Merlin Rockets by Keith Callaghan
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My Merlin Designs in the 70s - How it all ended

I sailed with Tony Ceretti in MR 2209 'Hydra' (a Hotspur that I had built) in the Whitstable championships in 1969. For the previous 12 years, the class had been dominated by one designer - Ian Proctor, but new names had started to appear in recent years - Mike Nokes, Tom Booth, Tony Watts, Mike Jackson, Martin Jones and others. But times were changing. Young people had more disposable income than ever before, and the leisure time to indulge in their chosen sport. Dinghy sailing flourished, and the Merlin class attracted keen sailors who were prepared to experiment with new designs and rigs. At those Whitstable Championships, a young fellow of about my age was sailing a boat also to his own design - Phil Morrison in MR 2206 'September Girl'. It was Phil , myself, and Greg Gregory, who created most of the 'new breed' of designs in the early seventies, arguably the heyday of the Merlin class.

Greg produced a strikingly original and successful design in his 'Ghost Rider', but this was his only really successful design. By the end of 1973, it was a two horse race between Phil and me. It was natural for the top guns to go to Spud for their next boat, and it was natural that he might lean them towards a design of his choice. This came home to me in the winter of 1972/3: Pat and I had a great season in 1972 in 'Myth Isle' - a Hornblower built by Spud. News got round that I was producing a new design for 1973, and Spud told me that 15 of his customers wanted this new design (the Hexagon). In the event, Spud built just four. Spud could have gone with the flow, and chosen a Hexagon , but Greg Gregory's new 'Echo' design was Spud's own choice for that year. Naturally many were swayed by this and bought likewise. Echo turned out to be a disappointment, and the Hexagon proved to be the best new design of 1973.

In 1974, the success of the Hexagon continued, and my next design (Hysteria) also made its appearance. But now Spud had aligned himself with Phil Morrison, who had produced his Satisfaction design. Hexagons were second and third in the nationals that year, and again won the Silver tiller series, yet Spud appeared to be in denial. At at the end of 1973 he wrote an article in the NEMRRA Newsletter, part of which is quoted here:

"There is no doubt that the influx of new Merlin designs has been stinted due mainly, I think, to the success of boats that were built two or three years ago.
The hard core of recent designs have come from modifications to the Ghost Rider and September Girl designs which appeared on the scene in 1970.....the latter can out reach anything in a decent breeze."

By teaming up with Patrick Blake, we created a very powerful 'works team'. But we were only one boat, and were two guys who had proper jobs in the real world. We were up against professionals - Spud Rowsell was a superb helmsman who built some of the best boats, and when he teamed up with Phil Morrison - brilliant designer and sailmaker, the writing was on the wall for me as a designer. In spite of the immense success of the Hexagon and later Hysteria designs - often in the hands of hitherto 'unknown' helmsmen, the Rowsell/Morrison partnership gathered momentum from 1974, and proved unstoppable. Of the 110 Merlin Rockets built to my designs, Spud built just seven of them - two for Patrick, the original Hornblower for my friend Don Hearn, Hexagons for Mike Fowler, Jim Park, and Robert Inglis, and a solitary Hysteria for Richard Preedy.

Patrick and I parted company at the end of 1974, as Pat was going on to campaign his FD for the Olympics. We briefly and unsuccessfully teamed up in my Aln Hysteria MR 2988 'Moonshadow' for the Weymouth championships in 1975.

In 1976 Lawrie Smith won the Nationals in the original (Morrison designed) 'Satisfaction' (he'd come 2nd in a Hoare-built Hexagon the previous year). Patrick's outstandingly successful assault on the Championships in 1977, in a Morrison Smokers Satisfaction, spelt out the message that Blake had repeatedly failed to win in Callaghan boats, but won easily in a Morrison. Morrison had eclipsed Callaghan, and no more Merlins were built to my designs for 25 years.

The Merlin of the 1970s was a beautiful creation of talented designers and builders, and competition in the class was at its highest. I feel very privileged in having my sailing heyday in the heyday of the Merlin Rocket class.

So for many, many years I observed the Merlin Rockets from a distance: I saw Phil Morrison's total domination wane in favour of a new designer who appeared on the scene in the 80s but who took a while to get established - Ian Holt. His "Canterbury Tales" is now the dominant design, and has been for many years. Meanwhile I bought some boat design software and engrossed myself in designing small but fast trailer-sailers. Then in 2004 I decided that I had learned enough to have another go at Merlin Rocketry. The Hazardous series is the result.
Keith and Patrick (AKA Wayne & Garth) at the Welsh Harp, c1973 Keith and Patrick at the RYA Dinghy Show, 2009
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Last updated 31 October 2009