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.