Luckyfish Bio


Luckyfish is a Tiki 38 from James Wharram Designs. The Tiki 38 design is collaboration between James Wharram and Hanneke Boon. Many regard the Tiki’s as the pinnacle of the Wharram design evolution. James is one of the pioneers of multihull design and sailing and needs no introduction to many readers. His exploits and achievements have become legendary. His boats, it is said, can be found in every harbor in the world.

Drawing from the double-canoe designs used by the Polynesians to colonise the Pacific, the Tiki designs contain many unique design features.

As with all yacht design, every decision is a compromise between two or more opposing considerations. In the following description I will try to present these opposing considerations and why the Tiki represents the perfect compromise for me.

“We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.”Kahlil Gibran

I have learnt, through other people’s mistakes and plenty of my own, that making the right choices early on sets off a chain of positive benefits further down the line. James Wharram calls it “Listening to your inner voice”. That means drowning out the marketing dross that has us surrounded. This is the key to finishing up with a simple, easy-to-sail catamaran. Get the first step wrong and the opposite is equally true.

The Build

Luckyfish was built to a high standard by Dan Hardwicke in Cape Town, South Africa. Dan started construction in 2009 and launched her just 3 years later in 2012. Dan is far too modest and too plain busy to blog about the build. That is a shame as he and his talented build team have much to be proud of. He has agreed to edit the construction pages and supplied all the photographs of the build, you can find here. Thanks Dan!

Hull Design

The Tiki’s hulls are deep-V shaped without fin keels, dagger-boards or centre-boards. The hull shape produces minimum resistance to forward motion while resisting leeway when going to windward. The addition of appendages would add time and expense to the construction and remove the opportunity to beach. You can beach a centre-boarder but if you have ever tried to unblock a centre-board case rammed full of sand you would think twice about doing it again. It is virtually impossible. Without these appendages the Tiki produces more leeway when sailing to windward, but still makes good ground by sailing free and fast with the wind around 40 to 45 degrees apparent and tacking through ~ 110 degrees.

After the Atlantic crossing, we took this opportunity to pull up to a beach on Bequia in the Grenadines.

Sailing to windward on any boat is a chore and on cats, especially so. This is not a big consideration for us. We mitigate windward sailing by avoiding schedules so we can plan our passages around the wind and weather. This way we can enjoy sailing with the sheets eased or under kite or the myriad of other sail combinations available. These are the points of sail where the Tiki really excels.

The deep-V has slightly more wetted surface area for a given volume, than the U-shaped hull section which is seen on virtually all popular production cats today. Or, put another way, for a given wetted surface area (SA = drag) the U-shaped section will provide the maximum volume, but doesn’t provide the same lateral resistance. To repeat, it is the shape of the deep V-hulls that are responsible for Tiki’s ability to sail well to windward without the complication of appendages. This fact was missed by early historians who held the view that the colonisers of the Pacific could not sail to windward. James Wharram disproved this in the 1950’s.

The Tiki does give up some volume below the waterline and also gives up some load carrying ability. It’s probably the one compromise that’s most important to many cruisers. We all love to carry our toys around right? This might have been important to me once too, but I have learned that I get more pleasure from keeping possessions and gear to a minimum. Doing more with a lot less has real advantages and I found once I started to shed possessions, I wanted to shed more and more! So for me, compromising load carrying for keeping a catamaran light and fun to sail was an easy decision. Besides, the Tiki carries 1,000kg to 1,500kg of gear before she settles on her marks, plenty for a crew of four in tropical cruising mode.

Waterline beam is not normally published but this is a specification that determines how easily driven a hull will be and also what the hull speed will be. James designs to a minimum LWL to BWL ratio of 12:1 which is similar to racing catamarans. 12 is around the point where the separation distance between the bow and stern waves ceases to limit hull speed. Charter cats generally have 8:1 and resort to brute force solutions, e.g. large diesel engines; big sail plans; heavy rigging and increasingly; electric winches, to overcome sailing inefficiency.

The deep-V hull shape also brings three more benefits, directional stability, comfort and seaworthiness. The yacht runs as though it is on rails which minimises the work the vane-steering has to do. Despite this, there is sufficient rocker to allow effortless tacking.

