Wharram Builders and Friends

A Photo & Discussion Forum for Wharram Design Enthusiasts

When we built Peace IV, we were on a strict budget because we were already retired and a Tiki 46 is a really big project.  But early on we decided to buy the best materials we could find even though this was going to cost more. 

Unfortunately although the timber yard intended to sell us their best marine plywood, they had a shipment of defective ply they did not know about and so they delivered seconds to our shed and so we started building Peace and then discovered the flaws and had to start all over again and that was hard on us emotionally and physically and in every other way also.

But Nev and I persisted and finally the timber yard delivered perfect marine ply and we started over and proceeded to do our very best work with the very best material we could lay our hands on.  That is something we are sure was the best decision we ever made while building Peace IV.  Best materials plus best work is a recipe for success in any building project.

Now 12 years have passed and we have put 50,000 miles on the boat and whenever we are working with the plywood again we can see that it is all in great condition and there are no problems.  I think if we had used inferior materials, that would not be the case.

We know lots of boat builders and we visit their boat building projects building power boats, sail boats and Wharram catamarans too.  Often we roll up our sleeves and lend a hand with fiberglassing, designing modifications, fitting wood, etc.  Often we see lesser grades of ply or timber and always it leaves us depressed.  It is not fun to work with and it does not inspire our best efforts to match its best quality. 

Peace has been sailed hard and long and she needs a good scrub and some fresh paint and she is getting that now that Nev's knees are so much better and we have finished buying and moving in to our new (to us) house for summers.  We will continue sailing Peace IV wintering in the Bahamas as usual and knowing she is a healthy boat and will easily outlast us and serve some other family for decades when our sailing days are over.  Peace has longevity built in.

Ann and Nev


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Hi Guys

Well done! you are so right. what is the point with things costing so much in using crap materials. Good workmanship and techniques especially with epoxy work must be top of the list too. I followed a blog about couple building a Marples Trimaran and as far as you could see from the blog the guy was a great craftsman and produced a really professional looking yacht. But after only a few years cruising in Northern waters I read that they had extensive rot to repair. I saw this some time ago and cannot remember  the precise details but certainly areas around winches under stress had suffered. Now maybe the guy was not as good as his blog suggested but a badly built ply/epoxy boat where moisture gets through the epoxy due to minute holes and cracks or poor bonding and where there are holes for fixings inadequately fastened means the boat will have issues. It does not do the resale values of home builds much good I guess. I have a very traditional sailing ship 115 years old built in steel so I know a lot about rust and moisture ingress!!. But for the last 40 years I have also sailed and worked on traditional wooden working ships working with traditional shipwrights and rainwater is the killer as the bloody things rot from the decks down as water penetrates whatever you do. Whether its epoxy or any other type of wood treatment its the microscopic holes and cracks that will allow rot to destroy your boat from within whether its a catamaran or an old sailing ship or a yacht. Good craftsmanship is the key to longevity in building and constant maintenance thereafter. I really admire you for what you have achieved with your superb boat. I wish you a long and happy lifetime with her.

Back in my misspent youth, I roomed for a period of time with another Marine Corps officer who was many years my senior. One of his pieces of advice was "Life is too short to drink cheap beer." Having been taught to respect my elders and glean what wisdom I could from them, I paid attention. To that I would add- "Life is too short to build anything with cheap materials."

When you're building something yourself, usually the only "real" cost is the cost of materials. This is what causes the short term negative cash flow everyone experiences in large projects. However, the largest cost is hidden and that is labor, for even if you're not paying yourself to do the work, your time has value. If you make something out of cheap materials you have wasted not only what you paid for the materials, but all of your time. Life is too short.


Jean Paul, it's probably me but I can't find anything about prices in the bruynzeel site you posted.
Do you have to make a particular request to get shelf prices for ply sheets?
Could you give me some idea about their prices per sheet (6mm and 9mm (or 10))?



