James Wharram passed away

  • 19 Dec 2021 01:41
    Reply # 12202303 on 12199822

    I had the good fortune to meet Jim on several occasions and Ruth and I corresponded regularly until her death.  Hanneke and I still keep in touch.  James was a man of integrity, imagination and courage.  He refused to compromise in life and in death.  I think that, in fact, his designs did move on - there is a huge difference between the early designs and the later ones, but he never lost sight of the original inspiration: simple, organic boats that will sail with, rather than against the elements.

    His double-canoes were first and foremost voyaging boats: they were not floating condominiums.  The ethos of the design was Trade Wind Sailing, and his open decks make much more comfortable living spaces in the Tropics, than the bridgedecks of modern catamarans, airless and with blinds over the windows, which may keep the temperature tolerable on sunny days, but separate those on board from their surroundings.  The boats were designed from the outset to be simple - low carbon was part of James's thinking long before it was even articulated.  His boats are everywhere around the planet, with many ocean miles to their credit and with a devoted band of followers.  Having spent 5 years in a boatyard that specialised in servicing modern catamarans, I have to say that his flexible beams seem to make a lot of sense to me, along with the low-stress rig.  I have heard people 'accuse' James of selling a dream.  And so he did; however, the dream that he sold was achievable by ordinary, working-class people providing that they had the determination and courage to follow it.

    Never strident, always prepared to listen to other people, capable of seeing beyond Western viewpoints and respectful of the intelligence and abilities of women, James was a truly civilised man.  He lived simply and seemed far more interested in acquiring wisdom than money.  While his life was largely land-based, his heart was always afloat.  His was a long, generous and well-spent life. 

  • 18 Dec 2021 18:19
    Reply # 12201425 on 12199822

    A great man, who really brought the catamaran to the western world.  Building his first in 1954, he sold his ideas to thousands of people who became devoted followers.   The world moved on, but James Wharram did not, yet it is probably reasonably accurate to say that every modern catamaran from the Hobie and other beach cats to the huge Lagoon and FP, and other multi million dollar condo cats can trace it's lineage back to that catamaran James built in 1954.  (below)

    His designs left a lot to be desired for most of us....."If I'd wanted a cabin I'd have designed one".   Flexible beam connections, not to my knowledge used by any other designer. Double ended hulls resulting in much less useable interior volume for length, V bottoms resulting in more drag, but acting as a leeway device, slatted decks.... it's not the cat most people want, yet his cats of various sizes have crossed many oceans.  They had a capsize free record back when capsize was the great fear with multihulls:   Hey Ho and Up She Rises (Sports Illustrated)   They  have survived virtually everything the ocean could throw at them including tropical cyclones.

         Probably more of his designs have been built than those of any other multihull designer.  Simple, light, seaworthy, and able to carry a payload surprising for their size.  

         The first, and still the most common junk rigged catamarans out there are Wharram designs, (and owner variants) yet he had nothing good to say about the junk rig on multihulls for many years, though his stance seems to have softened over the years as the cambered panel rig evolved.  Here are two, a conventional junk rig, and a soft wing sail version.

    You have to admire a man who marched successfully to the beat of his own drummer for nearly 60 years and accumulated so many devoted followers who built so many of his boats.  


           My interest is in catamarans, and the apple of my eye does not fall far from the "Wharram Tree", in the designs of Richard Wood, who originally worked under James Wharram, but moved his designs into modern times.


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    Last modified: 18 Dec 2021 18:30 | Anonymous member
  • 18 Dec 2021 05:24
    Reply # 12200207 on 12199822

    A great man, a brave individual who has left behind a real legacy of affordable cruising yachts. It is sad that these great multihull pioneers are passing on. I very much enjoyed James Wharram's book 'The Sea People'. I thought it was an honest account of all that transpired in the interesting life that was James Wharram. 

  • 18 Dec 2021 05:22
    Reply # 12200206 on 12199822

    The end of an era.  I built a Wharram Tane when I was 17, and exchanged a lot of letters in those 70s with James and Ruth.  Ruth said he saw something of his young self in my passionate, rebellious, anti-establishment attitude, channelled into a desire to escape to the sea on a small boat.  We met once, in 1999, when he was circumnavigating aboard Spirit of Gaia, a boat that I remember having a unique aura.  She seemed to my eyes to be a blend between a Polynesian voyaging canoe and a Gloucester schooner.  James was as magnetic a personality as I expected, and over a long lunch, we talked of many things, including Polynesian navigation and the resurgence of the Pacific voyaging canoes.  His influence in the world of multihulls and ocean voyaging was immense.  

       " ...there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in junk-rigged boats" 
                                                               - the Chinese Water Rat

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