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Summer in Corfu

By James Wharram

Three or four months can be a long time in a sailor's life. In that time he/she could have crossed oceans or sailed many coastal miles calling in at many different lifestyle ports. When I last sat here at my writing table, I was looking through my studio windows at the cold, storm-driven rain of March/April - sweeping across the saltings. In the next four months I travelled on boat-related interests from England to Italy, Corfu, back to England, Mongolia, Italy, Corfu, Germany and home. Now in the warm early September sunshine I am again looking out of the studio windows - this time at sun-warmed green saltings with the sun reflecting tide creeping slowly in. Just outside the window is my 21 ft outrigger canoe, assembled yesterday, ready for sail testing.

So much has happened in the last 3-4 months that it reads like a book. I find the task of distilling the essence of these last few crowded months for the regular readers of this column incredibly difficult. Too much has happened for a website column. So what I will do is to use photos and break the story up, writing when I can about each of the monthly themes. My last web page ended:

"Well friends, it's soon away to the Gaia in Corfu and by 15 and 16 May (which is respectively mine and the Gaia's birthday) I will be sailing with my yacht club Multihull Deutschland in their Club Rally around Corfu."

Gaia being lifted by crane
Gaia being lifted in her slings.
Hanneke and Michael working on a boat
Hanneke and Michael replaced all the old toerails with new Iroko ones.

I will write in this particular column about the theme of May, Spring and the beginning of sailing life renewal.

On 15 May in Gouvia Marina, Corfu, one day short of her 10th birthday, GAIA (our 63ft Pahi) was lifted off the dockside high in the air by Yanis my Gouvia Marina crane driving friend, to be lowered gently back into the sea. The watching crowd burst into applause (something they always seem to do at the launching of GAIA) and I came out of the tension "what happens if the sling breaks and it drops".

When the GAIA slipped into the sea, her refit crew were Hanneke and Michael who speaks as well as his native German, Dutch and English. He and Hanneke (Dutch) had developed in their weeks of fitting out the GAIA the habit of speaking a mixture of Dutch and German according to the mood and the job.

GAIA's provisioning crew was Sigrid, also German. She had sailed on GAIA before. She spoke German and English as I do, so GAIA's working language became 'Nederdenglish'. Three days after launching, GAIA was provisioned and ready to take on 3 guests from Multihull Deutschland to sail in the Spring Corfu Multihull Deutschland rally.

With 700 members, Multihull Deutschland is probably the biggest Multihull club in Europe and is run with quiet German efficiency. There were three people wishing to attend the rally, who could not find room on other Multihulls. We being the biggest boat in the rally were asked could they be our guests? So our guest crew, in addition to the working crew, were Caterina and Norbert - TV and Radio journalists from Cologne. Caterina soon discovered Hanneke's fascinating life story and recorded aspects of it for a woman's radio program.

Catarina and Sigri on deck
Catarina and Sigri.
Hans and James in Gaia cockpit
Hans Luther and James.

I discovered that Hans Luther - the third guest - was a direct descendant of Martin Luther (the founder of the Protestant movement in Germany in the 16th Century) and was also the grandson of a leading war fighting German naval commander. Hans was a radical student in his youth, now a social lawyer and a keen sailor of Hobi Cats, Tornados and the odd French charter catamaran. We had an immediate bond in life philosophy, politics and sailing.

In the rally fleet were some small but fast, close to the wind, sloop rigged trimarans (Dragonflies and F27s). Hans Luther's ambition was to see if he could sail the simple sheeted Tiki Wingsail Schooner rig of the shallow draft v-hulled GAIA as close to the wind in the light air smooth seas, as the sloop-rigged trimarans with deep daggerboards.

Well, with Hanneke and I running around pulling sheets and trimming downhauls he did it, but to be truthful in the light winds the trimarans slowly moved ahead of us. Only as the wind strengthened did GAIA move ahead.

So for a week under sailing master 'Hans Luther' the 63ft GAIA was sailed with the same close attention as a day-sailing catamaran. Hans Luther must have been satisfied because he left GAIA with the avowed wish of owning a smaller, seagoing Wharram catamaran himself.

