Floating home

As mentioned many times on this blog concerning boats, everything’s a compromise.

But there are aspects to what James Wharram has done which the cruising multihull sailor really should take note of on a tight budget.  His boats are proven at sea and he puts it down to configuration and relatively slack rigging, low tech, which militates against the western yachties’ perceptions of precision something awful.

One thing he designed in and then went away from is the tied-down beams across two pontoons, something the Pacific yachtsmen have been doing for millennia as voyaging canoes.  He added between-hull infrastructure for comfort and left it there, as he never needed to demount in his case.

However, a boat which can go both on the English canals and to sea will rely heavily on this ‘foldability’, with the infrastructure on the platform needing to be detachable and using much in the way of awnings and canopies.

Why the need to demount?  Because I am in a unique position where I live.

In this country, it’s possible to do 6 months on canals [C&RT fee structure] and 6 months on the river and at sea, either coastal or otherwise.  Plus one can go across to France.  I can come down a canal to the sea easily from here, so both options had me designing a boat which would do both.  No fantasy, just a design.

Let’s say a cat configuration is chosen – this sort of thing is the simplest and best available which can be built in wood.

Notes on that pic.  Each hull has its ends as storage and then three compartments in the middle with full headroom and yet the roof still low to the water.  Note the centre pods on the platform though – they’re the key.

The for’ard one is the galley, the aft is the steering station/wheelhouse/chartroom.  The way I’ll have it, the middle compartment in each hull is semi-open, with false sole [floor] and storage below that.  One is the wet area with loo and shower, clothes washing etc., the other is the galley while on the canal. At sea, the galley moves to the forward pod and the ex-galley becomes whatever for the summer – a salon.

The way Wharram has it, all dangerous items are in the two pods under the platform away from the heat, with no combustibles in the hulls. If there’s a fire, he’d lose the two inner beams but the hulls remain intact. However, with him extending the wood all over, he’s lost that advantage. I’m leaving a ‘moat’ around the pods.

With the decking only in the middle of the boat, the whole structure is lighter and easier to demount too.  On the canal, the masts store  between hull roofs, the pod sides stack at the stern and bow, the awnings go below.

Here is what the galley pod might look like – I haven’t got to it yet and it’s not an immediate concern:

It’s sitting room only but that allows the roof to be lower to the water, with less windage.

Below is an idea of what the cabin space would look like.  [Mine is 40″ x 10′ x 6’3″.]

The white paint has much to do with it.  The key is also decluttering, having only what is necessary in the open and the rest stowed away in plastic boxes in awkward spaces.

Privacy is pretty important in my book – thus there are four cabins in four corners of the boat.

This will continue in comments.

6 comments for “Floating home

  1. September 20, 2017 at 14:09

    In the light of a couple of abusive comments from someone I thought knew boats but clearly doesn’t, time to salvage the intelligent things he said and ditch the abusive.

    Bay of Biscay

    Nice article on it as a starter:


    For those who do not want to go to go as far northwest as Ireland, the traditional trading route for old sailing vessels was to depart the Channel, going west of Ushant and out to or a little further than 10°W. That well-tested approach stands the test of time today. The ideal port to depart from the English Channel is the very serviceable port of Falmouth on England’s southwest corner. If the wind is from the west keep on a tack which enables most westing to be made to get a good offing, and keep clear of the Bay of Biscay, even standing northwest until well intersecting this route to pass outside Cape Finisterre on the starboard tack.

    My abusive friend wrote:

    And nor is a westerly in the Bay of Biscay going to put you on the rocks of a lee shore if you’re 200nm off the coast and your keel, rudder and sails are fine, Very fucking seasick, yes, smashed against rocks, no.

    Ok, I’m in a position where I’m assuming most readers don’t know much about it unless they’ve sailed it and so I want to present what Biscay’s like. Short of writing a tome myself about it, I included a link, which drew the abuse.

    I could also include links from people who have sailed La Rochelle south and quote people I know who have done that coast without mishap. The BofB is a lottery, that’s the bottom line but there are times of year it might be better.