I once owned a Philippe Briand (of Mari Cha IV fame) designed Beneteau with a flat forefoot – a design compromise to provide more floor space in the forward cabin. As much as I loved that boat she pounded so much going to weather that we cracked a forward frame and the hull laminate on a 650 mile coastal trip from Townsville to Brisbane, Australia. The design was far from sea-kindly but ideal for charter work, the boats intended use. The Tiki is the complete opposite. She rides like a magic carpet across a sea of feathers. This sea-kindly motion is immediately apparent when you sail a Tiki. Its effect is to put those on board at ease and instill confidence, no matter how severe the weather.

Warren Matthews built a beautiful Tiki 38, Natural High, around the same time Luckyfish was in construction. His blog here is a fascinating read. Warren has had much experience at sea in the last 45 years. He pioneered the Shark Cat in New Zealand. He has a lot of praise for the seaworthiness of his Tiki on his voyage from New Zealand to Thailand:

“… the canoe shaped sterns are a major factor in the seaworthiness in a following sea. Not once did we have a solid sea break over the aft deck. Had the odd occasion where we got a ‘sneeze’ through the decking. In fact, I spent many hours watching the seas rise up way above the aft railings and thinking… this one’s going to dump on the aft deck… but, they never did. Instead they would break just outside the boat, the stern would rise up and the wave would pass under.

In many cases the boat would surf down the wave reaching 14 knots. BUT… this is the good part. It surfed down straight. In fact, when I compare it with all the other cats I have had over the years, even the 76 foot one, not one of them would track like that. They would all have a tendency to veer off. The reason why the Wharram did not do that is no doubt in part due to the canoe sterns, and I am also sure the underwater shape of the hulls also contributes to the sea kindly actions”.


Sail Plan

By keeping the boat light and easily driven, a whole string of benefits follow. The Tiki requires a relatively small sail plan allowing smaller winches, blocks, sheets, halyards and so on. In fact, I hoist the mainsail (the aft sail) and the foresail easily without a purchase system and without a winch. All this combines to further reduce the weight of the boat and of course the capital and operating expenses.

The sail plan is further enhanced by dividing it across two raked masts into a gaff schooner configuration, keeping individual sail areas small and easy to handle. A luff pocket design, similar to that on a Laser dinghy, is used in place of slides or batt-cars and sail tracks. Known as the “Wharram Wingsail” this rig is aerodynamically efficient as it eliminates turbulence from the mast in the critical front third of the sail. There is also a major safety feature of this rig which I discuss in the Safety section (below).

The gaff rig sail shape is experiencing a renaissance as we see more and more square topped mainsails being introduced on cruising cats. Carrying sail area right to the top of the mast increases aerodynamic efficiency at the head of the sail, where the wind is at its strongest, while keeping mast heights and heeling moment, to a minimum. The square top also acts as a safety valve, releasing pressure in gusts by opening up the leech.

Luckyfish carries 5 sails and up to 4 can be flown simultaneously when tight to broad reaching, looking for maximum power. I’m indebted to Rory McDougall for showing me the full versatility of the Tiki rig.

We’ll start with the 3 primary sails which are ‘permanently’ rigged. The mainsail has 3 reefs and is used to balance the steering and provide power. The foresail is only slightly smaller than the main and provides an efficient slot with the jib. It too has 3 reefs. Both the main and the foresail can be removed from the mast via a zipper along the luff pocket. The jib is only partially overlapping and about the size of a working jib. It is on a furler and I regard the furler as a key safety feature. If you watch the great full-length movie of the Tiki 38 Pilgrim (below, at 18:35), you will see why.

The staysail is the same size and dimensions as the jib and is probably my favorite sail, (it’s a toss between this and the spinnaker). The staysail is so versatile. It is flown free, that is, not on a stay. It has a wire luff and can be hoisted on either mast. When flown from the foremast it can be tacked to the windward bow, out of the wind shadow of the foresail and main, when broad reaching and running. Dead flat off in strong airs it can be tacked to the tabernacle and flown wing and wing with the foresail. When reaching in light to moderate conditions it can be hoisted to the mainmast and tacked to the windward hull amidships, providing a slot with the main. There are probably other ways to fly this sail I haven’t discovered yet (upside down anyone?). One thing is for sure. Trying to get the best out of the boat by tweaking the Tiki rig, tacking the staysail down anywhere on that big platform is a whole lot of fun. It’s a playground for sailors!

