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The Westerly Owners' Association - Definitive Guides

The Centaur

(First published in WOA magazine No. 51, Winter 1993)

Dennis Rayner's designs had launched Westerly as a successful company, but by 1967 it was felt that fresh ideas were needed for a new range for the 1970's. Jack Giles of Laurent Giles had recently launched "Bluebird of Thorne", a 50 foot twin keeler, for which he had done extensive tank testings. The tank testings decided it; he was the man to approach for state of the art twin keel designs.

The first effort was a bit of a disaster, since Laurent Giles had come up with what amounted to a development of the existing Westerly 25, which David Sanders thought was "all curves and no substance." David Sanders was very disappointed and said so to Jack Giles who immediately perked up and said "so you want a proper yacht?"

At this stage I can do no better than to produce the words of Jack Giles from his press release of March 1969:

Westerly Centaur
L.0.A.: 26ft.
L.W.L.: 21ft. 4ins.
Beam: 8ft. 5ins.
Draft: 3ft.
Working sail area: 341sq ft.
T.M.: 6 tons
Designers: Laurent Giles & Partners Ltd.
Builders: Westerly Marine Constructions Ltd.

To be commissioned to design for Westerly Marine was indeed a challenge. With the resources of their own Research Department allied to a highly developed production line and a keen Buying Office there seemed to be a danger of too many outside pressures working on the Designers.

In practice we found that this was not so, providing trouble was taken to appreciate and allot priorities to the requirements of the various departments concerned and provided we were prepared to work within a reasonable, but tight, time table.

The first result of this co-operation, the "Centaur", has a very low waterline over beam coefficient, a clean canoe body and twin bilge keels of aero-foil section.

The power installation has its propeller working in clear water and the balanced skegiess spade rudder provides ample control under sail or power.

Under sail the boat performs remarkably well to windward at a very modest angle of heel and under power did all that was expected of her and, in addition, showed unusually good handling characteristics when going astern.

The layout below decks is spacious for a boat of only 26 ft, overall having four comfortable 6ft. 6in. berths, a separate toilet compartment and a dinette arrangement which can be converted into an additional double bunk. Despite the space below decks, there is still a 6ft. 6in. self-draining cockpit, a feature of the boat which has appealed to the American market to which an appreciable number of "Centaurs" have already been exported.

The Centaur was officially launched at the London Boat Show 1969, and was an immediate hit worldwide, as can be seen from the press release. She was, and is, the perfect family yacht for all the reasons that Jack Giles outlined, but also because she was reasonably priced, and thoroughly well made. The chart below shows the years in which the Centaurs were built, the list price in those years, the last sail number issued in each year and the current value(1993, Ed.). The current values must be taken with a pinch of salt, since they are for well maintained boats, in good cosmetic condition. On the subject of maintenance and value, it is particularly important to have a steady replacement programme for any yacht so that her equipment, such as sprayhood, sails and instrumentation, is not dreadfully out of date or simply "clapped out." On the other hand, it is important to guard against the thought that spending £2,500 on vertical roller reefing will add significantly to the boat's value.

Centaur 26
  List prices Last Sail No. Current prices (1993 Ed.)
1969 £2.545   £9,500
1970 £2,790 284 £10,000
1971 £3,900 382 £10,500
1972 £4,000 616 £11,000
1973 £4,900 903 £11,500
1974   1229 £12,000
1975 £8,450 1438 £12,750
1976 £9,425 1712 £13,250
1977 £9.750 2014 £13,750
1978 £10,450 2272 £14,250
1979 £10,990 2419 £14,750
1980 £12,025 2444 £15,500
VAT started in April 1973

As far as value is concerned, the important things are her age, over all cosmetic condition and how well maintained and up to date is her basic gear. So, one can use the quoted second hand values as a guide, but bear in mind that exceptional cosmetic condition will attract an exceptional price, and poor cosmetic condition will make your boat unsaleable except at drastically reduced prices. Look after her well and she will still be giving good service in the latter half of the next century.

For the future, so long as low inflation is with us the second hand values are liable to be static, perhaps bobbing up a few hundred every 3 or 4 years. Back in the high inflation mid-eighties boom, the values were increasing at between £250 and £750 each year, but these increases are not likely to be seen again in the near future.

Throughout the life of the Centaur, and indeed every type of yacht, improvements and modifications were identified and carried out. Most of these were minor and consisted of altering the position of fittings slightly to facilitate use or production, and the occasional strengthening or re-design of fittings, such as the stemhead to take care of perceived weaknesses which appeared over the years.

Here is a list of a few of the most important changes:

  • Late 1972 B and C layout options first offered.
  • Late 1974 Saloon windows altered to ensure that the aft lower shrouds were not sited immediately above them. Up to this time the saloon windows were rather prone to leaks due to the unfair stresses caused by the after lowers.
  • January 1976 Rudder re-designed and full skeg fitted to reduce prop wash effect and improve handling.
  • Mid 1978 GRP main hatch cover replaced with transparent Perspex and a teak and holly cabin sole fitted
  • August 1980 The last Centaur was built although at least one more was home completed after that date from Westerly mouldings.

A variety of engines was offered over the years, with the first brochure talking of "petrol or diesel”. Most of the early boats had the Volvo MD 11, which rated about 16 hp. However, during 1972 Volvo offered Westerly an amazing quantity discount on the MDIIB, 25 hp diesel, which was the "recommended", (and almost the only) engine fitted from then on. Also on offer were the single cylinder MD1B, at 10 hp, the Watermota 4 cylinder 25 hp (later uprated to a massive 30 hp). and the 13 hp, 2 cylinder MD7A. I believe that the smaller engines were offered as standard with the bigger Volvo as a very cheap extra, since there are very few Centaurs with small engines, even though the MD7A would have given a top speed of nearly 6 knots

Most boat builders consider a production run of 500 boats over a ten year span to be an enormous success. The Centaur with her lifespan of 12 years and production of just short of 2,500 boats has been, since her inception, of enormous importance to the sailing public, so let's leave the last word to J.D. Sleightholme, whose conclusion to the sail test of July 1969 was "Westerly have not produced a dud boat yet and they certainly won't spoil their record with the Centaur.”