Home > Jim's Column > 2000 > Tahiti Wayfarer in Douarnenez

Tahiti Wayfarer in Douarnenez

By James Wharram

I have been back in Cornwall for three weeks, most of the time stuck in 'The future of the PCA' problem. But life has to go on, and many serious people are interested in 'How did the 21ft. Ethnic design, the 'TAHITI WAYFARER' sail? How did it steer with no rudder just a steer-board paddle? How did the Crab claw Rig work?

The boat was built with the help of 3 students from Falmouth Marine School. Young people often get 'knocked' these days, but these young men were superb. I regretted that at the moment we do not build more boats in our workshop, we would have employed them. In addition, Joke Snel who worked at 'Wharram Built' in the past came and helped with the epoxy glassing.

Even so, the boat was finished only on the eve of the second week of the Brest/Douarnenez Festival in France, to which we trailed her behind the car. We were met there with magnificent French hospitality and good organisation. On Sunday we assembled the boat with the rig for the first time at the top of the slip. The boat looked good, but the sails left something to be desired.

Tahiti Wayfarer on trailer
Tahiti Wayfarer arrived in Douarnenez on a trailer.
Hanneke steering Tahiti Wayfarer
Hanneke at the steering paddle.

We launched her, then paddled to our pontoon berth and put up the tent accommodation for the first time, this was to be our home for the week.

Monday was crunch day. In the morning we paddled in light winds out into the Bay, well clear of the land and any other boats, then let out the brailed-up sails. Hanneke pushed the steering paddle into the water, and …… she sailed. In the light wind, regular ripples on the sea, she was moving smartly and close to the wind, no significant signs of leeway.

Hanneke then pulled the paddle up, the boat headed into the wind. She put the paddle on the other side of the hull, gave a flick outwards and the boat was on a new tack. IT WORKED!!!

Then we went looking for 'marks' to judge our sailing speed and windward ability by. There were lots of French two and three masted luggers of the Pinnace or Gig type. We had no trouble in keeping up with them in speed and windward performance. When one of them started a water fight we freed off slightly and accelerated out of the way. Hanneke took her shirt off, to keep dry! I hunched down under my hat, but to our pleasure we escaped them.

James steering Tahiti Wayfarer
James wielding the steering paddle.
Tahiti Wayfarer starboard bow
The forefoot slicing through the water.

On that first afternoon, Monday 17th of July, the 'Fleet' came sailing down from Brest. It was an awe-inspiring sight, hundreds of traditional sailing craft with our little double canoe in its midst. At one point we found ourselves sailing along side the 'Grand Turk', a British built 18th century frigate replica. We really understood how in size comparison our ancient Pacific Sailors must have felt on meeting their first Western vessels.

The self-made sails that were laced to badly shaped natural spars (they did not dry out as straight as we had wished) worked surprisingly well. We are only at the beginning of Crab Claw sail studies, but they do seem to have the potential that Professor Marchaj after wind tunnel tests claimed was theoretically to be expected.

Faults: When running dead before the wind, the steering blade easily came unstuck from the side of the hull and made steering unpredictable. Brailing up the aft sail solved this problem. Question to be solved: How does a steering oar work when running before the wind? Is it just a matter of practise to master the steering techniques of the ancient Pacific People?

Our crew was 'Ben', one of the Falmouth student boat builders, used to wash the dishes in the evening, then would go off with his gallon of wine to join the festivities. The evening parties were - well very French. By evening my body would be aching too much from living on such a small boat that I would collapse gratefully into my tent-bunk.

French lugger sailing
There were lots of French two and three masted luggers of the Pinnace or Gig type. We had no trouble in keeping up with them in speed and windward performance.
Many sailing ships in the harbour
View over the outer harbour, there were hundreds of fascinating boats.

I would however make daytime visits to the outer harbour where many of the boats were moored, often by Tahiti Wayfarer, and visit boats of the fleet.

I was particularly interested in the 60-70ft replica of a Cossack boat of the 14th Century, which used to sail on the great Ukrainian river Dniepr. These Cossacks were, as was to be expected, quite 'mad'; the crew were drinking steadily, while beating big leather drums, surrounded by adoring French ladies. The captain and the First Mate, on hearing I was an ocean sailor, were asking for advise on how to sail across the Atlantic in the craft. Next day we saw her sailing; men beating drums, adoring French ladies in attendance, while Captain and Mate worked hard to make her sail. A Cossack ship of the 14th Century, storming into the Caribbean is something I would like to see.

On the last afternoon of the festival, sailing in a force 5 wind with 3 people on board, we found the little craft very sensitive to sail trim and weight distribution, in order to use the Steering paddle without straining, but she did sail well to windward. She finished her last sail by tacking beautifully up the river entrance against an outgoing tide and negotiating a number of moored boats. We felt we were learning all the time. Ben and his friends have sailed her since in Cornwall (we were in Corfu). As yet, we do not have his report.

Cossack boat with square sail
I was particularly interested in the 60-70ft replica of a Cossack boat of the 14th Century.
James talking to crew on the Cossack ship
The captain and the First Mate of the Cossack Ship, on hearing I was an ocean sailor, were asking for advice on how to sail across the Atlantic in the craft.

What we hope to do during the next months (it's winter here) is to take one hull and rig it as an outrigger. Note Outrigger, not Proa. What we have learned so far is that the Crab Claw rig, even in a rough state, will go to windward. The hull profile with its uplifted stern, sails well in choppy seas, the Fore Foot in conjunction with the Steering Paddle does take her to windward.

Until we are sure that the design is controllable in the hands of Mr. Average, we will continue to develop it. The design will be available in one package that will include both the Outrigger and Double Canoe. However, we must make it quite clear, that this is an Ethnic design. It is for dedicated sailors interested in the Rediscovery and Research of Ethnic Canoe form Craft. Do not expect her to perform, in the hands of a novice sailor, in the easy and forgiving way of the equivalent sized TIKI 21 design. Having said that, her performance so far seems good.

A large 18th century frigate replica
At one point we found ourselves sailing along side the 'Grand Turk', a British built 18th century frigate replica.

It may be that the outrigger version is easier to handle. This would confirm my suspicion that the outrigger was a very important craft in the history of Canoe form Craft.

- James Wharram