The last sail is the spinnaker. It is a relatively small asymmetric which sets and performs equally well from dead flat off to reaching. It’s fitted with a sock and completely controlled from the pod. We can fly the sail with the apparent wind slightly forward of the beam without the need for a prodder. This one sail did most of the work on our 36 day crossing from Namibia to Barbados. And what a pleasure it is to sail under a stable, manageable kite! With tack and clew sheeted and braced to the bows, the handling is simple and easy. It quelled my memories of using kites and poles on rolly monos. We flew along day and night under this sail in winds from 5 to 25 knots, in complete control with the vane-steering in charge. It felt like we were on a tractor beam and in many ways we were. The trade-wind tractor beam.

If I was to add an extra sail to this wardrobe it would possibly be a large symmetric kite with its own set of lightweight sheets and braces, for those light air days when the kite is struggling to inflate and the vane is struggling to steer. With that big balloon up, we might be able to build up enough apparent wind to let go of the wheel. And the times this happens? Less than 5%.



Once you put these design features together, you would expect to see a good turn of speed as a result. Speed, as any cruiser will tell you, is “nice to have”, but not a necessity. While the Tiki delivers amazing spot speed results (16.6 knots anyone?) the average cruiser is looking for high sustained AVERAGE speeds, delivered in comfort. And this is where well designed multis excel.

It’s a pleasure to reproduce this comment from Hanneke Boon about the Tiki 38 Pilgrim:

‘Pilgrim’ was built by a group of Frenchmen near New York and sailed from there across the Atlantic to the South of France in July 2011. They made the crossing in record time, 4500Nm in 31 days. This means they averaged 6 knots, including the stops in Azores and Portugal! They frequently sailed at 14 knots and their top speed was 16.6 knots.

The Tiki 38 has a WL length of 32ft, i.e. √WLL = 5.66. Therefore 16.6 knots = 2.8 x √WLL, 14 knots = 2.5 x √WLL. These speed/length ratios compare very favourably to those achieved by highly expensive ocean racing multihulls and this for a self-built low-cost cruising boat with a low-tech Schooner Wharram Wingsail rig.

Do watch the wonderful short film they made of their voyage:

and the full length movie at:

Our own Atlantic crossing began with 5 consecutive 170 mile days, an average speed of 7 knots finishing that first leg of 1222 miles to Saint Helena in 7 days 21 hours, an overall average speed of 6.5 knots. We were sailing very conservatively with an inexperienced crew. But we still had the occasional surfs to 15 knots and regularly into the 10, 11, 12’s.

I like to look at speed in terms of dollars. Just for a reality check. For example, the dollar per knot ratio of a boat like the Gunboat 55 is 100,000. The Tiki 38? – 17,000. A whopping 83% less.


This is one of the most important pieces of equipment if your passage making is going to be a pleasant, hassle-free experience. Hanneke has done a brilliant job designing the horizontal-axis vane and trim tab self-steering system used on Luckyfish. The system is home-built and simplicity itself. It performed flawlessly from Cape Town up to Namibia, then over 6,000 miles across the Atlantic and then again, as we hove to and hauled in fish in the Caribbean. The boat barely strays more than 5 degrees from her course, often less. It requires no electricity, has no proprietary drive belts, worm screws or electronics to fail and only requires a wind of 5 knots or so to become active.

Luckyfish has two identical vane mechanisms mounted on either hull. Each mechanism has a small and large vane, made from lightweight rigid foam, for use in under 8 knot and over 8 knot winds, respectively. Only the windward vane is in use at any time. The leeward vane can either be locked vertical with a bungee, or detached and stowed. The leeward vane is always disengaged from the trim tab (two tiny carabiners take care of this). And the trim tab can either be locked in line with the rudder or left loose, to trail.

After the boat has been placed approximately on course, the windward vane is rotated on its vertical axis to balance the wind pressure on either side. This results in the vane standing upright on its horizontal axis. A simple wingnut is locked down to secure the vertical axis position. The trim tab control lines are now connected using the carabiners, and the lines tightened. The boat is now self-steering.

