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Mongolian Water Transport and Islander 55

By James Wharram

In my last Web letter, written in September, I revealed that I had visited Mongolia this year on a Wharram Designs related trip. Since then, several people have written, asking: "How can an ocean sailor and designer of Ocean Sailing boats end up with a sailing project in Mongolia?, surely Mongolia is right in the centre of the Euro/Asian land mass?"

Blame Nicolas Musy for it, a Swiss who works in China and Mongolia, his hobby is Marathon running. He, with other enthusiastic Marathon runners, has set up an annual International Marathon in Mongolia, running alongside the great Mongolian lake Hovsgol (see their website)

This lake in Mongolia is 120km long, reaching North to the Siberian border. The land surrounding the whole of the lake is now a National Park. On the edge of the lake are tourist camps. There are no real roads. The servicing jeeps and trucks are tearing up the surface of the land, destroying the ecology. The 3 or 4 rusting ex-Russian steel ships on the lake are on their last legs.

Mongolia wild landscape from the air
The landscape of Mongolia, viewed from the air is like a green/brown ocean.
Mongolian Ger interior
We lived in this 'Ger' at Camp Toiglot.

'Nicolas' asked a member of his family in Switzerland: "Who could design an eco boat and be able to instruct local labour in building this boat?"

From somewhere in a peasant's house high up in an unknown mountain valley or from a wealthy banker's villa in Geneva - I do not know which - came the suggestion: "James Wharram. He has a ten ton cargo carrying catamaran, called the ISLANDER 65. He can build boats in odd places."

For 2 years, Nicolas has been discussing Hanneke and I going out to Mongolia to view the site and the prospective project. Finally, this year, he sent the tickets to visit Mongolia during the week of the 'Sunset to Sunrise' Marathon Race.

Fortunately, this was the spare week Hanneke and I had before going for a week to Ravenna, Italy, attending, for our pleasure, a Conference on early seafaring in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Red Sea from where we were due back in Corfu for another sailing trip.

Landing in Ulaan Bataar, after a 6 hour flight from Moscow in an aging Aeroflot plane, then boarding the small even more aging propeller driven plane for the 1œ hour flight to the little town of Khatgal at the South end of the 120 km long lake, I found myself hyped up into a highly alert mental state, which was not just due to the clear, high altitude air.

Horse and rider
Mongolian horse rider.
James and Hanneke at a meeting
We meet at the Park directors office to discuss the water transport project. (photo courtesy of Nigel Farrow)

Mongolia is 3 times the size of France, but it only has a population of two million people. 40% of them are Nomads. They live in what the Russians call 'Yurts' and the Mongolians call 'Gers'. From the aeroplane, the landscape below was a rolling entity. It was like a green/brown ocean. Occasionally, very occasionally, one could see the white covered roofs of two or three nomad 'gers', white dots in the middle of nowhere.

The Mongolians, when I met them, had the direct, proud eye-to-eye look of a people who had never had major class divisions. Each family group with its 'ger' were mostly sufficient in themselves. Their body stance was sure and confident.

The women?? There were many beautiful women, Japanese, Chinese and European, in the Marathon group, but the Mongolian women with this look of equal independence are something special. Then to see four or five Mongolians riding towards one, out of the distance, is to feel one's hair prickle and rise. It is an archaic feeling. As a sea nomad I felt immediate kinship with these land nomads.

The visit to Mongolia gave me a spiritual renewal of understanding as to why I design boats and wish to sail. It is the Nomadic feeling that is part of our inbuilt behaviour pattern and is stronger in some people. For these people I design boats.

James with uniformed staff
The building team at PT PAL led by Wulang (centre).
Hanneke sat on the floor with 3 others, drawing
Hanneke spent 4 days crawling on the floor drawing, directing and making sure every detail was correct.

Not everyone values or even recognises this inbuilt part of the human psyche. At the moment I am fighting a losing battle with the European R.C.D. (Recreational Craft Directive), legalised 4 years ago, in June 1998, setting rules and regulations for yachts after thousands of years of free nomadic sailing. This directive is purely for the benefit of the Industrial G.R.P. Boat Builders. In Europe, these new regulations are already turning the choice of 'Sailing Free' for a weekend, across the Bay of Biscay or the Ocean, into a bureaucratically controlled nightmare.

In Mongolia, as a Non Urban Man, I saw myself not as 'the odd one out' but as just 'one of the others'.

Practically, for boat building in Mongolia, we have a sawmill, a choice of empty sheds by the lake side, miles, thousands of miles, of larch trees and very practical Mongolian men and women. Nicolas has to raise the money (from eco minded boards and businesses) and with this and some imported glass and epoxy we will put a water transport system along the shores of lake Hovsgol. If the boat(s) look slightly rough, it does not matter so long as they are safe and eco friendly.

Professional building in Indonesia and Thailand

Where appearance and constructional safety are highly important is in the Professionally built boats, built in my name, able to sail the oceans.

