Merlin, designed and built to win the 1977 Transpac Race, was the forerunner of the downwind 'sleds', which dominated Transpac's Barn Door competition for the fastest elapsed time by a monohull, through the end of the 20th century. In her first Transpac outing, Merlin won the Barn Door with and elapsed time of 8:11:1:45. Under charter to Dick Frazee, Merlin won the Barn Door for her second time in 1981. Merlin's third Barn Door and second first-to-finish victory in the same decade came in 1987 when Skip Stevely chartered her from Donn Campion.
For 20 years Transpac fleets tried to best Merlin's course record. In 1983, the Transpac Yacht Club committee, fearing that Lee's success would prompt a rash of Merlin copies that lacked her structural integrity, capped the race entries with a 70.0 IOR rating. It wasn't until 1997 when Roy Disney's Pyewacket, a 70ft sled, a boat designed and built by Bill Lee with a turbo job, crossed the finish line at Diamond Head in 7:15:24:40 that Merlin's spell was broken.
Trisha Steele, one of a family that "takes care of old boats," as she put it, purchased Merlin from Orange Coast College in 2004. After losing the mast in the 2005 Cabo Race, Steele continued on her major campaign to restore and modernised Merlin by adding a five-spreader cathedral rig and fitting her out with a new bulb and a canting keel before she steered her in the 2005 Transpac.
Lee recounted Merlin stories at the dedication ceremony and disclosed how he magically came up with a 12ft beam for the skinny sled. "That was the widest beam that we could have in order to be able to turn the hull over in the building in Santa Cruz. I purchased a 24ft spinnaker pole and built the boat around it," joked the Wizard. Lee also reported that Merlin now sails the Great Lakes and is owned by 84-year old Jerry Sullivan.
Lee, whose tag line is "fast is fun," loved to get to Hawaii on his lightweight, user- friendly sleds as fast as he could. As Lee told the story, "I sailed on Quasar in '71 and Panache in '73 and '75. I figured there was a party for each boat when she finished and by sailing on a 40-footer I missed all of the parties before my finish. The only way to attend all of the parties was to get there first." In 1977, Lee's Merlin was the first to the party on Transpac Row and Lee was decked out in his star-covered magician's robes and hat. Many have crowded onto Merlin no matter what her berth has been on Transpac Row over the years.
The Merlin Trophy is for the RSS 51 and 52 waiver yachts (exempt from the Racing Rules of Sailing limitations on moveable ballast and/or stored power) up to 100 feet with the shortest elapsed time. These boats are ineligible for the Barn Door Trophy. "This opens up the Barn Door to boats that are fully compliant with RRS 51 and 52," explained a delighted Lee whose Santa Cruz 50, 52 and 70 designs are well represented in this year's Transpac fleet.