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Visit to Andy Smith Boatyard

By James Wharram

I no longer like the cold of northern winters. During the winter months I now have an escape excuse, to visit my Franchised Builders in the Philippines, Thailand and now India.

Late October there was still glorious autumn weather in Cornwall – but I, with Hanneke, was aboard a Cathay Pacific airplane bound for the Philippines to visit Andy Smith's Boatyoard. Trapped in a diabolically small seat with my “bad leg” stuck out into the aisle, each time the food trolley went by it got crushed (the agonies I suffer for my customers!!).

A-framed house amongst trees
We were accommodated in Andy’s new Guest House, a simple Native Style A-frame. For two days we rested and adjusted to jet lag and the heat.
James reading a book

This necessary visit was to meet Jean-Marie and Rafael, who are having an Islander 65’ built at the Andy Smith Boatyard in the Philippines. At this point the two 65’ hulls had been successfully built, with this office checking the progress with digital photos sent regularly by email - see photos on the Andy Smith Boatworks section of the website.

Jean-Marie for about 20 years has been a Wharram Sailing Enthusiast. He can be described, with his stormy Indian Ocean voyages on his Tiki 21’ and later his Tiki 31’ as an ‘experienced Wharram sailor’. A year or two ago he fell under a bus. Though badly crushed, he saw his insurance money as an asset to advance his sailing ambition. He would use it to have a big catamaran built, suitable for charter work in the many islands of the Seychelles and elsewhere in the Indian Ocean and also to expand, with his wife, their charity work in places like Madagascar. Jean-Marie really is tough.

Hanneke and Ronnie building a model boat
Hanneke very soon began work with Ronnie the yard Foreman to build a one fifth scale model of the proposed Deck Cabin of the Islander.
Receptionist sat at a desk
Andy has a highly competent staff headed by Evelyn, who is completing a Major in business studies.

Rafael, his companion and friend, a younger Wharram Sailor, was planning to build his own Wharram catamaran, but decided to join forces with Jean Marie.

In design, there is first of all the ship as a ‘Sailing Machine’. In the Islander design this was relatively straight forward, though it did include design queries like what happens when someone drops a sack of rice or cement from a great height into the bilges!

The design of where the crew live and work, how the boat is controlled, is a far more subtle problem, for human values and emotions play a large part in the final agreed design. During Jean Marie and Rafael’s visit to the Wharram Design Office in Devoran last year, to discuss the project, we had decided on a provisional deck pod/cabin design.

Jean-Marie, Rafael, James and Evelyn
Jean-Marie, Rafael, James and Evelyn in discussion by the stern of the Islander.
Jean-Marie, Rafael and James inside the boat
Jean-Marie, Rafael and James examine one of the large centre sections of the hulls. James and Jean-Marie are actually sitting on the normal floor level and Rafael is kneeling on the seat.

Our imperative was, that part of this cabin should provide a storm capsule in the event of hurricane force winds, with a bunk, simple food preparation place and 360-degree all-round vision. As one that is feeling age infirmities and a gammy knee, I related with Jean-Marie, who needs two sticks to move around.

We have a design consultant friend, Robert Vincent, who had just finished a contract with Britain’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution, designing one of their latest rescue lifeboats. We invited him to help with the design of the deckpod.

We had arranged this meeting in the Philippines, as it was important that we got Jean-Marie’s final thoughts on the proposed Deck Pod and his approval of the hull work done so far.

Rafael examining the stern hold
Rafael continues his examination of every cabin, here inspecting the epoxy work in the stern hold.
Partially completed deckpod

Arriving tired and stiff at Cebu Airport, the Andy Smith Organisation took over, delivering us by car and high speed Ferry to the island of Bohol, which is connected by bridge to Panglao Island where Andy Smith's Boatyard is situated. We were accommodated in Andy’s new Guest House, a simple Native Style A-frame. For two days we rested and adjusted to jet lag and the heat.

Then came our visit to the Boatyard and the 65’ Wharram hulls. Remember reader; we own a 63’ Pahi (Spirit of Gaia), which we have sailed around the world. On first view, the Islander 65 was enormous and dominated the yard.

Model of deck pod
The nearly complete deck pod model is ready for inspection.
Sketches of boat designs
Early next morning, after a disturbed sleep, Hanneke was up early sketching; sketching new Design ideas that combined both her and Jean-Marie’s wishes, with which everyone could be happy.

Boats have an emotional feel; all I can write is that Gaia feels light and feminine, the Islander 65 powerfully masculine. Whether the Islander will have the ability, like our Spirit of Gaia, to ‘Ghost’ in almost no wind remains to be seen (though she will have extra light weather sails). Most certainly, she will drive through the seas with dryer decks than Gaia.

Hanneke very soon began work with Ronnie the yard Foreman to build a one fifth scale model of the proposed Deck Cabin of the Islander.

I (after asking permission) roamed through the yard and entered the office. Everyone was hard at work and cheerful, the workshops tidy and a man permanently in charge of keeping the place clean. I found one young man spraying paint without a facemask. “Son” I said to him, “If you don’t use a face mask for spraying, first you lose your ability to have sex, then you die”. Next day, he was wearing his facemask. Young men don’t think about dying, they do about sex.

