Home > News > 60th Anniversary Of The First West-to-East North Atlantic Crossing By Catamaran

60th Anniversary Of The First West-to-East North Atlantic Crossing By Catamaran

By Hanneke Boon
Rongo sailing
Rongo during trial sail in Trinidad

On 30th September 1959, 60 years ago, the 40ft catamaran Rongo sailed into the Conway River in North Wales after crossing the North Atlantic from New York.

Rongo was the first catamaran to have made this difficult voyage, sailed by the now world famous catamaran designer James Wharram and his two German women companions, Ruth Merseburger and Jutta Schultze-Rohnhoff.

Hannes, Jutta, Jams and Ruth on deck, posing for a picture
The Rongo crew in new York. Young Hannes did not make the crossing. L to R Jutta Schultze Rohnhoff, James Wharram, Ruth Merseburger

Rongo was designed and built by Wharram in Trinidad in 1957-58 after the three sailors had already crossed the Southern Atlantic in 1956 along the trade wind route from the Canaries to Trinidad in their small 23’6” catamaran Tangaroa, also designed and built by Wharram in England in 1954.

In the 1950s catamarans had not yet been acknowledged as viable seagoing sailing vessels and James Wharram pioneered their concept and proved their inherent seaworthiness with his Atlantic voyages.

Jutta sitting on the port bow, feet splashing in the water
Jutta riding the bow wave on the North Atlantic crossing

In 1965 James Wharram started designing catamarans for other people and this soon blossomed into a thriving business of designs for self-builders, hundreds, and over time thousands, were built and many have made incredible ocean voyages, including the smallest catamaran to sail round the world in the 1990s, the Tiki 21 Cooking Fat sailed by Rory McDougall.

Wharram Designs are nowadays a very distinct type of catamaran with very traditional looking lines reminiscent of Polynesian double canoes, and are seen in many harbours all over the world. They have a worldwide following of builders/sailors who follow the philosophy of Wharram of how people can become Sea People by living a simple life on the sea.

Jutta at the helm in rough sea conditions
Jutta steering in an Ex-tropical cyclone during the Atlantic crossing

With the expanding development of luxury catamarans for the charter market in the last 20 years, Wharram catamarans stand out by being different; they resonate with nature and traditional boat design.

Build Your Own Rongo...

To celebrate this first epic Atlantic crossing of Rongo we are reprinting the original Building Plans of this design, beautifully drawn by Jutta in 1960. These are available as a presentation box-set including a photo book of the history of Rongo, and the story of her further Atlantic voyages in 1960-61, plus a signed copy of James’ book about his pioneering voyages 'Two Girls Two Catamarans'.

These Building Plans can be used to build a model or a full size replica of this famous design. The presentation pack comes in numbered editions, maximum 60, for each of the 60 years since her first West-to-East Atlantic voyage.

Order Yours Now.

Map of Atlantic crossings
A map of the voyages of Tangaroa and Rongo in the Atlantic ocean