Westfield Engineering

The Kingfisher range of yachts were all designed by R.A.G. Nierop. ARAes, AMIBE  and built by Westfield Engineering Co. (Marine) Limited, Cabot Lane, Creekmoor, Poole, Dorset, England from 1959 to 1978. In 1978 Managing Director R.A.G. Nierop retired handing over the construction and marketing of Kingfishers to Moorstream Ltd. (Kingfisher Yachts) It should be noted that a few if any  yachts in the interim were built by Trapper Yachts. Kingfisher Yachts ceased production in the early 1980's.

Power and Sail talks to Mr R.A.G. Nierop, Managing Director of Westfield Engineering, builders of the Kingfisher range of yachts.
‘We started building 15 years ago, building dinghies, just little family sailing boats and we went onto build the Kingfisher 20 and that’s been in production ever since, almost unchanged. We did change it about six years ago when we built the 20-plus which had a different rudder arrangement and a slightly different stem, but structurally and internally it was the same.’

‘We exhibited a couple of times at the New York boat show and one or two other places, and quite a lot of boats did go overseas’.

The Kingfisher 20 was to Mr Nierops own design. ‘Before that I was an aircraft designer’ he said. ‘I wasn’t a keen yachtsman, in fact we built dinghies before I’d even been in a boat, but I happened to go for a fortnights cruise with my next door neighbour and was rather bitten by the bug so I designed this 20-footer. There is a lot of design theory for aeroplanes and boats that is similar, but I think its an advantage not having been brought up in the boat trade as it enables one to think freshly on this. The layout on the 20 even now is very popular indeed. I think it was probably the first 20-footer to have a separate toilet and four-full length bunks. It’s got two seven-foot bunks in the main cabin and two six-foot-four in the front cabin.’

‘What we’ve always concentrated on, not only in the 20 but in other boats as well, is strength’

'Wherever we can , we stress everything, making it twice as strong as it needs to be, then add a bit more for luck. I think of all the boats we’ve ever built, we’ve never had a fitting break or pull off – at least, if it has happened no-one has ever reported back to us.’He continued, 

‘The 30-footer came about eight years ago, and was completely a new design – not a stretched 20.’

Asked if he produced boats with other than bilge keels, Mr Nierop replied: ‘We make twin-keelers, not bilge keelers. The boats are designed as twin-keel boats, although we once made a fin-keel 20 just to see what the reaction would be. Nobody wanted it, and there was no difference in performance anyway. In the end we sold it to someone in Scandinavia.’

‘These twin keel things have been winning all the local races, and they’ve made transatlantic crossings and other long trips too.’

Elaborating on the construction of the keels, Mr Nierop explained these were quarter-inch steel plate fabrications with the lead run into them. This only takes up a depth of four inches at the bottom enabling the rest to be used as a fuel tank.

These are bolted to the hull with half-inch stainless steel bolts every six inches on each flange – about thirty in all.

‘Boats have been dropped off trailers, run onto the rocks and yet we’ve never had a keel move,’ said Mr Nierop.

'We’ve built about sixty 30’s and have only just started producing the "S". The difference is in the rig. The boat has a higher mast and correspondingly bigger sails, high aspect ratio, slightly heavier rigging on the cap shrouds, a few more sophisticated gadgets. There is an internal outhaul on the boom, flattening slab reefing, stretch luffs on the foresails, internal halyards, and two-speed winches and an extra four hundred weight of lead in the keels.’

‘Structurally and in layout she’s identical, but the 30 is still the family cruising boat. The 30S is the GT version for somebody who likes to twiddle with the sails.’

'Mostly we find the kind of people buying a 30 are dentists, opticians, doctors – people like that. Most of them seem to have pretty big families, and a lot of them sail with six aboard. A number of boats also go to charter firms. Eight out of ten boats produced stay in this country, and are fairly well spread round. Yet even though she is ideal for drying out moorings many are used where they are afloat all the time.’

sked the secret of his twin-keel designs’ good performances he replied: ‘The majority of similar boats are bilge keelers as opposed to twin keelers. They have a central skeg and then a couple of plates just stuck on either side. No consideration is given to the flow of water.’ 

General Comments

The earliest Kingfishers had glass fibre keels moulded in one with the hull; the disadvantages with this method of construction were quickly discovered and were constructed from cast iron or, in the case of the Kingfisher 30, from mild steel fabrications.

Each Kingfisher 20 was issued with a Series Production Certificate which states the craft is built in accordance with the drawings approved by Lloyds.

Whisper Lloyds Certificate.jpg (33783 bytes) Please click the thumbnail to see a copy of a Kingfisher 20 Plus registration certificate. On the Kingfisher 20 Plus the Lloyds number can be found on the underside of the starboard after deck.

Three classes of certification are available for the Kingfisher 30

1. "Moulded under Lloyds supervision", which refers only to moulding work itself; its workmanship and compliance to approved drawings.
2. "Lloyds 100A" which ensures that the craft is completed in accordance with the very stringent rules laid down by Lloyds.
3. "Lloyds 100A1" which is an extension of the 100A classification, covering the type and size of anchors and cables to be carried.