Andy, Evelyn and James at the dinner table
Later, during the evening meal together at Andy’s house, Evelyn then saw us all chatting away as normal, though I did have an extra glass of wine.
Dining at a table

Andy Smith’s paperwork in the past has not always been efficient (mine is hopeless). Now he has a highly competent office staff headed by Evelyn, supported by Adelyn and Ninette (the office was thankfully air conditioned, so I enjoyed being there and talking to the girls). These ladies are shy and very polite with Westerners, but are good at their job. I suggested that during my stay Evelyn would act as my Private Secretary and learn the way of Westerners. It was an eye opening experience for her.

After a week working in the yard and building the model, Jean-Marie and Rafael arrived. After our first meeting a year ago, Jean-Marie and I renewed our ‘discussion’ of who really won the Napoleonic Wars, but agreed as Sailors of a ‘certain age’, that the present world was ‘short on hope’.

Hitia 17s and Islander 65 next to each other
The two nearly complete little Hitia 17s are dwarfed by the huge 65’ Islander hull.
People on a motor boat
We did manage one boat trip during our visit. This is the yard’s launch, a Selway Fisher design (built in ply/epoxy at the yard) on which Andy lets his cottage girls get familiar with the engine controls. The yard staff all get a chance to get boating skills on the launch and on the Hitia 17.

When they saw the model of the Deck Cabin built by Ronnie and Hanneke, the ‘fun’ began. “Mmmm, too much camber in the Roof,” said Rafael, “it would look better if flatter”. Hanneke is Dutch, the Dutch are known as a stubborn European Race, she also has very strong artistic opinions. Evelyn had been told to make notes of all discussions. Her quivering pen recorded the developing drama of Dutch/French/English negotiations!

Rafael wanted the cabin sides 10 cm (4 inches) higher, which meant more windage and visually higher. This necessitated European Common Market style negotiations. After much bargaining, the European compromise was achieved that the sides should be raised by no more than 5cm (2”), non … 7.5cm (3”), no … 7cm (2 3/4”).

Then we started examining the hulls. Jean-Marie with his two sticks and I with one, after having precariously lowered ourselves into a couple of 8 foot deep hull sections (the companion ladders hadn’t been built yet), soon decided that Hanneke and Rafael could handle that job without our help.

Next day we assembled back round the model Deck Cabin. Jean-Marie had been told by an experienced French Charter Skipper that his steering position should be in the centre of the Ship – and that he should steer high up, head and shoulders in the open as is done on some recent French Charter Catamarans.

This was totally different from the steering position that Hanneke with the help of Robert, fresh from designing RNLI lifeboats, had considered suitable and carefully worked out with the help of a full size mock up. Evelyn got more experience of full volume European negotiations.

Large catamaran hulls under a roof
Islander 65 hulls
Small white and yellow catamaran
Hitia 17

To get a visual idea, Ronnie got out his Japanese modelling saw and cut a “slit trench” in the roof of the model, for Jean-Marie’s proposed steering position. Jean-Marie insisted, from his Tiki 31’ voyages, that steering in sheeting rain and storm spray for several days was “No Problem”. I quickly disagreed; the days when Jean-Marie and I could do such heroics are past. Emotions and opinions at this time could be described as ‘interesting’.

In an aside to Evelyn, I said: “All Europeans argue in different ways, you have to learn to understand them. The Americans are different again”. She went more silent than she normally is. Later, during the evening meal together at Andy’s house, Evelyn then saw us all chatting away as normal, though I did have an extra glass of wine.

Early next morning, after a disturbed sleep, Hanneke was up early sketching; sketching new Design ideas that combined both her and Jean-Marie’s wishes, with which everyone could be happy. European co-operation had won again.

Hitia 17 moored off the beach
One of the Hitias is finished and moored off the local tourist beach ready for the winter season.
Monohull yacht sailing
Molly on her maiden sail

Designing a large boat like the Islander 65’ is exciting, particularly for sailors I like and respect, like Jean-Marie. But, also in the yard being built, was a fleet of Hitia 17s for local beach charter and a Tiki 30 in strip planking for private use. Both these are Designs that I want to develop further for professional building in my Franchise Yards.

Unfortunately, an unpleasant part of our visit to Andy Smith Boatyard was to inspect a Dory/Sharpie junk rigged Mono-Hull called ‘Molly’ designed by Jay Benford, the American designer, and built at the yard the previous year. The Design of this boat had nothing to do with JWD; it is not our policy to comment on other Designer’s designs, but the owners of Molly, after just two short sails - within a couple of weeks from launching - decided to sell her, blaming the yard for a list of problems and JWD for having ‘recommended’ the yard (as a Wharram Catamaran builder on this website!).

The short answer to this unpleasant business is to look at the photos of Molly. Though there were some teething problems that could easily have been sorted, it is quite obvious that this boat is not a Sailing Disaster. Its rejection so quickly by its owners is the result of some emotional turmoil. For those who have followed this story from the original accusing web pages, and who wish to read the results of our investigation, here is our report.

Cockpit view from a monohull yacht under sail
Molly on her maiden sail

Next week Hanneke flies to Mexico with Klaus Hympendahl, to sail aboard Glenn Tieman’s Tama Moana, the ancient Tikopian Design that, God and Sponsors willing, we will be sailing next year on the ‘Lapita Voyage’ Expedition to Tikopia and Anuta (see the new website).

Meanwhile I look forward to the end of this coming winter, to next February when we will make another visit to the Wharram Franchise Yard of Seascape (link James letter April 2003) in Thailand, where four Pahi 52’s have been built (photos), as well as many other Wharram designs, some for Siam Sailing, then on to India and the 2nd Mumbai Boat Show, where our new (still provisional) Indian Franchised Builder will be exhibiting.

- James Wharram