward. In bigger boats this presents no problem as they have enough beam to allow parallel straight settees. That allows lots of people to sit chatting in the saloon, whether drinking or eating, with just enough room behind them for decent stowage. In smaller boats, this approach leaves the saloon settees perilously narrow at the front end, and with precious little space left over for stowage. (For the height of discomfort, try a Merlin saloon).
All the best ideas are so ridiculously simple, that we all wonder why no-one ever thought of them before. Mr. Freivokh’s answer was to abandon the parallel look altogether. This involved ditching the oblong table and replacing it with a Vee shaped one. At first sight – no use whatsoever as people at the pointy end have nowhere to put anything. BUT… if you use the Vee as a central feature, and hang a decent oblong flap on either side – bingo! there’s plenty of room for place settings on the oblongs. Also, the Vee can be played with to provide a boat shaped table, with wide stern and long pointed bow – fast and sexy. Further, the back end of the table is now much wider as well as better looking, and can have a big round booze locker. Beginning to like the idea now are we?!
So we now have berths of even width, comfortable to sit on and with better stowage behind. Leaving the aft end of our new berths attached to straight bulkheads would restrict the length, so here comes the next cunning twist. The front end of both galley and chart table can be lengthened, and therefore enlarged, by angling the bulkheads to give them a swept back look which adds to the general air of curvy modernity.
Add in hemispherical sinks (why did we put up with flat bottomed sinks in sailing boats?). Add in raised chart table lockers (allowing the table surface to be much bigger – surely everyone‘s ideal). Add in a big squashy chart table seat with PVC covers and curved squashy seat backs (why perch on a cloth seat in wet oilies when you can be embraced in luxury?).
I’m sure that one can find lots more clever little improvements. It would be good to have a comment from Ken himself. The overall impression is so amazingly different that it is scarcely believable that, under the skin, these are Spirits, Merlins, Tempests, Storms and Typhoons. A transformation indeed.
So why were these boats such a total failure, in commercial terms? Probably, the changes were just too much to take in. That was certainly my own feeling. Boat interiors had all looked the same since the last time Westerly took a big step forward in the late 70s, with the GK29s and Konsorts leading in to the look of the 80s and 90s followed by almost every boat built in Britain since. So many of us had been looking down our noses at the stark Beneteau interiors, that we could not see Ken’s ideas as anything more than a mistaken leap in that dreadful direction.
In fact, and with hindsight, these are wonderful designs, with more interesting colours, new woods, more curves, more comfort, better stowage, better galleys, better chart tables and a fresh, bright, light and truly interesting look. One person’s breath of fresh air may be another’s draught, but as fresh air types, living in a modern world, buying new design in every other walk of life, isn’t it time we gave these super boats a second look?”