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Merlin To Return To Santa Cruz

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  • Merlin To Return To Santa Cruz

    The magical Merlin, Bill Lee's 1977 SC 68' that started the sled revolution has been reacquired by Bill Lee himself,
    and should be ready to sail in the 2017 Transpac, her 40th anniversary of the Transpac Record run she set in 1977
    of 8 days, 11 hours 1 minute and 45 seconds, which stood intact for decades.

    Most recently, Merlin has been sailing in the Great Lakes circuit and was modified with a canting keel, which Bill indicates
    will be replaced with a fixed keel, something along the the lines of a TP 52.

    Here is Shimon van Collie's write for Latitude 38 circa 1995:

    MERLIN - Bill Lee’s Magic Bus

    by Shimon van Collie

    If there’s one boat that has embodied West Coast sailing for the past two decades, it has to be Bill Lee’s 68-foot long, 12 foot wide, 25,000-pound Merlin. The sweetheart of Santa Cruz, Merlin ranks in sailing’s pantheon with boats like Olin Stephens’ Dorade, Alan Gurney’s Windward Passage and Ron Holland’s Imp. No one who’s ever sailed this “one hulled catamaran” - and there have been hundreds - is likely to forget the thrill of slicing through the water with such speed and power. When it comes to going fast, Merlin is the boat of choice.

    Tracing Merlin’s roots requires scanning back to the years prior to her emergence from Lee’s 200-foot long converted chicken coop on a hillside in Soquel, California. Lee, an engineer from Cal Poly, was one of a group of sailing enthusiasts who found Monterey Bay a marvelous playground. Steady northwesterly winds and long Pacific swells made for long hours of sailing bliss, with an ever increasing desire for more speed. Lee’s colleagues, especially Ron Moore and George Olson, were forging their own visions with boats like Summertime (precursor to the Moore 24) and Pacific High (ditto to the Olson 30).

    Lee’s initial entry was the 30-ft Magic, followed by the 35-ft Witchcraft. For the TransPacific Race, the biennial dash from Long Beach to Diamond Head, Bill came up with the 40-ft Panache and the 35-ft Chutzpah. The latter won overall corrected honors for the race in 1973 and 1975.

    All of the above boats benefited from the Santa Cruz philosophy of taking conventional sailboats of the time and making them longer and lighter. Some of them were extremely beamy as well, like Panache. But In 1973, Lee raced Panache to La Paz and saw the Spencer 53 Ragtime, a narrow, hard-chined sloop that won line honors in the TransPac earlier that year. Lee liked the Idea of getting thin and rounding off the bottom. The Merlin concept was born.

    Construction of the boat was not exotic. Both hull and deck are balsa cored and covered with E-glass and woven roving with some unidirectional glass in high-stress areas. Lee used Bruynzeel plywood for the interior structures, which include a raised main settee over the water tanks, a total of 10 berths strung along the hull, a navigation station and galley and a head jammed way up in the bow.

    Although much of the competitive sailing world fretted over complying with the ever-shifting International Offshore Rule (IOR), Lee simply focused on making Merlin fast enough to break not just Windward Passage’s existing monohull TransPac record of 9 days, 9 hours, but also the muitihull record of 8 days, 13 hours set by France’s Eric Tabarly in 1969. He relied on the numbers his engineering background provided him, but he also drew on his and other’s intuition to get the boat just right. “I’d go over after work,” says insurance agent and TransPac veteran Harvey Kilpatrick, “and Bill had the keel on a dolly under the boat, moving it back and forth to where it looked right.” By February 23, 1977, Merlin was ready to hit the water.

    Named after a combination of the Arthurian legend, the P-51 aircraft engine and a small falcon hawk, Merlin surprised even those who expected her to be fast. Kilpatrick came along for the initial sails, including the first time they hoisted a spinnaker. In anticipation of this crucial moment, Lee wondered aloud if he should drive or let his insurance man have the helm. He opted for the latter, went below and sipped on a soda as the sail went up. “We were going 12 knots under the main alone,” recalls Kilpatrick, “and with the kite up we jumped to 17, Everyone was whooping and hollering. It was really something.”

    Weighing half as much as contemporary 68-footers, Merlin presented Lee and his crew with a whole new world of sailing. “It was like riding a motorboat without the engine,” says Dave Wahle. Merlin was so active in a seaway that Wahle recalls he had to rip his paperback copy of the novel Shogun In half In order to focus on the print!