It take just as much effort to build a bad boat as it does a good boat.  Life is too short to take the short cuts; you only pay for them later.  

Reading above one gets the impression that you have to use the best materials.  I tend to think good enough is good enough.  Boats do not rot because of inferior materials so much as through lack of maintenance or incorrect building.  Top quality marine ply is actually made from wood species which are not regarded as durable or being particularly strong.

To be good enough to use for a boat plywood needs to have the correct veneer thickness, a lack of voids and water proof glue.  It is logically better to use more durable species of wood below the waterline, ironically not much BS1088 rated plywood is made of durable wood. Good quality commercial ply can meet these requirements and is in fact recommended in the Wharram building guide.  Testing your plywood is essential no matter the price/brand/rating.

Many boats seem to suffer rotten beams - but is this down to bad materials or not being properly encapsulated in epoxy or is it a maintenance issue where every breach of the epoxy encapsulation should be fixed as soon as it is spotted?  I think it is more down to not being properly protected and maintained and the same goes for the plywood.

If one pays proper attention to high wear areas and areas where fasteners provide a path for moisture into the wood, there will be much less chance for rot.

As for epoxy, I think any solvent free epoxy with a proper datasheet should more than meet the requirements for building a wood composite boat.  Many Wharram boats were designed for polyester resin which is much weaker than epoxy.

Life is too short to use rubbish materials, but that does not mean you have to use the best.

My Tiki 46 needs about 100 sheets of 12mm plywood.  I paid the equivalent of $75 per sheet of far eastern plywood, but if I used Bruynzeel, the local price would be about $200 per sheet.  I did not see the value - maybe I am mistaken.  So far my testing has found no faults.


Don't assume the price you pay for material has anything to do with the quality you receive. However, when you pay more, because there is a recognized certification involved, you usually get a product that meets higher quality control standards.

The problem inherent with standards are, they are minimum standards. Just as you wouldn't want your doctor to have graduated last in his/her class, you wouldn't want your materials to barely meet construction standards. I don't want to build an average boat, I want to build an outstanding boat, one that's going to keep me alive when it's required to do more than it was originally designed for.

If you don't have the experience to judge the quality of your materials, then you are going to have to pay someone else to do it for you. This may mean buying from a local yard, because they know what they are doing and will stand behind what they sell you, even if you could get the "same" thing elsewhere for less money. Or, it may mean only buying marine grade plywood that carries a Lloyd's certification. You are going to have to live (or die) based on the consequences of your decisions.


Just some thoughts...

I wrote a detailed post on this site re how to check over plywood and what to look for.  Just having the right kind of sticker on your ply is not enough guarantee that it is good ply.  Our first order of ply was marked Lloyds A1 approved highest quality marine ply but it was defective in 5 different ways.  It delaminated in the building shed.  We were lucky we caught it and lucky to burn our lower hulls and start again and extremely lucky to now have a strong enduring boat after 50,000 miles and the ply laminates are still strong and the boat sounds great when you give her a good "thump".  The ply just rings!  Look up that article for details on what to look for.

Some ply is excellent stuff and marine grade etc and would meet all kinds of fancy tests you could do.  But some of that good stuff is really heavy.  Heavy is what you DO NOT WANT because it will turn your cat into a dog and she will have greatly reduced carrying capacity.  A Wharram catamaran is designed to travel on top of the water and not deeply set into the water.  Wharrams are supposed to be light.  There is less stress on the boat if she is light.

Everything is a trade off.  If you cannot afford best quality, they just get building and go anyway.  You will manage somehow.  It is fantastic to go cruising.  Truly fantastic.  Just do it.

