Title photograph : ‘Cooking Fat‘ (James Wharram design) Tamar UK
The second post in the series about shallow draft boats, this is the post where 1-boat Steve gets to meet Jimmy ‘2-hulls’ and ‘3-keel’ Dave. These are, if you will, the alternative approaches to shallow draft boats , in brief : multihulls and shallow draft, beachable multi-keel boats.
If you know anything about the west country and it’s local boats and designers, you might realise that multihulls have always been and are a big deal around here. Just down the road we have Darren Newton (Dazcats) and i know of 2 of his fast catamarans in the river. Then there isRichard Woods designs down at Millbrook and then only a few miles away is James Wharram designs. Of the 3 this thread of course refers to James Wharram and the reference is to his crew often referring to him as Jimmy during their epic transatlantic voyage on his first catamaran design : Tangaroa. I first met ‘JW’ way back in the 80’s at a London boat show where i seem to remember that they had a half finished Tiki 26 on display. We didn’t exactly hit it off but then i was a total IOR-head at the time and didn’t have enough sense to just listen to what they had to say. I have to admit that i didn’t understand his boats at all at that stage and it took a long while reading around the subject when i came ashore from my own sailing career to start to understand them. What i haven’t talked about much here is that i actually bought a half built Warram cat, finished it and then rebuilt it myself but have never included it in the blog because i just don’t have any photographs of it. That project was the actual realisation of my ‘bushcraft/survival boat’ project and i learnt a lot from going down that alternative route. For a while i really had my boat feet in 2 completely opposite camps as i was still being a stand-in afterguard on a maxi some days and working on the Wharram on other days.
For this post i thought i would attempt something very different and that is go back straight to source and go talk to the man himself rather than just relying on secondhand sources. Having owned and sailed one of his designs i had hoped to be granted an interview or just to have an online conversation to get some fresh insights here but it must be remembered that James is now 90 and his partner Hanneke must be older than i am by a few years. As it happens both James and Hanneke were away out of the country so that didn’t happen but their own website filled in the gaps pretty well for this post. Their story, notably the designing, building and sailing of his first design (Tangaroa) and then their second boat (Rongo)is available in the form of a book “Two girls Two catamarans”. Their designs book is well worth a read too. Several years ago i met Hanneke by complete chance long after i had finished my own project and moved onto other things and she was very kind to lend me a copy of the DVD of their ‘Lapita’ voyage . At that stage in their own design evolution they had also ‘returned to source’ and had re-created a modern version of a polynesian voyaging double canoe and sailed that to the isolated Lapita group of islands in the south Pacific. Their whole design philosophy seems to be based on the idea of the catamaran actually being one of the first, and best, ocean going craft.
My own story with their designs and the one i eventually built started the moment i left professional sailing and spent 2 pretty miserable years trying to pull back from a negative equity situation and because of that, working every shift i could in the hospital. There was no way i could afford the luxury of a boat but what i did was put in 2 years of intensive study and learning about the whole world of boats outside the narrow constraints of the IOR maxi-yachts i was sailing at the time. It is also and coincidentally the time that i met and worked with Trudy Thomas (wife of the late David Thomas) and we often talked about the boat that i would eventually own now : the little Hunter Liberty. After a couple of years of that i left the south coast completely and moved away from the sea….don’t worry, it didn’t last long and eventually i moved down to the south-west. To cut a very long story short i found my own half finished project boat in a field somewhere in Essex, bought that and at the same time was introduced to someone else that had bought a half-finished Warram and needed it moving….except his boat was a 63 foot ‘Pahi’ design and was in a field outside Vienna !…..and it had to be moved by water up the Danube. I took that job on, it took us 3 weeks of hard motoring to get from Vienna docks where we had her launched up and over the Danube and the canal system linking that to the Rhine….the Danube isn’t blue by the way ! One thing i remember about that trip, aside from being achingly cold most of the time, was when we in our half finished polynesian catamaran passed a fake replica Viking longship (with engine) on a stretch of the river somewhere near ‘Valhalla’……honestly you couldn’t make this stuff up.