    With so little beam, Merlin was never expected to go upwind with any speed. Off the wind, however, she created tremendous apparent wind. In flat water she would sail with the pole on the forestay while the true wind was well aft of the beam. “For those of us used to heavier boats, this was totally unique,” says Steve Taft, an early crewmember and the boat’s sailmaker for many years. “If the true wind died, we’d experience these incredible apparent wind crashes.”

    Out of money after building the boat, Lee relied on his TransPac crew, which included Kilpatrick, Wahle, Jack Halterman, Rob Wade, Bob Larson, Phil Vandenberg and navigator Don Snyder, to help out Each took on a job and they all helped shake the boat down with some coastal races off the Golden Gate. They blew up gear and fixed it. They learned how to sail when the boat ran over one wave and down into the next, covering the foredeck with a couple feet of water. ”We were all pretty scared at first,” recalls Vandenberg. “The bow would be three feet underwater but the boat didn’t slow down or load up and the speedometer didn’t go down. After awhile, we’d just shrug our shoulders and keep going.” Once Vandenberg was on the bow dropping the blooper when a wave came along and washed him down the forward hatch along with several hundred gallons of water. Left hanging upside down and from his safety harness, Vandenberg dubbed this experience “the Cosmic Flush.”

    The favorite going into the 1977 TransPac, Merlin faced some stiff competition from Harry Moloshco’s 69-ft Drifter. The Southern California boat, built after Merlin and perhaps as an enlarged copy, actually led the race for six out of the eight days. Merlin went north and began to leg out on Drifter as the pair reached Oahu. As Lee remembers it, they weren’t sure who was ahead as the duo sped toward the finish line. Then a plane appeared from the direction of the island. It circled overhead as a photographer recorded Merlin’s ‘Das Boot’ imitation. When the plane finally peeled off and headed behind them, the crew realized that they must be ahead of Drifter. “It was a sobering moment,” says Bill. “All we had to do was finish the race and not goof up.

    “For our final jibe at Molokai, we dropped the chute, jibed the main and raised a new chute on the other side. Drifter tried it with their kite up and put the spreaders in the water.” In the end, Merlin crossed 17 minutes ahead after 2,200 miles of racing. Her elapsed time of 8 days, 11 hours and 1 minute broke Taberly’s mark by two hours and has remained the official TransPac record ever since.

    Merlin’s smashing success was not greeted with hurrahs in all quarters. Steve Taft was part of the America’s Cup effort in Rhode Island, when the TransPac was happening. During a conversation with Olin Stephens, designer of the classic ocean racer Dorade and one of the world’s preeminent yacht designers, Taft brought up the subject of Merlin. “What’s that?” inquired Stephens. As Taft described the minimalist concept downwind sled, Stephens harrumphed and peered down his nose at this misguided west coast concept. When the newspaper reported that Merlin was actually leading the race the next day, Stephens commented that “those people are hopelessly lost!”

    A few months later at the St. Francis Yacht Club Stag Cruise, Taft brought Merlin to the delta and late one night was asked by Stephens for a tour of the boat. “All he could do was shake his head,” Taft laughs.

    For the town of Santa Cruz, Merlin became its goodwill ambassador. Dozens of folks flew over to welcome the boat In Honolulu, and Bill invited them on board to go out and greet other finishers as they arrived. Merlin T-shirts were a growth industry in the docks of the Ala Wai. The legend of Merlin was born.

    Feeding the Legend was Merlin’s continued success in the TransPac She didn’t always get to Honolulu first, but she was always the boat that the other big, fast, expensive sleds had to keep their eye on. After a light air race in 1979, Merlin returned in 1981 under the charter of Nick Frazee. Once again, Lee’s creation battled Drifter on the way over. And once again, she prevailed, falling only 45 seconds short of breaking the 1977 record.

    In 1983, the TransPac committee, fearing that Lee’s success would prompt a rash of Merlin copies that lacked her structural integrity, capped the race entries with a 70.0 IOR rating. Nolan Bushnell, the man who brought us Pac-Man and Chuck E Cheese, spent several hundred thousand dollars on the maxi ultralight Charley to make it both legal and fast enough to beat Merlin. Steve Taft came aboard as the expert. In sea trials the boat showed it had plenty of speed.