Ann and Nev

This is a great thread, it gets to one of our primary goals, to build a polynesian sailboat with modern materials.  The woodworking techniques that some have posted here, both in pictures and descriptions, are lessons and guides that help us all.  The question of what quality of materials has many other aspects other than price, such as conforming to the design, or matching the skills of the builder.  If you build the boat exactly to plan, then there is less stress in choosing materials and less re-invention, less trial and error.  My boat is a digression from the original plans, so everything is up for grabs, and I have paid the price of trial and error. 
Before I got my first big Wharram I sought the experience of a craftsman who told me about an old man he met in Florida, who was chainsawing wood off his boat.  He was not unhappy, he said, "It's wood, its organic, you can rebuild any part of it".  Then I went out and took the plunge.  I always remember that philosophy, "you can rebuild any part of it".  I have done so over the years.
When you stray off the track, as my first builder did, and the second, every aspect of the boat is questionable.  My own practice has been to follow through on their modifications, but keep an eye on the Wharram community and how others have faced and solved problems of these boats. 
This website is great, especially for those just setting out on a build, but also for those of us who need support somewhere further along.  I learn something every time I log on and look at pictures or read building reports.
Peace IV is in my archives with pictures and some memories of the captains who have provided so much creative force.  It is a boat but also it is a couple who have made the boat and have showed the way for many others.
I sometimes wonder what would happen if a polynesian boat builder from the 13th century could wander into one of our modern building product stores.  What would they choose to build a boat.
In my boat a couple of crossbeams have been replaced with new beams due to rot in what probably was spruce.  The wood that rotted was beautiful and straight grained.  Clear lumber.  Perfect for use above the waterline.  Used in spars, etc.  How did water ingress these beams?  I suspect it was wintering over in the north and having ice damage in the nooks and crannies between the cross deck and the beams.  Moisture got into the beams and the rot took place under the sheathing.  When there was evidence of deterioration, the beams were really gone.  I made a finger pier of them, and they are doing well at that.
Now I spend a little time inspecting the hidden areas, poking around.  I have another beam that I repaired with borate solution and fiberglass mill ends.  I inspect it regularly.  The borate solution seemed to stop the rot.
Spots on the deck have been repaired and interior plywood sheathing has been repaired as needed.  You can rebuild any part of it.
We have a local boat from 1906, though I don't know how much of her is original.  A ketch.  The owner refers to her as "my million dollar boat".  The carpenters that work on her doubt that amount.  They keep working though and may reach it.
In my mind, the greatest decision for me was to get that first wooden catamaran.  It was old and needed a lot of work.  I learned a lot.  When I lost it in a freak storm while I was away, it was a financial wash, it didn't cost me anything to live on her and the investment was modest.  My doctor says, "You cannot prevent the invevitable forever".  Which means, the boat might well outlive you.  The sea takes all.
I don't want to sound harsh to the newbies who have a lot of energy and get-up-and-go, get up and go.  Get that boat out on the water and worry about the storm front, the lee shore.  Don't worry about the boat under you, it seems that all the designs are overdesigned, overly strong.  I think that even if you use some bad materials here and there, and do a crappy job here and there, the basic boat will function OK, you will just have some additional repairs down the road.  You can rebuild any part of it.

Robert nailed it.

The bottom line is you have to know what materials to use, and what techniques to use.  And even if you are really smart, you don't know that stuff until you have had a boat for decades.  This is one place where the internet is no help because there is so much incorrect info.  Also, what makes a good boat is a combination of product techniques and decisions.  The internet is a grazer's paradise, mix and match can work great, but only if you really know what you are doing.  Having experienced people around you would be great, but when I started building sailboats I had to ask the designer for details on drop boards as I had never seen one.  I didn't know anyone with a boat.

To have a hope:

- Use good quality exterior grade materials on the skins, and do immaculate epoxy work.  Huge benefit to glassing everything inside and out, though Wharrams do not call for that, and one shouldn't run off the reservation either.  1088 is not epoxy grade material, it is no epoxy used grade material.  You are overbuying when you get 1088, and that may be a wise decision, though the sticker itself means nothing, it is an entirely voluntary standard, like buying viagra online.  Probably the same people are involved.  If even the US military can't keep counterfeit products out of their projects, what chance do you think your Chandler has of policing your wood.  Doug Fir, which I don't use a lot of is actually graded, and tested, and the wood is very rot resistant.  Unfortunately it isn't particularly available were I live.

