Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Tiki 21 Rescued a Second Time

In the backyard where the refit will be done, after trailering inland from the coast....

One of the first steps was to unload the hulls off the trailer and assemble the boat, to see what I had to work with and what work needed to be done.

This Tiki 21 was built by an amateur builder in Texas in about 1989 to 1990, near as I can tell from the receipts for the plans, various materials, sails and registration papers for the boat and trailer. The couple that I bought it from acquired it several years ago and completed the first refit around 2002. They said it had been badly neglected when they found it and that it took them a couple of years to get it back to sailing condition. Because of this, when they relaunched it, they christened the boat Ho'opakele, an Hawaiian name meaning "Rescued."

Apparently, this is a luckly little catamaran, as it has now been rescued once again. Although these owners did a lot of work on the boat and sailed it some, it was still a long way from my standards of seaworthieness and appearance, and after checking everything out and accessing the original build quality and the repairs needed after another year or two of neglect, I started making a list of damaged areas, maintenance issues, modifications needed, and gear and equipment. It was obvious that this was not going to be a quick and easy spruce-up job, but rather a fairly long and intense project. That was fine with me though. After Hurricane Katrina's fury on the coast, this was not the time to sail in this region anyway. And besides, refitting and repairing this boat would be a lot quicker and a lot cheaper than building a new Tiki from scratch.

Tiki 21 Spared by Katrina

This is my Tiki 21 as I first saw it in Ocean Springs, shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Like most of the boats on the coast, this catamaran would have been destroyed or damaged if the owner had not moved it inland on the trailer. Amazingly, the area where it is shown parked in the photo above - in the previous owner's yard - was under 18-feet of Katrina's storm surge. The owner's house was flooded even though it is built on high pilings. The beams and mast for the Tiki 21 were not on the trailer and were submerged under the flood waters, but luckily they were tied down where they were stored on joists beneath the house and were not damaged. The sails were stained some by the flood, and the plans got wet, but nothing was seriously damaged.

I knew about this boat before the Hurricane and had talked to the owner about possibly buying it even then. After finding out I had lost Intensity to the hurricane, I called him again and found out the Tiki had survived. The price was now reduced due to other priorities he had in dealing with his flooded home, so I drove to Ocean Springs to check it out.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sea Kayaking: The Beginning of the Adventure

I didn't grow up on the sea coast or even exposed to boating, especially not sailing. But I did have a desire to explore and seek adventure from an early age, beginning with hunting and fishing, then canoeing local rivers and streams in inland Mississippi and trying some backpacking in the nearby Applachian and Ozark mountains. I found real freedom to explore, however, when I bought my first sea kayak, and began taking multi-day trips to the chain of uninhabited barrier islands that lie 10-12 miles off the Mississippi coast.

Those trips taught me how to navigate, negotiate surf, make a comfortable camp on the beach and showed me the special rewards of living for days at a time alone on an island with nothing but sea and sand and solitude all around. I studied maps and began to scheme and plan, and before long I sold most of my possessions and set out on an open-ended quest in my 17-foot sea kayak, heading south with a goal of reaching the islands of the Caribbean.

The journey was a success in everyway and a life-changing event for a 25-year old with a passion for adventure. I found almost everything I dreamed of: perfect island beaches, crystal clear waters, jungles, mountains and plenty of like-minded fellow travelers, some of whom introduced me to my first experiences of living and cruising on a sailing vessel. I saw some advantages to traveling on a comfortable cruising home, but at the time I preferred the utter simplicity and hassel-free lifestyle of paddling and camping. I had practically no expenses other than food - no docking fees, bottom jobs, engine and rigging worries or other repair problems. It seemed to me that most sailors I met spent a lot more time working on their boats than actually sailing. I decided to stick with kayaking. After that trip to the islands, I returned to Mississippi and shortly after began another long kayak journey - a 2600-mile trip from the lakes of Ontario and Manitoba, up the Red River of the North and down the Minnesota and Mississippi River to Vicksburg.

I continued to kayak and still paddle, but a few years after that trip I discovered that I had a talent for woodworking and decided to try building a boat. This was the beginning of a whole new adventure, and a journey with no end in sight as I have now built several boats and will probably build more. In these posts I will describe some of the boats and the reason for my choices and what keeps leading me back to James Wharram's amazing catamaran designs.

