The Seahawks and their sisters

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The Seahawks and their Sisters

(First published in WOA magazine No. 54, Spring 1995)

The first Seahawk came down to Hamble Point Marina in August 1984, so as to be tried and tested in time for the launch in late July 1984 for the Southampton Boat Show. She neatly filled the yawning gap between the Fulmar and the Corsair, which had been introduced in 1980 and 1983 respectively. This gap had been created by the demise of the Discus, the last of which had failed to sell at the 1983 Southampton Show.

The first few Seahawks had a very small cockpit locker lid, which went down like a lead balloon and was corrected in record time (I think the first one with the big lid was number 4). Aside from that, it was a pretty good first shot by the design team, who had had a lot of practice with new models by that time.

The extraordinary thing about the Seahawk is the volume and headroom of the after cabin. This had been achieved by giving her a deeper bustle than the Corsair, and dispensing with the after heads, which left lots of extra room for the bed. The result is positively palatial, with a full size double bed, lots of floor space and a hand basin too.

In addition the cockpit floor had been moved as high as we dared, which gave standing headroom under the cockpit seats, so that the galley could be placed in the walkway to the after cabin, without sacrificing anything in the way of space or height. This resulted in about half an acre of worktop which we thought we would try with a tiled surface, with plenty of room for a proper fridge underneath it.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free lunch, so all this aft end room had to be paid for. The price was a smallish heads, less than usual stowage in the saloon, and a not very big forecabin. Well worth it though, when you think that there isn’t a boat under 40′ with so big a back end. I suspect that this arrangement allowed many a lubberly wife to give in gracefully to male demands for a sailing toy.

So, now that we have a smashing boat, selling like hot cakes, we need to expand the market. The first step is an aft cockpit version, the Falcon, which duly arrived during my 1985 summer holidays. I missed the chance to sail her before the Show, so that it was a delight to find how well she went, during the rest of that winter. She seemed to point higher, and stand up to her canvas better than the Seahawk. This was odd at first sight, because the hulls are identical. However, the deck of the Falcon (and thus her centre of gravity) is lower than the Seahawk, and the lower cockpit keeps the crew weight lower still. These two factors have a powerful effect on stiffness, hence the better upwind performance of the Falcon.

Step 2 in the now highly marketing orientated company we had become, was to give both boats some sort of face lift, to generate a new sales surge. The addition of a "sugar scoop" stern a few extra lockers and an all teak interior may seem small beer, but made a big difference to their appeal.

They are tall boats, so that the "sugar scoop" provides a near sea level platform and a safe refuge en route from dinghy to deck, especially for little ones. Also, the ash linings and bulkheads in the originals are a bit like modern art, all very well as an abstract concept, but not very comforting in the home.

All this "fanci-fication" happened in time for the London Boat Show of 1988, at which both the Seahawk 35 and the Falcon 35 were present. Sales picked up nicely for a while, but the recession loomed as the decade came to a close. Nevertheless, Westerly were determined to be able to bring something "new" to Earls Court 1991, so another revamp was put in hand, by the new company. This was called the Oceandream.

The Oceandream (or Seahawk Mk III, as I rudely call her), was really a cosmetic exercise, and fooled nobody. The idea behind the name change was to "re-position her in the market", to align her with the "Ocean" range, as distinct from the aft cockpit boats. At first it was intended that there should only be a centre cockpit version, but towards the end of 1992, someone persuaded Westerly to build an aft cockpit version, using the Falcon’s deck of course.

The Southampton show of 1993 saw the inception of the Regatta range, which really separated the ranges. At this time the Seahawk saw her final change, to the "Oceanquest". Now this is a real change, for although the hull is the same for both centre and aft cockpit variations, the interiors are radically different.

The centre cockpit boat is now a four berth luxury yacht, with centre line double beds forward and aft, and a saloon dedicated to living, not sleeping in. In addition the heads have moved aft and grown and the galley has moved over to the starboard side and reverted to the traditional U-shape. The Seahawk Mk IV is a big and bold step away from tradition, and it works wonderfully. What a delight to have such commodious berths and such a comfortable saloon!