- Use high grade epoxy as needed.  WEST is specified, but it is not required for non structural gluing.  I think it is a ply for scarphs, butts, stringers, spars, beams, etc...  WEST is also good for stuff that will be severely loaded right away.  If you are going to scraph some scraps and bend it into a tight radius the next day, you want WEST, even though another epoxy might be tough enough months from now, you need to bend that sucker today.  I would not hesitate to use some of the better secondary product for laminations, or sheathing, or keel pours.  Wharram boats are vastly over-structured, one way to save money would be to peel that back, but if you don't know how to do it, a pretty safe way is to cram microballons into the epoxy and make lighter syntactic foams for certain parts, or bury timber in there.

- It is pretty hard to get cheap primary timber these days, and quality is almost entirely a mater of knowing what you are buying.  Personally I wouldn't build timber beams, plywood box sections are far easier to armour, and to make strong, better still is strip.  When making a beam imagine the direction the loads are coming on.  When choosing plywood for the beams sellect strong species, like D-Fir, and look for an unbalanced ply with more fiber following the load path of the beam.  So typically the best you can get is 66% while the ideal marine panel approaches 50%.  An extra 30 percent is good when you can get it.  And the thicker the outer lam the better, because under that you don't have fiber on the load path.  At various times over the last 10 years carbon tow has approached the cost of primary wood for highly stressed elements.  With composites in general, be careful that you understand what you are doing.  Applying small amounts of carbon can actually weaken a structure, making sure your structure shares the loads among elements is key.  Another common mistake is once one gets the core religion, not using enough fiber, this is a stiffness vs strength issue.

- A lot of these problems disappear if one simply follows the plans, but boat building is a lot more regional than it might at first seem, some substitution is in accordance with plan options and can grow from there.

- Think within a weight budget.  Adding weight is a very serious matter particularly for a boat that carries weight as badly as a Wharram does.

I talked to he official wharram builder in Thailand and he said Bruynzeel is also not reliable having seen boats fall apart after a number of years. I was surprised as I thought they were the best maker of plywood. He said you basically have to check every batch from any supplier for consistancy of quality.

Jean-Paul said:

Ann and Nev, we totally agree with you !

Having the same objectives in mind we built APATIKI using top quality Bruynzeel Hechthout marine plywood.http://www.bruynzeelmultipanel.com/products/view/id/74?cid=3&la....

Cynthia and Jean-Paul

APATIKI @ Gibraltar

a lot of stuff written here is right. i agree. some guys here talk about modifications and stronger better etc... i think, if you want a wharram and build one, then you should stick to the plans. there is everything written in to build a boat that works and will last a long time. some guys here try to envent the wheel in terms of wharram boats again. i ask my self? why should i build cross beams out of ply wood. ...? if you are not an ingeneer, don't do it... stick to the plans. regarding the plywood quality. we used BS1088 Gabon ( i think it was made in china) and all 156 sheet where perfect quality. compare to maranti ply we safed 500kg waight.

they say that gabon is not so durable.. but what...? it is strong and good quality and i made very sure that all materials are well sealed with west epoxy..

if you use the best wood and seal it nicely but put a fitting or screw in it after, you start making problems. i say in the last years so many wharrams lying around and rotting because the people don't take care of it. they drill holes everywhere and don't maintain there boats.

hey guys, the same is with your car. it is beauty and strong till the first dent or scratch. you don't fix it right away, it will start getting rust etc.....
so. it is not only the material. it is the workmanship... there is the problem and not the fact that the supplier is ripping you of with second great material.

so, my advise: stick to the plan, buy good material and tools and do a nice job.... then go sailing
 have fun
hans ( build a tiki46 in 2,5 years, sails since happily on it for the last 25000nm from new zealand to south africa)

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