Now i know that this is nothing like the scale of the Panama canal locks but this is pretty typical of the locks on the Danube…..the rise/fall is around 75 feet and big enough for these coastal ship/barges. The barges are around a hundred feet long, have a retractable bridge and a big nozzle drive at the back. When they are trying to move out of the dock it’s like a fire hose under the water. The flow down the river is so fast in some sections that even when we were motoring flat-out we could only make about one mile an hour actual distance over the ground.
Typical Danube lock (unknown photograph)
My own foray into the world of multihulls was the Wharram Tiki 26 design, my version of the boat being the original ply/glass/epoxy version rather than the moulded GRP one. My one turned up as 2 not quite finished hulls and crossbeams, a mast, rudders and tillers and i took it from there. It took me about 6 months to get it on the water and at first i really didn’t understand it as a sailing boat and i guess mainly because of what i was used to….remember that my regular ride was a 76′ maxi at the time !. Anyway i sailed it for a season gradually sorting out some of the many detail problems and then brought it ashore to start the remedial work and major sort-out that it needed. Several of the problems being caused by some poor workmanship early in the boat’s build and some i honestly believe the result of lazy thinking in the original design. A lot of what i had to do was simply sort out details that didn’t work on the original boat as designed : after that it sailed a lot better and i did a few years sailing with it.
The basic design idea compared say to many of the boats i am looking at in this series is that the hulls also form the lateral resistance ‘keel’ by virtue of their section which is essentially triangular in one design line and more like a spherical triangle section in another. Another feature of the boat is that the cross-beams are attached to the hulls by lashings rather than mechanical fasteners and not, as most modern multihulls, monocoque boats. I always thought of my boat as somewhat akin to a slightly flexible biplane….all string and wire !. One feature which i have talked about from my boat is the short gaff ‘Dutch’ rig which i do think suits the boats really well and is one thing i would put on any boat today that needed a powerful rig with a low centre of effort.
Not my boat but i think this one in Exemouth is the same design.
The smaller Tiki 21 also in Exemouth.
With a fair bit of sorting, tweaking and tuning i got my Tiki 26 to sail quite well although it was always weak in very light weather but on a couple of occasions very quick off the wind in a blow. With reference to this thread the boat would have fulfilled my set of requirements as the boat has/will go offshore (more than one has done a transatlantic race) and drying out/beaching is a doddle on those 2 long keels. My problems with the boat as a cruising boat were all about it’s basic comfort….or lack of it. Even though the boat is 26′ long the hulls are very narrow….space enough for a coffin-like berth in each hull but no real space to sit in and relax. There is a way of turning the boat into a much more camping-like experience with a deck tent that covers the cockpit, that can create a much better space to live in while at anchor. The problem that i ran into was the old boy who made the tents locally got very sick and then died just at the time i wanted one made. The second problem that i found, and i don’t know why this was. was that the boat always seemed to be uncomfortably cold even though i sailed in good kit and had a decent sleeping bag. With the hull closed right down the space seemed very claustrophobic and tended to have very high condensation which made everything damp…..i tended to end up sleeping inside an old British army bivvy bag….in fact found it more comfortable to sleep in that, in the cockpit, with a basha stretched out as a rain shelter. Today i think that a bit of persistence with the boat and a good deck tent would have given me a viable boat…..but this is me talking about ‘me’ 20 years ago and a lot more agile….today i simply want a more comfortable space and if i can get one a stove to cozy up to.
This isn’t the original deck tent design but a creative self-build solution, again not my photograph but from a Wharram builders website and , i think, a Tiki 21 rather than a 26.
What i must point out is that i never accrued much experience with my own boat, certainly nothing like the level i achieve with cruising boats today but i did get a wide range of sailing experience with other Wharram designs at the same time as there were some 5 or 6 other boats at the same yard from 17 feet right up to the big 63′ Pahi which i was a stand-in skipper for. I did revisit the idea of having a larger one for my current project and i was watching out for the larger Tiki 30 as at that size the hull accomodation starts to become useable (IMO) and the boat can have a cockpit ‘pod’ or cuddy with a viable double berth.
Now for something at the opposite end……3 keel Dave.