Naturally, such a big step sideways has its price, and this is the total lack of seaberths, but help is at hand. The aft cockpit version of the Oceanquest (or Falcon Mk IV, as one might say) is nearly identical to the previous Falcon marks, with quarter cabin, seaberths in saloon and two heads. Have Westerly finally produced the boat to suit everyone? Well, I doubt it, since you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but what a super pair of twins these boats are.

On the engine front, the 34’s always had the Volvo 2003, three cylinder 28hp fitted as standard. This changed with the new Volvo 2030’s in the Oceanquest. We believe that one or two may have had the turbo version of the 2003, which gives 42hp, and I think one had a Perkins Prima 29hp. The original Volvo can be relied upon to give her a good turn of speed (in the region of 7 knots), and is highly efficient in tight corners. Indeed, the 34’s are the most incredibly easy boats to handle in marinas, and one soon learns to be able to do anything required under power. In 1993 the saildrive version was offered with the Quests, but has not proved popular, so that only a few have been fitted.

Two saildrives had to be fitted to specially made Quests that went to Lake Windermere. They were also given lead keels, which dropped the draft to a mere 3 feet.

The twin keel Seahawks proved very popular in Brittany, although the French tongue has trouble with the last syllable, which means they call them "Seawalk". I know that one went to Japan, and we had a call from a man in Venezuela, who was en route to the Pacific in his fin keeler.

And finally we must not forget the Rivieras, which were built on the hull of the Seahawk 35, and so are at least kissing cousins, if not precisely sisters. They first appeared at Southampton 1988 and we sold 15 straight away. They were offered with the 28hp 2003 engine and a single heads forward. However, the twin options of turbo-charged 43hp Volvo, and aft heads were almost universally chosen.

The design of the coachroof differed from the usual practice, by being a cantilever, which meant that no weight was taken on the windows. This is a terrific theory, but the resulting stresses mean that the boat is not the same shape in the water as out, so that doors never open or close when ashore, if properly adjusted for being afloat. The rig set-up was responsible for the problem but the riggers came up with a solution, so if you are having trouble with your doors, or the in-mast reefing, call Westerly after sales.

The windscreen itself was given a special test rig at Lloyds behest, and proved to be safe at 1 metre below sea-level, with a safety factor of 3 (I believe). In September 1992 she was given a new windscreen, split into three parts and with alloy frames. This was partly cosmetic and partly to try to stop the little leaks that often occurred in the corners of the old windscreen.

There is an unfortunate Catch 22 which all builders of motor sailers discover. To start with, they are more expensive to build, due to the extra work that goes into the wheelhouse, the bigger engine, and the more luxurious spec. The higher price means that they have a smaller marker, which means amortising the development costs over a smaller number of boats, which makes them more expensive, which means they have a smaller market, which means….see what I mean?

Nevertheless, we built 72 Rivieras altogether, with the last few going to the continent, and about twenty exported to Japan, as a result of our tie-up with Mitsubishi. In motor sailer terms, she was a great success. (‘Was’, because the last one was built in 1992, and they no longer figure on the price list).

For the record, there were 125 Seahawks produced between 1984 and 1988, another 40 SK35’s made up to 1990 and 8 Oceandreams built in 1991 and 1992. There are a further 42 Oceanquests built, with nine more on order as I write. Of the Oceanquests, some are aft cockpit versions.

68 Falcon 34’s were made between 1985 and 1988, 19 FN35’s were afloat by the end of 1990, and 5 Kestrels (the aft cockpit Ocean-dream) were built in 1992.

71 Rivieras and 307 Seahawk/Falcons gives a total of 378 hulls so far. (written 1994, Ed.) This makes her the most successful Westerly in build. Oh, to be a designer, with royalty cheques rolling in.”