Home > Jims Column > 2000 > Denmark, Vikings and Wharram Builders

Denmark, Vikings and Wharram Builders

By James Wharram

Steve Goodman, the Webmaster, is at me again: "James, you must write a Website Newsletter". I would sooner slide out into the workshop to see the finishing stages of our new ethnic design, the 21ft. (6.40m) Double Canoe 'TAHITI WAYFARER', tomorrow to be loaded onto a new trailer and taken to the Douarnenez Ethnic Boat Festival in France. This story will be a Web Page of the future. What Steve wants 'now' is, what I/we have been doing for the last 2-3 months.

Modern yachts with their hard white gel coat exterior, with a 'captive' teak deck to show that it is a 'Yacht', with huge unnecessary steering wheels etc. etc. leave me cold.

Halfdan Rohde, Max Vinner and James Wharram
Max Vinner (center) is an ex Wharram owner now working in the Vikingship museum, the man on the left is Halfdan Rohde, the captain of the Helge Ask both are talking to James at the museum.

However, the traditional, Ethnic boats of Man just Resonate in my inner self. I find mental peace in looking at them. I am always surprised how they achieve the oneness with the sea with the minimum of equipment. They are an insight into different ages and cultures of Man.

Being a man of the North, one of my special interests are the ships of the Viking Era, 700 to 1200 AD. Since the early 1980s, I have been connected with the Viking Ship Museum of Roskilde in Denmark.

Orange and yellow viking ship
Helge Ask is the Viking ship we sailed on in Roskilde.

Briefly, about the museum. In 1962, some Danish underwater archaeologists uncovered 5 wrecks (near Roskilde) of the Viking Ship Era and built a museum to exhibit the wrecks. Then, they set up an ongoing project to rebuild them, using traditional tools and traditional working methods. They planned to rebuild every Wreck!!.

This year, they are finishing off a 65ft. (20.15m) Viking Cargo Vessel of the type called a 'Knorr'.

After that, they will begin the finest and greatest project, to rebuild the wreck of a 100ft. Viking Warship. The original boat, before they sunk it in Roskilde, was built in Dublin out of split oak planks in 1060AD.

People gathered around a table in a garden
The Denmark meeting group photo shows James surrounded by Wharram builders.

The inspiration given by Roskilde is part of my new drive to develop a range of Pacific/Indian Ocean Canoeform Ethnic Boats for study and pleasure.

So, when early this year, I was invited to the 'Maritime Warfare in Northern Europe' (500 BC-1500AD) Symposium in the National Museum in Copenhagen, I saw it as a stimulating break on my/our way to work on our 'SPIRIT OF GAIA' in Corfu. (Don't look at the map, for it is not a logical journey).

In Denmark, I had the luck to sail on and steer the 57 ft. smaller 'Snekke' Warship (called the 'HELGE ASK'). I have since written an article, now being prepared for publication, titled 'I steered a Viking Ship'.

In Copenhagen, I renewed a 20year old acquaintance with our Danish builders. All over the world are pockets of Wharram builders. They do not belong to organised groups but are just groups of friends who periodically meet, exchange ideas, discuss the events of the world. It is for these people Steve Goodman is harrying me to write a regular Web page.

In Copenhagen, we stayed with Jonas Bergsoe, who, as a small boy, we had met 20 years ago with his father, Claus Bergsoe. In 1994, as a young man, we met him again; sailing single-handed his father's 28ft. TANE across the Atlantic. Now, he is a full - blown professional delivery skipper.

Jonas and his father organised a barbecue gathering at Claus Bergsoe's house. One of the people we met was Claus Christensen, who owns a 'Classic' TEHINI and uses his ship in connection with the Danish Social Services as an alternative to locking young, disturbed boys/men, at odds with the society, away in a cell. In a high percentage of cases life on the TEHINI, with its natural, self-imposed discipline of the sea and sailing, gives these young men a different life vision, which helps them to begin afresh.

Claus and James
Claus Bergsoe is the owner of the house the meeting is held at.
Galley
Gaia Galley, with new workbench fitted.

On May the 8th, we flew down to Corfu and the 'SPIRIT OF GAIA'. Our aim was to repaint the interior, give her the spring check over and to feel again as 'People of the Sea'.

But now, we have established an e-mail connection between GAIA and our office here in Devoran. So, many problems arriving here get, in minutes, rerouted to us in Corfu. It does slow the work on GAIA down - we had some bad ones at the time - which delays practical work.

Other news was good. In May 'Multihulls' published in its 25th anniversary issue, an article by me under the title of 'Living Legend' (Well, it is better than being a Dead Legend).