    In his sailmaking capacity, though, Taft also had a chance to sail on Merlin, which had been chartered to Cliff Wilson, Dem Smith and their Better Boating Syndicate. With a shorter boom and reduced sail area, as well as several thousand pounds of lead ingots bolted to her deck and bilge, Merlin had been handicapped down to the 70.0 rating, While testing some sails, however, Taft was treated to some eye-opening sailing. “With the bow under water we pegged the speedometer at 30 knots, which is the fastest I’ve ever gone on a sled before or since,” he says. “I called my mates on Charley and told them that we had a problem on our hands.” Charley’s crew worried about Merlin throughout the TransPac, but managed to hold her off, winning by two hours. Wilson and Smith won the moral victory, however. including reeling off an amazing 358 miles during one 24-hour period.

    1983 was also the year Merlin changed owners. Donn Campion bought the boat from Lee with the idea that she would be chartered out regularly for West Coast ocean races. Campion has been proven right year after year since. Merlin became the workhorse racer, campaigning in odd-numbered year TransPacs - as well as even-numbered years in both Pacific Cups (San Francisco to Kaneohe) and Victoria (Canada) to Maui Races.

    Although her results have varied, Merlin has always remained a threat wind swung aft of the beam. In 1987 Skip Steveley chartered the boat for TransPac and Campion came along for the ride. In the early going, Merlin lagged behind the competition and the crew began to wonder aloud if perhaps the magic had worn itself out. “Then the wind filled in from behind and we started to pick up the pace,” says Campion. To the surprise of nearly everyone, Merlin charged into the lead and scored her second first-to-finish victory in a decade.

    In 1992, a group of Canadians headed by Dan Sinclair chartered the boat to take a crack at the boat’s run record of 10 days, 2 minutes in the Vic-Maui race. Sinclair admits that he and his pals weren’t used to sailing such a tender boat at such high speeds. “We’d hit 16 knots before In other boats,” he says, ”but now we were going 24. It was exhilarating, but we broached a lot.” Nevertheless, the Canadians sliced 46 minutes off the old record in winning class and fleet honors.

    This past summer Sinclair returned for the TransPac. Getting to the race wasn’t easy, however. After preparing the boat the syndicate suffered a collision with a rock off Victoria that put Merlin in the yard for 2-1/2 weeks of around-the-clock repair work totaling $120,000.

    Declared fit shortly before the start of the TransPac, Merlin joined the fleet of modern, expensive entries including IMS maxis Windquest and Sayonara. Race prognosticators gave the 18-year-old boat little hope, but the Canadians weren’t panicked. “We figured we had to stay within 130 miles of them to have a chance,” says Sinclair. “When they sailed into a hole, we dove south and it paid off.” The last days of the race found them surfing neck-and-neck with the turbo-charged SC 70 Pyewacket. A crash jibe in the Molokai Channel let Pyewacket get away, but Merlin still corrected out as division and overall winner - more jewels to add to the legend’s crowded crown.

    Setting records and winning races spell only part of the Merlin saga, however. Ever since she was launched, the boat has been the locus of ‘Fast is Fun’ sailing, a term coined by Bill Lee. Many credit the popularity of ultralight sailing to the fact that Bill generously opened the boat to anyone who wanted to come aboard for a ride. On Santa Cruz’s summertime Wednesday night races, she would be loaded to the gills with men, women and children who would ‘oohh’ and ‘ahhh’ as she slithered through the sparking seas. Niels Kisling, who’s done the lion’s share of deliveries for Campion since 1983, says the boat always draws a crowd. When coming up the coast from Mexico or Southern California, he tries to schedule a Thursday night stopover at Morro Bay Yacht Club during happy hour. “We always get 30 or 40 people onboard for cocktails,” he says. “It’s always been open house on Merlin.”

    Currently for sale, Merlin retains both her mystique and, as was shown in the ‘95 TransPac, her ability to go fast. “Merlin showed us that you could blow away the big, powerful maxi boats by going light and simple,” says yacht designer Carl Schumacher. “Sleds don’t load up like heavy boats. They’re easier to jibe and they take fewer people to sail. Merlin is certainly a boat that had a major impact on the sailing world.”

    According to Bill Lee and others, Merlin could conceivably win TransPac again in 1997 and 1999. If she competes in both, she will attain yet another milestone as the boat with the most TransPacs to her name.

    For Bill Lee, who has always given the sailing world many memorable boats since 1977, Merlin remains his favorite. The two will always be linked in sailing lore. While he acknowledges pride in her many racing triumphs, though, Lee still believes ‘fast’ and ‘fun’ go hand in hand. “We had a lot of fun with Merlin,” he says, “and people are still having fun with her.”