The rally was not all attentive sailing. The rally officer was Hans Muehlbauer. He is also a TV journalist with access to a Berlin TV satellite programme. In pursuit of scenic shots, Hans from his French 'Tobago' Catamaran led us into some "interesting" situations (an "interesting" situation is where the Captain is in a panic but does not let the crew notice - see the photograph of the Cliffside cave,!).

Hans Muehlbauer loved sailing alongside GAIA. One of the photos is the first we have received in 10 years of GAIA sailing as seen from another boat (you never see your own boat sail!). The GAIA is more than a sailing ship. She is the centre of many European philosophical ideas. One is a relaxed attitude to clothes. The natural beauty of the naked, or just a sarong around the waist, German/Dutch women crew when sailing had to be filmed, with the polite request "can I show this on my satellite channel?". The Multihull Deutschland rally was a pleasant time for back in the sea GAIA and ourselves.

A boat in a cave in a cliffside
This is cave is on the West side (sea side) of Paxos. The Tobago with it's 2 strong engines carefully backed inside. Something we didn't feel like copying with the big swell rolling in.
Women doing yoga on deck of Gaia
The women do yoga to keep fit.

During those summer months, Ann and Neville Clement, the first Tiki 46 builders in UK, were having a harder time. In August they finally launched their boat. Due to insurance small print, they were put under great pressure, as they had to leave Britain before 1st September or their insurance would not cover them. They dreaded the thought of another winter in cold and wet UK.

So they launched their Tiki 46 in Bristol, sailed it 1 day across the Bristol Channel to Swansea (Wales) and then the next day down the Welsh coast to Milford Haven. Then out to sea non-stop 500+ miles across the Bay of Biscay. The standing rigging was loose, the running rigging unfamiliar, they had light winds and calms with at times, stronger winds. They averaged 6.4 knots sailing 535 Nm in 3.5 days. They were also pleased to report that the boat with Jeckells sails tacked through 90 degrees. As I write these notes, we were relieved to hear from them in Camarinas, North Spain. Now they can do what one should do with a new untested boat. Make many daysails adjust rigging etc. etc. and get to know their boat intimately and each other again after many months of stress.

No one advises an owner to take off deep sea just after launching, but the Clements through no fault of their own had to do it. The combination of their good construction work, the design, and their previous sailing experience, looked after them. We shall be hearing more from the Clements in the future. Unfortunately due to their precipitous departure we never got to see and photograph the finished boat. We are eagerly awaiting photos taken by those who did.

As I began sailing in May, news began to be sent from our Devoran office via our on-board email, of a constant stream of articles being published about James Wharram or the designs of James Wharram. By September, 12 articles in worldwide yachting magazines have been published during the summer in France, Germany, America, Australia and Japan about my/our design work or on the sailing of our designs.

Fire in a hearth
Every sailing week must have one BBQ, everyone loves the fire in the hearth of Gaia.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the great American architect, was once asked how did he become the 'grand old man' of architecture. He answered back "I lived longer than the others!". To a certain extent, this could be the reason for the current interest in my life's work. I have myself to digest and reason out this interest, which I will write about in a later web column. What is so heart warming in these 12 articles is that they are written by yachting editors and general sailors in the major yacht magazines (not specialist Multihull magazines) on designs that were "Pure Wharram" and had not distorted into other people's concepts, as unfortunately only happens too often. The writers of these articles were interested in the designs as sailing craft in a world of other sailing craft.

Hans Klaar, the great Wharram sailor, who for years used his crab claw rigged 50ft Wharram Tehini as a family home and trading craft in the Indian Ocean, telephoned me last week from the island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. He is sailing to Puerto Colon, the Panama Canal, and on to the Pacific. He said "James, everybody I talk to admires you for sticking to your design principles". These 12 published articles in the world's major yacht magazines show that sticking to my basic design principles: seaworthiness, stability, non-fashion-led profiles, practical accommodation, economic structural design, has at last "paid off".

Only now can I reveal that 2-3 years ago I was so fed up with the 'bullshit' and problems developing around our designs from intruding outsiders, that I was thinking of following Hans Klaar and others of my sailing friends back to full-time on the ocean!

- James Wharram