Tributes have been paid to pioneering multihull designer and sailor James Wharram, who has died aged 93
James Wharram, considered by many as the father of modern multihull cruising, has died, aged 93.
The free-spirited sailor and designer specialised in double-canoe style sailing catamarans, inspired by the Polynesian double canoe.
Born in Manchester in 1928, Wharram designed his first offshore cruising catamaran, Tangaroa in 1953 having read about Frenchman Éric de Bisschop’s 1937-1939 voyage from Hawaii to France in his double canoe.
Determined to prove the seagoing qualities of the double canoe, Wharram, accompanied by Ruth Merseburger, who later became Ruth Wharram, and Jutta Schultze-Rohnhof, sailed his 23ft 6 inch multihull from Falmouth across the Atlantic to Trinidad in 1956.
Wharram wrote about crossing the Bay of Biscay in Tangaroa for Yachting Monthly in 1956, going into details about the catamaran’s performance, easy motion and stability. This was in direct contrast to the then held opinion that a motion of a catamaran would be worse than on a keel yacht.
Three years later, having built the 40ft Rongo on a beach in Trinidad with the help of French sailor Bernard Moistessier, Wharram, Ruth and Jutta sailed to New York before crossing the North Atlantic – the first ever North Atlantic West-to-East crossing by multihull.
James Wharram started designing for self-builders in 1965.
Along with his partners Ruth Wharram and Hanneke Boon, he created distinctive V-hull double-ended catamarans, from 13ft to over 60ft, selling more than 10,000 sets of plans.
Wharram believed in a ‘less is more’ approach to boat building, and all of his boats are of simple construction, aimed at amateur boat builders, including the Tiki 21, Cooking Fat, which became the smallest catamaran to sail around the world when skippered by Rory McDougall from 1991-1997.
In May 1992, Wharram launched the 63ft Pahi, Spirit of Gaia, from his home on Restronguet Creek in Cornwall, sailing 32,000 miles around the world from England to Greece via the Pacific.
The catamaran, which has a low freeboard and trademark Wharram Wingsail Rig, was conceived as a base ship for studying whales and dolphins at sea, able to accommodate 16 people offshore.
Lapita voyage boats launched in Philippines
60 years ago, on the 27th September 1955, James Wharram set sail from Falmouth aboard a self-built 23ft 6in flat-bottomed
In 2008, Wharram’s career came full circle, when 50 years after his pioneering voyages, he sailed 4,000 miles on one of two 38ft double canoes along the island chains of the Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea and the Solomons.
Known as the Lapita Voyage, the canoes were based on an ancient Polynesian canoe hull-form, and were powered by sail alone, using traditional Polynesian crab claw sails and steering paddles.
Paying tribute to her life partner, Hanneke Boon wrote: ‘James was a trailblazer, a fighter with great determination and vision. From a young age he followed his passions – to roam the hills – for fair politics – for intelligent women – to sail the seas – to prove the Polynesian double canoe an ocean worthy craft – to become a Man of the Sea.
‘These passions made him into a pioneer of catamaran sailing and a world-renowned designer of unique double-canoe catamarans that now sail the oceans.
‘He designed for people who wanted to break out of mundane lives, gave them boats they could build at an affordable cost and gave them the opportunity to become People of the Sea like himself.’
In the last few years of Wharram’s life he developed Alzheimer’s. He died on 14 December.
‘He could not face the prospect of further disintegration and made the very hard call to end it himself. It was with great courage that he lived his life and with great courage he decided it was the time to finish,’ wrote Hanneke
‘In this moment of great loss we should all remember the good and glorious times of a life fulfilled. This is not the end, I, we, all the Wharram World will keep his work alive.’
James Wharram 1928-2021
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