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A brief history of the Polynesian Catamaran Association

By James Wharram

The PCA was founded in 1967 by a small group of the first Wharram builders. It started with the writing of a thin, rough, but very poetic magazine, called ‘The Sailorman’.

Who were these first Wharram builders? During WWII thousands of young Englishmen were taken out of the pre-War English class system into the Army, Navy and Airforce.There they learnt the value of being oneself, to have the courage to stand alone, as we would now say: “to learn to think outside the box”.

Before the War not many of these ordinary people had the opportunity to enter the Class ridden society of ‘Yachting’. After the War, with the arrival of boats like the ‘Folkboat’ there was a beginning of small boat sailing for a wider public.

Even so, a large number of would-be sailors, through lack of money and being in the wrong social class, were frustrated in attempts to find the beauty, solitude and companionship of Sailing the Sea. You could say I was one of them, no-one in the British established yachting circles of the early 1950s was prepared to take my wish to cross oceans on a catamaran seriously, I came from the North of England, spoke with the wrong accent and had no ‘friends’ in yachting circles. I was on my own, but did get help from old working sailors of that time and they taught me a lot.

My early pioneering voyages are now well known. When I settled back in Britain in the early 1960s and was living on my 40ft catamaran Rongo in North Wales, I was approached by an ex-Wartime soldier, Eric Jones. A steam railway engineer from Crewe, he asked me to design a seagoing catamaran that would cost him no more than £600 to build.

Eric Jones

So I designed the 35ft Tangaroa (MkI, now no longer available). Almost by chance it got published in the long forgotten magazine ‘Yachting and Boating’ and within a month I had 10 orders for Plans!! Those men and women of the War years recognised an answer to their inner Sea dreams.

Tangaroa Nr.4 built by Ken Patterson, who wrote many of the first articles in 'The Sailorman'.

The first Tangaroa design was quickly followed by the 46ft Oro, the 40ft Narai, the 22ft Hina and the other Classic Designs. It was the builders of these first Wharram catamarans that got together to start the PCA to keep in contact, to support each other during the hard times of self building. By issue Nr.3, November 1968, the Association had 163 members, 116 in the UK and the rest scattered round the world in 22 different countries (about 75% of builders were members!)

This was the time of the swinging sixties, lots of the freedom seeking people of this time were attracted to Wharram catamarans for their simplicity, being able to build their boat themselves, for being able to take them to sea with the little money they had saved.

The 1970s were the boom years of the PCA, particularly in Britain. The AGM, which was held in Richmond, London, used to be packed with sixty to hundred people. They were all full of enthusiasm and very opinionated, so I remember some intense arguments. Then there were the sailing meetings with many boats attending. This photo is the 27ft Tane of Commander James Briggs, packed to the gunnels with Wharramites at a meeting in Weymouth in 1975.

It must not be forgotten though that there were also a lot of overseas members, who kept in touch through the magazine, they also organised their own meetings in other countries.

Then in the early 1980s things went pearshaped. The editor was not very good, the magazine lacked the articles and artistic merit to make people want to be a member. There was talk within the committee that all the Wharram builders had now gone sailing and lost interest. They were for packing up the association.

We as designers decided to step in and at our own expense produced the first ‘Seapeople’ magazine, in which we tried to give a space to all the different interests of Wharramites, building, sailing, Coastal Trekking, fishing, swimming with dolphins, craft work for your boat, net making, etc. As soon as the flagging members and ex-members saw the new magazine, they all came flocking back.

We produced the Seapeople Magazine ourselves for 4 years then handed it back to an independent PCA editor, it stayed at a high quality through the 1980s and most of the 1990s. There were regular meetings of boats and membership numbers were high. This was a meeting in Plymouth in 1995, with many large Wharrams attending.

Then there was the next crisis, this time caused by a committee that had their own commercial interests in Wharram catamarans and tried to use the membership to make a profit. A vicious ‘War’ raged on internet for a short time, until a solicitors letter brought it to an end.

For several years after this the PCA struggled to find a harmonious committee, but finally it settled down with Ken Hook at the helm. Which brings us to the present day, with dear Ken no longer with us and a leaderless PCA. But we do have an excellent magazine so there is no good reason to end it all.

I have always stood back from the PCA, I wanted it to be independent from our commercial interest, to be run by the owners and builders of Wharram catamarans, for the owners and builders, with freedom to criticize. I think there is still a strong need for this.

Do read Bob Bois’ view of why we still need a PCA, (directly below). We are still building Wharram catamarans, we are still sailing them, probably now with more boats on the water than ever before. After 33 years the PCA is one of the longest standing owners associations and must not be allowed to die. - James Wharram

(the above article was edited slightly to correct timely details)

Important News regarding the Polynesian Catamaran Association

by Bob Bois

As I write this, yet another low pressure system is spinning off the coast of New England, dumping another 10 inches of snow on us. My building shed is cold and dark. I have a long way to go.

