How I Design

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By James Wharram
3D Tiki 46 drawing

The Wharram Website is now "On". Steve and Don, the guardians of the Website, have asked me to write more (and more and more). I can see how a Website can become addictive, becoming a public diary, but I do have to remember the many in the world who do not have access to computers. So far I have had 5 methods of communication:

  • Letters
  • Telephone
  • Fax
  • Articles
  • Lectures
  • (and now) The Internet

In the first 5 methods of communication, I am, as it were, in charge. I can judge to a certain extent (though sometimes I am wrong), who I am communicating with. I can balance its seriousness, importance and urgency. I feel some sense of freedom. What I fear with the Internet is the impersonality of it. Who am I "talking to"? Am I just being used in an "interactive game" with someone who is "playing" on the anonymity and ease of Internet for something that means less in their lives but is all of my life?

With time and experience, I will learn to communicate in this 6th communication world, The Internet, as I do in the five other forms of communications previously mentioned. Please, give me time to learn and do remember, Website communication cannot be given priority over phone, fax or letter communication.

To begin with, I will answer a question often asked: "How do you design?" (also, why do I have to keep an inner space?). Most "designers" design for a personal, human customer to satisfy his or her wishes. I don't. I design the boat for its own self!! It is as if I go into an inner world, where the design already exists. I see it in form, sailing the seas: light seas, windward seas, beam seas and storm seas. I am part of the new boat itself - I am on the boat.

In the past, when I worked on the "Classic Designs", my difficulty was expressing the "dream" in drawings. I was trained in what is called Technical Drawing. With these you can build a boat. However, with graphic, artistic skill in the drawings it is so much easier. Now with Hanneke, I have a graphic artist who can enter into my inner world not only to see my visions but also add to them.

Since she began to work with me, the PAHI and TIKI designs represent this male/female combination. These design shapes are more fluid and represent more of that inner vision world.

About 25 years ago, a critic of mine said. "You don't design boats like others. You use 'Magic'". At the time, I resented that remark. I felt that "he" was diminishing my design abilities but it had a good effect. I developed catamaran design formulae that enabled me to look analytically with modern math at multihull designs. Not only did this confirm my "magic" designs, but it is applicable to all catamaran designs.

In my recent 4 years' voyage across the Pacific, I have come to realize that the magic/shamanistic approach to design, allied with a stern discipline imposed by a close contact with the sea, is the way that the small boat designers have been designing for thousands of years. One fault in my past approach to design is that the "boat" and its behaviour at sea always came before the people!! 50% of the world's population are now city dwellers and urban man is fearful of sitting cross-legged, not having tables, separate bedrooms, sharing a toilet with others etc.

With age, my body has developed a certain urban stiffness. The new TIKI 46 with a toilet/shower in each hull, defined seating, bunks, and large galley is an example of how "people" are featuring more in my/our designs. But it does make the designs more expensive, and it takes longer to build them!!

Some people like to "customise" one of our designs. Another of my faults as an artist/designer is that I am a "broad brush type". To go back to a design and fiddle with extra pieces when I wish to move on to the new concepts, I find extremely frustrating.

So, to help people who wish to customize our designs, we now have John Barker working in our office. John Barker, after a spell delivering yachts in the Atlantic and Pacific, working in marinas and studying yacht management at Southampton, has spent 7 years designing and building hovercraft, delivering them all over the world and acting as an operational trouble shooter.

But John loves sailing, particularly canoeform craft. He sailed with us in 1998 from Djibouti to Israel. He is spending part of his time in our design office and for a fee is now available to "customize" aspects of our "pure"!! design.

If this side of 'James Wharram Designs' grows, we have 'Eric', a young Dutch Naval Architect, a former sailboard champion (he sailed with us from Sri Lanka to Djibouti), longing to get his "foot in the door", and he, like John, loves to spend as much time as possible "out there" sailing on the 'GAlA' and other designs.

The problem of this office is that "they all" love the sailing part of designing, but we are developing our work so to get the best of both worlds, as the feedback from sailing goes into the design.

- James Wharram