Dec. 19/2021: This isn’t much of a surprise, that the great catamaran pioneer James Wharram has passed away, as he was, after all, 93 years old. Reading his recently published autobiography, I did get the sense that he and his partner Hanneke Boon were looking to get the story told in full before it was too late. For a reprise of Wharram’s very remarkable life, I’ll send you back to what I wrote about the book right around this time last year.
I only got to meet James once, over a long lunch, and I will say it was about the most interesting conversation I ever had with a boat designer. I have thought of him and have remembered that conversation many times since then. He was highly intelligent, unassuming, very amiable, and always open to new ideas.
For a fuller remembrance I’ll share this note that Hanneke just sent around. You’ll note that James was the one who decided his time had come.
A Living Legend lives no more
We are very sad to announce that on the 14th December James Wharram left this earthly world, joining Ruth, Jutta and his many close friends that departed before him. At 93 years old his spirit has set out on the voyage to sail the oceans of heaven.
James was a trailblazer, a fighter with great determination and vision. From a young age he followed his passions – to roam the hills – for fair politics – for intelligent women – to sail the seas – to prove the Polynesian double canoe an ocean worthy craft – to become a Man of the Sea.
These passions made him into a pioneer of catamaran sailing and a world-renowned designer of unique double-canoe catamarans that now sail the oceans. He designed for people who wanted to break out of mundane lives, gave them boats they could build at an affordable cost and gave them the opportunity to become People of the Sea like himself.
His chosen life was never easy, he would always fight convention and conventional thinking head on. His passionate and multi-faceted personality was very attractive to strong, independent women who helped him in his pursuits, starting with the steadfast Ruth, without whom he would never have reached his goals. Young Jutta joined them on their pioneering ocean voyages and was the mother of his first son. Sadly she died very young from mental illness as a result of her traumatic WWII childhood experiences.
James lived his entire life openly with more than one woman at the same time, as many as five in his prime in the 1970s, with whom he built and sailed his boats. Alongside Ruth, who died eight years ago at the age of 92, I was his other life partner and soul mate. I first met James when he was in the full flow of designing his range of Classic Designs in the 1960s, which led to him becoming a cult figure in the alternative society of 1970s. In time I became his design partner and together with Ruth we were an unbreakable unit. I gave birth to his second son and together we gave birth to many new double canoe designs.
James achieved everything he set out to do in this lifetime, but only received public recognition from the establishment in more recent years. The final project was his autobiography, published a year ago as ‘People of the Sea’, on which he worked for many years, as he was very critical of his own writing. We worked together to complete it and to get it published.
People would refer to James as the great James Wharram, the living Legend, but he didn’t see himself as such. He was aware it was his large following of builders and sailors, their beautiful boats and great voyages that created the famous Wharram World. He saw them as the real heroes.
Sadly in the last few years James’ brain, which he always talked about as a separate entity, started to fail him due to Alzheimer’s. He was very distressed by losing his mental abilities, and struggled with his diminished existence. He could not face the prospect of further disintegration and made the very hard call to end it himself. It was with great courage that he lived his life and with great courage he decided it was the time to finish.
In this moment of great loss we should all remember the good and glorious times of a life fulfilled. This is not the end, I, we, all the Wharram World will keep his work alive.
With my fondest regards
James and Hanneke showing off one of their designs
RIP: James Wharram, May 15, 1928 – December 14, 2021
What an interesting man. I first read about him in the early 70s. Wharram was the kind of character one occasionally meets that makes you realize how so many of us have been squeezed into the cattle chute of conformity destined to live obscure lives of mediocrity.
He sure created a following though. I have met some of his catamaran disciples over the years and they sure are a wholly enthusiastic and rebellious lot of sailors.
The often times stodgy sailing world is certainly less interesting without him in it.
Sad to learn that James has gone, glad that he left on his own terms.
I never met him, but reading Two Girls, Two Catamarans when I was beginning voyaging was a huge inspiration to me. I think his adventures, lifestyle and designs inspired many sailors.
James will be missed.