A History of the Westsail
I was recently asked to try to remember how Westsail started, and what my involvement was in the grand scheme of things, so I will try to put it down in an article or two.
Back in the dark ages ( the late 1960s) , Larry Kendall and a group of 4 or 5 other boatbuilders wanted boats for themselves, but did not want to build wood hulls. They chose, instead, to pool their resources, make a mold, and build fiberglass hulls for themselves, each helping the others do the lamination, but paying for their own materials and a share in the cost of the molds. They picked the Atkins 32' Thistle design, and had the naval architect Bill Crealock modify the lines slightly, and advise them on the design details.
The guys laminated their hulls, and started building, with flush decks. They were all lined up in a small yard in Costa Mesa, with an old house in front, used as an office, and a small garage, used for laminating and as a workshop. Other interested boatowners and builders would come by, and ask if they could get one of the hulls for themselves. Most of the guys only wanted a boat for themselves, but Larry was able to convince the rest to let him use the mold, and so the Kendall 32 was born. Larry also put a small ad in Yachting Magazine, and got a very big response. He was able to build about another 25 or so hulls, before the real world of trying to operate a business on a shoestring, and being a better boatbuilder than a businessman, caught up with him. The bank and the feds closed in on him, and he had to declare bankruptcy.
Snyder and Lynne Vick had been watching Larry build boats, and decided they wanted to go into the boat building business. They made a deal with Larry that if they could get the mold at the auction, they would hire Larry to build at least two complete boats he had orders for. As the story goes, the auction opened up, Snyder made a bid of $1000, the auctioneer slammed down his gavel, and the auction was over. I talked to some other people who were at the auction, and were also interested in the mold, but they were out of luck. Despite protesting to the auctioneer, the deed was done.
The two owners who wanted complete boats both wanted a trunk cabin rather than flush decks, so Larry built a trunk cabin deck on hull #33, fiberglassed it, then made a deck mold. They laid up a fiberglass deck, and put it on hull #32. Hull #33 was a ketch rig, with wood masts, and #32 was a cutter rig, also with a wood mast. While these were being built, Lynne, who had her own advertising business, was busy enticing people to buy their new Westsail 32s. She and Snyder were soon able to get orders for four complete boats.
Hull #33 was completed first, and when #32 was almost complete, Larry and Snyder had a falling out. Actually, it was Larry who fell (or jumped) out of the company van, with Snyder driving, as Snyder's dog was attacking Larry in the van, going down a sidestreet in Costa Mesa. Now Westsail had four orders, and no production manager to build them.
This is the point at which I stepped into the picture. At the time, I was working for another boatbuilding company, setting up their production line, and had the job almost completed. Lynne Vick was doing the advertising for that company, and she asked the owner if he knew of anyone available that could set up a production line and manage the workforce to build these first four boats. I was recommended, and within a few weeks I was working for Westsail.
The workforce was small, about 15 hippie boatbuilders, a secretary, and myself. We inherited from Kendall a small yard, with a house for an office, and a garage to do inside work. The yard still had a number of the Kendall hulls in various stages of completion by their respective owners. Half the crew worked Monday through Thursday, 10 hour days, and the other half Tuesday through Friday, also 10 hour days. That way we had everyone available three days a week, and a smaller workforce on Mondays and Fridays. We used those midweek days to have the manpower to move molds, and do lamination.
We would move half the hull mold into the garage (as that is all that would fit), laminate that half, then move it outside. We would then move the other half in, laminate it, then move it outside. We had to do the joining of the two halves of the mold and the centerbond lamination outside, as the garage was not big enough to hold the entire mold. We laminated all four hulls, then all four decks, before starting the completion work on the boats. The newest guy on the crew had the distinct pleasure of doing the centerbond lamination down in the bottom of the aft end of the keel. We usually tied a rope to him to be able to pull him out when he passed out from the fumes. Of course, there were also other plumes of light blue smoke drifting around the yard (remember, this was the early 70s), and the good stuff was coming over from Maui, and readily available without hassle from the cops.
