As families grow up they inevitably grow out of their boats. Rachael Sprot joins one family who’ve re-purchased the Westerly Konsort they commissioned more than 40 years ago. Has the Westerly Konsort had its day, or is it a boat for all seasons?
When fellow sailing instructor Liz Le Mare invited me aboard her recently acquired boat, I didn’t need much persuading. She’d recently married a fiercely competitive dinghy sailor, Richard, and their wedding had included a mini-regatta in Portland harbour. So I was a little surprised to learn that the boat in question was a Westerly Konsort. It didn’t seem like the natural choice for a couple who’d crossed the start line of their marriage in a Kestrel racing dinghy.
Having never sailed a Westerly Konsort before though, my curiosity was piqued. The British boat builder left an indelible mark on the cruising sailor’s psyche and my lack of experience was an omission I was particularly keen to remedy.
The name Westerly evokes a strong reaction from some. The Marmite of the boat world, their distinctive lines are unapologetically practical and uniquely British. For many, the name is synonymous with some of the most successful yacht designs of the 20th century. To others, they’re an acquired taste and, like the flared jeans or cheese and pineapple sticks of the same decade, very much of their time.
The Westerly Konsort was the last of the Laurent Giles designs before the switch to Ed Dubois. With their trademark knuckle bows and bulky coachroofs, the earlier Laurent Giles models now look very dated. With the Westerly Konsort, though, these features are softened. In boat design evolutionary terms, she represents the missing link between the two subspecies.
At first glance the Westerly Konsort is a fairly conventional design, but in one dimension she was unusual: her beam. At 3.3m, it’s equal to that of a Sadler 34 and considerably out-girths her peers. Not only this, but she also carries it well aft and well forward. It was a bold move that paid off: the voluminous interior was a hit and over 700 Konsorts were made between 1979 and 1991.
A family affair
The day before the test sail Liz announced that her mother, Juliet, would be coming along, and that Bifrost was actually Juliet’s boat. It turned out that Liz’s parents, Juliet and Anthony Austin, had commissioned her at the 1979 Earls Court Boatshow.
After several years cruising the English Channel during school holidays, life became busier. By 1984 they’d relocated to Kent and reluctantly, Bifrost was sold. The
boat had been a wonderful part of their lives, but everything has its season.
Thirty-eight years later, Anthony had just walked Liz up the aisle before his health dramatically deteriorated. He was ill in hospital and Juliet and Liz were on their way to visit him when they received a phone call out of the blue. It was Juliet’s cousin. ‘I’ve got this boat called Bifrost and your name’s on the papers,’ she said. ‘We can’t cope with her any more, I don’t suppose you want her back?’ They agreed immediately.
Article continues below…
Yachting Monthly reviews the Sadler 29
In the 1970s, Dufour was France’s biggest yacht builder, launching a plethora of new models including the Dufour 2800, which…
That was June 2022. Liz collected the boat which had been lying in Chichester Marina partially abandoned and started restoring her. By now Juliet was caring
for Anthony full time and hadn’t managed to visit the boat. Almost a year later, with her 79th birthday approaching, Liz asked Juliet what she’d like. ‘I just want to sail Bifrost again,’ she replied. The photoshoot for this article coincided perfectly, and almost 40 years since the boat was sold, they were reunited.
Built to last
It was an emotional moment as Juliet walked down the pontoon towards her new old boat. ‘Well darling,’ she remarked to Liz, ‘I know you said she was a bit battered, but she’s considerably less battered than me.’ The hulls were built to Lloyd’s approval and they’re generally acknowledged to have very substantial layups.
The decks are balsa-cored, although plywood pads beneath deck fittings and a hardwood kingplank on the centreline should give some protection against water ingress and flexing. We put the foredeck to the test by hoisting and gybing spinnaker that afternoon, and there didn’t appear to be any areas of softness. It helps that they’re unlikely to have been stressed by racing or major offshore passages.
The hull-to-deck join is disguised under the teak rubbing streak which gives the hull extra protection and Bifrost’s topsides were in good condition for a 43-year-old boat.