The key to smooth operation is keeping friction to a minimum. Lubrication of moving parts is essential and silicone spray is ideal for this. We also disengage the wheel steering, which is a simple drum, rope and pulley system, linked to the tiller bar. In the unlikely event of needing to make a rapid, manual course change, we can either tilt the vane one way or the other or grab a tiller and override.

How does it work? Straying off course relative to the wind applies more wind pressure to one side of the vane than the other, and the vane tilts around the horizontal axis. One of the trim tab control lines goes tight; the other is relaxed causing the trim tab to deflect out of alignment with the rudder. This causes a large amount of water pressure to build up on one side of the trailing edge of the rudder. The rudder moves to correct this, the boat alters course until the wind pressure on the vane is balanced again, and the process goes on, almost imperceptibly, day in, day out. It is a beautiful piece of design and engineering. A slight wind pressure differential across the vane, nowhere near sufficient to steer a boat, is artfully leveraged up in power by utilizing water pressure instead.

After spending many hours watching the system at work, I feel it epitomises the harmony of a well-designed sailboat in tune with the wind and the sea.

We have made a 3 minute video below, showing how the system works.

If your boat has transom hung rudder(s) and this is of interest to you can contact James Wharram Designs here for a set of plans of the self-steering.


The Wharrams are perhaps the most seaworthy of all multihulls; they are certainly the most proven. It is said that, of any of James Wharrams designs over 26′ and built to plan, there has never been a capsize.

With over 10,000 sets of plans sold and more than half of those dreams reaching the water, their track record on all the seas of the world in the worst of conditions is well known.

This incredible safety record comes about from the combination of an almost countless number of design features. Low aspect rigs, relatively low freeboard and low centre of gravity, (freeboard seems to grow about 1″ per year in the cruising multihull category, producing slab sided SOB’s to maneuvre!), decks that breathe, plenty of reserve buoyancy up forward with relatively long overhangs, strong and protected rudders and gudgeons, simple easy to maintain steering systems with multiple, built-in levels of redundancy and the list goes on.

Although not recommended by the designer, the smallest catamaran to circumnavigate is the Tiki 21 Cooking Fat. Cookie was sailed around the world and into the record books by Rory McDougall. Rory also sailed Cookie into second place in the trans-Atlantic Jester Challenge in 2010, narrowly missing winning.

The writer with Rory McDougall and the diminutive Cookie at Lympstone, Devon, England in 2016.

For me, the clincher when choosing a catamaran, after reviewing many, many cat designs, was reading the collection of Wharram storm stories collated by New Zealand Wharram agent Don Brazier and available for free here. Rory’s accounts of storms and tactics are here, along with many other first hand accounts of severe weather at sea, what has worked and what hasn’t. What other class of cruising yacht produces a document such as this? Something that stares unflinchingly into the eye of the storm. It’s disappointing that the manufacturers of popular production cats present so little information on topics like attaching and deploying a sea-anchor, running with a drogue, storm-tactics etc. These topics are essential for storm survival in any cruising yacht heading to sea and especially so on a multihull.

In the unlikely event I fail terribly in my planning and end up in severe weather, on a lee-shore, the sailor’s nightmare, I carry a 16’ foot diameter Fiorentino sea anchor, a bridle attached to two 30cm x 18mm S/S eyebolts, through-bolted and epoxied to gussets bonded to hull stringers, plenty of teabags and faith in the design of Luckyfish. Also on board is a Jordan series drogue on its own bridle to check speed when running before a storm with plenty of sea room.

Another safety feature, unique to the Wharrams and other Polynesian inspired craft are the beam to hull attachments. Sailboats must be built as stiff as possible. A stiff sailboat transfers all the power from the rig directly to the hull(s) and forward motion, minimising energy wasted on flexing. It is a popular misconception that the Wharrams are flexible. This may have been true of the older Wharram designs, but on modern, well set up Tiki’s and Pahi’s, this is not true.