    What my abusive friend has entirely missed is what a person is trying to do in the first place. He was the one who brought Biscay up, not me, so let’s look at it. From where I live,it’s a west coast exit:

    1. If intending the Med, then go Leeds-Liverpool, out at Hull and over to France, again watching for the prevailing weather and currents, then use their canals south to the Med.

    2. If the intention though is Southern Ocean, which I have good reason to be mentioning, then the link and quote above is a good route. There is no need to go into the Bay of Biscay unless you have to or intend exploring that coast. Why would you bother?

    The obvious route for me is 10 degrees west, down to just above Portugal, then to Cape Verde, then to a careful choice with Brazil, which I don’t particularly wish to visit but it might be necessary, then south and turn upwards towards Cape Town.

    The French canals and that are two separate trips.

    He brought up the French canal system so OK, if you wanted to go through France deliberately and then continue south, then you’ve no choice but Gibraltar and out but that puts you into a tricky stretch with the wind mostly against you.

    The catamaran

    There were three ways I could have gone with the build, given that I wanted to combine a boat which would go on the English canals but also be a yacht:

    1. Monohull with bilge ballast and/or twin keel;
    2. Trimaran with folding floats;
    3. Catamaran.

    My heart event has killed the first two options because of the sheer work involved – the shell is up but doing the rest is a tall order now. My abusive friend mentioned health and yes, it’s a key point.

    Thing is that I have what I have so far, plus a lot of wood, much already precut, in storage. Plus I have helpers. The only logical way now is the catamaran route because it’s far easier to build and I want the hulls done before winter.

    This is what these couple of posts have been about. I included pics of some Wharram cats because they had features I’m building in, not as part of some ‘fantasy’ and I’m not building a Wharram per se – Wharram’s design principles are a good template and there are many of the type in the world.

    As I said to my abusive friend but it didn’t seem to get through, having built boats in a number of places in the world and sailed for around five decades, I do know that of which I speak.

    A key feature of that sort of cat is a soft rig. As many readers know, I’ve looked at all sorts of rigs and run with ideas until the pitfalls became glaringly obvious.

    My abusive friend said the tall masted Bermudan. No. It is crap. It has issues as a cruising rig which I’ve gone into many times. Coastal cruiser – yes. Blue water – no.

    The proof is in what voyaging people use and the rig of choice is the ketch or yawl. To understand why a yawl, then you need to have been in harbour and used that mizzen as a trim – you’d only know that if you’ve done it.

    Not a bloody Bermudan with huge main. The only way to deal with that rig in harbour is to drop sail early and motor. And it’s a highly strung rig. I’ve sailed Bermudans and gaffs for decades and the Bermudan is only something you’d want for racing. As for a genoa – it’s a cruising nightmare.

    You get this crap from Bermudan keelboaters all the time. If you look at the Colin Archer boats, a large proportion of those were ketch or yawl. Why? Because they were practical.


    Then along came multihulls and the reaction against was severe. And in many cases, with good reason – the early designs were too ‘tubby’, too narrow.

    Wharram soon realized that an open bridgedeck, low slung boat with soft rig got around many of the issues, plus almost all the weight went in the hulls themselves.

    He rejected the junk rig because at that time it was flat and gave no drive, plus complicated. The modern version has cambered panels and some drive.

    The reason rig is critical on a cat is you don’t want to bottle [flip]. On a keelboat, you’re knocked down and come up again – I’ve been in that situation as a crew member. I’ve also been on well designed cats which almost never flip. But only because the rig suits the boat.

    Two rigs you often see on larger bluewater, as distinct from coastal cruising cats are the two masters and to a lesser extent the junk. The biplane is used by some. People have also used Pacific rigs but haven’t kept them for long. Wharram uses a sock sail and it works but it does have issues, including chafe.


    Going up in size, by the time you get past 40 foot, you’d want to think about splitting the sail area unless you’re sailing a 20,000 lb tub. I’ll be splitting the sail area but exactly how is not my first decision.

    The hulls are the current issue, specifically the bottoms and sides – this is what I’m working on just now in the yard to the same template as before. The rig is just a discussion point for the nonce.