    Memories of Merlin
    Skip Allan, crewmember: “Merlin has always been a ‘people boat’ and the more the merrier. A Wednesday night crew in Santa Cruz of 35 to 45 was not uncommon, and if Bill didn’t cast off promptly at 5:30 p.m., more would have climbed aboard. Bill would sip brandy in the cabin and watch the action through the windows. One of the favorite activities for guests was to climb into the narrow bow of the boat and position their backs on one side of the hull and their knees on the other. Going to weather, the bow would flex and pant, squeezing you gently in a fetal hug.”
    “Before the 1977 TransPac, race safety inspector Hays McClellan wanted all the requirements meticulously adhered to by this new rogue boat. As he went down the list, he stopped at the motoring requirement. ‘OK, I want to see this boat motor at 8 knots,’ he boomed. Dave Wahle cast off the docklines and, with Hayes aboard, roared down Santa Cruz Harbor at 8 knots backwards. The winter sandbar blocked the entrance, so when Merlin reached the end of the harbor, Dave spun the wheel. Merlin turned on a dime, nearly throwing Hayes overboard. They then motored triumphantly in reverse, back to the slip. Hayes quickly checked off the rest of the safety items and bemusedly fled this craziness.”

    Harvey Kilpatrick, crewmember in 1977 TransPac: “When we left Los Angeles after the start of the race, we still weren’t sure how fast we could go. At the finish, we were all wound pretty tight. We had a drink and the crew disappeared. Bill and I were just blown away by the whole thing. It didn’t hit us what we had done until the next morning.”

    Dem Smith, charterer for 1983 TransPac: “Merlin is the most incredible ride I’ve ever had. Sometimes I think of her as 67 feet of sheer terror. My job was jibing the pole and the first time I did it I found myself underwater with the wire guys dragging across the face. I immediately thought there had to be a better way to do it. I shortened the tether on my harness to three feet and fastened it to a deadbolt on the foredeck so I wouldn’t get swept away every time she dove. I literally did every jibe during that race underwater.”

    Jim Antrim, yacht designer: “There’s a photo of Merlin at the Santa Cruz YC that shows her sailing under this huge kite. With her low freeboard and narrow hull, Merlin has always represented the minimal life support system needed for a spinnaker. She really started the West Coast downwind racing scene.”

    George Olson, crew and fellow Santa Cruz boatbuilder/designer: “We were one of four couples who sailed Merlin back after the 1977 TransPac. It was during that trip that we had conversations about building a 30 footer that became Pacific High, which was the prototype for the Olson 20. Building a 70-footer was just beyond me or anyone else in Santa Cruz at the time. Merlin stands alone as an effort to see how fast we can really go.”

    " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella" Photo Gallery

  • #2
    Some great news. Sad to have seen her move to Great Lakes.

    She's in the right hands now!


    • #3
      From The Vault: Sports Illustrated 11/20/1978

      Recently unearthed, the 1978 Sports Illustrated Article on Bill Lee, Merlin and the Chicken Coop.

      By Richard W Johnston

      At the end of a rough and sometimes muddy road above Soquel, four
      miles south of Santa Cruz on the California coast, is a big old
      chicken house. A small, crudely lettered sign on a telephone pole
      says BILL LEE YACHTS. The parking lot lies some 30 feet below the
      coop, and an unpainted wooden staircase leads up to the hen-house
      door, which bears another sign: BRING A SIX-PACK. A lot of rich
      people have carried six-packs up those rickety stairs.

      Most arrivals, rich or poor, six-packed or empty-handed, step
      inside the door to find nobody home. There is no foyer, no
      carpeting, no secretary, no bank of easy chairs. The visitor sees
      only a cluttered corridor opening into an enormous loftlike room.
      The floor is strewn with boat hulls and forms that from a distance
      look like hulls that have been sliced in two, stem to stern, with a

      Eventually, a man emerges from one of the doors, a stocky,
      medium-size fellow with an aureole of dark curls framing a high
      forehead and a pudgy face decorated with a wispy beard. Unsmiling
      eyes, magnified by thick-lensed, shell-rimmed glasses, inspect the
      visitor, who finally breaks the silence. "I have an appointment
      with Bill Lee."

      A hand is extended--in welcome or for the beer?

      "I'm Lee," says the greeter. "You bring a six-pack?"