For the second part in today’s post i want to add a keel, greedy….i know, and take a look at the last variant on the whole shallow draft and beachable boat idea. There are a small group of shallow draft monohulls that can be beached fairly easily without additional kit and they all have either 2 or 3 keels. For some reason i can’t quite get my head around owning a bilge-keeler even they are quite logical but illogically i quite like several of the triple-keeled boats, one of which i have featured here before.
For reference you will have seen this one before in the starter boats thread : the Achilles 24, because they often come up at a very low base cost and seem to be capable little boats. They are basically a fin keel yacht with a couple of bilge plates that will keep the boat upright. Internally they probably only have the same functional space as the Liberty but are theoretically faster. I have yet to find one locally to have a very good look at inside and mostly the ones that come up seem to need a fair amount of work as they are all old boats now. Although i have given him an honorable mention several times i would still like to remind readers that arctic sailor Roger Taylor modified one of these and goes off on his 7 week voyages solo.
The second boat in this group is a complete opposite to the lightweight Achilles and might really surprise people as a boat that i have a lot of liking for. This is the Rossiter Pintail 27 which is chalk and cheese to the Achilles and frankly to every other boat i have ever covered. The one i photographed below was in Falmouth yacht haven and was the first one i had ever seen up close. For a 27 foot boat they are remarkably big and chunky mainly due to the deck-edge cabin design and the high topsides. They are heavy and only moderately canvassed so ‘steady’ rather than exciting sailing boats…..perhaps why she is called patience !
This is a bit of a niche boat a bit like the Frances 26, a pure cruising boat when set against the myriad same-y cruiser racers. The hull/keel is a ‘chunky’ hull almost like a motor sailer with a semi-long keel and bilge plates, definitely an easy one to dry out. I did quite a bit of searching for information on these boats and while i can find the usual ‘numbers’ i couldn’t get an accurate SA/DISP …..my impression is of a solid boat with not enough sail area although usually a good motor and a good interior space for long term cruising. The ones that i have followed on the market have all been outside my price range except for one at around £9.000 which was snapped up really quickly.
I have always liked the deck-edge cabin idea because it tends to give a large, flat working deck area for the size of boat once you have stepped up and out of the cockpit and much better space inside. The contrast here is the boat i absolutely detest (Westerly Centaur) which has a high and boxy, caravan-like cabin, and pathetically narrow side decks. Visually and practically i like the appearance of the small doghouse too which has nearly all round vision as well. I know it’s entirely a personal opinion, just as everything is around here, but i just like the visual honesty of these boats.
Functionally this is the kind of boat that i had in mind when i did once look at the ‘English option’ ie bilge keeled yachts. In my boatyard days i just detested them and mainly for their dull comformity and same-ness : rows and rows of dull white plastic Westerly’s and Moody’s. The only ones i did like were the more workmanlike looking Macwesters which technically aren’t as good sailing boats, boat for boat, as the Westerly’s and Moody’s but which to my eye have a more honest and rugged appeal. In terms of the sailing i want to do that kind of boat would work in that mainly all i need to achieve is short distance day-sails and then tuck the boat away in a shallow anchorage at the end of the day. The interior space available on say a Macwester 27 is then nearly double that of the Liberty and i could easily imagine sitting and writing at the table in the usual dinette layout they often came with. A good thought here , which i will expand on, is seriously just how good a boat do we need/i need when all i need to do is get from place to place and live as a liveaboard long term. In those conditions a race-y boat or a small fast multihull would be completely the wrong boat in my opinion.
Macwester 27 i think.
This is quite simply the compromise that works for many Uk based sailors, especially over on the east coast that has larger areas of shallow or mud moorings. The sailing draft is slightly greater than the Liberty, although not by much, the sailing performance will be better in some conditions, worse in some and the interior space much greater. There is a very similar boat locally that i see out almost every time i go out and they often anchor in the same places that i do. I could easily imagine taking that across the channel in similar conditions to those which i would accept in the Liberty and i could easily imagine one of these beached in the mud harbour on Brehat or on the sand in Norfolk.
Wells, Norfolk….nice sand.