Hanneke's Atlantic Adventures (Part 3)

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By Hanneke Boon

Aboard Ontong Java

Sailing double canoe against a sunset
Ontong Java at sunset

On the 16th March I moved onto another boat. Largyalo was expecting a group of guests, who would be sailing on to St. Maarten. My new home for the next two weeks was Ontong Java. She had crossed the Atlantic a week after us and was moored off the beach in Port Louis, on the North West coast of Grand Terre. This had been Ontong Java's 5th Atlantic crossing, with a crew of ten.

I enjoyed living on this simple, but very effective boat. Her atmosphere was more like a tall ship, with simple wooden bunks down the sides of the hulls. There are seven berths in the slightly smaller hull, with a large store for surfboards, bicycle and ropes in the bows. The bigger hull has another 4 berths, a large galley and a large comfy saloon, the longer stern has a well for an old 40Hp outboard motor. This well also doubles as toilet.

Hanneke below decks in a natural wooden boat
Simple wooden bunks and store for surfboards in the bows
A young woman below decks in a natural wooden boat
Everything is made from natural wood
Double canoe stern, engine well with outboard motor inside
Stern with outboard motor well
Two women sat at a galley table below decks
Galley and large saloon

Everything is made in natural wood, good African hardwood, often left bare. The hatches are large and on tall coamings and can be propped up for ventilation. The platform is made from wide hardwood planks, all lashed to the crossbeams. Ontong Java is like the wooden ships that still sail in Indonesia, which James and I had studied. Her rig made from cut down yacht sails, natural grown spars and repurposed ropes and blocks is also in the same idiom. (You can search for Hans and his boats on the Internet, including sailing videos).

Three people on the deck of a rustic double canoe
Large platform made from wide hardwood planks
Wooden platforms over a crossbeam
Platform planks lashed to crossbeams

Entertainment on board was provided by the chicken. It had started to lay eggs at the end of their voyage in a nest box in Hans' cabin, so it was saved from going into the pot (actually it had become a pet). There also was Didi, a small delightful dog, temporarily lodging on board. I really enjoyed the company of Hans, we had lots to discuss, and the three girls reminded me of my time in my twenties on Tehini. I had once been an adventurous 20 year old that set off on a trans-Atlantic voyage on an exotic ship with a fascinating skipper. There were so many years spent with James to reflect on.

A chicken on deck
The chicken
A dog on galley steps
Didi the dog on the galley steps
Three girls on deck
I enjoyed the company of the three girls
Three people having lunch on deck
Hanneke aged 20 crossing Atlantic on Tehini with James and other girls, 1973
Hans and I took Ontong Java for a short sail one day. Those side rudders look crude, but work beautifully and are steered by light tillers without effort.

Pahi 42 Catalpa

Also in Port Louis were Cyril and Manon on their Pahi 42 Catalpa. Catalpa was beautifully built in Germany more than 20 years ago. They were her 5th owners and had bought her in Florida. I had seen and photographed Catalpa in 2004 in Corfu, when she was called Apapane. She was still beautiful and the excellent wood- and epoxy work had stood the test of time.

They used Catalpa for day charters, I was able to join one and thoroughly enjoyed it. They would sail to the quiet mangrove islands to the south, where there are few people, little sandy beaches and clear water. Some swimming and a walk ashore followed by a lovely lunch with BBQ-ed fish and salads, followed by some more exciting sailing. Highly recommended.

On the 30th March Cyril and Manon drove me to the airport, for me to fly to Baltimore and the OCC meeting.

Catamaran moored on a pontoon
Pahi 42 Catalpa with her owners Cyril and Manon in Port Louis
Catamaran moored on a pontoon
Catalpa in 2004, then called Apapane, in Corfu
Lunch on deck
Lunch aboard on a day charter
Hanneke, Manon and Cyril in the cockpit
Hanneke with Manon and Cyril

OCC annual meeting in Annapolis

In Baltimore I was met by a good friend, Betsy Greene. Betsy had lived with us in the early 1980s during our first years in Devoran. She is an artist and specialises in decorative art painting, including 'Trompe d'Oeil'. Whilst with us she had built a prototype of an outrigger canoe, sailed on Tehini and helped us at a London Boatshow. At that time she was already a sailor, had sailed across the Atlantic and crewed on the Tall Ship the 'Pride of Baltimore'. James, Ruth and I would have loved her to stay, but family and home drew her back to the States. Back in the US she sailed a friend's Tiki 21 and built a Hitia 14.