      The beer is produced and accepted.

      "Okey dokey," says Bill Lee and turns back toward the door.

      Okey dokey? The visitor follows, trying to remember the last time
      he heard that expression. Is this morose, shambling figure in the
      saggy old sweater--it would hang to the seat of his pants if the
      seat of his pants weren't already drooping halfway to the back of
      his knees--is this really the roistering, party-loving sailor who
      has been called "the king of the downhill racers"? Can this be the
      carefree builder whose ultralights won seven out of 19 trophies in
      Trans-Pacific yacht racing in 1975 and who, this past summer, was
      first to finish the VictoriaMaui International race?

      Well, yes and no. The roisterous, boisterous Bill Lee is on public
      display only at the end of triumphant ocean races, when the smile
      he reserves for old friends goes public and the six-packs yield to
      champagne and mai-tais. And why is that Bill Lee happy? Because the
      boats he designs go like--as well as with--the wind. That's the
      Bill Lee, warmed by tropic rum and bedecked with leis, who told a
      Honolulu reporter after he finished first in the 1977 Transpac, "We
      sail for the fun of it--any excuse for a party. We don't even like
      to maintain a boat. It cuts into valuable party time." In the rush
      of that success, in which his boat bettered the 6-year-old record
      of nine days, nine hours, six minutes and 48 seconds by nearly a
      whole day, Lee told another writer, "We weren't out to break
      Windward Passage's record. We knew we could do that. The mark we
      wanted was Eric Tabarly's 1969 time of eight days and 13 hours in
      his trimaran Pen Duick IV. And we beat that by nearly two hours."

      This man in the hen house is the other Bill Lee, the wary and
      suspicious wizard who has become one of the most controversial
      figures in racing-yacht design. And it was here that his
      masterpiece, the 67-foot, 22,000-pound sloop Merlin, was conceived
      and sent out to create new interest in yachting and to outrage the
      yachting Establishment. The crowds that throng Diamond Head and
      Lahaina at the conclusion of the biennial Trans-Pacific and
      Victoria-Maui International ocean races aren't there to see
      traditional yachts wallow home to victory on corrected time. They
      are there to see the Merlins and the Drifters and the Ragtimes come
      home across the vast savannas of the sea as though they were, in
      truth, pursued by the hounds of heaven.

      Why are there two Bill Lees, and why is this one sad? It is because
      his boats go so fast with the wind that critics say they can't go
      up it or across it. The somber Bill Lee has found that
      indifference, real or feigned, is a reliable defense against
      charges that he builds one-purpose downhill sleds and that such
      lightly built boats can't possibly be safe.

      The allegations have gained a certain credence since Lee's most
      publicized victories have, indeed, been won going downhill--that
      is, with the wind behind him. The 1977 Transpac, with Lee at the
      helm of Merlin, and the Vic-Maui this past July, with Merlin
      chartered by Doug Fryer of Seattle, cut a total of two and a half
      days off the old records--and both are downwind races, with no
      serious weather or reaching legs. Once clear of Los Angeles and
      Victoria, respectively, the racers soon pick up the northeast trade
      winds and run before them all the way to Hawaii. But Merlin did not
      "win" either the Transpac or the International. Jim Kilroy's
      80,000-pound ketch Kialoa won the former, and Bravura, a 48-foot
      Freres heavyweight, won the Vic-Maui, though she finished almost
      four days after Merlin. Both won on corrected time. Corrected time
      is the handicapping system based on the International Offshore

      Sometimes, that is.

      Although the IOR is the worldwide standard, regional yachting
      associations have power to modify it in emergency situations. Such
      emergencies are being generated by the appearance of new, light
      designs that threaten the dominance of heavy, traditional vessels.
      For the 1977 and 1978 races, the Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet,
      which had been stung twice in the past by a Lee boat, decided that
      neither Merlin nor Harry Moloscho's Drifter--a boat similar to
      Merlin--could be beaten in a scratch race by conventional yachts.
      Well, the fleet had bent the offshore rule in previous years to
      discourage catamaran and trimaran skippers, so now the handicap
      committee of the Trans-Pacific Yacht Club simply heavily penalized
      ultralight boats and put them in their own division. By the time
      Merlin and Drifter set out in the Transpac, the only way either
      could have "won" the race would have been to hitch a tow from a

      Although the IOR rating system has proved effective over the years
      as a means of diminishing the disparity between large and small
      boats of comparable design and relative weight to length ratios,
      some builders fear that it discourages advances in the state of the
      art. Bill Lee does not seem to give it much attention either way,
      much as the penalties may rankle. "Under Pacific Handicap rules
      there's no reason for me to build a faster boat," he says, "but I
      don't worry about that. The feeling of going fast is the thing."