The first four boats that Westsail built were:
W32 #37 Misty for Ty Knudson – still named Misty owned by Larry Rouse in SF W32 #38 Ten Brooks for John Whitney – now Sumna owned by R. J. Burns in CT W32 #39 Inoui for Louis le Clerc – now Restless owned by Ed Rogers in OR W32 #40 Petrel for Fred Dennis – still named Petrel owned by Watson Ackart from GA
Each of these four boats had something different in the layout. If my memory serves me, some with a portside dinette, some with center table, some with lockers forward instead of a single berth, etc. I believe all had teak decks, Volvo engines, some with spruce wood masts and some with aluminum masts, etc. They went out the door at the hot price of about $25,000 each.
I will continue to try to recall what happened in those early days of Westsail history, but forgive me if I have memory lapses, after all, it has been about forty years now since those fun days of building the new Westsail boats.
During the time we were completing the first four boats, the company had been able to get orders for four more complete boats, plus some kits, so we were off and running. We decided to build six complete boats, plus the kits in this production run, using the same small crew, and the same location.
- W32 #41 Alondra was a kit and it still owned by Mel Smith of WA
- W32 #42 Born Free was a complete boat
- W32 #43 Sunrise was a kit for Ralph Alder, one of the original Kendall employees
- W32 #44 Blue IV was a kit
- W32 #45 Nan Browning was a kit
- W32 #46 Wandarer was a complete boat
- W32 #47 Karen L was a complete boat
- W32 #48 Quimera was a complete boat, used as a demonstrator by Westsail
- W32 #49 Summer Wind was a complete boat
- W32 #50 Panacea III was a complete boat
While we were working on these boats, the company made a decision to move to larger quarters, and set up a production line, instead of building one at a time. We found space at a nearby boatbuilding facility, Crystaliner Corporation on Placentia Street in Costa Mesa. Crystaliner was noted for the construction of powerboats for the Harbor Patrol and Lifeguards, as well as doing excellent fiberglass lamination. We contracted with them to do all of the fiberglass lamination for the Westsail boats, and it proved to be a very good decision. The Westsail boats have never had any serious problems with the fiberglass lamination, despite some blistering that has occurred on just about every fiberglass hull laminated with polyester resin.
We built a long, four foot wide and eight foot high scaffold setup, where we had room for four boats on each side, and room under the scaffolding for saws, workbenches, and storage rooms. We also had rolling end scaffold pieces for working on the bows and sterns of the boats. Space was rented on the waterfront for a commissioning dock and demo slip, as well as a waterfront sales office, in addition to the yard sales office. Lynn Vick was doing a great job in advertising and promotion, and the orders started rolling in, especially after we had #48 in the water as a demo boat.
Some of the more notable early boats were W32 #51 Catapha, built for Dave White, who sailed her to Japan on a single-handed race. W32 #52 Aegir, built for Len Thornbeck, who went to work for Westsail as an engineer and salesman, and worked on improving the sailing performance of the boats. W32 #54 Pegasus, built for John Carson, who sailed the boat to the South Pacific, and later did a lot of promotion and sales on the boats. There was W32 #58 Lezarder, built for Anthony Clark, son of a prominent Southern California swimming pool builder, and a true hippie, who I had to refuse entry into the building area until he put on a pair of shoes. He also sailed the boat all through the South Pacific, as his father just wanted him out of the way. W32 #64 Pelican was a kit boat sold to Tim O'Conner, a Hollywood actor who also had a television series at the time, and did some promotion for the company. Del Bair, who opened a Northwest sales office, took the first Westsail to Alaska, purchased W32 #67 Tenaru.
By now, it was late 1972, early 1973, and the orders were flowing in. Westsail was putting a demo boat into the major boat shows across the country, and the lines were the longest of the boats in the shows. This was the time of inflation in the country, and an interest in second homes, condos in vacation areas, and buying a boat and taking off to see the world. The promotion and advertising that Westsail did tapped right into this new trend. It was a time when the small home that was purchased for $5,000, or inherited from the old folks, was now worth $50,000 or more. You could sell the homestead, buy one of these Westsail boats for $30,000 or so, load up with supplies, and still have money left over to cruise on.
