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A Sorcerer’s Apprentice — ‘Merlin’s Transpac Return

I was not born into the sailing world, unlike many of the people I know, respect, and sail with. Sailing weaved its web around me when I was not really looking.

Bill Lee and the legend of Merlin, a Bill Lee Custom 68, circulate in the Santa Cruz air still to this day. You don’t have to look hard to find people who know and have sailed with Bill Lee. Some even raced on Merlin in ’77 when she shattered the Transpac Race record, which she then held for 20 years. The “Fast is Fun” motto for all Bill Lee Santa Cruz boats is known worldwide.

Around 2017, Bill brought Merlin back from the Great Lakes and outfitted her for another Transpac Race. I got to see her in the harbor several times and often wondered what it would be like to be at the helm. I could close my eyes and see myself surfing down the waves on Merlin, flying along with California behind me, heading toward the setting sun. By this time, I was hooked on sailing and had bought and sold a Catalina 27 in San Mateo, and was sailing a 1990 Ericson 32. My Santa Cruz 52 dreams would have to wait for a winning lottery ticket, but I vowed one day I would ring that bell.

Sailing on San Francisco Bay in the summer was not like my classes in Santa Cruz. Over the course of a few years sailing with friends, I learned the finer points of Bay sailing and racing. Actively participating on as many boats as I could, I felt my skills were finally becoming more honed. My confidence grew as I learned that I was capable of sailing in some of the most difficult conditions. Each time out on the water, I would test myself and the boat, and catalog the experience to draw upon in the future.

My desire to dig deeper into this vein of sailing blood that I had tapped into was starting to burn like a fire. In the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge was like a line in the sand. On the other side was the open ocean. Outside the Gate there was the Great Pacific. I wondered what one might find out there. When all that matters is the wind and your course, is the world a simpler place?

Apparently, the cure for sailing is more sailing. I surmised that if I wanted to do bigger and badder sailing things, I needed to get more involved at my local yacht clubs and get onto boats. I wanted offshore, I wanted Transpac. I wanted Pac Cup. The more time you spend sailing, the more sailing people you meet. The more you drop your name into the hat for crewing for a team, the greater the chances you will improve your skills and become good crew.

After getting onto several racing boats inshore and offshore, I somehow decided that, in addition to racing on S.F. Bay, maybe I could squeeze in a couple more days of racing by hitting the Santa Cruz Yacht Club beer can races. Made a few calls, sent a few emails, and boom, I was on a J/105 in Santa Cruz, teamed with a guy I’d met on a Shearwater Sailing charter. The internet is awesome.

A bit more reviewing online, and I came across something that made my heart skip a beat. “Need capable crew for Transpac delivery. Bringing back Merlin from Honolulu to San Pedro.”

Farewell, Hawaii!
© 2023 Fernando Rosero

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1 Comment

  1. milly Biller 4 months ago

    Very cool you did this Fernando- and I have been a Merlin fan forever- lucky you. You put in the time and you did it. I would LOVE to do a Transpac or a PACCup !

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