Boat Durability and New Designs

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By James Wharram

Spring has come to Cornwall! Hanneke my Design Partner is in Corfu refitting our 63' Pahi 'Spirit of Gaia' with a working crew of 2 Dutchmen and 1 German. The common language is Dutch! This refit is the first major refit since the Gaia was in Brisbane in 1997 - a refit organised by Steve Goodman, webmaster of this website.

As a result of the present refit we can write positively of the success of the ply/epoxy/glass composite construction that we developed in the early 1980s. The outside of the Gaia was sheathed and strengthened with glass cloth using W.E.S.T epoxy as the bonding and finishing surface. This surface was then painted with Awlgrip and an Awlgrip equivalent as used on aircraft. Ten years after the launching of Gaia and 11 years after the hulls were pushed on a snowy day into the open, this original paint finish is still so good that most close viewers along the Gouvia marina pontoon think that the Gaia is a GRP boat. Indeed the finish is better than many GRP charter yachts of the same age in Gouvia marina. What originally was an expensive finish has, over the years, become a good economical investment. The nylon rudder bushes are worn and are being replaced - not surprising after about 50,000 miles sailing, including an around-the-world voyage.

Pahi 63 sailing
Pahi 63 - Spirit of Gaia

The beam to hull lashings which hold the Gaia together are in good shape but to be on the safe side they are being replaced and once again will look elegant. Also to be on the safe side, all the running rigging is being replaced and the new rope will be softer on the hands than the work-hardened old rope. Inside the hulls the major surface finish is W.E.S.T epoxy coatings. Here, out of the sun, in the bilges and bow buoyancy compartments, the finish is perfect and through it we can see the ply (Douglas Fir) in perfect condition. The moulded epoxy micro balloon fillets that hold the bulkhead and strengthening cabin furniture to the hull sides are still uncracked and in perfect condition.

For over 10 years of sailing Gaia has been beaten for days, weeks at a time, by beating to windward in gale force winds and hitting for example solid objects like the Lock wall in the Panama Canal. Her unbroken joining fillets are a tribute to the pioneering ideas of the W.E.S.T epoxy Goudgeon brothers.

Standing rigging may have some signs of wear and a careful check will be made. Over the last 2 years, through Jeckells, we have replaced our two mainsails and staysail. New sails mean better, faster sailing to windward.

What has been a disappointment on the Gaia was the electrical equipment. Even after 10 years paints, glue and ropes still have life left in them but electronics (wind vanes, windspeed, boat speed, echosounder, electronic pilot control) are all being replaced. The working life of electronic instruments on a working boat seems to be, at most, about 5 years. Considering how expensive they are, this is not good enough and judging by the large expensive stands boat electronic firms have at boat shows, they have the profits to either make their products better or cheaper.

The 2 x 9.9 hp Yamaha 4 stroke outboards are past their best. There are too many little mechanical failures and parts that Hanneke must either mend or refit. The engines are still useable but I would like to replace them with new Yamaha 15 hp 4 strokes.

After this refit the Gaia will be as sharp and as sprite as she was on launching 10 years ago. I am often asked "what would I do to 'improve' the Gaia design?" The answer is "nothing!" She was designed as a modernised ancient Pacific double canoe and has never failed us in hard weather conditions and - as important - very light weather conditions. Her sweet sailing nature has made the crews that have sailed with us into loyal, supportive friends.

Our Pahi 63' - my present boat love - is a large craft to manoeuvre on and off the pontoon. Her marina costs by the metre length are expensive. I must not go on. Loving one boat is like loving one woman. Some of us can love more than one person at a time but the secret is never to make comparisons between one and the other.

Which brings me to my new boat love which has entered my life in the last 3 months - the Islander 55.

Islander 55 3D drawing
3D diagram of Islander 55 - click to enlarge

She is one of our Professional Designs to be built by our Indonesian builders at the Naval Commercial Dockyard of PT PAL, Surabaya. The building price is still under discussion.

Whilst the Islander 65 is designed for large-scale work not many people will want such a sized craft. The Islander 55' will suit people who want a big - but not too big - boat. Her design has excited the many people who have seen the basic drawings in this office. Indeed one yacht magazine editor immediately wrote to me to say "when we spoke we both felt that the Islander 55' might be too big for the taste/pockets of our readers. But she is magnificent and what is wrong with one dreamboat per issue?"

Tama Moana drawing
Tama Moana - Child of the Sea

Another recent design project which aroused my special interest is the Child of The Sea design. Years ago, a young, very poor, dreaming American built a Pahi 26. He sailed this boat down the American west coast and spent a wonderful time in the Gulf of California. Then he took off across the Pacific where in some Philippine harbour, after a typhoon, his boat ended up damaged amongst a heap of other damaged craft high up on the beach. Glen, after many years of silence, wrote a few months ago requesting an "Ethnic" design of about 36' -38' with similar sailing accommodation to his original Pahi 26'.

To get this design on the drawing board as opposed to building and sailing it around in my head was difficult. The professional designs at this time had priority. However, in the last days before Hanneke left for Corfu we got down to the details of Glen's ethnic design. When Hanneke had drawn some of my ideas out she said, "you have designed this boat - or something very similar - years ago". Then she searched through her file and dropped the enclosed "Child of The Sea" drawings before my eyes.

Yes - Glen's wanted design had been one of my "dream" designs several years ago. The filed drawing was so close to my present day in-head design as to be positively spooky!

However this design is for the young, or young-at-heart. It is aimed at the nomadic attitude to basic comfort sailing that I embraced in my youth. It is not for the "I want a sailing home-from-home" - an attitude which in my more recent years seems increasingly attractive!

Partially completed Pahi 52 hulls flipped in a workshop
Building the Pahi 52.

I will send the Child of The Sea design (when sufficient drawings have been done) to our Thailand professional builder. Guenther is professionally building beautifully-built Wharram Tikis...30', 38', and 46' and also the Professional design allocated to him - the Pahi 52' - which is being built for Nigel Harford, a first sailor in 1967 of my classic design the 46' Oro.

Tiki 46 interior
Tiki 46, Seascape Yard.

The Child of The Sea design in its simplicity could be a very economical boat to have ready-built. Maybe I could have a Child of The Sea design built by Guenther - keep it as a holiday boat in Thai waters - there's a thought!

Well friends, it's soon away to the Gaia in Corfu and by 15 and 16 May (which is respectively mine and the Gaia's birthday) I will be sailing with my yacht club Multihull Deutschland in their Club Rally around Corfu. Can't wait, but remember that "the office" is always in touch with us via email!

- James Wharram