Farewell to James Wharram

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Photographs courtesy James Wharram Designs

On 23 July, a colourful fleet of home built catamarans gathered in Cornwall to pay their last respects to James and Ruth Wharram. Outside Falmouth harbour – the starting point of their legendary first Atlantic crossing in 1955 – in fresh 28 knot winds, a fleet representing Wharram’s impressive life’s work as a designer gathered: a 42’ (12.8m) Pahi, a whole range of Tikis in lengths from 21’ to 31’ (6.4 to 9.4m), a Tahiti Wayfarer with crab claw sails and even a tiny Melanesia outrigger canoe.

The fleet formed around the Mana 24, skippered by Wharram’s life partner, co-designer and co-author Hanneke Boon, and the Tahiti Wayfarer, piloted by their son Jamie. The ashes of James and Ruth Wharram were then consigned to the sea, to be carried out into the open sea by the ebb tide. 

Earlier that day the 23’6’’ (7.15m) Mana – James’s last design – was moored at Falmouth’s Custom House Quay, in the very same spot where his first catamaran Tangaroa, also 23’6’’, lay 67 years earlier, before setting out on her pioneering transatlantic voyage.

Coming full circle, at the end of his life James could look back on a circumnavigation, two books, three dozen boat designs in lengths from 14’ (4.2m) to 65’ (19.8m) and more than 10,000 self-build plans sold. Many owe him a lot.

If anyone has democratised yachting, it is James Wharram. Rory McDougall, who sailed solo around the world on a Wharram Tiki 21 as a 21-year-old in the 1990s and attended last month’s memorial Hui on his Tiki 30 Moana, commented: “I’ll be forever grateful to James. I sailed around the world – and became more myself every day. On what other boat would such a journey have been possible at such a young age?”

James Wharram’s books, self-build plans, blogs and essays can be found at www.wharram.com