      Lee views the honorific "king of the downhill racers" as a slur
      rather than a compliment, even while conceding, that Merlin has yet
      to prove her competitive ability in a long heavy-weather race
      embodying all points of sail. (After the Transpac, Merlin took on
      Phantom and another light heavy, the 61-foot Sorcery, in a series
      of triangular races off Maui. Merlin won two out of three, but in
      light air.) And he fiercely disagrees with a Hawaiian yachtsman who
      not only denounced the ultras as downhill sleds, but also added, "I
      wouldn't feel safe sailing in one."

      "There are only two divisions of sailing," Lee says. "Racing men
      who want to go fast in heavy weather and cruising men who want to
      feel safe in heavy weather. Actually, they'd be safer in
      medium-to-light boats. One of the safest things you can put in the
      ocean is a PingPong ball. Racing people often want a boat designed
      right down to the edge, but I won't do that. Merlin is safe in any

      Some of the charges of lack of safety stem from a notion that Lee,
      who designed his first boat in 1969, is a by-guess-and-by-God
      operator who "builds light and shoves lead here and there if it
      seems appropriate." Not true, says Charles Mason, a respected
      yachting writer. "Lee is a trained engineer who knows exactly what
      he is doing, both in matters of design and construction." This
      conclusion is borne out both by Lee's record as a sailor and by his
      predesign training.

      Bill Lee began sailing traditional craft--and winning races--as a
      high school student in Newport Beach, Calif. After graduating from
      Cal Poly with a degree in mechanical engineering, he spent two
      years doing stress, trim and weight analyses for manufacturers of
      armored personnel carriers, submarines and amphibious craft. But he
      hated going to the office--it left no time for fun--and in 1969 he
      quit and moved to Santa Cruz, ostensibly to sell real estate but
      actually to sail.

      "Then I got the bug to build a lighter boat than any then
      available," Lee says, "so I designed Magic. We built it outdoors,
      and it really wasn't a professional job, but I had real good luck
      with a `sandwich' hull--fiber glass, balsa core, more fiber glass."
      Perhaps luck had nothing to do with it. He subjected every aspect
      of Magic's design to the stringent stress and weight tests he had
      mastered in his previous job.

      "I didn't originate the sandwich hull," Lee says. "I was interested
      in going fast, but in a boat that would be structurally sound. Most
      boats are made of glass, wood or aluminum. The weakest hull forms
      are sprayed glass, and while the average stock glass boat is strong
      enough, it's heavier and slower. Some builders use chopped fiber
      glass put on with a gun, but it's not as strong as the woven fiber
      glass we use. We do a hand lay-up, paint the glass with thin resin
      for additional stiffening, then add the core--it can be either foam
      or balsa wood, but I think balsa's better--and then the inner
      weave." Lee has used this sandwich ever since.

      A 30-foot boat that displaced only 2,500 pounds and carried nearly
      450 square feet of sail, Magic ran away with the Monterey Bay races
      in the summer of 1970, with the young skipper getting as much
      attention as his radical boat. Lee was invited by Art Biehl, a San
      Francisco yachtsman, to sail in the 1971 Transpac, in which
      Windward Passage achieved the record that Merlin was to break in
      1977, and Biehl asked Lee to design a 36-foot ultralight for his
      next ocean try. Witchcraft came out of Lee's makeshift shop at
      7,500 pounds and, in response to a plea from Honolulu yachtsman Stu
      Cowan, he duplicated her in a boat Cowan named Chutzpah. The
      Pacific Fleet handicappers were beginning to get upset by this
      design trend, and when Cowan entered Chutzpah in the 1973 Transpac,
      the committee corrected her rating to account for extra anticipated
      downwind speed. Ragtime, the big ultralight from New Zealand, was
      attracting even more attention from the handicappers. Ragtime
      finished first, but Chutzpah sneaked home to victory on corrected
      time, of all things.

