About James Wharram Designs

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James and Hanneke in the design studio with Amatasi model
James Wharram and Hanneke Boon

Who Are We?

James Wharram Designs are designers of unique double-canoe style sailing catamarans inspired by the canoe craft of the Pacific. They have their headquarters on the shore of Restronguet creek in Devoran, Cornwall.

James Wharram was the pioneer of offshore multihulls, making his first Atlantic crossing by catamaran in 1956 and the first ever North Atlantic West-to-East crossing by multihull in 1959. He started designing for self-builders in 1965. In 1973 Hanneke Boon joined him and became his co-designer.

Wharram designs are based on years of practical, hands-on experience of building and sailing ocean-going catamarans.

Wharram designs are renowned for their seaworthiness, stability and safe simplicity. Ask any ocean sailor and they will have seen Wharram catamarans in far off ports of call.

Designs from 14’ – 63’ are available for self-building in ply/epoxy with very detailed, easy to follow Plans often described as 'a course in boatbuilding'.

Several franchised yards offer professionally built Wharrams.

To find more about what Wharram Designs has to offer, explore our website. If you want to build your own catamaran and experience the freedom of sailing, your dream begins here.

The Sailing Podcast - Wharram Catamaran Design with James and Hanneke

Hanneke Boon

Hanneke Boon in the JWD design studio
Hanneke Boon presenting ‘Integrating Philosophy with Boat design’ in Amsterdam.

Hanneke Boon is head of James Wharram Designs, a role she has carried out for more than ten years, whilst supporting James Wharram in his advancing years.

Born in the Netherlands, Hanneke grew up in a sailing family. She was building and sailing Polynesian Catamarans at the age of fourteen and joined the James Wharram team at the age of 20. Being a very gifted artist / graphic designer / craftworker, she became James Wharram's co-designer.

Hanneke's all-round art abilities and practical boatbuilding experience have produced some of the clearest boat building instruction plans ever produced. She has drawn the majority of the Wharram Boatbuilding Plans since the 1970s.

Hanneke made two Atlantic catamaran crossings on Tehini when she first joined the team. Since then she has sailed thousands of ocean miles, including sailing round the world on Spirit of Gaia (1994-98), a voyage to Iceland (1999) and the 4000Nm Lapita Voyage (2008-09), when she skippered 'Lapita Anuta'. In 2022 she again crossed the Atlantic as crew on Pahi 65 'Largyalo' and is now the captain of 'Spirit of Gaia', sailing her in the Mediterranean.

She has built, or taken part in building more than sixteen Wharram designs, including developing many prototypes and the 63ft Spirit of Gaia. She is an expert in working with epoxy and has made instructional videos of her boatbuilding. From 2012 – 2016 she fully restored the 20 year old Spirit of Gaia with the help of volunteers.

She now sails when she can escape the drawing board or the computer. Hanneke loves experimenting with sail-rigs and shared James' deep interest in Marine Archaeology and the origins of Canoeform watercraft.

The following video is of Hanneke giving a 'Pecha Kucha' style presentation in Amsterdam on the subject of 'Integrating Philosophy with Boat design'. This very short presentation sums up Hanneke's history from a sailing childhood to becoming a boat builder, designer and ocean sailor. Throughout the theme is 'simplicity' as the philosophy behind the designs of James and Hanneke.

At the end of James' life she helped him finish his autobiography 'People of the Sea' (published in 2020), which tells the full story of their lives.

BBC Radio Cornwall Interview - July 2023

Hanneke talks about her life as James's co-designer, her sailing adventures, design principles, and her philosophy on life and at sea in this interview on BBC Radio Cornwall. Listen below.

More about Hanneke:

  • Lapita Voyage

    Hanneke's realised vision to build 2 Tikopian double canoes and give them to the islands of Tikopia and Anuta, so they can continue to be self-sufficient and take pride in their ancient sailing heritage. The two canoes would then be sailed the 3000 miles to Tikopia along the ancient Polynesian migration route for handing over to the islanders.

  • Hanneke's Pecha Kucha Presentation - Amsterdam

    An illustrated 6 minute poem of Hanneke, from a young girl sailing with her father, ending up as a boatbuilder, ocean sailor and designer.

  • Spirit of Gaia Renovation

    Hanneke headed a varying team of helpers that have made an annual visit to Greece since 2012 to carry out maintenance work. She has written detailed blogs that cover this work in detail and we hope they may be useful to you in carrying out your own project.

  • People Of The Sea Book

    The fully story of Hanneke's life of sailing and designing with James.

James Wharram

James Wharram - British pioneer of the modern catamaran
News coverage from 1955 of Tangaroa's maiden voyage across the Atlantic.

James Wharram (1928-2021) designed his first offshore cruising double-canoe/catamaran, the 23' 6" TANGAROA in 1953, before the word catamaran was yet in common use and began sailing with her off the coast of Britain with two German girls, Ruth Merseburger (Wharram) and Jutta Schultze-Rohnhof. He was inspired to do this by Frenchman Eric de Bisschop, who sailed a double canoe from Hawaii to France in 1939. James believed in the innate seagoing qualities of the double canoe and set out to prove them with two pioneering Trans Atlantic voyages on TANGAROA (1956) and 40ft RONGO (1959). He wrote an account of these first pioneering years in Two Girls Two Catamarans.

Since then, James Wharram, has been designing, building and sailing offshore catamarans longer than any other multihull designer. Already in 1987 the 'Multihulls Buyers Guide' showed that James Wharram Designs had sold three times more plans than any other multihull designer in the world. Design sales have since topped 10,000.