October the 3rd found Hanneke and I flying out first to Surabaya in Java, Indonesia, to the Government ship yard (PT PAL; Warship division; wooden patrol boat section), to introduce two Spanish customers to the building of an ISLANDER 55.

Then from Surabaya, Hanneke and I flew on to Guenther Nutt's yard 'Seascape' in Phuket, Thailand, to see some of his completed boats, TIKI 30 and TIKI 46 designs and a PAHI 52 being built.

James sat on the floor with 3 others
Ana, Alex, Wulang and James discuss the finished lines.
The Seascape yard with one of the hulls of the Pahi 52.

The Spanish group of four were Ana and Alex and their crew, as well as my Balearic agent and German friend of many years, Jan Lendeertz. Jan is probably the most experienced sailor in the world of the HITIAs 14 and 17.

First we had to re-assure Ana and Alex that the Indonesians were friendly to outsiders. So, their first meal was not in an expensive Western restaurant, but sitting on a stool bench at a street food stall. The warm welcome they received from the other eaters made them feel at home. It was a meal of Nasi Goreng costing for the six of us a total of 4 Euros/Dollars.

Next to see was the quality of the 'Boatyard' PT PAL. Rolling in by car through the saluting police, guarding the gates of PT PAL, seeing the enormous workshops where major craft in steel, aluminium and wood are being built, meeting the men who will build their boat, made them make an instant decision: "Yes, we want an ISLANDER 55 built here."

A look at the ISLANDER 55 illustrated in my last webletter shows the design that Alex and Ana, former owners of a fast, French Charter catamaran, will be getting. It is obviously a Wharram design. Ten years ago, or even less, no accepted way of comparing this design with other catamaran designs of similar length was in general use. In recent years certain formulae are beginning to be used to look beneath the 'styling' of catamarans to get to a realistic assessment of sailing possibilities as accepted in monohull designs.

Catamaran comparisons
Catamaran comparison table

To calculate stability, there is now an accepted formula in use. With this formula the stability of the ISLANDER 55, due to the low centre of effort two masted Wingsail Rig, compares with the heavy, safe, well proven cruising catamarans on the market, i.e. the ISLANDER 55 is a much more stable design with the same Sail Area/Displacement ratio than other high performance designs on the market.

The Displacement/Length ratio of the ISLANDER 55 is the same as some of the new offshore high performance designs, but comparisons of Displacement/Length ratios are not as meaningful as other formula comparisons as they change fast with different loadings.

Another factor mentioned recently in catamaran design analysis (at long last) is the height of the centre deck off the sea. The ISLANDER 55 in relation to her length has one of the highest centre decks off the sea.

Even so, with all these positive design analysis figures, the ISLANDER 55 looks radically different with its overhangs, flare, pointed sterns and sail rig profile than any other high performance catamaran on the market. Why? I have sailed the oceans for 50 years. More of my catamaran designs, small ones and big ones, have safely sailed the oceans (very often with unskilled crews) than any other catamaran design. From this empirical experience I believe that the design shape I use offers the greatest safety under hard sea conditions. An added factor is that the hull lines do not distort with overloading, due to the canoe stern and the Veed hull. It does explain the distinctiveness of my hull shapes. You either like them and trust my experiences as a designer or you don't.

Tiki 46 deck at sea
Sailing on the Tiki 46.

The price of the ISLANDER 55, complete finished and rigged sailaway boat, but without engines, electrics or any added imported items, is Euro 150,000. (At this moment of writing the US$ is very close in value to the Euro).

This will seem to many a staggering low price. However, the reason is not that European and other Western countries' boat builders are necessarily making a fantastic profit. If Ana and Alex want to register the craft in the EU, they will have to add approx. 20% of VAT/TAX to this cost.

European and other Western boat builders are caught in the sales, advertising, overheads trap, which we of James Wharram Designs with our life experience and trade name at the moment can keep low, but I can see the future when economic necessity will also force the price of this design higher.

I have run out of space to describe our following visit to Guenther Nutt at 'Seascape', Phuket, Thailand. There, we sailed a TIKI 46, saw the sweetest, most beautiful TIKI 30 and - looked at the part built PAHI 52, all built by Guenther Nutt and his team. I will describe this visit, when we sailed a TIKI 46 in my next Web Letter.

Please, please, do not write and ask which is the better design the ISLANDER 55 or the PAHI 52. As I can love more than one woman at a time, so I can love equally two boats at the same time. Hopefully, next year, we can sail the two boats together. I would like to finish with wishing you all a very happy Christmas time. We will spend this time in Corfu on Spirit of Gaia, hopefully to enjoy some sunshine and warmth. So please don't expect answers to your emails over the Christmas period.

- James Wharram

PLEASE NOTE that the franchise agreement for Seascape to build Wharram catamarans has now ended. Seascape is therefore not currently endorsed to build Wharram catamarans as part of the JWD professional builder family.