James Wharram's Last Ride

Home News James Wharram's Last Ride
By Mike Lynn *
Many Wharram catamarans moored at a quay

On 23 July, a motley fleet of self-built catamarans gathered off Cornwall to give James and Ruth Wharram their final escort. It was a fitting farewell to a legend.

In the late summer of 1955, walkers at Falmouth's Customs House Quay marvelled at a somewhat eccentric-looking, seven-metre short craft loaded with provisions for a long voyage by three young people: "A £200 Boat Prepares to Cross the Atlantic" reported the Pathé News. The boat was called Tangaroa, its builder and skipper was James Wharram, the crew consisted of his two German friends Jutta Schulze-Rhonhoff and Ruth Merseburger.

Old black and white photo of a catamaran moored in a harbour
Tangaroa moored at Customs House Quay in 1955
Catamaran moored in a harbour
Mana moored at Customs House Quay in 2022

Their venture was actually an act of defiance: Wharram set out to disprove Thor Heyerdahl's theory about the settlement of the Pacific islands. The great migration had not taken place on rafts from South America as Heyerdahl had postulated, but on ocean-going double-canoes from Asia. After many adventures, the Tangaroa and her crew reached Trinidad safely. The proof that catamarans are capable ocean-going vessels had been provided. See Two Girls Two Catamarans.

67 years later, on 23 July 2022, another seven-metre catamaran was moored at Falmouth Customs House Quay, the Mana, considerably more elegant and sophisticated than the Tangaroa, but unmistakably also a Wharram design. She sailed around noon, piloted by Wharram's life partner, co-designer and co-author Hanneke Boon. Mana was joined by a fleet representing James Wharram's impressive life's work: In the fresh 28-knot wind, a 42-foot Pahi, a whole range of Tikis in lengths from 21 to 31 feet, a crab-claw-sail Tahiti Wayfarer skippered by Jamie Wharram, and even a tiny Melanesia outrigger canoe ventured into stormy Carrick Roads.

The fleet formed up around the Mana and the Tahiti Wayfarer. Then the ashes of James and Ruth Wharram were consigned to the sea to be carried by the ebb current out to the open ocean. A circle was completed, and it was a wide circle: at the end of his life James Wharram could look back on six Atlantic crossings, a circumnavigation, two books, three dozen boat designs in lengths from 14 to 65 feet and more than 10,000 self-build boat plans sold. If anyone has democratised yachting, it is him. Rory McDougall, who sailed solo around the world on a six-metre Wharram as a 21-year-old in the 1990s, commented: "I'll be forever grateful to James. I sailed around the world - and became more myself every day. On what other boat would such a journey have been possible at such a young age?"


* Mike Lynn is owner of Pahi 42 Mother Ocean and has just translated People of the Sea into German. He came to the Hui from Vienna.