The wife of boat builder James Wharram has passed away, aged 92

I’m very sad to announce that Ruth Wharram (née

Merseburger) has departed this life at

the age of 92, at home in Devoran, writes Hanneke Boon.

Ruth passed away in the early morning of 4 September.

Her health had been failing over the last

two years after a stroke the day after a fantastic 90th Birthday party

Ruth has been a great strength in our lives;

ever since she met James Wharram in 1951 she has guided and supported him

in his life’s efforts.

I first met Ruth in 1967 and have shared my life

with James and her since 1973. She has been a great friend to me and close ally

in all the work, travelling and sailing we have done together.

She never had children herself, but during her

life she has been ‘mother’ to Jutta’s son Hannes and ‘grandmother’ to my son


She was a great ocean sailor, sailing with James

and Jutta on their pioneering catamaranvoyages

across the Atlantic in the 1950, then more Atlantic crossings with Tehini, and

on Spirit of Gaia, when she was already in her

70s, she voyaged half way round the world.


friends invited her to join them on their boats, mostly Wharram catamarans, but

also other boats, even a monohull. Thus she crossed the Tasman Sea and made

more Atlantic crossings.

A woman of many talents

Ruth was a skilled navigator, managing to find her way

across the Atlantic on their first voyage with just a pocket watch and valve

radio. Later she was an expert at navigating by sextant in the days before GPS.

Besides this she was also an eager photographer, doing her own darkroom work

and she filmed the building of Tehini on a

hand-wound Bolex cine-camera.

She wrote articles about her sailing ventures,

which inspired others to try the sailing life.As

a pioneer woman ocean sailor and navigator she was an inspiration to many other

woman sailors that followed in her wake.

Since 1980 she ran the Wharram office,

communicating with customers all round the world, often writing letters late

into the night. The big family of Wharram catamaran owners and sailors was her

world; she was ‘mother’ to them all.

Whilst writing at her desk she would be

listening to classical music on Radio 3.

She only slowed down in this work in her mid

80s, when two knee replacements and a broken thigh made her no longer able to

travel easily, but she then learned to use a computer and she started to keep

in touch with her friends by email, she was also able to follow James and

myself on our Lapita Voyage via Internet.

This unfortunately came to an end by

a stroke at the age of 90, which deprived her of the ability to read and

affected her memory.

She had a second stroke last May and after

spending 2 months in hospital she was desperate to come home. She has been at

peace here and has said her farewells to all her close friends.

We all loved her dearly and will never forget


Funeral details:

Ruth’ funeral will be on Friday 13 September – a

propitious date in the pagan calendar, dedicated to the goddess.