One reason for this success is that James Wharram was a 'hands-on' designer having, over his lifetime, built personally many of the prototype designs. These prototypes were built in the open, in barns, workshops and all the range of building sites available to self-builders, in a variety of climate types from northern European to the Tropics.

Because James and his co-designer Hanneke Boon preferred sailing to building, they have always endeavoured to refine their Construction methods to their simplest form, following the famous Bauhaus motto "Less is More". The advent of epoxy in boatbuilding in 1980, combined with a Wharram and Boon evolved 'Stitch & Glue' building method, opened up new ways of achieving this aim.

Together with Hanneke he developed many new Appropriate Technology building methods. Of special note here are the lashed crossbeam connections and the Wharram Wingsail Rig.

Throughout his life, James has been interested in the history of Watercraft, particularly the origins of the Canoeform craft of the Pacific. He has written papers on this subject and lectured at Marine Archaeological conferences. He was made a 'Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society' for his pioneering work in this field.

In 2008, his career came full circle, when at the age of eighty, 50 years after his pioneering voyages, he sailed the arduous Lapita Voyage, the ancient migration route into the Pacific, on the Tama Moana design 'Lapita Anuta' skippered by Hanneke Boon.

In his final years he focussed his energies with Hanneke's help on finishing his autobiography 'People of the Sea'.

The charismatic James was often referred to as a 'Living Legend' or as written in 'Yachting Monthly' in January 2006: "James Wharram is considered by many to be the father of modern multihull cruising."

James Wharram passed away on 14th December 2021. However, this is not the end. Hanneke and all the Wharram World will keep his work alive.

More about James:

  • People Of The Sea Book

    People of the Sea is the life story of iconic catamaran designer James Wharram, from a Wartime childhood in Manchester, to mountaineer, to pioneer catamaran sailor in the 1950s, to designer of modern Polynesian catamarans.

  • Two Girls, Two Catamarans Book

    Written by James Wharram. A tale of adventure in the fifties, when James Wharram and two German girls, Ruth and Jutta, sailed from Falmouth and across the Atlantic in their homemade catamaran Tangaroa. The story of their stormy crossing of the Bay of Biscay, their winter in northern Spain living off the proceeds of magazine articles, and the dangers encountered in their unusually rough trade wind passage to Trinidad.

  • James Wharram's Philosophical Articles, Papers, and Biographies

    Philosophical writings by James, papers delivered at major marine archeology conferences, and biographies.

  • A Living Legend Lives No More

    On the 14th December James Wharram left this earthly world, joining Ruth, Jutta and his many close friends that departed before him. At 93 years old his spirit has set out on the voyage to sail the oceans of heaven.

  • James' Eulogy

    This eulogy was delivered by Matt Knight at James Wharram's funeral service, which took place at 3:00pm on Thursday 30th December at Truro Crematorium.

  • A Special Hui Gathering For James

    In the summer of 2022, we held a special Hui in celebration of James’ life. A fleet of Wharram catamarans and other boats joined us.

Ruth Wharram

Ruth Wharram studying charts in a cabin

German born Ruth Merseburger (1921-2013) was James' other lifelong partner and shared James Wharram's early pioneering voyages. Ruth was one of the first people to believe James in the early 1950's when he said that the ancient double-canoe of the Polynesians would be the yacht of the future. With her practical determination she has been the driving force behind James in his many projects.

A first class navigator (in the days before GPS) she made seven Atlantic crossings, endured a severe gale crossing the Tasman Sea, sailed half way round the world on 63ft 'Spirit of Gaia' and made innumerable coastal voyages on Wharram catamarans. She was always in demand to be crew/navigator on all types of sailing yachts.

Her sailing adventures started in the early 1950s and continued throughout her life. Alongside this she drafted some of the plans of the early Classic Designs and managed the Wharram sales office for over 40 years, communicating with the hundreds of builders. In her late 80s she retired as office manager but kept in communication with her many sailing friends by email and followed James and Hanneke's sailing adventures on the internet.

Ruth has been a writer, photographer and film maker. She shot all the footage for the Building and Sailing of Tehini film on a hand-wound 16mm Bolex. She had many articles of her sailing experiences published and in 2008 assembled her writings in a Special Collection.

Ruth passed away on September 4th 2013 leaving a big gap in the James Wharram Designs team.

More about Ruth:

  • Two Girls, Two Catamarans Book

    Written by James Wharram. A tale of adventure in the fifties, when James Wharram and two German girls, Ruth and Jutta, sailed from Falmouth and across the Atlantic in their homemade catamaran Tangaroa. The story of their stormy crossing of the Bay of Biscay, their winter in northern Spain living off the proceeds of magazine articles, and the dangers encountered in their unusually rough trade wind passage to Trinidad.

  • Building and Sailing of Tehini Film

    Two vintage movies filmed by Ruth Wharram in the early days of Wharram Catamaran designs. Tehini was one of the largest catamarans of her time and was built in less than 2 years with mainly hand tools. Her first voyages were to North Spain and Holland, during which time she met many other Wharram Catamarans.

  • Ruth Wharram Collections

    A wonderful collection of articles, stories and diaries by Ruth Wharram.

  • Ruth Has Gone To Join The Navigators In The Sky

    Ruth Wharram (nee Merseburger) has departed this life in the early morning of 4th September, at the age of 92, at home in Devoran.