James' Christmas Letter

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By James Wharram

These last few weeks, I have been through a soul-searching time. I will record it because I believe many readers of this column and builders of Wharram Catamarans have had similar soul-searching moments on their life direction and sailing.

We had been sailing in Greece for three weeks in October and when we came to leave our Pahi 63 - 'Spirit of Gaia' in Gouvia Marina, Corfu, I said goodbye to my friend Tony on his Dutch built steel monohull. Shaking hands, he leaned over to me and said, "James, why do you not sell your house and with the proceeds leave all the 'bullshit' behind, then you can come out here and live and sail on your Gaia?

Talk about 'temptation' or 'siren voices', Tony is head of the list, for there is so much bullshit in a designer/sailor's life nowadays. Most of this is caused by the Recreational Craft Directive, which at some time or other I will have to expose.

In reality, I/we cannot sell the house, studio/workshop here in Cornwall because:

  • Ruth Wharram, who has done so much to help me to become a designer/builder, is now 84 years old, in the last 12-18 months has had two major knee operations, then fell, and broke her hip. This home is her chosen place.
  • There are all the files on catamaran development over the last 50 years, the master drawings of my life's work, my extensive library of yacht design, voyaging and historical books. Where would they all go if we sold up?
  • There is myself. Much as I love sailing, either oceans or coastal waters, I also love designing my 'Dream Boats'. Where does this compulsion to design 'Dream Boats' come from? I do not know. My staff think it is counter-productive to making money.

Many creative artists such as painters, architects, musicians, furniture makers, potters, etc have 'Themes' throughout their lives, to which they return again and again. If you have read the Wharram Design Book, you will see three Boat Design Themes, based on size and weight, in my design life shown as a 'spiral'. These are 1) a tribal or group boat; 2) a family boat; 3) a minimum boat. What appears to power the 'spiral' are new construction materials, new experiences, other people's experiences and 'this deep inner drive' that I do not fully understand.

For the last few years I have been designing Theme 1) large ocean 'group boats' like the Tiki 46, the Pahi 52 and the Islander 55. Indeed in our own 19m (63ft) Pahi we also own a Theme 1) boat.

This year we have been enjoying a new Theme 3 (minimum) boat, the Tiki 8m. For reasons outside this column the Tiki 8m was originally not high on my priority list. Sailing her, particularly on my last sail, which was a test sail for Britain's Watercraft magazine, the craft's performance in speed (according to the GPS she was sailing at times at 11.5knots), power and comfort, reminded me that you do not have to cross oceans to enjoy the beauty and the joy of sailing. Sliding into a small cove or creek from a 4-hour coastal sail can be an exquisite pleasure. Small boats have their own special sailing pleasure.

The Tiki 8m has set me 'Design Dreaming' and I can see a Tiki 24, 28, 33 in soft, curving, sculptural shaped strip planking. All creators have dreams; they do not always get realised so please do not write at once asking, "Where are these new designs?" At the moment, we are working on Kiko Johnson's (www.waakaulua.com) new Ethnic design (a Child of the Sea with Hawaiian bow and stern) and also setting up a sales system for the Tiki 8m.

Question: Does a development on a 'Theme' negate the qualities of earlier attempts at that Theme? Well, not in painting, architecture, sculpture, pottery etc.

This year, whilst sailing in western Greece, we moored in the lagoon/cove of Fanari, which is where the mythical River Styx runs into the sea. In the evening Hanneke and I were walking along the beach and we saw, moored in the narrow Styx river a beautiful newly built 40ft Narai Mk II (designed in the 1970's). The owner, Peter, a retired German Headmaster, had chosen this design because it 'spoke' to him; he had recently bought her from another German, who had built her beautifully. Peter's Narai, designed over thirty years ago, humbled me, how almost instinctively I had 'got it right'. True, I had studied early sailing ships and I had sailed the Atlantic 4 times.

Catamaran sailing along a coastline
Catamaran at sea

I can now analyse and dissect a catamaran design using all sorts of formulae, some of which we have developed ourselves. I can 'bullshit' my way with the best of them and hold an audience for an hour or so on the subject of Catamaran Design. Indeed, analytical methods of Yacht Design are now taught in schools and universities.

A French yachting magazine Editor said to me a week ago, while we were discussing this subject "It is surprising how little real sailing these solely analytical designers do" (which explains some designs!).

I tell my students to walk along the seashore in all weathers, look at the waves, look at the boats hauled out of the water in the winter months and study their underwater shapes. Notice the, often unnecessary, underwater fittings that create drag. Sail - sail big boats, sail little boats, love the sea and never ignore your inner voice.

The Narai was one of the first of my 'family boats', we now have a number of other designs of similar size, the most popular is the Tiki 38. This summer a Tiki 38 (also German-built, by 'cabinet maker' Guenther Titze and his wife) visited Gouvia Marina. She had undergone quite a few design changes, superbly carried out by her builders. Some of these changes, to my eyes, detract from the purity and simplicity of the design. All the same, the workmanship of this boat is excellent and she fulfils all the wishes of her owners.

Wharram Narai in marina
Wharram Narai in harbour
Wharram Narai interior
Wharram Narai interior

As a contrast, we received the following set of photos from the builder of another Tiki 38. He and his wife have sailed her from North Carolina, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to New Zealand. She is as we designed her and seeing these photos sent a shiver up my spine.

This boat, called 'Tapasya' has been featured in 'Multihulls Magazine' of Sept./Oct. 2005, page 22.

Tiki 38 sailing
Tiki 38 sailing
Tiki 38 sailing
Tiki 38 in marina

- James Wharram