How many years left on your build? Two? Three? Four, five or more? Where do you turn for inspiration when the process seems to go one forever? Or the epoxy has gone off too early? Or you tell yourself for the hundredth time: I can’t afford this.

Where are the photos and stories that will prove to you that, yes, it is possible to build this boat and sail it wherever you want to go? Where are the guides and mates that have been where you are now and are more than willing to show you that you will get to the end of the build, you will live the life you have envisioned – whatever that means for you.

I’ll tell you where they are: they’re in the pages of “The Sea People” magazine, published regularly by the Polynesian Catamaran Association (PCA).

And you don’t need to be a Wharram builder to appreciate the organization. If you bought your boat from another builder, or had it professionally built, you will still find oceans of information available to you through the PCA. I know this firsthand. We bought a Tiki 30 a few years back (we are now building Tiki 46 no. 38) and the owner included practically all back issues of the “The Sailorman” and “The Sea People”. We devoured these magazines. We dreamed of sailing to Culatra, Martinique, transiting the Panama Canal and seeing the entire Pacific spread before us.

When the New England winter bit down hard, we huddled in front of the fireplace and went through the magazines chronologically, following tales of John Shores and his big, black, engineless Tehini. Or the Wharrams building and voyaging on the original Tehini and, later, the Spirit of Gaia.

The later issues of the magazine contained articles by more recent Wharramites: Ann and Nev Clement of Peace IV (Tiki 46), Rory MacDougall and Cooking Fat (Tiki 21 that sailed round the World!), Dave Vinnicomb and his Dragon (Tiki 38). There are too many examples of ‘the Wharram spirit” in the back issues of the magazine to list here.

In addition, the PCA sponsors sail-ins and meets across the globe, events where Wharram builders, sailors, or those merely interested in the boats, can get together and swap stories and innovations over a pot luck meal and their favorite beverage.

Hard times for the PCA

Unfortunately, the PCA has of late been undergoing a difficult period. With the recent passing of the secretary Ken Hook, Anita his wife has been almost single-handedly running the PCA, and doing quite a good job of it, despite considerable difficulties. Pleas for help in reinvigorating the PCA have gone largely unanswered from the membership, for whatever reason. The committee members that have taken part in recent email discussions are all agreed that for the PCA to continue, it must ‘migrate’ to the US, where there appears to be, at this time, more PCA interest and activity. I don’t know if this is true or not; however, I have volunteered to act as Secretary during this time of transition.

This is not the first time the PCA has been on the rocks. Each time the PCA has fallen down, a different set of people has come forward to revive the association and move it forward. The association - your association- needs a group to coalesce to keep this important tradition going. Please read James’ brief history of the PCA.

Times have changed. There are now websites, forums, blogs and other electronic media from which Wharramites can gather needed information and follow builds in progress and ask questions.

There has been much discussion recently about whether we should, in fact, keep the print magazine. It has been proposed that the PCA become an on-line association, with no printed output at all. I don’t know if this is the way to go; I have heard from many members who prefer the anticipation that comes with receiving the printed magazine in the mailbox every few months.

Where we stand Right Now

As of now, issue No. 75 of “The Sea People” will be a final, farewell issue.

As you may know, the PCA website is currently in ‘hibernation’. The forum has not been active and the site has been put on hold.

We are currently relocating the management of a NEW PCA website to the US. Bill Barker has graciously volunteered to register a domain name and is building the site. Thanks Bill!


What YOU can do

• Are you planning to renew your membership?
• What would you like to see the PCA providing to members?
• Do you think the PCA should be exclusively an online entity, or do you still see value in getting the printed magazine?
• What can YOU do to help with the promotion and running of your association?
• Do you know any Wharram builders and/or sailors that are not yet members but may want to join a reinvigorated PCA?
• You are not a member, but now you know the PCA exists would like to join.

We want your opinions on what the PCA has meant to you and what you would like to see continued or changed.

The PCA has been in existence since 1967. Thousands of people have benefited from the amassed knowledge and expertise provided by the association members since its founding.

As I stated earlier, there now exist online forums that are loaded with valuable information on building and sailing Wharrams. The Polynesian Catamaran Association lays claim to being the repository of the most complete historical record (through its Magazine back issues) of the practicalities of building and sailing of Wharram catamarans. Bill Barker has offered to scan all back issues so they can be made available on line to members.

I think the importance of the PCA (and “The Sea People”) lies in its continued inspirational value for those of us still building and dreaming. If I need a question answered immediately, because I am glassing my lower hulls tomorrow, I know the website to consult. But I also need the long-term view. I want to read back issues to follow the development of the designs, to immerse myself in the stories and feel a part of a tradition, to actually meet many of the writers of these articles at sail-ins. That’s the value of the PCA for me.

I hope you find the PCA valuable in your own way. Please get in touch with me or any committee member as soon as possible.

(the above article was edited slightly to correct timely details)