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By James Wharram

Cookie was back in the office this morning, she had been away for her father had died. Fortunately, she had been able to go to Venice with her husband the following week for a Hoby Cat organisation meeting, which helped her to move forward. Cookie has been working in the Wharram office this last year. She runs the accounts and dispatches Plans.

A month ago Hanneke and I were at the London Boatshow, where I gave a lecture in the Excel exhibition hall lecture theatre. Daily lectures by various ‘sailing personalities’ was an attempt to humanise the event and attract more people to the London Boatshow.

As attendance at the ‘Show’ was down 7% from last year (Yachting Monthly figures), I can truly write my 35 minute lecture did not save the London Boatshow. As one reader’s letter in March Yachting Monthly put it: “Where are the smaller builders? It seems that the less high volume builders have been priced out of the show. I don’t need to pay £14 to see the latest mass-produced models, they are all over my Marina and most never move out of it.” I have heard this ‘cry from the soul’ so often in recent years. In fact, my lecture was based around this cry.

Two monohull yachts on a forecourt
Our forecourt. The Hurley 22 on the left and the 1938 Tumlaren on the right.

Cookie’s return and the arrival of the March Yachting Monthly on the same day had me thinking about the seemingly ‘ramshackle’ organisation of James Wharram Designs.

Effectively it is run on the ‘network’ principle. Let me explain: Cookie was found through the Cornish Marine Network, which we joined about 18 months ago. Cookie through her family business is connected to the world of Hobie Cats and other small sports catamarans. Her son at the age of 16 is training to be an Olympic Tornado racer.

Liz is the main lady in the office for nearly 10 years. Her husband, apart from being a sailor and storing his Hurley 22 on our forecourt in the winter, is a helicopter pilot trained by the Navy and still holds a high command rank in the Naval reserves. Throughout my sailing life I have had links into the Navy network, many early Wharram builders were Naval officers.

Working on the inside of the hull
Riveting new ribs inside the Tumlaren.

In the same forecourt I go out to see Bernie, a retired master boatbuilder, who is guiding two wood workers through the repair and restoration of a 1938 Scandinavian Tumlaren, another link, into a network of Classic boat lovers.

Roger Murrey, one of my ‘oldest’ friends (yes, for 47 years), is a retired advertising executive, also a sailor of distinction and adventurer (steam engines, hot air balloons and motorbikes). He feeds in advise from his large network on advertising ideas.

The networking extends further, from friends working in yacht magazines, to our builders in Thailand and the Philippines and includes all Wharram self-builders round the world.

Network systems do not produce a lot of money, they cannot be regulated, but what they can produce, when needed, is precise specialized or localized knowledge and something very valuable, ‘Lateral Thinking’. Networks add up to an ‘Ambiance’, a feeling of belonging, a shared group feeling. This ambiance is missing in large Boatshows, it has been missing for the last 10-15 years, with the development and dominance of the big industrial boatbuilders.

Tom Cunliffe, Roger Murrey and James Wharram
My friend Roger Murrey (centre) sailed with us on Gaia last September. Behind the wheel is Tom Cunliffe, who came for a flying visit to interview James for an article in SAIL magazine (USA). Later he wrote: "It is true. I am no multihull sailor, but I felt contented, safe and relaxed from the moment I stepped on board Spirit of Gaia."

It is also missing in the new regulatory bodies, like the European Recreational Craft Directive (RCD), set up by the large industrial boatbuilders to protect their financial sales interests.

When I sat down to write my lecture for the London Boatshow, which I called ‘Sailing, a last freedom?’ I had no idea that my research for this 35 minute lecture would open a new seascape of how and why.

So here are my notes for the London Boatshow lecture. What do you think?

- James Wharram