Tips on Buying a Willard
Post #17099 to the Willard Boat Owners Yahoo Group, by Peter Pisciotta
WBO has been around for close to 20-years and about 863 registered members (though many are inactive). In the early years, we spent a lot of time discussing the various characteristics of Willards, both pluses and minuses. I noticed the query about the Nomad in Canada asking about concrete ballast and thought I'd open-up a discussion to bring forward some of the knowledge of WBO's old timers.
My best thinking as guidance to folks considering an older Willard:
GENERAL: Willards were always built to a price-point. There were a few 65-foot yachts that were built to higher-end yacht standards, but the production line of trawlers are heavily laid-up hulls, but most other items are average at best. The folks at Willard were decent manufacturers, but not really boaters. Contrast this with the folks at Nordhavn/PAE who spent a lot of time aboard their boats (sure, it was largely for marketing purposes, but still, they tested their product in real-life open-ocean conditions).
HULL: In general, Willard's have a well designed hull which is generally well constructed, though prone to blisters (see below). The original Willard - the W36 - was built on a hull designed by Bill Garden, a legendary naval architect from the PNW. With the exception of the W30 Cutter Rig (designed by Crealock, the designer of Pacific Seacraft sailboats), subsequent hulls for the W30 and W40 were designed by Willard's in-house naval architect, Rod Swift. These are ballasted, full-displacement hulls with soft chines. They are fairly easy to initiate a roll, but after 10-15 degrees, stiffen considerably due to the ballast. If you are an ex-sailor and sold on the benefits of a full displacement hull, you have few choices, especially in affordable options. I happen to love life at jogging speed, so the Willard's full displacement is fine by me.
TOPSIDES: In general, the topsides are of fair construction - moderate plywood with glass over. If surviving a rollover is your goal, it's the wrong boat. I have about 20,000 sea miles on me, and have never come close to a rollover nor do I personally know anyone who has either. So it's not an important factor for me, but the topsides are not nearly as beefy as the hull.
BALLAST: Part of building an economical boat is concrete ballast. My W36 has about 7000 pounds of ballast, and is strengthened with steel punchings. This technique has been used for a very long time and is fine, though not the best practice in the industry. Problem is when the concrete sits wet for a long time. Concrete isn't 100% water tight, so eventually the water penetrates and the steel starts to rust. As the steel rusts, it expands and cracks the concrete. This can be a real problem - ballast can dislodge, and if it happens around the prop shaft, it can dislodge the shaft itself. HOWEVER, this is really rare - there are a few Willards that have had this happen - the two that I have direct knowledge of had very wet bilges for a very long time (one had been submerged for a while due to a hurricane). But if you don't want concrete ballast, well, Willards aren't for you either.
BLISTERS: We did a poll several years ago. About 70% of the Willards had blisters. Almost all are below the waterline, but there are some with topside blisters. I know of no instances where the blisters are structural and I personally do not care that my boat has 100's of blisters. But if you are the type of person who will freak out when you haul and see blisters, well, chances are you'll be bypassing a lot of Willards looking for one that is blister free.
CORED HULL: I do not have much direct knowledge, but I believe there are a few W40's in the 1980's that had cored hulls (Ron Rogers - do you know more???). Krogen 42's had cored hulls and had issues - I believe WIllards had few issues as the fiberglass is thicker, but it's still something to think about.
FUEL TANKS: This goes for any boat, not just Willards. Steel tanks rust - if the boat has steel tanks, its a potential problem if there is moisture (common source is from the deck-fill plates leaking). The W40's have a great tank layout - single thwart-ship tank that stays super dry. Most W36's had fiberglass tanks, which I like a lot (mine has steel). The W30's had steel tanks. Look for moisture.
ENGINE CHOICES: Vast majority of Willards came with a Perkins, though a few came with something else (I've seen a couple GMCs in W36's). They were all fresh water cooled, with raw water water pumped through the exhaust manifold. The Perkins 4-108 (4-107 in the earliest W30's) were relatively reliable, and about the best small engine available at the time. I consider them a fairly high maintenance engine - oil leaks, rebuild the injection pump, exchangers, etc. But solid little engines. The W40's mostly came with Perkins 6-356 engines. These are decent engines, but some have aluminum in the exhaust manifold that can be an issue if there is any deterioration of the o-ring that isolates from the raw water. Not a big deal, just something to watch out for.
INTERIOR: Utility grade. Most had wallpaper that has long since deteriorated. Many have some rot around the windows - not an awful repair if needed. The overall quality of the interior is average - windows and ports are generally lower-end, The curved front windows on the W36 can be very difficult to get fixed. Best bet is to attempt a DIY repair with a heat-gun. I believe there are instructions in the archives somewhere.
RUDDER: My old 1972 W30 Searcher had a bronze rudder, which is very stout. My 1970 W36 has a fiberglass over stainless steel webbing rudder, which is common for many boats (most sailboat rudders are built this way). Eventually, water intrusion into the fiberglass has the tendency to corrode the SS webbing and it breaks.
LATER W30's. Starting sometime in the mid/late 1980's, Willard redesigned the W30, and only built in the Sedan version (well, almost - one "liveablard" style was built). Some/all of these had a vee-drive engine in the aft lazarette. Free's up a lot of room, but it's tight in there - engine maintenance is a consideration.
Hope this helps!