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Restoration of a 1986 Merlin Rocket

by Corin Nelson-Smith 18 Dec 2021 04:47 PST
Restoration of a Merlin Rocket built in 1986 - the non-slip sections prepared © Corin Nelson-Smith

After finishing my A-levels and part way through a Covid-restricted gap year, I spotted a gorgeous wooden Merlin Rocket on eBay for a song, and thought she'd make a superb project before joining Solent University to study yacht design the following year.

I had previously restored a similar vintage Mirror Dinghy which was very enjoyable, and I learned a lot of new skills, but I fancied a challenge and to learn more about how a clinker hull is built.

I acquired her mid-restoration by a chap who had run out of time to complete her. He had finished the decks with a lovely few coatings of Epiphanes 2 pack, but had stripped the interior of every fitting and then she'd sat upside down in his garden for a year deteriorating.

I started by putting her upside down on trestles to inspect the hull and found that quite a few planks needed re-filleting as well as a whole new paint job and section of alloy keel band. The underside of the gunwales and stem also needed stripping and varnishing (I used International Compass for all the varnish work on her rather than the hideously expensive Epiphanes!).

Once the hull was complete I turned her back the right way up and began the length process of grading back the inside to a suitable grit in preparation for varnishing. For the non-slip area I masked off anywhere that crew were likely to tread and used an epoxy coating followed by a varnish/non slip grit mix. Then followed a period of endless varnishing until I reached six coats on the entirety of the interior - painful but she does look superb now!

A friend who knows a lot more about Merlin Rockets than I do then offered his invaluable help in guiding me in re-fitting all the various hardware and running rigging. The self-bailers were a particular challenge to re-fit, and one ended up pushing an old epoxy repair out through the bottom of the hull which slowed progress somewhat while I fixed it. I also manufactured new transom flaps from flexible perspex as the boat appeared to have had them removed and the screw holes filled by a previous owner.

Both foils needed attention too; I fixed the rudder with fibreglass tape, epoxy and a new coat of paint whilst Adam from Riverine Paddlecraft Engineering in Gosport completely restored the gorgeous Milanes EGS centreboard. When I realised this foil was worth over £500 and I only paid £200 for the whole boat I suddenly didn't trust myself to do a worthy job fixing that! Now it's been repaired with multiple layers of extraordinarily fine glass cloth and polished up it is almost the prettiest part of the boat - it will make capsizing somewhat more tolerable anyway!

Finally she was launched for sea trials, once again with the help of Magnus Smith who was familiar with Merlins. It was only blowing F2-3 but it was still a fantastic evening's sailing and worth the hour it took to set up the ridiculously complicated rig for the first time.

I am completely aware that she's a thoroughbred racing dinghy, but I enjoyed just zipping around Chichester Harbour so much that I'm planning to optimise the rig for ease of setting up rather than pure speed. I figure I'm going to sail the boat more often if it's only half an hour from arriving to getting out on the water even at the expense of a knot less top speed.

After the popularity of my previous Mirror dinghy restoration video, I have also produced a series of videos documenting the process on the Merlin, this time separate 'episodes' rather than a 35 minute feature film!

Technical info:

Hull design - NSM 2
Designer - Phil Morrison
Builder - Robert R Spolton of Boatcraft in 1986

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