The mast is deck-stepped with cap shrouds and lowers terminating on separate chain plates with chunky tie rods in the saloon. On an old boat it’s reassuring
that things weren’t whittled down in pursuit of pace or profit.
The Konsort came with a choice of keel configurations: bilge keel being the most popular, some fin keels and a handful of lifting keels. Bifrost has a fin keel with a
1.6m draught. The early boats had a plywood stiffening matrix around the keel, but this proved to be inadequate and Westerly soon swapped to a top-hat style foam-cored matrix, which was much more substantial. Bifrost, like many of the boats with the original design, has been upgraded.
Stepping on board there’s an immediate sense of security. Her beam provides plenty of form stability, the stanchions are a decent height and the side decks are wide enough to move along with ease. The shrouds are set in board allowing safe passage along the side decks. The high coachroof means that the teak grab rail on top is within easy reach.
You might not buy a Westerly Konsort with spinnaker work in mind, but the foredeck is an excellent platform for sail handling if you feel the urge. Not only is it wide, but the volume copes well with the weight forwards. Two of us set up the pole without worrying about trim. A lesser boat would have protested at such flagrant disregard for gravity.
The cockpit is one of my favourite features. The coamings are deep and it feels safe and enclosed with the forward end protected by the high coachroof. ‘Once the sprayhood’s up,’ remarked Richard, ‘you can hunker down behind it and stay totally dry.’
There’s plenty of room for four when sailing. In harbour, lift the tiller to the transom hung rudder and you’ll accommodate eight for sundowners (don’t forget the cheese and pineapple). Originally mounted on a moulding across the transom the previous owners had moved the traveller to the middle of the cockpit. ‘I think it’s a mistake,’ Juliet rued, ‘it was so nice to have it out of the way.’ A deep cockpit locker on the starboard side swallows up liferaft, dinghy and fenders, as well as giving access to the engine and stern gear.
There was a light south-easterly breeze as we motored out of Portsmouth Harbour. Juliet took the helm looking as though she and Bifrost had never been apart. Liz hoisted the main from the cockpit: almost all the lines run aft making her easy to sail short-handed.
We unfurled an enormous genoa and set off upwind, making 3-4 knots in 6-9 knots true wind. She wasn’t particularly close winded but we made 50° apparent despite the old sails. ‘Bifrost has always been a quick boat,’ remarked Liz. She won her class in the Round The Island race in the 1980s, surfing at 12.5kn round
the back of the island.
She also took first place in the Westerly Konsort regatta last year, despite the handicap she gave to the bilge keelers.
She coped better with the light airs than I’d imagined, aided by the generous genoa which, though awkward to tack, it would be a shame to cut down. In Bifrost’s case the lack of self-tailing winches could make long beats hard work but the rest of the time you need the sail area.
‘You know,’ said Juliet wistfully, ‘I’ve never helmed this boat under spinnaker.’ Whisper the word to a dinghy sailor like Richard and consider it already flying.
We set up for a broad reach and in the light airs Bifrost ambled downwind sedately. Easing the pole forwards we came up to about 110° apparent before the guy needed re-rigging around a stanchion. With the pole aft she ran down wind comfortably. Unlike the fine-ended designs of the same era, which have a tendency to roll, she felt stable on the deeper angles.
We made a couple of end-for-end gybes and I was impressed that we could rig all the right lines to all the right places – it would have been harder on many modern boats with their minimalist cockpit layouts. With the spinnaker apprenticeship complete, and the Westerly Konsort’s docile temperament confirmed, we returned to Portsmouth Harbour.
Originally fitted with Volvo 25 or Bukh 20 engines, many have been upgraded, often with the Bukh 24, like Bifrost. Bukh engines have a reputation for being reliable and easy to maintain. We made 4.4 knots at 2200rpm with a dirty bottom and fixed, 3-bladed prop. ‘She’s a 5-knot passage boat under sail or power’, said Juliet.
It’s the interior that’s the major selling point though. You feel as though you’re in a boat which is 3-4ft longer. The layout is typical of its era with a large quarter berth on the port side and forward facing nav station. The quarter berth is enormous, almost a true double, or useful stowage.
