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.

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