One of the roomiest cruisers of her size, the Konsort is also known for her solidity, interior finish and easy manners. No wonder she’s such a popular second-hand buy, says David Harding
Back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, a family looking for a new cruising yacht of just under 30ft (9m) would have been almost spoiled for choice.
Britain’s ‘big three’ builders each offered an excellent boat: Westerly were flying high with the Konsort, Moody had replaced their 30 with a new 29, and Sadler’s 29 had plugged the gap between the 25 and 32.
With alternatives including such evergreens as the Mirage 28 and Cobra 850, there was something for everyone – whether they preferred fin or twin keels.
The most popular home-grown cruisers of the day gave people the choice but invariably sold in far greater numbers with twins.
Leading the way in the smaller size range was the ubiquitous 26ft Westerly Centaur, launched in 1969 and, after well over 2,000 boats, nearing the end of her production a decade later.
Come 1978, the next boats up in Westerly’s range were the 31-footers: the Renown, Pentland, Berwick and Longbow, between them offering a choice of sloop or ketch rig, twin or fin keels and aft or centre cockpits.
Like the Centaur, they sailed better than they looked but were discontinued shortly after the arrival of what was to be the last model from the drawing board of Westerly’s long-time designers, Laurent Giles.
The Westerly Konsort, introduced in 1979, was the 29-footer (8.8m) that had everything.
For a start she was enormously beamy, her 3.27m (10ft 9in) between the gunwales being 42% of her waterline length.
Together with the full bow, broad stern and plenty of freeboard, the beam gave her an interior volume that practically matched that of her 31ft sisters.
The other point about the interior was that it was nicely woody.
Whereas the Centaur sometimes attracted criticism for her caravan- like styling and finish, the Westerly Konsort followed the approach developed in the 31s.
No interior mouldings were used and all the woodwork was bonded directly to the outer hull. It created the feel of a hand-crafted yacht – which she was.
No Westerly cruiser of this era was offered without twin keels – even the 36-footers.
If one model was available only with a fin, a hull-sister would have two keels and a different name (as in the case of the twin-keeled Centaur and her fin-keeled sibling, the Pembroke).
The Westerly Konsort came with a choice of fin or twin, called the Konsort either way and proving most popular in twin-keel form. A few were also built with swing keels.
While giving her more beam for her length than any earlier model, Laurent Giles made sure she was still unmistakably a Westerly, incorporating the distinctive knuckle in the bow shared by everything from the 21ft 6in Warwick up to the largest models in the range.
They did, however, fit her with a transom-hung rudder. A practical and economical solution, and one that maximised space in the cockpit, it wouldn’t have worked on the Centaur or the 31s because both were available as centre- cockpit or ketch-rigged variants.
Above the straight-topped coachroof sat a conventional masthead rig of modest proportions.
As was the norm in those days, the headsail provided the bulk of the sail area although the boom was long enough to allow the mainsheet to be taken – at an angle – to a traveller across the wide transom.
Other traditional Westerly features included the trademark blue non-slip deck paint and a toerail in teak rather than the aluminium favoured by some of the competition.
The Westerly Konsort was no beauty but she hit the spot and became an instant success.
She was never a cheap boat and still isn’t by many standards, holding her value if well equipped and maintained.
If you buy a Westerly Konsort and look after her there’s a good chance you won’t lose any money.
She’s a boat that’s always likely to be sought after by people wanting something solid, roomy, forgiving and easy to handle, and that’s why she caught John King’s eye when he was looking for his first cruiser two years ago.
John’s alternatives were smaller boats, including the 23ft Westerly Pageant and the Centaur’s successor, the Griffon.
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However, the Konsort’s extra space, combined with her reputation for being undemanding, made him think that it would make more sense to buy the larger boat rather than to start with a smaller one that he might want to switch a year or two later.
He’s happy that he made the right decision. Sarnia is a twin-keeler built in 1983, and John reckons that a boat with full standing headroom, space to relax down below in comfort and enough size, weight and power to take most conditions in her stride makes for more relaxing sailing.
I joined John for a sail from his winter base in Chichester Harbour when a good 20 knots from the north east was kicking up a lumpy sea in Bracklesham Bay.
Downwind the Westerly Konsort proved why she has a reputation for being faster than she looks, rapidly sliding through the lee of a larger cruiser and soon leaving it well astern.
Once far enough from land to have space for an upwind leg, we sheeted in and headed into the breeze.
With John’s consent I opted to hold on to full sail to see how Sarnia handled. You learn more about a boat when pushing her beyond the comfort zone.
Besides, the Westerly Konsort has a reputation for being stiff, under- canvassed in light airs and able to carry full sail when others need to reef.
I was about to see whether asking her to carry it upwind with 25 knots over the deck was pushing things too far.
We took all the usual steps to de-power the rig as far as possible without reefing, including tensioning both mainsail and headsail halyards, moving the genoa cars aft, flattening the mainsail’s foot and dropping the traveller well down the track.
Sarnia responded by plugging upwind remarkably comfortably, clocking between 4 and 4.5 knots most of the time depending on the size and steepness of the waves.
It was a day when being slightly over-canvassed was a help, not just from the testing perspective but also to drive through the waves.
There’s nothing worse than being under-powered, bouncing up and down in the lulls and wishing for more sail.
As ever when over-powered it was a matter of sailing along a fine line: a few degrees too deep and the boat would heel over before rounding up in protest, though not until the gunwale was nearly awash.
Sailed too high she would lose power and stop. In between she was quite happy, heeling no more than 15° or so and remaining nicely balanced with a beautifully light helm.
