Merlin’s Path: A Strong Grip on the Wheel

Merlin has put in many miles already under its new owner, Chip Merlin, and is just getting started. By Chris Museler

Admiral Bill Merlin drives across the finish line at the Newport Bermuda Race while his son Chip, the owner of Merlin, looks on. The Admiral’s first two Newport Bermuda races were in 1954 and 1956. Chris Museler photo

It was impossible to make up the five hours that wound up separating Merlin and a top three position in the Newport Bermuda Class 10 while we were negotiating Kitchen Shoals and the final beat to the finish. We tried! And, for the love of the game, and with a lot of heart, we covered Kodiak all the way to the finish, taking line honors among all boats in the St. David’s Lighthouse divisions.

The provisional results for our class have us currently in eighth place, or last, however you decide to look at it. You can tell that hurts, just bit, considering well into the race this slender spear of a boat had sailed into a class and overall lead, or something close to that. Our final park-up doomed us as smaller, well-sailed boats in our class came right up behind us and we couldn’t shake ‘em.

But you couldn’t see any dejection on the faces of the crew. Admiral Bill Merlin took the helm after the final tack to the finish. The aquamarine water off the colored houses of St. David’s Head was a “chamber of commerce” poster. The scene never gets old for me, Kuli and Bill, the only ones to have been immersed in this scene before. The rest, were immersed in our tacking up the shore.

When we crossed the line and Bill’s grip remained strong, the smiles and raised fists were a collective release.

Kuli Kulinichenko and Chip Merlin celebrate after completing the Newport Bermuda Race ahead of all other St. David’s Lighthouse boats. Chris Museler photo

And what an accomplishment! Within eight months, since the day captain flew out on a day’s notice to inspect Merlin for Chip, this boat has sailed now it’s third major ocean race and its first Bermuda Race.

“I’m just so impressed with this team and this boat,” Chip said at a crew dinner upstairs at Flanagan’s on Front Street in Hamilton, with the crew still wearing the same shorts and shirts they’d worn for almost five days. The 40-year old Merlin was new to the Atlantic and is now one of the big dogs in this new arena.

Joe Goulet walks through Merlin with Inspector Sandy Harries.

The usual race stories were shared with the spouses and friends who flew in to greet Merlin. It’s a special moment after any race. Even our supporters had stories to tell—how the Castle Hill announcers at the start recited Merlin’s history; how people saw the Merlin magician’s hat logo on everyone’s shirts and in their temporary gold tattoos and said how much they have always loved the boat.

Our flag was even stolen and seen hoisted on another yacht that was built in the Santa Cruz factory Merlin inspired. In this case, thievery can be considered the sincerest form of flattery.

This team is beaming. And that excitement of discovering a new port, under sail, in an ocean race will continue this summer. Merlin heads back to Newport this week, then will be trucked to the Great Lakes for the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. Beyond that are all the great ocean races of the world, some again, some new.

It was a privilege to be part of this legendary racer’s new chapter.

Merlin 68 foot sled by Bill Lee

Sixty-eight feet long and only 12 feet wide, Merlin sails upwind at the start of the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race. This was first time that Bill Lee’s 1977 breakthrough “sled” design competed in the Atlantic Ocean after a Pacific Ocean career that included 20 years as TransPac record holder. Daniel Forster/PPL photo

One Response to Merlin’s Path: A Strong Grip on the Wheel

  1. Captain Baba June 21, 2018 at 13:25 #

    I think I know who stole their flag! And yes it was done with respect (and rum).
    – Captain Baba

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