MERLIN DOES THE EAST COAST
Carrying on the West Coast tradition of ‘Fast is fun’
Chris Museler crews aboard a West Coast legend in this past summer’s Newport Bermuda Race
If you’re over 40 and know anything about sailing, you probably know exactly who Bill Lee is. The image is clear: bushy brown hair escaping from a Gilliganstyle bucket hat, oversized sunglasses and a wrinkled flower-print buttondown shirt. We (I’m 43) can also picture the rundown, wood-and-tin chicken coop atop a dusty hill four miles from Santa Cruz Bay in California, where for 20 years Lee plied his trade as a boatbuilder.
A six-pack was the price of admission to the shop where Lee struck out and started a movement. Call them ULDBs (ultra-light displacement boats) or “sleds,” they were super-skinny boats that dominated West Coast ocean racing for decades. The epitome of the type, Merlin, was Lee’s personal 68-footer aboard which he set a new Transpacific Race record in 1977 that held for 20 years. His mantra: “Fast is Fun!”
Fast forward to last winter, and no one in the greater sailing world knew what Chip Merlin looked like or who he was. Since the beginning of the 2018 offshore sailing season, however, astute observers have started to see more and more of this Florida attorney’s bright white, contagious smile and healthily tanned skin. His hair is trim and he’s not a big beer drinker, but more and more his name and Bill Lee’s are starting to be used in the same sentence. As the ninth owner of Merlin, Chip (yes, Merlin really is his last name) is also actively writing a new East and West Coast chapter for this famed spear of a yacht, which recently began with two Florida ocean races and the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race.