      That fall Lee, realizing that building an occasional custom yacht
      was hardly a way to make a living, found the chicken coop, a huge
      structure built on a 10,000-square-foot concrete slab that had
      housed the laying stock of a big poultry firm. The fact that it was
      at the end of a hilly road, more than a mile from the water, only
      persuaded Lee that it would be a perfect place to build a lot of
      better boats in peace. He trundles them to the water on flatbed
      trucks. When he moved in, he already had one boat on his board--a
      little 27-footer that would be within the means of modest sailors.

      The Santa Cruz 27s, which displaced only 3,000 pounds and cost only
      $16,995, started fluttering out of the coop in 1974. The next year
      Lee sailed Panache, his first 40-footer, to Manzanillo in Mexico,
      and it was there, while partying on the deck of Ragtime, that he
      and his crewmen, all longtime buddies, decided to do a big one. He
      was still working out the design of Merlin--a yacht so long and
      narrow (a 12-foot beam against her 67-foot length) that it has been
      called half a catamaran--when Stu Cowan slipped Chutzpah past the
      handicappers again for another corrected-time victory in the 1975
      Transpac. For the second time, Ragtime ran interference.

      "It took four of us about 10 months to build Merlin," Lee says.
      "Moloscho dropped in from Los Angeles one day, looked her over and
      decided he wanted one just like her. We said next year--so he went
      home, drew his own plans and started Drifter just a month before we
      launched Merlin. He had her built a little bigger all around and
      used an Airex foam core instead of balsa--lighter but not as
      strong." It was a remarkable job of eyeballing.

      Drifter has outrun Merlin several times, including the La Paz race,
      which Merlin won on handicap, and the Cal Cup match race series
      last spring at Marina Del Rey. The first two races of the series
      were divided, and Drifter eked out the decisive third by only 14
      seconds in air so light that the reach leg was eliminated. Merlin
      beat Drifter by 17 minutes in the Transpac and by 14 hours in the

      Matching ultras against each other in light air may not prove much
      of anything as far as the present controversy goes, but it isn't
      quite true to say Merlin has never been asked to function in choppy
      seas and brisk winds. Lee took her to San Francisco Bay last year
      for a Sunday singlehanded race around the Farallon Islands. He won
      the first-to-finish award in a course-record nine hours, beating
      out to the Islands against 35-knot winds and whitecaps and steering
      home through quartering seas. A trimaran finished second, three
      hours later. "It was no big deal," Lee says. "I had self-tailing
      winches and just streamed all the sheets back to the cockpit."

      Still, a great majority of the world yachting fraternity remains
      convinced that the ultralights are strictly downwind boats. Gary
      Mull, the respected designer of the Ranger 23, says, "It would be
      amazing if Merlin didn't go fast downwind--but she doesn't go
      upwind worth a didley." And some critics still fear that the
      structural integrity of Lee's boats is questionable. But support
      for the ultras is growing among seasoned blue-water sailormen. Both
      Greg Gillette, who nearly sailed Sweet Okole to overall victory in
      the SORC, and Doug Fryer, who won the 1976 Victoria-Maui race and
      skippered Merlin to her record 1978 finish, believe the ultralights
      can perform competitively on all points of sail. "Sweet Okole has
      gone six knots dead upwind," Gillette says of the boat designed by
      New Zealander Bruce Farr. "I think we could have won the Hawaii
      Around-the-State race, and this is an event in which sailors often
      contend with 14- to 16-foot seas and winds of up to 35 knots."

      In the Vic-Maui, the racers went to windward coming out of the
      Straits of Juan de Fuca. "Merlin doesn't have the depth, weight or
      stability to hit into the wind," Fryer says, "but those problems
      are easily solved by just holding a course off the wind a little
      more than usual. The speed of the boat makes up for the difference
      in course. You are still going a lot faster than anyone else. It
      doesn't take much wind to get this boat going fast. I'd say Merlin
      can perform very well in all kinds of weather."

      What Gillette and Fryer are saying is that the ultras have to be
      "sailed." They don't run on automatic pilot, and they don't reward
      inexperience or lassitude. Gillette puts it in terms of sustained
      output--"You have to make more trim adjustment, and it takes more
      effort by the crew." A sailor from the Vic-Maui concurs. "The boat
      is very lively and hard on the crew," he says. "Everything happens
      instantly. It means you are constantly changing gears--staysails go
      up and down with every shift in the weather or slight adjustment in
      the course. You can go from 10 to 16 knots in 20 seconds." Another
      ultra crewman, while conceding the hard work involved, says, "These
      are grand prix racing boats. They have brought the thrills back to
      big-boat racing."

