Ruth Has Gone To Join The Navigators In The Sky

Home News Ruth Has Gone To Join The Navigators In The Sky
By Hanneke Boon

I'm very sad to announce that Ruth Wharram (nee Merseburger) has departed this life in the early morning of 4th September, at the age of 92, at home in Devoran. Her health had been failing over the last two years after a stroke the day after a fantastic 90th Birthday party.

Ruth has been a great strength in our lives; ever since she met James in 1951 she has guided and supported him in his life's efforts. I first met Ruth in 1967 and have shared my life with James and her since 1973. She has been a great friend to me and close ally in all the work, travelling and sailing we have done together.

She never had children herself, but during her life she has been 'mother' to Jutta's son Hannes and 'grandmother' to my son Jamie.

Ruth Wharram in a chart room
Ruth as navigator on her voyage across the Tasman sea aboard Tangaroa Mk I 'KM' in 1975

She was a great ocean sailor, sailing with James and Jutta on their pioneering catamaran voyages across the Atlantic in the 1950s, then more Atlantic crossings with Tehini and on Spirit of Gaia she voyaged half way round the world. Other friends invited her to join them on their boats, mostly Wharram catamarans, but also other boats, even a monohull. Thus she crossed the Tasman Sea and made more Atlantic crossings. She was a great navigator, managing to find her way across the Atlantic on their first voyage with just a pocket watch and valve radio. Later she was an expert at navigating by sextant in the days before GPS. Besides this she was also an eager photographer, doing her own darkroom work and she filmed the the building of Tehini on a hand-wound Bolex cine-camera.

She wrote articles about her sailing ventures, which inspired others to try the sailing life. As a pioneer woman ocean sailor and navigator she was an inspiration to many other woman sailors that followed in her wake. A selection of her articles were published in 2008 as Ruth Wharram Collections.

Ruth navigating on deck
Ruth as navigator on her voyage across the Tasman sea aboard Tangaroa Mk I 'KM' in 1975

Since 1980 she ran the Wharram office, communicating with customers all round the world, often writing letters late into the night. The big family of Wharram catamaran owners and sailors was her world, she was 'mother' to them all. Whilst writing at her desk she would be listening to classical music on Radio 3.

She only slowed down in this work in her mid 80s, when two knee replacements and a broken thigh made her no longer able to travel easily, but she then learned to use a computer and she started to keep in touch with her friends by email, she was also able to follow James and myself on our Lapita Voyage via Internet. This unfortunately came to an end by a stroke at the age of 90, which deprived her of the ability to read and affected her memory.

She had a second stroke last May and after spending 2 months in hospital she was desperate to come home. She has been at peace here and has said her farewells to all her close friends.

We all loved her dearly and will never forget her.

- Hanneke Boon

Ruth' funeral will be on Friday 13th - a propitious date in the pagan calendar, dedicated to the goddess.

Ruth Wharram - 1950's
Ruth Wharram - 1970's
Ruth Wharram - recent years