Choosing a Boat

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By James Wharram

What Do You Really Want?

Some advice by James Wharram

Firstly, read the Wharram Design Book. Having looked at all the Wharram designs, you may immediately have identified with one of them as the boat for you. But it is possible you are more confused than before you started looking!

Wharram Design Book

To help you, we have made a table of the basic requirements one has to consider when choosing a boat. Click or tap every option you think applies to you, to clear the brain of dreams and bring it down to facts. Compare these facts with the data sheets of those designs that had your interest initially and see which one, from a practical point of view, is going to suit you best.

Regular sleep aboards None 1-2 3-4 5-6 7-8 Over
Time spent on board Day sailing Weekend sailing (sleeping) Holidays (Several weeks) 3 months per year 6 months per year All year
Type of sailing Inland lakes, rivers Trailer/sailing Coastal Short sea crossing Ocean passages Racing
Accommodation style Functional interior Flexi-space Luxury
Building time schedule 3 months 6 months 1 year 1.5 years 2 years 3-4 years
Available finance £2000 £5000 £8000 £12,000 £20,000 £40,000+

Building Time

Builders working on a partially constructed catamaran hull

The building times (shown in design data of the boat building plans) are based on Hanneke's estimations, supported by letters from builders.

They are by the nature of human vagaries only an approximation, a rough average. Some builders treat each piece of wood in a caressing loving fashion and end up, after a long time, with a boat that is also a piece of wood sculpture. Others throw pieces of wood together and end up with a quickly built, rough sailing ship. People are free to do as they wish, I personally like to take the middle way.

The building site and tools available also affect construction time. If you have a good covered shelter with power lines for hand-held power tools, you will build considerably faster than if you build the boat some distance away from your living base, in the open or under the simplest of polythene shelters, without power, using only hand tools.

I built Rongo and Tehini in the open with only minimal shelter and hand tools. It can be done but the phrase to describe it is "Character Forming"!!

Hours Full time at 40 hours per week Part time at 15 hours per week
150 1 month 3 months
300-500 3 months 6 months
700-1000 5-6 months 1-1.5 years
1500-2000 9-12 months 2-2.5 years
3000 18 months 4 years

Building Methods

Shiny catamaran hulls under construction in a garage

The Classic Designs were developed before epoxy glues and are built in a simple, traditional manner. They are male-orientated in building method, i.e. to get a well-built boat, skill is required with sharp edged tools, usually a training skill given only to males.

Built roughly, Classic designs may leak, leading to rot. Unfortunately, some Classic designs have been built roughly, but the surplus of timber in their construction give a strength safety margin allowing rough builders in the first years of ownership to successfully sail long distances before rot develops. (Beware of such boats on the secondhand market)!

The PAHI construction is a stage between the Classic and the TIKI designs, though still requiring wood working skills. The application of glass cloth has become an essential part of the construction.

The TIKI designs use female and male skills equally. In the past boatbuilding was usually seen as a male occupation, with a need for trained carpentry skills. When Hanneke and I designed the first Tiki designs in the 1980s, we set out to change this, and tried to encourage more women to join in as equals. The skill set required for building with epoxy often appeals to women, where in my experience many men are less adept in the precise care needed for making epoxy fillets and applying glass cloth. I have built all my boats with my female companions, who often were more skilled and worked neater than I. In general, the TIKIs are getting built faster with a better finish than the Classic designs, because they utilise fully and equally male and female energies.

Building Cost

Tiki 46 interior - bathroom sink, bed, ladder

With the constantly rising cost of materials we can only give a rough estimate, based on actual costs of boats built over the years, with an added factor for inflation. We will try to update this list whenever we receive actual building costs from our builders. If you are a builder and have kept careful accounts, please write to us and this information can then help other builders.

Boat costs will vary from builder to builder and also depend on which country you are building in. Some builders love to put top quality plywood and expensive hard woods into their boats, others get as much pleasure recycling old wood, hunting around scrap-yards and going to boat jumbles.

Builders' attitudes towards their choice of paint, chandlery, winches, hatches/portholes and other fittings can make a considerable difference in cost from the standard average shown in the table. Whatever you do, do not try cheap non-brand epoxy and incompatible glass cloths!

The following table give the approximate materials cost of building our various designs using simple, adequate materials as specified in the Plans. All costs are in GB Pounds and are exclusive of VAT. Costs include wooden masts and working rig, as well as basic interior fittings as shown on the Plans, but do not include navigation equipment, electrics, ground tackle, dinghy or engine(s), as these are a very personal choice and can vary greatly in cost.

Note that the Ethnic designs are costed using home made crabclaw sails (except Amatasi, which has a gaff/sprit rig made by a sail maker). The cost of the Ethnic designs is much lower as all fittings are self-made, they use grown saplings for beams and spars, and rope standing rigging.

All Study Plans include a full materials list, which enables you to cost out materials with suppliers in your area.

Materials Costs (Updated for 2020)
Tiki Designs GBP (£)
Tiki 21 6,500
Tiki 26 10,000
Tiki 30 15,500
Tiki 31 18,000
Tiki 38 42,000
Tiki 46 62,000
Hitia Designs GBP (£)
Hitia 14 2,400
Hitia 17 3,600
Pahi Designs GBP (£)
Pahi 26 (Tikiroa) 10,700
Pahi 31 (Areoi) 19,000
Pahi 42 (Captain Cook) 53,000
Pahi 63 (Spirit of Gaia) 77,000
Classic Designs GBP (£)
Maui 3,600
Hinemoa 7,000
Tanenui (Ply) 13,000
Tangaroa Mk IV 37,000
Raka 32,000
Narai Mk I/Mk II 51,000
Narai Mk IV 52,500
Ariki 53,000
Tehini 60,000
Ethnic Designs GBP (£)
Melanesia (16') 360
Tahiti Wayfarer (21') 2,400
Amatasi (27') 6,000
Tama Moana (38') 17,000

Final Choice

Distant photo of Pahi 63 Spirit of Gaia with all sails up

Having done careful thinking and consideration, then there is always the 'joke' or irrational factor. You may think that construction time and money available should lead you, via Hanneke's table, to the boat best suited to your needs and comfort. It won't. I will explain.. in the mid 1980s, using common sense logic and data from the table, I was planning my next boat to be either a Tiki 31 or a new Pahi 39 design (using the Coastal Trek construction system). Then we were commissioned to design the Pahi 63, and I just fell in love with this design. Against all logic and common sense I decided I wanted to build one.

I know that other people looking through this Design Book will also be tempted against common sense into boats bigger and more expensive than they either need or had planned for. My excuse to the women partners at James Wharram Designs, who control the finance and do the boatbuilding, was that we could use the Pahi 63 as a charter ship to pay for its costs. This after considerable debate was accepted and the result was our beautiful Spirit of Gaia.

- James Wharram

Build Or Buy?

A Reality Check

Many prospective builders also ponder the question of whether to build from scratch or buy a professionally built / second hand Wharram catamaran. In this video, Mark of Wildlings Sailing visits James Wharram Designs in Cornwall, speaks to head of JWD Hanneke Boon about the pros and cons of each, and receives advice on what to look for in a second hand boat.

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