      There is less agreement among ultra supporters on seaworthiness.
      Last spring Merlin won the 1,110-mile San Diego-Manzanillo race,
      with Lee first to finish, first in his big-boat class, and fifth
      overall on corrected time. Mexican yachtsmen sponsored a number of
      subsequent races, and Gillette says that in one of them Merlin
      dropped out after she opened a leak at the juncture of keel and
      hull. This is the kind of information Bill Lee does not volunteer.
      He says, "I never discuss races that I lose."

      Before the Vic-Maui, Drifter, under charter to a group from
      Hawaii's Lahaina Yacht Club, was damaged while bucking 35-knot
      winds and 15-foot seas on her way north from Oregon. After repairs,
      Drifter competed in the International but did not do well, and in
      the ensuing Pan-American Clipper Cup yacht series in Hawaii she
      finally quit. "She couldn't seem to go to weather at all," Gillette

      Drifter's misfortunes do not necessarily imply that other ultras
      have similar structural weaknesses; she was, after all, a rush job.
      Gillette says, "A tough race is no harder on an ultralight than on
      any other boat. I've raced all over the world and have never seen
      any weather that I'd be afraid to take Sweet Okole out in, if any
      boat could go."

      Both builders seek a combination of lightness and strength.
      Farr-designed boats have to sacrifice amenities because wood makes
      for heavier hulls than Lee's fiber glass-balsa sandwich. "Sweet
      Okole was stripped--we had built-in hammocks," Gillette says. "We
      carried only what the IOR requires." Crewmen on Lee boats, from the
      SC27s to Merlin, are not asked to endure comparable hardships.
      Merlin's interior finish is nearly as luxurious as that of a
      cruiser--a Honolulu writer suggested she could be a "party boat,"
      and in fact Lee spends most of his "valuable party time" aboard. He
      has no interest in luxury ashore. A bachelor, he lives in two tiny
      rooms, one stacked above the other in a corner of the chicken
      house, and both as cramped and cluttered as Merlin is neat and,
      relatively, spacious.

      It will take more big-boat ocean races, in rougher waters, to
      settle the question of the ultras' structural soundness. But the
      Lee SC27s--more than 100 are now in the water--frequently sail in
      one-design and handicap races in Monterey Bay, at Marina Del Rey
      and at Redondo Beach, and none have shown design or construction
      flaws. Lee now has a new 33-foot class in progress, with some 12
      boats already delivered or shaping up in the chicken-house molds.

      One place where there is almost no controversy about Bill Lee is
      Santa Cruz. Among people who know him, the funloving, party-going
      Lee is a familiar and well-liked figure. Dave Garibotti, a general
      contractor and regatta chairman of the Santa Cruz Yacht Club, not
      only likes Lee but also denies that the ultralights are hard to
      sail or slow to weather. "In races in Monterey Bay the SC27s and
      the Moore 24s are almost always first at the windward mark," he
      says. "Merlin is easier to sail than Ondine. In the SCYC we've
      divided our boats into heavies and lights so we can have
      races--otherwise the lights would win them all."

      His Santa Cruz friends recall with delight Lee's prescription for a
      successful ocean sailor, which he passed along to a Honolulu writer
      after the 1977 Transpac: "There are four things a racing sailor has
      to do. He has to sail the boat. He has to eat and he has to sleep.
      And, most important, he has to avoid falling overboard. In the
      history of the Transpac I believe only one guy has fallen over. It
      took 30 hours to find him. That's no way to win a race."

      In Santa Cruz hardly anybody now thinks Bill Lee has either fallen
      or gone overboard, and nobody doubts that he knows how to win a

      Original Article
      " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella" Photo Gallery


      • #4
        Nice find!


        • #5
          THe Progress Report

          Merlin's return to her home berth of Santa Cruz and subsequent unloading and de-cantification
          is well underway. These images taken by Terry Hensley late last week as Merlin went under the
          knife by the crew at Santa Cruz Marine.

          The old hydraulics are pulled so the hull can begin the healing process. (Lots of grinding and glass layup to come)

          The interior still in good shape and all the fancy furniture still in place!

          " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella"

 Photo Gallery


          • #6
            Curious as to how much re-glassing/ structural support goes into the return of a fixed keel?

            How much of the super structure gets removed when the canting unit gets installed?


            • #7
              How did you manage to dig that up?


              • #8
                Great stuff!!! Brings back many fond memories of my teen years sailing in Santa Cruz (and the bay).