From an article ‘Very Special Cruising Yachts’ by Spencer Armsdon

When yachtsman discuss cruising performance somebody is almost sure to mention Kingfishers and one hears such comments as "they’re real seaboats – they’re tough – they’re different". It was to investigate this difference that I visited Westfield Engineering Company (Marine) Limited who build these boats in Cabot Lane, Creekmore, Poole Dorset.

Westfield have a large modern factory at the end of a dusty lane and there is an all pervading smell of polyester resin. The man I wanted to see was R.A.G. Nierop, Managing Director of the company and designed of all the Kingfisher range. After some delay he was located under one of the yachts where he had been discussing some minor modifications with the Shop Foreman. On hearing the purpose of my visit he simply said "Go anywhere, see everything, meet the men and then we will have a talk"

I was taken first to the moulding bay. A light and airy inferno of roaring air compressors, howling choppers and hissing resin sprays- -all under the watchful eye of Idge Zakrzewski, a small man of almost unlimited stamina. Every Kingfisher moulding comes under his critical supervision and as there are over ninety moulds in use, he is a busy man. He explained to me how the shop temperature is controlled and recorded and how moulding thicknesses are checked by precise observation of the weight of glass and resin used. I could have spent all day in this interesting department but there was a lot I wanted to see so we moved on through the small engineering section into the Assembly Bay. Here the atmosphere was quite different, almost hushed, with only the occasional whine of a diamond router disturbing the peace. The air of relaxation masks the activity of a highly skilled team of men who build these boats and bestow on them care and attention with a single minded determination that each boat should be as perfect as their efforts could make it. I met "Chas" Johnson, the Shop Foreman, and Colin Young and Chris Marsh who are in charge of assembly and engine installations respectively.

At the time of my visit a hull was being drilled for skin fittings and I took the opportunity of observing the hull thickness, amazing – surely a special hull I suggested, but no, pockets were turned out and cutter cores from about half a dozen hulls were shown to me, all of the same tremendous thickness. Could this be the clue for which I was searching? It was. In no time at all I was presented with examples of strength which would not have disgraced a battleship - mast beams cut from 5/8 steel plate, massive stem fittings of cast bronze, stainless steel rudder shafts almost too heavy to lift and hull to cabin joints made with 200 stainless steel bolts.

By now "Chas" and his team were really enthusiastic and with obvious pride showed me some of the ingenious features of these remarkable boats. Curved soles and bunks, complicated one-piece mouldings, anchor lockers in the fore deck, slatted sliding doors. Keels used as safety tanks for the fuel, cooker and gas bottles, which are gimballed as one unit and many other features. I had seen some of these ideas on other boats at last year’s Boat Show, presented as innovations but Kingfishers introduced them years ago. What a pity so few people realise the contribution made by Westfields to the development of cruising yachts.

By now I had seen so much that I was glad to retire to the Reception Office where I met Brian White, Co-Director of Westfields, Norman Young, Buyer, and Vince Saxby, the Works Manager. The walls of the offices were lined with charts showing voyages made by Kingfishers. No cross channel stuff here – charts of the North and South Atlantic showing Chay Blythe’s 18,000 trip in Dytiscus III made with only three hours previous sailing experience. Blue Smoke’s course in the Round Great Britain Race in which she came second and the Single Handed Transatlantic Race in which she did even better, winning the Monohull Handicap and being the first monohull under 30ft to cross the finishing line. What a performance for a 26ft twin keel family cruiser and just to prove the point she sailed back again across the Atlantic. I was assured that these impressive voyages and many others were made by standard boats not strengthened in any way – the only special equipment being such essential things as self-steering gear, radio D/F, extra water tanks, etc. Beside enjoying the activities of their own association. Kingfisher owners appear to use the Company as an unofficial club and often call in to tell of their cruising experiences and more recently, to discuss features for Westfield’s next projects! – a forty eight footer and the inboard version of the Kingfisher Twenty Plus. Westfield’s stand at the boatshow is always an interesting and popular meeting place.

I tried to find out why these boats are so remarkably tough and I think the answer lies in R.A.G. Nierop’s earlier training as an Aircraft Designer and his insistence that, by test or calculation, every part of the boat must be designed with a really generous factor of safety.

Westfield’s development method is interesting. First the hull is built to accurate line drawings, then everything else is done by full size mock-ups. This enables all the layouts to be tried out in practice and probably accounts for the neat and practical deck layouts and accommodation for which Kingfishers are noted.

My visit to Westfields has been interesting and exciting. I had learned so much about the men who build Kingfishers and about the boats themselves. I can only say with enthusiasm that Kingfishers are real seaboats – Kingfishers are tough - - - Kingfishers are different.

Colonel 'Blondie' Hasler and his involvement with Kingfishers

Colonel ‘Blondie’ Hasler was best known for two projects, the Hasler/Gibb vane steering gear and the Chinese rig which he first used on Jester, a boat which since 1960 had made numerous transatlantic crossings without mishap.

Hasler did not invent the Chinese rig but what he had done was to investigate and experiment with ways of applying the basic idea to boats of European design. Technically this type of craft is known as a Lorcha. Hasler has applied his accumulated knowledge to a production boat so that his research dating back to the early 60’s is available to us. He has taken the standard Kingfisher 20 Plus, twin keeled cruiser and fitted her with the Chinese lugsail. The boat was sold under the name of the Hasler/Kingfisher 20 Plus; an earlier title of Minion  having been discarded.