Why did I decide to buy a Westerly Centaur? Clearly months of research went into such a significant decision, didn’t it? I’d like to say yes, of course, but actually that couldn’t be much further from the truth!
I’ve wanted a yacht for many years; probably most of my life! I grew up on the banks of the River Stour on the Essex/Suffolk borders, and still spend as much time by the river as I can. My family have always been into boats; my grandfather was a very keen sailor and an astonishingly good amateur boat builder. When I was a babe in arms I went out in his Drascombe Lugger, and subsequently his Cornish Coble.
When I was probably about eight, my grandfather built four Optimists, one of which came to my brother and I. I spent many happy hours in my Oppy, and subsequently progressed to a Topper. By the time I got a Topper of my own, I was spending most of the summer on the water with my my brother and our two best friends, having all kinds of adventures. Our favourite activity was for the four of us to take three Toppers out and switch around, capsizing, jumping off, swimming from boat to boat, and racing. So much fun!
When I was a little older, my parents also bought a Cornish Coble, which we still have. The Coble is the perfect estuary sailor, and I’ve had hours of fun taking my friends, and subsequently my own family, sailing around the Stour. We’ve ventured to Manningtree for an ice cream, to Stutton Ness for picnics, to Harkstead to walk to the Baker’s Arms, to Shotley to visit my grandparents, to Pin Mill to visit the Butt and Oyster, and the Walton Backwaters to camp on Stone Point.
Throughout all this I’ve always hankered for a yacht; a boat in which we can venture further afield, make a cup of tea, use the loo, and sleep overnight. Since I’ve got married and had two children, this hankering has only grown.
I’ve had a (rather half-hearted) boat fund for some years, and, despite looking at yachts from time to time, it didn’t ever feel like the right time.
Sadly, in 2020 my grandfather passed away. It was he who gave me my initial sailing experiences, who built me my first boat, and who taught me so much about boats and the skill of sailing. He left me some money, and it seemed only fitting that I should invest this in a yacht. So the search began.
One of my friends at Wrabness managed to buy a Micro for next to nothing. It looked like a great little boat with a good turn of speed, and also potentially the space for my son and I to go off on the occasional overnight trip.
I found a Micro for sale in Manningtree (where else?) and went with my mum, my wife and my son to take a look. It quickly became clear that this wouldn’t be the right boat for us; just not enough space, and too rough and ready. I was a little disappointed.
I found myself reflecting how much I really wanted a boat. It was clear that if I was to achieve my dream, I would have to commit quite a bit more money to the acquisition of a boat. I decided that yes, I did want a yacht, and that there would never be the right time to make a purchase. Aware that I was not getting any younger, and neither was my family, I decided to take the plunge, find a boat, and make a purchase.
My next thought was to buy a Cape Cutter 19. I have long admired the Cape Cutter, and it seemed like the perfect boat for us; four decent berths, not too large, easy enough to pull out and store on a trailer in a field, and offering decent sailing on an estuary. It quickly became clear that Cape Cutters are not too easy to get hold of! I found a possible boat, but it was in the Lake District – a very long way away from the east coast! I researched how much it would cost to get the boat delivered to Wrabness, and it wasn’t a stupid amount of money. I tried to arrange a viewing – but got precisely nowhere.
It seemed to me that Cape Cutters, although not reaching the ridiculous prices of something like a Norfolk Gypsy, are not cheap for what they are. I started shopping around a little more to see what I could get for my money. I quickly found a number of Westerly Centaurs advertised at a reasonable price (less that I had been looking at spending on a Cape Cutter), but offering a lot more boat – 26 foot, as opposed to 19 foot.
In August 2020, we managed to escape the pandemic for a few days in France, and on our return opted to spend a quasi-quarantine period in Sussex rather than heading straight back to Wrabness. Whilst at home in Sussex I found what looked like a Centaur in excellent condition, and advertised at a sensible price. I contacted the broker and arranged to visit the boat at Titchmarsh Marina that same day. We all jumped in the car and drove up to Essex.
The boat in question was, of course, Goshawk, and I was immediately smitten. From the outside she looked exceptional, especially considering her age (she was launched in 1973). She also looked pretty good in the cabin. Sitting in the cabin looking around me at the space available – four decent berths, one in a separate cabin, a loo in a proper heads compartment, a decent saloon and galley – it occurred to me that a Centaur would be absolutely perfect for my family. It also occurred to me that Goshawk was in superb condition, and that I was unlikely to find a better example of such an elderly boat.
Keen to avoid a rash decision, I drove home to think about whether I should buy Goshawk. I spoke to my uncle, a keen yacht sailor, who advised that Centaurs are excellent boats, but the asking price was on the high side. He suggested that I make an offer subject to survey, and got a qualified yacht surveyor to take a good look over her.
So that’s what I did! I phoned up the broker and made an offer, which was rejected. He came back with a counter offer, which I accepted, subject to survey.
Goshawk came through the survey with glowing colours, and a short while later I took possession of her.
Subsequently, I’ve done some online research about Westerly Centaurs, and it appears that I made a very good choice. It transpires that the Centaur is one of the most popular British boats ever launched, with 2,444 built between 1969 and 1984. A significant number are still around today, and they have diehard fans. Designed by the very highly regarded Jack Giles of Laurent Giles, they were the first mass-production yacht to be tank-tested in the design stage. Centaurs were designed with state of the art twin keels – which, for an east coast sailor, is absolutely ideal. They have been a popular choice with families as they are well-built, strong, safe and sail well. For my family and I, the Centaur looks like the perfect boat!
Hopefully that will prove to be the case when we get Goshawk in the water in a few weeks time, and spend the coming year getting to know her better.