In the May issue 'Cruising World' of America published an article by Mark Smaalders on his 1,200 miles voyage with us on the 'GAIA' along the coast of Australia from Cairns to Darwin.

Mark Smaalders, a dyed in the wool Classic Wooden Boat sailor and designer, as a crew on GAIA was superb. On his three weeks voyage we had each day a seminar of ideas, interaction of knowledge balanced with good - humoured banter. One day, we promised each other, we would open together a summer sailing design school!! Mark's article on the GAIA was coolly factual, and as such I value it very much.

Hanneke at work painting inside the boat
Hanneke in Gaia chartroom painting ceiling white.
Chartroom
Gaia Chartroom finished, looking towards bow.

In the middle of June 'Yachting World' of Britain published a half page on our new Trader Design, the 65ft. (20.15?m) 'ISLANDER'. Then, 'Water Craft' of Britain sent the draft of my first article on Ancient Pacific sailing craft, entitled 'Lessons from the Stone Age Sailors'. It has now been published in the July/August issue (previously it was published in Dutch in 'Zeilen' and in French in 'Loisirs Nautiques').

Even more good news, our friends Monica and Domenico, TIKI 21 owners as well as Would-be TIKI 30 builders in the future, turned up in Corfu with 4 gallons of superb Italian wine and the project to get my out of print book 'Two Girls, 2 Catamarans' enlarged with more photos, drawings and a foreword by me reprinted in Italy in English (eventually to be sold on the Website). Meanwhile, in a temperature of 30 degrees centigrade, Hanneke determinedly carried on painting the roof of the chartroom white and changing the position of the chart table - see photographs (in the heat, she insisted on dressing for the camera).

But, Web Readers, do study the photos of the GAIA. That varnished wood interior is in fact WEST Epoxy after 9 years of hard use. I have no personal friendship with the Gougeon Brothers, makers of the WEST Epoxy. I just know that it 'works'. So, in general, I recommend it. (In the Antipodes, BoatCraft Pacific has a similar epoxy of reliability, called 'Bote Cote').

It is the standard, or an even better one, of building that I want for professionally built Wharrams. It is particularly achieved with good epoxy work, a seemingly simple process. But without GOOD epoxy and the desire to treat it with Respect, finish is poor and Structural strength Suspect.

Once again, I must warn people about the 'Chancers' who claim to be professional builders, using cheap labour and suspect materials in Third World Countries and who refuse to co-operate with our office.

It is not that I am against Third World builders. Indeed, in November, according to the latest plans, Hanneke and I will be going out to the Philippines to set up the 'ISLANDER' 65ft. project.

The would be owners of the 'Islander' realise that the inclusion of the designers, with 20 years of experience in epoxy construction, in the set up team will ensure final quality. If their proposed firm is good, then we will guide other would-be Wharram owners to them.

With Fibreglass construction, my knowledge is less personal and sure, though some people do want fibreglass built construction.

On Gaia at sea, view from bow
Gaia sailing in Corfu, view from bow, with Monica, who is arranging the reprinting of Two Girls Two Catamarans.
On Gaia at sea, view from bow
Gaia bow walk.

35 years ago, GRP, with cheap polyester resin, glass mat and a little cloth seemed the miracle construction method; cheap, strong, non-leaking.

Now, yacht magazines are running articles on 'Osmosis'. Firms, with special developed machines, skim off the surface of GRP boats and, at great cost, reseal them with epoxy. 'Yachting Monthly' recently suggested that all GRP boats benefited by being hauled out to dry for 3 months a year!!

So, for GRP construction I selected 'Multimarine Composites, Limited' to build selected Wharram designs in GRP. Getting the money together for the moulds/tools has been our hold up.

'Multimarine Composites' is owned by Darren Newton, himself a designer and sailor of racing multihulls. I respect his building abilities, and we have spent much conference time with him towards discussing the best modern GRP technique.

Darren has been advertising his willingness to build Wharram GRP hulls for some two years on his Website and in 'Multihull International'.

Now, I note in the April issue of 'Multihull International' on the back page, that he is moulding also for Derek Kelsall, Nic Bailey's 'Feral 32', a High Speed Performance Catamaran and others. (I am glad to write that others, as well as myself, have been impressed by the enthusiasm and quality of Darren Newton and his band of men's workmanship, for we will all benefit.)

People who want to build Wharrams professionally must contact JWD. The standards of the new 'Wharram Built' boats must be of the same, if not better, quality as we established in our professional 'Wharram Built' workshop in 1987-1992.

- James Wharram