David Glenn is shown aboard Willy Ker’s famous Contessa 32 Assent by her new owners, Kit and Jessie Rogers whose family built the yacht in 1972
I spent a fascinating morning recently at
Jeremy Rogers Ltd in Lymington Yacht Haven where I was shown aboard one of the
most famous Contessa 32s of all time, Willy Ker’s Assent. Willy’s exploits in
high latitudes aboard the yacht are legendary.
Only she’s not Willy’s anymore because he
recently sold her to Kit and Jessie Rogers who plan to spruce her up and go
family cruising later this year. Kit’s father Jeremy built Assent in 1972, an
early example of more than 650 32s launched.
Assent and Willy Ker spent a good deal of
the yacht’s life undertaking cruises in sub-zero conditions, her owner
indulging his interest in hydrography, safe in the knowledge that he was aboard
a very capable vessel.
Skippered by Willy’s son Alan, only 23 at the time, Assent came through the 1979 Fastnet virtually
unscathed, the only yacht to finish in the 50-plus strong small yacht class.
Assent and many of her sisters have proved themselves extremely capable yachts and their irresistible looks have stood the test of time.
The work on Assent will be carried out at
the Rogers building works in Lymington where new Contessa 32 building
re-started under the Rogers name in 1995. More than 23 new 32s have been built
and many 32s and 26s refurbished. The latest 32 will be launched this summer
for a Brazilian owner.
Much as Kit and Jessie are in awe of Assent
and her owner’s truly remarkable achievements under sail, many of them
single-handed, they are having difficulty deciding just how much work to do on
the iconic yacht.
Ker kept things simple, his DIY was
rudimentary and as long as things worked (he installed high quality
communications kit, forward facing sonar and other essential equipment) he
wasn’t too concerned about comfort or aesthetics.
In a fascinating and exclusive recorded
interview with Jessie Rogers (she once worked in radio for the BBC World
Service) Willy Ker talks about some of his close shaves with (and without!)
Assent and admits, for example, that the 10hp Bukh inboard although reliable was
inadequate. So how did he cope when he got into difficulties? “I just made sure I didn’t get into them,” he replied.
A Baby Blake, famed for their ease of
repair, a Taylor’s paraffin cooker, original Proctor mast complete with mast
steps, a toughened plastic companionway observation dome, which was
apparently a fighter plane’s cockpit canopy, are all features likely to stay.
Willy Ker’s dismissal of the engine’s
ability provides them with an excuse to replace it and there will have to be a
new water tank installed. Ker never drank from the yacht’s tanks, preferring to
source water from glaciers and streams. What now lurks in Assent’s original
water supply is anyone’s guess.
Just as I was leaving Kit showed me a copy
of Heavy Weather Sailing. It had been sent by someone who had bought it second
hand and who on opening it discovered Ker himself had owned it, his name and
address inside the front cover. Not only that, in an envelope tucked into the
book was Assent’s original logbook from the 1979 Fastnet complete with a
description of that awful storm. Due to the lack of communication Assent’s
crew, like so many others, knew nothing of the disaster unfolding around them.
What a find! It will now join a growing archive of Assent pictures and
Later this year we’ll be publishing an
account of Assent’s history and new life with the young family Rogers. We’ll
also be posting a podcast of that interview with Willy Kerr. I can’t wait!