The Tiki 38 has three massive I-shaped beams that are lashed to the hulls in twelve places. Four lashings per beam, one inside and outside each hull. To set the Wharram up well, these lashings have to be stretched tight, really tight, as if they were set like concrete. Wharram recommends 6 wraps of 8mm polyester (Dacron) braid. It takes a lot of effort to get the last bit of stretch out of 8mm Dacron braid. People have been known to use many hands, levers, blocks and tackles, even cars, in an effort to get their lashings as tight as possible.

You may ask, why not just mechanically bond the beams to the hulls, using bolts, glass, glue and turn it into a monocoque? If this was done, it would immediately create rigid (read ‘weak’) points right where all the stress in a cat framework is focused. The principle behind the lashings is that they are rigid 99% of the time, but in extreme shock loadings they stretch a tiny bit and dissipate the load. Because of this design, the superstructure (pod) is not bonded to the hulls, as it would be on a bridge-house catamaran, but instead suspended on the beams. Overall this is an elegant and ultimately strong solution.

As mentioned earlier, the rig has an essential safety feature peculiar to Wharram catamarans. With the Wingsail, you have the ability to drop sails with the wind on the beam or even dead astern, something that is impossible with sail tracks. This means if you are caught in a squall or a building wind that catches you unaware, you do not need to round up and place the boat beam on to the seas to reef or drop the sail.

The Pod

Early Wharram designs were completely open, bridge deck catamarans. It wasn’t long before builders started installing places of refuge when the elements turned inclement. Pods have evolved a long way since then. The pod on Luckyfish is a great piece of ergonomic design by Dan Hardwicke. Easily and directly accessible from either the galley or the main cabin the pod can be zipped up tight to keep out the weather or opened up on all four sides to let the breeze through.

Crossing the Equator under kite and self-steering. Tuya and Zaya enjoying the extra shade from the storm enclosures, and cooling cross ventilation only a Pod can provide.

The layout is optimised for easy sail handling and day-to-day living. Four Lewmar Evo 32 two-speed winches handle jib and spinnaker sheets. The wheel is a S/S Lewmar with a 12” B&G Zeus Chartplotter connected to AIS transponder, Broadband 4G radar and rate compass (so the radar image overlays the chart), Triton wind, depth and log compass, 12v power. Two full length benches and fold out two leaf table. 3 large cockpit lockers hold a gas Soverign BBQ, 2x 5kg composite gas bottles, tools, glue, paint snorkelling gear etc. The storm/shade enclosure rolls away all round. On the port side, forward there is a Whale hand bilge pump with roaming hose.

On passages, the pod is the place to be. 90% of the crew’s time is spent in the pod. The off-watch sleeps on the seat-bunks while the watch keeps an eye on the radar and the horizon. When I’m feeling lazy and the weather outside is nasty, I install temporary control lines so I can adjust the vane steering without leaving the pod.

There is 193cm (6’4″) headroom beneath the hard-top bimini at the wheel. The bimini supports 270W of solar power, the light weight 4G radar dome, GPS antenna and dedicated AIS VHF transponder antenna. The bimini has hand holds all around to assist movement on deck and gutters to catch the rain. From the steering position the helm has complete visibility of all four corners of the boat which is perfect for docking. Seated to the side of the wheel, in the cut-away, the helm can view the sails when steering by hand.

Auxiliary Power

Luckyfish has two, electric start, ultra quiet, high-thrust 9.9HP Yamaha long-shaft outboards. The engines are mounted on retractable sleds and the outboards themselves have power tilt. The engines are effortlessly raised and lowered. Fully retracted, they present no drag when under sail. They are mounted mid-ships – the perfect location for spinning the boat on a dime in confined spaces and also for weight distribution. It is a very, very sweet set up.

Fuel capacity is 96L in four, 24L litre tanks giving a range in calms (ticking along at 3 knots on one engine, which is the longest range solution) of about 200 nautical miles. At full throttle they will suck the boat along at over 7 knots. Each engine has an alternator that puts out a measly 7.8A. This is even more negligible given the fact the engines are hardly ever used. In fact, in 6,000 miles we burned 23L of fuel. Not bad economy. The green part of me really wants to go electric but when I look at the amount of fuel we burn, it is hardly a big deal.

To learn more about Luckyfish interior layout click here