When she was pushed too hard, the weight on the tiller would increase progressively as the gunwale approached the water, giving ample warning before the rudder finally lost grip.
While reducing sail would have made life easier in some respects, this was a good test and one that proved her tolerance and capability.
For a chunky twin-keeler with a three-bladed fixed propeller it was a more-than-creditable performance.
Having to power through the waves took a few degrees off our pointing so we tacked through around 90° on most occasions.
There’s no reason why the tacking angle of the fin-keeler should be any different – as you would expect, it just goes faster and makes less leeway.
The lower centre of gravity should also add a little stiffness.
During tacks on Sarnia, the only problem I found was the babystay interfering with the genoa.
Together with the genoa’s substantial overlap it would make short-tacking rather laborious and call for plenty of energy from whoever is winding the Barlow 23 primary winches.
Reaching along in a breeze is what she likes best. We clocked 7 knots at times and I could easily imagine a fin-keeler with a folding prop surfing away merrily.
Heaving-to presented no problems. The boat was reluctant to gybe around with the sheets pinned in but could just be persuaded to by some judicious rudder-wiggling to re-attach the laminar flow.
A relatively blunt, high-volume hull like the Westerly Konsort’s is never going to slice through the waves as cleanly and smoothly as a slimmer one.
On the other hand it does seem to keep the crew dry: only rarely during our sail did any spray find its way back to the cockpit, where the helmsman can sit either on the seat, legs braced across to the leeward side, or on the flat-topped coaming.
The upper perch is tolerably comfortable even if the guardwires are too close outboard to lean back against.
Partly thanks to the transom-hung rudder, there’s enough space in the cockpit for four without over- crowding. The absence of an aft cabin beneath also makes it nice and deep.
Having the mainsheet across the stern works well: it’s easy to reach yet clear of the cockpit.
Just take care to flick it across above head-level during a gybe.
A large locker occupies the space beneath the starboard seat and the gas bottle lives in the stern.
Treadmaster provides the grip on the coamings and cockpit sole, the seats being finished in Westerly’s distinctive blue non-slip paint that’s used on the deck as well.
Deck paint has always struck me as infinitely superior to moulded-in surfaces.
It provides an excellent grip, reduces glare and can be made to look like new – in the same or a different colour – for the price of a tin of paint. It’s extraordinary that so few other builders have done the same.
Moving forward along the Konsort’s wide deck, outside the cap and lower shrouds, is easy. On the wide foredeck is a chunky central cleat and a hawse pipe for the anchor chain.
Anyone used to modern production boats with large aft cabins and layouts based on interior mouldings will find the Westerly Konsort very different below decks.
Because there’s no aft cabin, the saloon is further aft in a beamier part of the hull and, as a result, it’s larger than on most boats of this size. The settee berths are wide and parallel.
Plenty of teak and teak-faced ply is nicely finished and bonded directly to the outer hull – still the best way to make the structure visible and easy to reach as well as to minimise wasted space.
As is traditional in boats of this era, the forecabin is separated from the saloon by the heads to port and a hanging locker to starboard.
Areas sometimes criticised on the Westerly Konsort include the quarter berth and chart table to port: because the chart table’s seat is the head of the berth, they can’t both be used at the same time. Standing at the chart table solves that problem.
Between the chart table and the galley on the opposite side is the projecting engine box.
Inside this Westerly fitted engines mainly from Bukh and Volvo. The box’s top makes handy additional work space for the galley, where it’s otherwise in short supply.
History of the Westerly Konsort
Introduced in 1979, Westerly’s last design by Laurent Giles remained in production until 1992.
Over 600 were sold in the first six years, after which the price rose steeply and only a further 100 left the factory.
About 150 of the 704 Konsorts built are fin-keelers.
The same hull was used for the Konsort Duo, a motor-sailer with a large deck saloon and comfortable accommodation for two people.
The Konsort’s hull is a solid laminate of chopped strand mat, reinforced with rovings in high- stress areas.
A balsa core is used in the deck. Westerly had an in-house Lloyds surveyor and all boats were issued with a Lloyds hull construction certificate.
Keels are bolted to shallow moulded stubs.
Point to look out for if buying a Westerly Konsort from Westerly specialists
Konsorts are known for having relatively few structural weaknesses. Nonetheless, some points are worth checking.
- Like many builders, Westerly used orthophthalic resins until the mid-1980s and cases of osmosis are quite common.
- Chainplates are prone to fatigue and corrosion where they pass through the deck but are relatively simple to replace. Worth checking too is the reinforcement in the hull that distributes the load from the keel(s). The plywood used in early boats was less robust than the chunkier, foam-cored sections used from 1981 onwards. Fin-keelers especially should be inspected because of the lack of depth beneath the floorboards and the bottom of the hull on the centreline. Boats that have grounded or been badly shored up during winter storage are most likely to have problems. Keel bolts that have been glassed in rather than simply gelled over ask for special attention: someone might have been trying to hide something.
- Transom-hung rudders are easy to inspect but also more vulnerable to damage than inboard rudders. The Konsort’s gudgeons and pintles are joined by a rod and not especially robust. They are, however, simple to change.
- On deck, the gelcoat is prone to deterioration from UV degradation and star-crazing is common.
- Below decks, the ‘Westerly droop’ is by far the most common problem, where the vinyl headliner starts separating from the deckhead.
If you want curvy lines and a double aft cabin, the Konsort’s not your boat. If, on the other hand, you want space, security, a good cockpit, surprisingly good sailing performance, positive handling under power, a roomy and nicely finished interior, structural solidity and proven resale value, she should definitely be on your list.