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

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"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


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