60 years ago, on the 27 September 1955, James Wharram set sail from Falmouth aboard a self-built 23ft 6in flat-bottomed catamaran

60 years ago, on the 27 September 1955, James Wharram set sail from Falmouth aboard a self-built 23ft 6in flat-bottomed catamaran called Tangaroa with two German girls as crew, with the aim of proving the double canoe design was  a seaworthy vessel.

In 1948 Thor Heyerdahl made the famous Kontiki voyage across the Eastern Pacific from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands ‘proving’ that the inhabitants of the central Pacific islands must have come from South America by sailing raft rather than from south east Asia by canoe craft.

 

James Wharram with his crew, Jutta and Ruth, in Falmouth September 1955 aboard TANGAROA

James Wharram with his crew, Jutta and Ruth, in Falmouth September 1955 aboard TANGAROA

As a disciple of Eric de Bisschop, a Frenchman discredited for his links to the Vichy regime, James Wharram was in Falmouth about to cross the Bay of Biscay and on to Las Palmas to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to Trinidad. An ambitious project to prove Thor Heyerdahl was wrong.

 

Tangaroa moored at the quay in Falmouth in September 1955

Tangaroa moored at the quay in Falmouth in September 1955

Following that first voyage, Wharram went on to build a 40ft ‘V’-hulled catamaran in Trinidad before sailing to New York and across the North Atlantic back to the UK where he became a full-time catamarn designer. Now aged 87, Wharram is still designing and build catamarans with the same philosphy of sea-worthiness, ease of building and low-cost sailing.

 

  • Mick Cane

    I was a competitor at the (1962?) GP14 Nationals at Llandudno. Racing was blown off for the day, when someone asked if there was anyone who would like to help sail a catamaran round to Deganwy. I volunteered and was introduced to “James” who came across as a bit of a tyro with neither experience nor confidence. He insisted that I should take the helm. The catamaran was different to what, later, became his signature style. It was purely a day sailer (about 18ft.) with a bridge deck and a small cuddy.
    To start we had a beat to get out past Great Orme. I was not impressed with her performance, but I was really enjoying the experience. After about an hour and a half we finally reached a position where we would probably be able to round the Orme with just one more tack, but as we moved out of its lee, the wind blew up considerably and James said he was worried about a capsize and we should turn back. As a dinghy sailer I thought a capsize was far more likely running back and said so, but he insisted. So we turned, and in an instant my opinion of catamarans was dramatically changed. She was so controllable, steering like a car, and flying along, far faster than any planing dinghy I had sailed. We got back in no time at all, and I helped him get her up the beach and snugged down for what was clearly going to be a blow. We made our goodbyes and I have never seen him again.
    Later, talking to one of the race officials, I learned to my surprise that “James” had sailed both ways across the Atlantic in cats he had designed and built himself. Several years later I saw an ad for his designs and sent away for his study plans.
    In the fifty-four years since then I have owned and sailed a variety of yachts but, after moving to NZ, was not in a position to do so. When I was able to do so I bought a Wharram “Pahi” 31, off a cabinet maker who had made a brilliant job of building her. For the sub-tropical waters here in the Far North, with many shallow creeks and tempting golden beaches,I cannot think of a better boat.
    James Wharram has been influential in the lives of so many people. His design philosophy has stood the test of time. If I should ever find myself facing a tropical revolving storm, I would have more confidence in a Wharram cat than in any other yacht I have sailed.
    James, if you should ever read this, I wonder if you remember the young lad who tried to help you get your boat back to Deganwy?