Storm and Merlin

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The Storm and Merlin

(First published in WOA magazine No. 55, Winter 1995)

The first Merlin was delivered to Hamble Point in July 1984 for the pre-sale trials. For these we all play devil’s advocate. The poor boat must have felt like that Spanish donkey as we all jumped on her, trying to find any weaknesses that could be persuaded to show in the month before she returned to the factory.

As I remember, there was remarkably little criticism, and she duly appeared at the Southampton Boat Show, to happy grins on our salesman’s chops! Much of the credit for this success must go to the interior mock-up that we had all been in and out of so often the previous winter.

This was much needed as we were dipping our toe into different waters with our first attempt at a three cabin layout. The 27ft on-deck length of the Merlin is just enough to allow this. It gives room for a good aft cabin, and a very spacious heads, which is actually bigger than that on most 32’s. Because the chart table faces aft, there is also room for a proper wet locker. For my money, it is these four things (owner’s cabin, good sized chart space, big heads and wet locker) that make her so practical and so popular.

Indeed, we sold so many that production was immediately geared up to two a week, then to three in Spring 1985. By the end of that year, we had produced 102 of the little darlings. Sadly a 15% price rise proved too much for the buyers to bear and sales crashed to a mere 14 in 1986, and never recovered. Things improved a little in 1990 with the advent of the Mark II "Merlin 29".

The 29 followed the example of the Seahawk by lengthening the waterline and including a "Sugar Scoop" stern for easy boarding. On the Merlin this also meant that the transom-hung rudder disappeared, to be replaced by a conventional rudder beneath the boat. The interior was unaffected, apart from improved access to the saloon, and an extra galley shelf.

I had not appreciated quite how close winded the twin keel Merlins were, until December 1985. That summer, the factory sent down a twin keeler to replace the more usual fin keel demonstrator. As this happened while I was on holiday, the change escaped my notice. I spent the next three months explaining to my customers that they would not be able to get quite so close to the wind if they were to buy a twin. I was just going through this little spiel for the ‘n’th time, when my eye fell on the little stainless steel plate by the galley which provides access to the after keel bolts on the port side.

Silence reigned for several seconds while the implications sank in. "Well stap my vitals" says I (although judging by the lady’s pink cheeks I may have used an earthier expression). Thus was the new era of bilge keelers with upwind performance thrust upon me. Thanks heavens for Ed Dubois.

Merlins have had three engines over the years, all about the 20 hp mark which gives plenty enough oomph for top speeds of at least 6.5 knots. The Bukh 20 was fitted until the end of 1986, when Bukhs had their hiccup, and Westerly moved over to the Volvo 2002 (18hp). The arrival of the Regatta range in 1993 saw the advent of the Perkins designed, Volvo built, Volvo 2020 in saildrive form. Builders like saildrives as they are easier to fit, and they can even improve the handling of a Westerly. One’s worries are groundless, say the makers, and they can prove it.

About this time the Storm was beginning her gestation period, culminating with her official launch at the Southampton Show of 1986. From opening time on the first day there was a queue to get aboard her. New models always create a stir, but never had we seen day long queues of 20 yards or more. We must have sold 40 Storms there and then. By the end of the show, our total for all models was just over 100 £500 deposits. Exciting times.

They were conceived as cruiser/racers, and we gave much thought to One Design status, as well as help in forming a Class Association. There was some enthusiasm at the start, but the racing never took off. The problem seemed to be that they had trouble matching the lightweights in light conditions. Sadly, their heavy weather ability was not able to redress the balance, which is a shame, as they do well in every tough race where the flimsies start to back off, as F6 looms.

Nevertheless, as cruising boats, they are a great success, because their size makes them particularly well suited to the three cabin layout. There is enough room for a good big owner’s cabin forward, with a hand basin; plenty of elbow room in the saloon, with lots of galley and chart-table space, and a decent sized aft cabin too.

On deck the cockpit layout is superb, by virtue of her racing pedigree. Racing boats have the great advantage of being designed for total efficiency, regardless of cost. Cruising boats tend to watch the pennies, which results in less efficient layouts, less equipment, and smaller winches; daft really, as the cruising man (with little or no crew) needs those things most of all.

The only significant alteration to the Storm that I can recall was the advent, in September 1987, of slightly improved headroom over the berth in the after cabin. By the end of 1989 we had produced 133 Storms. Meanwhile in January of that year came the Storm Cruiser. This used the same hull and deck, but with a choice of fin or twin keels, a cut down rig (nearly 4ft shorter), less deck gear, and with a fridge, hot and cold water and a big engine inside.

To our surprise, nine were ordered with one keel, but most of the 30 produced had two keels. Naturally, these are now highly sought after on the second hand market, and sell for over £50,000, with most One Design Storms selling below that mark.(written 1995. Ed.)

The last Cruiser was built in August 1992, while the last One Design was sold in early 1993. The ODs all had the Volvo 2002, 18hp diesels, while the Cruisers were fitted with the 28hp 2003. The smaller engines tend to be slow to pick up, as they have a lot of work to do, but eventually wind themselves up to nearly the 7 knots which their big brothers manage so easily. With the advent of the Regattas in 1993 the thirty horsepower 2030 saildrives were fitted as Volvos introduced their new models.

You may remember that Westerly went into receivership in May of 1991. Not surprisingly, the Company spent the next couple of years sailing in the Doldrums, although the management buyout had happened in September of the same year. Towards the end of 1992, the new directors decided that the time had come to divide the range into two. They hired Ken Freivokh to design radical new interiors for the aft cockpit, fast cruiser range, while experimenting with different woods and more subtle alterations in the centre cockpit boats.

The centre cockpit boats were called the "Ocean" range, while their aft cockpit cousins were to be knows as "Regatta". The Regatta interiors are stunning examples of modern design, replete with delicious curves, fashionable colours and cunning ideas. Among these are a number of notable improvements. The chart tables are bigger, the sinks are more practical and the cabins make better use of space.

The Regatta range all have three quarter rig (and sail drives) which meant the Bermuda rigged Storm having a new deck moulding and improved performance.

Unfortunately, they went down like a lead balloon with our conservative buying public and very few sold, initially. By the end of 1994, six 290s (ex Merlin) and seven 330s (ex Storm) had been produced. However, things have been better this year (written 1995. Ed.) as even radical designs become comfortable as time goes by, and I suspect that we will see the Regattas become highly desirable on the second-hand market, as this is often very different to the new.”