By the middle of 1973 we were building W32 #100, and the company put on a big party for all of the employees, and announced that we were backlogged with another 100 or so orders, and that they were negotiating to open an East Coast plant in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. This plant was opened in the fall of 1973, and a number of West Coast employees went back to start it up, along with a local plant manager who came out to learn our construction methods.
By now, the original Kendall hull mold was getting very tired, and because the method of hull to deck attachment was very labor intensive, we decided to build a new hull mold, with an improved hull to deck attachment method. The Kendall hull mold did not have any flange on the hull, plus the ends did not have the distinctive dipped down look of the Westsail 32. Each hull had to be cut down on the ends with a saber saw, and a wooden sheer clamp bonded and fastened to the top edge of the hull to attach the deck. Then the exterior joint had to be filled, sanded, and gelcoated to match the sheer color. Most of the other boatbuilders had an inward turning flange at the top of the hull for the deck to sit on, but they had the same problem of filling and gelcoating the exposed joint. Two of our own boatbuilders came up with the idea of an improved flange design, and it has worked so well that many other boatbuilders have adopted the design to their own boats. The molding flange was made removable, and the first two layers of fiberglass on each hull went up to the top of the mold. The molding flange was then attached to the mold, it was 1/2" down from the top of the hull, and extended 2-1/2" inward. A piece of fiberglass rope was laid in the joint, then the subsequent layers of fiberglass came up the hull and inward on the flange. When the hull was out of the mold, it had a strong inward turning flange, plus a thin piece of hull extending 1/2" up. The deck was laid on the flange, with the outer edge trimmed so that it was just inside of this piece of hull, sealed with caulking and screwed down. Then this piece of hull was sanded down to match the deck flange. Now the joint was buried under the caprail, and no touchup was required.
Another improvement we made on the new deck mold was to make the cockpit walls and bottom flange part of the deck, with a removable floor. Previously we had a full cockpit tub that had to be installed, and the top flange buried under a teak coaming piece. A new rudder was also designed, with a straight trailing edge parallel to the leading edge, and more area down at the bottom of the rudder. A set of fiberglass gudgeons for the hull was designed, with bronze pin in the rudder. This replaced the stainless steel straps that were being used that were subject to electrolysis.
In continuing to recall what happened in those early days of Westsail history, I do remember these incidents.
With both plants going full tilt, and a very large backlog of orders, we were straining to get production up, and then we were hit by the oil embargo crisis in late 1973 and early 1974. I trust many of you remember the long lines at the gas stations, and the shortage of heating oil. Well, the boatbuilding industry had a real shortage of resin, which of course, is a byproduct of crude oil. All the boatbuilders were put on a quota, based on how much resin they had purchased in the past from a particular supplier, and also how much they were willing to pay for a gallon of resin. Without resin, we were stopped from laminating hull and decks, and of course, production would grind to a halt. The time was ripe for the bootleggers to appear on the scene. We would get a call from one of our "sources" that a few thousand gallons of resin was available, we would negotiate a price for it, and set a day for delivery. Actually, the delivery was at night, and about 2 AM an unmarked tanker would show up at the back gate. We would have the necessary number of empty 55-gallon drums available, and crew to unload the resin. A few hours later the tanker would be empty, our drums full, the cash would change hands, and the truck would disappear into the night, no questions asked. It was hard to say who formulated the resin, or where it came from, but the lamination foreman would take some samples, determine the correct catalyst ratios for this load, then mark the drums accordingly. I don't think we had any particular problems with the resin we acquired this way, however I do believe that for most of the boatbuilders, it lead to the beginnings of the blistering of the underwater portions of the hulls that was experienced by most fiberglass boats in later years.
