The Merlin Rocket is a 14ft restricted development class racing dinghy, which means the boats are designed within a strict set of rules, allowing limited development. The class was started in 1945/6 by a syndicate of sailors which included Jack Holt and Beecher Moore. At 7ft 2ins, the modern boats are very wide compared to other classes, giving maximum righting moment when hiking, without needing a trapeze. The earlier hull shapes were much narrower, when river sailing was a priority. We are one of the few classes to stick with clinker construction (wood or plastic), making very beautiful boats, and no – that doesn’t make them heavy!
Looking around today’s fleet, you will notice many more female crews than in other classes, plus a high proportion of husband/wife and parent/child combinations. Right from the start the class was designed to encourage this equality, and it also makes for better socials too!
The Merlin Rocket sits at the centre of the dinghy-racing scene. It combines the boat handling and tactical racing of the traditional designs with the thrills and excitement of the modern “fast in a straight line” designs. Upwind, the high aspect rig means that in light and medium wind conditions, the Merlin Rocket is one of the highest pointing dinghies around. It is the bane of the trapeze boat sailor. The power to weight ratio and the controllability of the rig means that planing to windward is common in strong winds, without much loss of pointing ability.
Mainsail shapes are very distinctive, with a long top batten giving extra area high up.The rules allow for different sail plans but most new boats since the early 1990s have opted for what has become more or less a class ‘standard’. However, on the river, it has been found that a taller rig is better for catching the wind above the trees. A large symmetric spinnaker gives exciting reaches, and allows running too – an important consideration on rivers and restricted water where asymmetrics cannot operate.
The manoeuvrability of the Merlin Rocket and its responsiveness to good sailing and teamwork really comes to the fore in class racing. The hallmark of the Merlin Rocket is its versatility. It is an excellent boat for sailing on rivers, small and large reservoirs and on the sea.
At Hampton, the Merlin fleet is a mixture of old and new boats, with some members having an old boat for the river and a new boat for championship and open meeting sailing. Currently we have around 20 merlins in the fleet. It is possible it buy an old boat cheaply and still do well on the river.
Away from the club, you can campaign your Merlin on several circuits; The De May vintage circuit, The Thames circuit and the prestigious Silver Tiller. There is an annual National Championship and Salcombe Merlin week, which was number one in the Yachts and Yachting “Ten events to do before you die” list. Many of the country’s top dinghy sailors compete at these events and Hampton merlin sailors are keen travellers especially for the annual expedition to Salcombe. For more information on the class please visit www.merlinrocket.co.uk