We were pleased to be invited to race aboard the 71.5-ft sled Merlin on the first day of Rolex Big Boat Series. The experience did not disappoint. The legend of Merlin began when the long, lean sled emerged from a chicken coop in 1977. Designed and built by Bill Lee of Santa Cruz, she revolutionized yacht racing on the West Coast.
She’s been a sleek cat with at least five lives, having been reinvented that many times since her birth. Current owner Chip Merlin of the Tampa Bay area in Florida has restored her retro looks, but with lots of weight-sparing carbon fiber. Her spinnakers have the panels arranged in a ’70s-style rainbow, but they’re modern asymmetrical kites.
The start of yesterday’s first race was delayed, although the wind was already in the teens by 11 a.m. The course sent us on a double windward-leeward, with a windward mark set up near the Golden Gate Bridge and a leeward gate down by the start and finish lines west of Treasure Island. Merlin sported a J2 jib in the first race.
Merlin’s motion through the water is smooth, stable and fast. She reacts quickly to puffs. She clocked 9 knots upwind and 15 downwind and finished first in her division, ORR B. But her ratings guaranteed that she’d be bested on corrected time. She was made to sail in one direction for a long, long time, not to race around the buoys.
The second race was delayed even more. The wind direction had shifted, and the race committee reset the start line. This delay proved fortunate for Merlin. After the finish of the first race and at some point during a sandwich-and-water break, the crew saw that the mainsail track had begun to pull out from the carbon mast. They jumped into action and lashed the track to the mast, allowing us to start and finish the second race. The J3 would be the weapon of choice for the beats.
This course took us on a lap around Blackaller Buoy off Crissy Field, down to an R2 buoy, then out the Gate to a drop mark just below Point Diablo. After the rounding it was quick work to get the gun at the finish off St. Francis Yacht Club.
The wind cranked up into the high teens with stronger gusts. In the bigger puffs, the boat was on her ear, water washing over the decks. A reef in the main would have helped — and wouldn’t have hurt boat speed — but with the track lashed to the mast reefing wasn’t possible. The runs were a blast — the boat speed seemed to match the wind speed.
Racing continues with two more races today and tomorrow, and one final Bay Tour before the awards (and the bestowing of three Rolex timepieces) on Sunday afternoon.
Hosting yacht club St. Francis has a proof-of-vaccine requirement for entry into the clubhouse. The big parties are still on but outdoors. It’s good to be back!
The Grand Poobah is busy preparing for the 27th Baja Ha-Ha rally’s November 1 launch in San Diego. Along with organizing tables and chairs for the expected 500 or so party guests, he’s also been confirming arrangements for the events and parties that will be held in various locations throughout the fleet’s two-week, 750-mile-long journey.
To this end, the Poobah has shared some good news from Bahia Santa Maria.
“Our longtime host Victor, at left in the photo below, reports that everybody in the Mexican village of Mateo Lopez, where all the hosts for the Ha-Ha BSM rock ‘n’ roll party come from, has been vaccinated. And that there are currently zero COVID cases in Mateo Lopez.”
“Similarly, all our dear friends from La Paz who have played in the band for so many years have been vaccinated, too. Victor says everyone is very excited for the arrival of the Ha-Ha fleet, and that they’ll have plenty of ice-cold beer, lots of freshly cooked lunches — and plenty of gel!”
The 27th Baja Ha-Ha kicks off just over six weeks from now. We’re seeing the signs of preparation and planning all over the Bay Area. The other day, we caught our neighbors cleaning their dinghy and painting its bottom. They did a good job of it too!
Are you signed up, and if so, what are you doing to prepare for this year’s Baja Ha-Ha?
How much fun is it to stop and chat with fellow sailors? Without fail, this is the best way to not only share knowledge and tips about everyone’s favorite pastime, but to also hear some fun stories. The trick is knowing how to distinguish a true event from a salty tale.
At the recent Latitude 38 Crew List Party (already a week ago!) we met sailors Sean Kolk and Kate Schnippering, who told us a good little yarn that we want to share with you. And in this case we believe it to be true.