The L-shaped galley to starboard is small but snug. It accommodates a proper cooker, cool box in the work surface and single sink. There’s stowage in the lockers behind the stove and cubby holes for crockery built into the aft bulkhead, with additional lockers in the saloon and behind the seats.
Admirals and admirals
Some people find the size of the engine box an encumbrance, but it does give good access for major repairs. It also creates an excellent platform to transition between above and below decks.
With room for two in the generous companionway, there’d be no fighting over who’s the admiral. The saloon feels light and spacious. Head room of around 6ft is impressive on a boat under 30ft. The table was originally bulkhead-mounted, though Bifrost had been upgraded with a fixed one mounted on the centreline.
Forwards of the saloon bulkhead there’s a heads compartment with sliding sink on rails and large wet locker opposite. The huge vee berth beyond is another major selling point and makes living aboard a realistic prospect.
Built to be rebuilt
Saggy headlining haunts boats of this era. Bifrost’s wasn’t in bad condition but it’s a job that will certainly need doing every so often.
The joinery has withstood the test of time. There’s lots of solid teak which would respond to a rub back and varnish, and teak-faced plywood bulkheads were unblemished by blooms of damp. In places where the veneer had broken down, such as the galley, it would be easy enough to replace a panel. Liz commented that she hasn’t had to pump the bilges in almost a year of ownership.
The Westerly Owners’ Association is a treasure trove of information. Forum topics include 3D printing obsolete hatch hinges. It tells you a lot about the people who buy these boats and also that these vessels will reward you if they are looked after properly. Because the underlying build quality is good, they can be given a new lease of life.
Back to the future
Coming back into Port Solent I noticed the full length chine of Sunsail’s modern Jeanneaus. Did that bulky bow have its genesis in the Westerly knuckle, I wondered? Perhaps Laurent Giles was more visionary than we give them credit for – flares are back in fashion after all. For everything there is a season, and
the thing about seasons is that they come round again.
The Westerly Konsort will please all kinds of sailors. She’s forgiving on novice crew yet she’s also set up to be sailed properly. ‘She’s our Round Britain boat,’ Liz explained, though I couldn’t help thinking she might be Richard’s ‘Round the Cans’ boat too.
At under £20,000, the Westerly Konsort makes cruising an achievable reality for many. Juliet, once a scholar of Norse mythology, chose the name Bifrost because it’s the bridge between the realm of humans and the realm of the gods. ‘In other words,’ she explained, ‘it’s the bridge to your dreams.’
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA) www.bensutcliffemarine.co.uk
From a surveyor’s point of view, the Westerly Konsort 29 is a well put together yacht, with good quality plywood bulkheads that were properly bonded in. Early versions featured a fold-down saloon table and a Volvo Penta engine, with later versions being fitted with a Bukh engine.
Look out for deck movement. All Konsort 29s have a balsa core, and I’ve witnessed problems when owners have fitted extra deck fittings for boathooks and cleats, and haven’t thought to remove the core and fit a proper backing pad. When it comes to mast steps, look closely for any potential slumping of the deck moulding. It’s a common issue on many yachts when the builder uses a section of plywood and it gets wet over a long period of time. Rudders are transom hung, so look out for wear and movement of the gudgeon and pintles and tea-staining of both rudder and transom fastenings from hidden corrosion.
The craft came with three versions of keel – lift, fin and the popular twin keel arrangement. Inspection of the fastenings and the condition of the reinforcement around them is important. If you have any concerns, then the keel/s should come off. When doing a survey I like to do a tip test on the keels and see if the laminate around the keel root has any movement. While keel root failures are rare, I’ve had a few in recent years where they have taken the ground with every tide over many years. Many of the craft do suffer from damp hull laminate that can be dealt with.
Enjoyed reading this?
A subscription to Yachting Monthly magazine costs around 40% less than the cover price.
Print and digital editions are available through Magazines Direct – where you can also find the latest deals.
YM is packed with information to help you get the most from your time on the water.
- Take your seamanship to the next level with tips, advice and skills from our experts
- Impartial in-depth reviews of the latest yachts and equipment
- Cruising guides to help you reach those dream destinations