For those who are interested in sea kayaking or sailing in the Caribbean, I have written a book about that first journey to the islands that was published last year. The name of it is: On Island Time: Kayaking the Caribbean. You can find out more about it on my main website:

The Wharram Tiki 21 Catamaran

I decided to go back to a simpler kind of sailing for 2006 after loosing Intensity, my Grampian 26 monohull cruiser to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I've long been fascinated with James Wharram catamarans and built one of his smallest designs the Hitia 17 beachcruiser, back in 1997-98. (See a photo and description here) I had originally planned to build one of his Tiki 26 or Tiki 30 cruising catamarans, but instead bought the Grampian 26 and put most of my time and energy for a few years into refitting and cruising on it. The disadvantages of a deep-draft keel boat have long been apparent to me, and the lack of truly safe harbors on the Mississippi coast when a hurricane threatens is definitely one of those disadvantages.

Most multihulls are shallow draft, and Wharram catamarans are designed to really take advantage of this feature, with hull forms that require no underwater appendages such as centerboards or daggerboards to enable them to sail to weather. They can dry out on a falling tide and even the bigger ones can be sailed right up to the beach. Although I have the building plans for the Tiki 26 and have long thought this was one of the most practical sizes for my needs, shortly after Katrina wrecked the Gulf coast I purchased a used Tiki 21 from a couple in Ocean Springs. The price was right and the catamaran came with a galvanized trailer. Trailerability was especially important to me with most of the marinas on the coast wiped out. I could bring the boat inland for a complete refit and take it back to the coast after some of the clean-up and rebuilding was done.

The Tiki 21 is an excellent beachcruiser style of boat. While too small to live aboard in the conventional manner, it does have a dry sea berth in each hull to make longer passages possible, and the expansive bridgedeck between the hulls makes a great platform to pitch a tent once the boat is anchored for the night. Although small, the Tiki 21 is a proven offshore passagemaker. It was designed as a coastal cruiser by James Wharram in the early 1980s and was never intended for long ocean passages. Despite this, a young man named Rory McDougall built one in Devon, England and left in 1991 bound for New Zealand. He eventually sailed on around the world, making the Tiki 21 the smallest catamaran in history to circumnavigate. He returned from the voyage enthusiastic about the boat, and continued to use it for shorter trips, with no desire to acquire a larger one.

It takes a different sort of mentality to voyage that far on such a small, mostly open boat, but Rory's completion of the trip shows what is possible. As he said, his boat would be considered luxurious by the standards of the ancient Polynesian voyagers whose craft were Wharram's design inspiration. Having traveled far in much smaller boats (namely canoes and sea kayaks), I'm familiar with the concept of simplicity and the advantages of carrying less and using less in the way of complex systems. The Hitia 17 that I built years ago was at the time my idea of a perfect small cruiser, but it's primary limitation was that there was no secure place anywhere on board to sleep while underway or to get out of the weather if caught out in bad conditions. It's also a bit limited in load carrying capacity for longer trips, where as the Tiki 21, with a capacity of 1,000 pounds, should have a good range for singlehanding, with room for everything one needs for this elemental form of cruising.

It seems to me that this boat, with its shallow draft of just 14 inches, stability and seaworthieness of it's deeply flared V-hulls with an overall beam of 12' and it's cruising speed of up to 10-12 knots in the right conditions, will be ideal for exploring the islands and estuaries of the Gulf coast. I can also envision cruising it among the far-flung mangrove cays of the Florida Keys and the Everglades, having a comfortable camping platform for overnight stops away from the mosquitoes and no-see-ums of the beach. A voyage across the Gulf Stream to cruise the Bahamas is certainly within its capacity for one willing to put up with a little discomfort, and such a trip is one of my goals for this boat. Wharram catamarans are being built and sailed throughout the world, and many resources are avaiblable on the Internet for those interested in these boats. The best place to start is at the source itself: for information on all the designs available. As I complete the refit and modifications of my Tiki 21, I plan to post photos and commentary here for all who are interested.