We had requests from many interested buyers that the Westsail 32 was too small for them, and could we build a larger version. We contacted Bill Crealock, our Naval Architect, and he had a design for a long keel, canoe stern sailboat that he had worked out, and thought we might be able to use. The hull was 42' 11" long on deck, 32,000 lbs. displacement; and he had two different deck designs, one a center cockpit version with raised house and aft cabin, and the other a long trunk cabin version with aft cockpit. Not being able to choose which one to build, we decided to leave it up to the prospective buyers. A decision was made to have a sales meeting of all of the people who had shown an interest in a larger Westsail, and whichever version had the most interest, we would build first. Over a hundred people showed up at that meeting, and Bill Crealock and others gave talks about the new boat. As it turned out, we received about ten orders for a center cockpit version, and about four for the aft cockpit version. The die was cast, and now we had to come up with a name for the boat. It was a marketing decision by Lynn Vick that won out, and thus the Westsail 42 became the center cockpit version, and the Westsail 43 name was reserved for the aft cockpit version, although both would use the same hull from the same mold.
This was now the spring of 1974, and I was put in charge of getting the hull and deck plugs and molds built. I hired Dale Greer, a very experienced boatbuilder whom I had known for a number of years to build the plugs and molds, and he did a very good job completing the project, and well within budget.
Another production manager was hired to keep the 32s coming off the line, both in kit and complete versions. The kits pretty well kept the cash flowing in, as we could laminate a hull and deck, install the ballast, main bulkheads, deck and rudder, and have the kit ready to ship in less than a week. The company got paid for these boats even before it had to pay for labor at the end of the week, much less for materials which were on a 30 to 60 day open account. A finished boat at this time took about 1600 to 2000 man-hours to complete, in about a six to eight week time period.
Two events then conspired in late spring of 1974 to cause me to leave Westsail. One of my responsibilities was to keep track of the labor hours and cost, and the material costs, going into the boats. I did an analysis of costs at this time, and because of the resin shortage, and generally escalating parts costs, the material costs on the boats had risen dramatically. Even more so, the man hours and labor costs had risen because, in an attempt to increase production, we had to hire many more workers who were not as experienced, and also our old timers had to spend time teaching the newcomers how to build the boats. An average complete boat with some factory and sales overhead included, which had been costing us about $18,000 to $20,000 to build, was now costing us $24,000 to $28,000 to build. I brought this information up at one of our regular Monday morning management meetings. The sales manager brought up the fact that we were taking orders at about $40,000 for a complete boat, so what's the problem. I brought up the fact that we were not delivering boats that he had just taken the orders for at $40,000, and that because of our backlog, they would not be built for a year or more. The boats that were coming off the line now were ordered 6 to 8 months previously, at a selling price of $26,000 to $30,000. With any dealer commission figured in, we were losing money on each boat we delivered. We were making a good profit, and good cash flow, from the kits, but not from the complete boats. My suggestion at that meeting to solve the problem was to not give a boat coming off the line today to someone who had ordered the boat six months ago at $28,000, but to give it to someone that had ordered last week at $40,000. The idea did not go over with a bang with top management, nor with the sales department. Oh well !!!
The other idea I proposed was regarding special construction on the complete boats. Early on, we offered any buyer choices of interior layouts and special items, such as sit-down writing desks, special sailing hardware, etc. Now, in an attempt to increase production, the new production manager made the decision to only offer a limited number of choices, and if someone wanted a special item, then the sales department would tell them to buy a kit and have a custom builder construct it for him. I proposed to set up a special area in the yard, with a few very experienced boatbuilders, and an engineer in charge, to build these special boats for anyone willing to pay the extra costs necessary. This idea was also shot down. Oh well, again !!!
I left the employment of Westsail in the middle of 1974, and at the time they had about five million dollars worth of orders on the books, and a half million dollars of customer deposit money in the bank. Two and a half years later, in the spring of 1977, they filed for bankruptcy, owing about ten million dollars to suppliers, employees, the government, and to customers for orders taken, deposits made, and nothing to show for it. Oh well, it wasn't MY problem anymore !!!