    I shall continue to post on the matter.

    Time for dinner.

  2. September 20, 2017 at 21:02

    The silly F has now taken to threatening me with libel. I suspect he hasn’t sailed a boat at all, let alone own one.

  3. Steve Jones
    September 20, 2017 at 21:57

    Shame about the abuse, James.

    Fascinated to hear about your biplane idea. Please keep us updated on how the build goes and ignore the trolls!

    • September 20, 2017 at 23:42

      Steve, the reason I was upset is that he inadvertently touched on a very sore point. He couldn’t know about that point so it was unfortunate.

      Yesterday the man who rents me the yard and I were going over the boat and I explained that with the heart attack, it was too much now for me doing the heavy lifting onto the deck 7’8″ up and with winter closing in, I’ve been forced into the radical decision to go catamaran.

      Reason it has to be so is firstly all the already cut frames for the mono can be used on the cat, so I lose very little wood from this Plan C.

      Secondly, the cat is 4’6″ to the gunwhale so a footstool is all I need to work on its upturned bottom, a hell of a lot different to using the ladder and lifting lumber. And as the section is rectangular until the ends, which are tapered, it’s much quicker.

      First step is to order the shuttering ply to make an upturned U shaped cover [16 x 6 x 6]on dolly wheels which will cover the cat hull and roll along the asphalt. As I slowly work along gluing and glassing, it slides along over it. That takes care of the weather.

      Then it takes two weeks to do one frame and that’s fine, I can lift 4 x 2 chest high.

      The helpers then come in and cannibalize the existing shell, top down and the good wood from that becomes the sides and bottom of the cat. Not being full sized sheets, I think I can lift them into place, tack and glue them myself. I’ll glass them as I go – there’s no painting as it’s pigmented epoxy.

      Then the cover will need rolling over for the second hull but that’s an issue, as the remains of the mono are still there in the way. It may be that I’ll need to deconstruct the shuttering cover and redo it over the other side.

      When it comes to the ends, this is being done with 1/4 inch bent over the frame, involving my helpers, then 1/4 inch strips over that diagonally, then a third layer the other way. A week for that.

      Eventually the sides and bottom are all glassed and the hulls need upending right way up for the cabin and deck. This is the point I’m not sure whether to do before Christmas or wait for, say, March.

      Healthwise I’m doing weekly rehab, which is strengthening the body again but there’s still a chance of another procedure on the heart, which will set it back again.

      With upending the hulls, I can do two things, both expensive. One is hire a dozen men to lift each over, the other is to hire a hi-up or fork lift. Once it’s right way up on the cross planks under the hulls and the hulls are side by side, the upper sides and deck can be done.

      Then come the crossbeams – 8″ x 8″ tubes. There are four stubby 6’10” ones for the canal which attach [helpers] but the big ones for sailing – 21′- they’ll take help to make. In fact, as I don’t intend sailing in the first season, they and the rig are not a priority.

      For the canal, the hulls also join at the bow and stern. I’ll be on the canal for next late spring.

      Coming back to what upset me, it was worry that I can complete this with the heart. I was already stressed over it without him inadvertently carrying on.

      The bit which got me was his last remark [not published], calling me Walter Mitty and saying he currently has one more boat than I’ll ever have. That may well be true if the health does not hold up.

      So, all I can do is press on with what I’m doing and put up reports now and then.

  4. Steve Jones
    September 21, 2017 at 00:13

    To be fair though, you did call him a nonce which, without evidence of child molestation, IS libellous.

    “The rig is just a discussion point for the nonce.”

    • September 21, 2017 at 00:28

      Wtf is going on? First Steve Jones commiserates, I reply and then he comes back as the troll himself.

      What’s nonce got to do with child molestation? Google it:

      for the present; temporarily.
      “its resources make it a major player for the nonce”
      synonyms: for the time being, for the interim, for a while, for now, for the moment, for the present, at present, just now, in the meanwhile, the while, meantime, in the meantime, in the intervening period, provisionally, temporarily, pro tem

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