Thursday, July 12, 2012

Meeting James Wharram at Last

Meeting British catamaran designer James Wharram and his co-designer Hanneke Boon back in May was certainly one of the highlights of my year so far, at least until late June, when I saw the first copy of my first novel in its published form.  But those who have read The Pulse know that a Wharram-designed 36-foot catamaran is also integral to the plot as the vehicle of choice for one set of characters, and I can say for certain that it will be a part of the sequel as well.

The event was the 2012 Hui Wharram, or Wharram Spring Rendezvous, held in the Florida Keys on and the grounds of and in the anchorage near the Lorelei Restaurant in Islamorada.  This is an annual event, but this was the first year the famous designer himself was in attendance, and I made the 2,000 mile round road trip to the Keys just to meet him.

Here, James Wharram is signing my copies of his Design Book and his classic narrative of his 1956-59 double-transAtlantic voyage, Two Girls, Two Catamarans:

James Wharram and Scott B. Williams
Coming from a background of long-distance sea kayaking and canoeing, I was naturally attracted to Wharram catamarans the first time I saw a photo of one back around 1997.  I immediately ordered his Design Book then and built the Hitia 17 beachcruising catamaran, which was a natural progression from paddling to sailing.  These designs made sense to me then and they still do today.  Wharram's basic principles that make them so inherently seaworthy are these:
  • Narrow beam/length ratio hulls
  • Veed cross-section to sail to windward without daggerboards or centerboards
  • Flexibly mounted beams joining the hulls together
  • No permanent deck cabin between hulls
In addition, like traditional native canoes and kayaks, the two individual hulls that make up a Wharram catamaran are always double-ended, with plenty of rocker amidships and lots of reserve buoyancy due to the flare carried all the way to the sheer.  Unlike many modern multihull designs, these catamarans are extremely resistant to capsizing or pitch-poling due to either wind or sea state.  This has been amply proven by many ocean crossings in small Wharram cats, including Rory McDougall's circumnavigation in a Tiki 21, which still holds the record as the smallest catamaran to circumnavigate.

An outstanding example of a Tiki 30 at the rendezvous
More about James Wharram's visit to Florida can be found on his website, which was recently updated with a report by Dan Kunz on the rendezvous and James' own report on his visit to the new shop of his U.S. professional builder, David Halladay, of Boatsmith, Inc.  Hanneke Boon has also put together a video of the rendezvous and uploaded it to YouTube here.   I also wrote an article about the rendezvous for the current, July issue of Southwinds magazine.

Wharram cruising cats pulled up to the beach at the Lorelei

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: Across Islands and Oceans

I first posted this on my main site earlier today, but wanted to repost here for those of you who may not have seen it.  If you have any interest in sailing and especially cruising aboard a voyaging sailboat, you don't want to miss Across Islands and Oceans, by James Baldwin.
Across Islands and Oceans is one of those books that makes me lose focus on everything else I'm doing and seriously contemplate hauling in the anchor and setting sail for distant horizons.  The author, James Baldwin, did just that, but he was seriously focused on his dream or he wouldn't have been able to pull off such an amazing solo voyage around the world, beginning at the young age of only 25.
It was another 25 years after leaving before he put down the story in the detailed form you'll find in this book, and in the meantime he continued sailing, circumnavigating two and a half times on his engineless 28-foot Pearson Triton, Atom, and making a name for himself in the voyaging community through his many articles in Cruising World and other sailing publications.  His website, Atom Voyages, is a popular and extremely useful resource for those looking to restore and outfit older fiberglass sailboats and follow in his wake.  I referred to it extensively in my own refit of an old Grampian 26 that I owned for a few years before losing her to Hurricane Katrina.  Baldwin's advice is based on solid experience, and his recommendations are well-reasoned and budget-conscious for the self-sufficient cruising sailor who is not independently wealthy or interested in all the latest gadgets.
But back to the book at hand: Across Islands and Oceans is not simply the narrative of the kind of adventure many of us sailors can only dream about, it is also so well-written and interesting that it could capture the imagination of the most land-locked dirt dweller with no intention of ever setting foot aboard a cruising boat.  Baldwin's descriptions of not only the offshore passages but his explorations ashore and interactions with the natives showcase not only his writing abilities, but his keen and genuine interest in the history and culture of the places he visited.  Because he was alone with no companion to answer to or distract him, he was able to devote his full attention to the new people and places he encountered over each new horizon.  Having traveled solo for extended periods of time myself, I can relate to the difference this makes in the experience, and especially in this case, the difference it makes in the finished book that is the narrative of the voyage.  I learned new things about out-of-the-way places that I hope to someday visit throughout the book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in sailing or travel of any kind, but that recommendation comes with a warning:  reading this book may leave you discontent with your current life!  You may find yourself perusing the online listings of used cruising boats for sale, and if you do, you'll find that in the current economy, this is perhaps the best buyer's market ever for a solid old fiberglass sailboat.  For less than the cost of even the most basic new car, and a good bit of elbow grease, you can find and prepare an old boat that can take you around the world.   On Baldwin's website, you'll find examples of people who did exactly that, many of them bringing their project boats to him for advice and assistance on the refit before setting out on their own ocean crossings.
Across Islands and Oceans is available in print or in the Kindle version on Amazon.
"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


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