I decided to start my own company in 1974, Worldcruiser, with the idea I had about building special boats for special customers with a small crew of very experienced boatbuilders. I also decided to not build my own molds, but to buy hulls from the production boatbuilders who were offering kits for sale. After building about 100 boats in about 10 years, I decided to stop building, but continue offering parts, information, and surveys on Westsails. I am still doing that after almost another 40 years, but maybe now I would like to retire. However, you owners won't let me, as you keep calling at all hours of the day and night, and on weekends too, crying "Bud, help me, my boat is broke and I need help fixing it".
The final chapter of the Westsail history is in part 4, but the boats live on and are being used, and some abused, worldwide.
The middle part of the Westsail story, from the time I left in the middle of 1974 until the bankruptcy in the spring of 1977, I cannot say too much about as I was not there. There was a nice article in the Nautical Quarterly about Westsail.
Here is the last of the Westsail story, as far as I knew it.
At the time of the bankruptcy of Westsail in 1977, Hans Weerman, the plant manager for Westsail who replaced me in 1974, made an offer to purchase the company. It was approved by the court, his Dutch relatives put up the money, renamed the company Westsail International, and he ran it for two more years.
In 1979, they decided to close down because they were not making any money, and sell off the molds and equipment. At the sale auction, Ed Parker, who owned P & M Worldwide, a small fiberglass laminating company in Perris, CA, purchased the 32 and 39 molds. Don Jones, who owned Jomarco, a small boatbuilding company in Santa Ana, CA, purchased the W42 and W43 molds.
The W28 molds were purchased by someone else, and he shipped those molds to Mexico, and never did build any boats from those mold. He did call me and ask me if I wanted to come to Mexico and build boats there, but I declined. I saw the hull mold years later near the highway next to a tortilla factory between Guyamas and San Carlos, Mexico. The chickens were living in the molds.
Ed laminated a few W32s and W39s, and sold them as kits. He shipped the 39 molds to Taiwan, and had a company there build two boats for him, while he and his family lived there and he supervised the construction. He had the 39s shipped back to the US, he and his family returned to the US, and eventually he sold the two boats. The yard in Taiwan eventually contracted with another company who wanted to import the 39s, so they built them and they were brought into the US as the Fairweather Mariner 39.
Don Jones built a few W42s and 43s, and the last W43 was one he kept for himself. He was also building a 55' Roberts design, and called it the Jomarco 55.
By the mid 1980s the boatbuilding business was flat, and many of the companies in Costa Mesa decided to close down. Since Ed had a large piece of property in Perris, he offered to store any molds there, if he could use them to laminate boats when he had a customer. A win-win for both his company, and the other companies that wanted to hold onto the molds instead of cutting them up. He eventually had the W42 and W43 molds there when Jomarco closed own, as well as some Columbia, Islander, Downeast, and other company molds. He even had all of my scaffolding there when I closed down my boatbuilding company in 1988.
When Ed decided to sell his property in the early 1990s, he contacted everyone he could to come get their molds, or he would give them away, or the new owners would have them cut up. Someone from the San Francisco Bay area took the W32 molds. I could never locate who it was, but I heard that they were possibly in Petaluma. Another person got the W42 and W43 molds, and took them to Kinney, TX. To my knowledge, he never did build any boats from them. The chickens enjoyed their Mexican home in the W28 molds.
Here is the numbers of boats from my records. I can't guarantee it is absolutely correct, as I am missing some of the numbers, and there may be some errors in the latter numbers.
- W28 - #1 to #78 by Westsail
- K32 - #1 to #31 by Kendall
- W32 - #32 to #825 by Westsail and Westsail International who took over after the bankruptcy in 1977
- P & M Worldwide - another 9 from the W32 molds
- W39 - #1 to #6 by Westsail
- P & M Worldwide - another 7 from the W39 molds
- W42 - #1 to #116 by Westsail
- Jomarco - another 3 from W42 molds
- W43 - #1 to #55 by Westsail
- Jomarco - another 6 from W43 molds
Now you know the rest of the story.