Betsy grew up in Annapolis and was very happy to be my guide and join me at the OCC meeting.

The Ocean Cruising Club was founded in 1954 in the UK by Humphrey Barton and his wife Mary. The sole qualification for full membership is making a continuous ocean passage of at least 1000 nautical miles, measured by the shortest practical Great Circle route between two ports, in a vessel not more than 70 feet overall length.

This is how they describe the club on their website:

"The people in the Ocean Cruising Club represent the distilled essence of the cruising community, a potent combination of accomplishment, experience, idealism, eccentricity, generosity and humility."

Many famous old sailors were members, and many younger ones still are.

James and I joined the OCC in 2013 after James was chosen to receive their 'Award of Merit' for 2012. He felt very honoured by this. We enjoyed going to the meetings as there are always interesting sailors to exchange experiences with. Every year we joined the SW sector sailing meeting in the Fal estuary on one of our small boats. The annual awards dinners had so far always been in the UK, this year for the first time it was held in the United States (delayed by two years due to Covid).

Many boats on a pontoon
SW sailing meeting of OCC in 2017 which we joined on Mana
People talking and having a buffet on a pontoon
James at OCC 2017 meeting on the Fal

It was a well organised meeting with interesting talks at a hotel in the morning, a visit to the Naval Academy in the afternoon, followed by the dinner at the Annapolis Yacht Club. I enjoyed walking through the lovely town during the day, Betsy pointed out the houses she once lived in or where she had done her special paint jobs. I was impressed by the beauty and tranquility of the place.

A woman stood in front of a grand building
The naval Academy
A woman stood outside a house
One of the picturesque houses Betsy grew up in, in Annapolis

The awards were given in batches between courses of the dinner. It was my turn to collect the award and give a short speech after the dessert. Here is the essence of my speech:

"On the day before our departure from Lanzarote I received an email from the OCC telling me James Wharram had been chosen to receive a posthumous Lifetime Achievement award.

"I know James would have been delighted at this, he really valued the Award of Merit he received from the OCC in 2012, which led to us both joining the OCC as members.

"However his response to a Lifetime Achievement Award would have been that he did not achieve the things he did in his lifetime alone. To the sailing world James Wharram was the pioneer of sailing catamarans, the vocal, charismatic motivator whose name became the Legend, but he would always admit that he would not have become this without his two lifetime partners and soul mates, Ruth and myself.

"James' early pioneering voyages in the 1950s on Polynesian inspired double canoes were achieved with the strong support of Ruth Merseburger (later Wharram), who was his navigator both at sea and in his life path. Throughout her 62 years with James she was the person who organized the business side of things, who sent out the plans, communicated with all the Wharram builders, and managed the finances for building new boats. She was James' rock and the mother of the Wharram world. She died in 2013 at the age of 92.

"From the early 1970s I also became an essential part of the Wharram team, adding my drawing and designing skills. For nearly 50 years James and I worked as co-designers, co-researchers in our studies of canoe craft, and sailing partners. James knew that he could not have created our later designs on his own. My instructional drawings were essential in enabling our builders to create their beautiful boats. I will of course continue to design and support our many builders.

"The last thing we worked on together was our autobiography, People of the Sea, which we managed to finish and get published in October 2020. With the publication of People of the Sea James had achieved everything he wanted to do in this life.

"So I would like to receive this award on behalf of the Wharram team of James, Ruth and myself for what we achieved in our lifetime. Thank you."

Hanneke accepting an award
Hanneke is honoured to receive the award
An award saying: Ocean Cruising Club 2021 - Lifetime Award - James Wharram Designs
OCC Lifetime Award for James Wharram, Ruth and Hanneke