Sean and Kate were spending some time in the Pacific Northwest catching up on a little kayaking, hiking, and of course, sailing. While relaxing on a hilltop along the coast of Whidbey Island, watching the sea, the couple spotted a sailboat drifting offshore.
“I called the Coast Guard, and they said they knew about it (and to call back if anything changed),” Sean told us. “I didn’t like the idea of ‘someone should do something,’ so I kayaked out to the boat.”
The 32-ft sloop had pulled its anchor, and Sean had to paddle three or four nautical miles in a three-ft swell, at around dusk. By the time he reached the boat Sean was already quite wet, and cold. He hauled himself aboard, then raised the main and pointed the boat to the nearby marina at Langley, which was still around two nm away.
“I updated the Coast Guard on the way, and they put me in touch with the off-island owner. He said the boat was at anchor while he was earning money to repair the engine, while living out of his van after beating up [the coast] for three days and not making it to his destination.”
Meanwhile, Kate had made her way to the marina and organized a few locals to help bring in the sailboat. “I was singlehanded and coming into a new marina trying to communicate at dusk,” Sean continued. “Two dinghies steered us to a mooring ball behind a breakwater.”
After tying off and taking himself and his kayak off the boat, Sean loaded the kayak onto his wife’s car and drove back to their accommodations. “The owner said he was coming to get his boat the next day, and when I came back two days later, it was gone.”
It was fortunate for the sloop owner that Sean and Kate were nearby. Being sailors themselves, the couple were quick to react and knew precisely how to bring the boat in safely.
Sean told us he has been sailing in the Bay since 2012, and both sea and whitewater kayaking since 2007. “I learned to sail on a Coronado 25, out of the Alameda Estuary with the Washed Up Yacht Club, and have been racing out of Berkeley, South Beach, and Richmond, and with Cal Sailing.
“My wife and I chartered around Europe, the Indian Ocean, and Mexico until we decided to buy our own Catalina 36 last year, and plan to sail with the Baja Ha-Ha this coming November.”
Do you have a rescue story to share? Send it to [email protected].
Yesterday we were reminded of a fun event that’s happening tomorrow — the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association and San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park are hosting their monthly Chantey Sing. And while we’re usually the first to encourage everyone to leave the house and go sailing, we acknowledge that the Bay Area’s current, cooler (OK, let’s say it out loud: “cold”) weather might deter some of the less-salty sailors among us.
Did you know that the term “sea chanteys” is usually used to describe work songs — short, with rhythmic and easy-to-remember lyrics that would be sung by sailors while engaging in repetitive tasks, like hauling lines or turning a capstan? We have found suggestions that sea chanteys originated in the 16th century, which does make some sense as almost every onboard job back then would have required strenuous repetition.
However, this weekend’s sea chanteys will be sung by people who will probably be sitting somewhere comfortable while sipping on a hot drink, or for the cheeky sailors, perhaps even an early lunchtime aperitif. That’s right, this chantey sing is virtual, and it’s free.
How did we come to be reminded of this event? Thanks for asking. While scrolling through our social media feed, for professional purposes of course, we were drawn to a photo posted on Facebook by the S.F. Maritime NHP. The photo shows the C.A. Thayer and the Matthew Turner bow-to-bow during a haulout that the two ships underwent late last year.
But what really kept our attention was the great conversation that was imagined between the two classic Bay Area ships, by the crew from the maritime park.
“C.A. Thayer: ‘It’s been ages! How’ve you been?’
Matthew Turner: ‘It’s been a while. You know how it is. The pandemic.’
C.A Thayer: ‘Yeah. It’s like waiting out the doldrums. I’m thinking about Wellness for the crew … I’ve got just the thing, Matey. There’s a monthly Chantey Sing every third Saturday at 11 a.m. Want to go? It’s free.
Matthew Turner: ‘Yeah? How? Can I invite the crew?’
C.A. Thayer: ‘Invite anyone you like. As I remember it, they sing a salty chantey.'”
So how about it folks; who’s in for a Chantey Sing this weekend? Here are the details:
Saturday, September 18, at 11 a.m.
For details on how to join in, follow the link at https://maritime.org.
Oh, and from looking at the photos on the Chantey page, it appears you can even play your own instrument while you sing. Bonus!