“Merlin” is a 1990 Macintosh 47 sailboat. Built as a “performance cruiser”, they are designed to be a fast but safe bluewater boat. Designed by Tim Kings (who now designs and builds 35 meter (115’) yachts for Ocean Alexander) and conceived by a former yard manager from Hans Christian Yachts and a Cathey Pacific pilot, only 16 were built. Rumor is that the yard manager partner said “I don’t care what we build, as long as there is no teak topside”. Unlike famed Hans Christian yachts, there is virtually no brightwork (woodwork) topside. Yay!
“Merlin” is 47 feet long, a bit over 14 feet wide, and draws nearly 6-1/2 feet. Design weight is just over 30,000 pounds, but “Merlin” is closer to 38,000 pounds. 13,000 of it is lead in the keel. For power, there is a 75 horsepower Yanmar diesel engine that burns about a gallon an hour at a cruising speed of 6 or 7 knots (7 or 8 mph). Under sail, 7 to 8 is not unusual. He/she is cutter rigged, with a large in-boom furling main, a 130% genoa, and a roller formed storm trysail. He/she will go anywhere in the world without ice.
“Merlin” is a (mostly) comfortable boat. When boat shopping, Jan said “I have 2 requirements: I don’t want to have to climb over someone to go to the head (bathroom) in the middle of the night, and I don’t want to have to put the toilet paper up to take a shower”. She got them both. While the center cockpit means sometimes getting a little wetter than an aft cockpit boat, it permits a nearly queen sized centerline bunk (bed) in the aft owner’s cabin. The forward guest cabin has a large, comfortable bunk (unless you are really tall), along with it’s own settee (table). “Merlin” has 2 heads (baths) with electric toilets, and separate showers. The guest shower is tiled. We hold about 220 gallons of fresh water, along with a 22 gallon per hour watermaker. For fuel, we hold between 90 and 120 gallons of diesel (there has been some debate about that). For this trip, we’ve added a 60 gallon fuel bladder. We have normal comforts of home: refrigerator and freezer, air conditioning, and a diesel generator. We also have a 11 foot dinghy with a 15hp 2 stroke Yamaha outboard.
Merlin was built in 1990, in Taiwan. He/she was the 12th of 16 boats (maybe only 15 – no one recalls if 13 was ever built). We’ve owned Merlin about 15 years. We know the original owner well, and our first introduction to Merlin was in the mid 1990s. The original owner was one of the first 3 members of the Brotherhood of the Coast, in Texas. His Brotherhood name is “Wizard”, and “Merlin” was obviously named for this. We are the 3rd owners, and too many people knew “Merlin”, so we chose not to change the name. That, and it’s bad luck. Since Bill’s Brotherhood name is “Joker”, we’d considered “Jester”.
Merlin was extensively damaged (mostly cosmetically) in Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017. Our neighbor’s mast broke, and destroyed most everything on the deck. Our mast did survive. This resulted in a huge bill for stainless work, rigging and paint. It took nearly 3 years for it to be (mostly) complete. We’ve also spent a lot of time and money upgrading other systems onboard. This includes: A water maker, new lithium iron phosphate battery bank (500Ah), new charging systems, new high output alternator, new instruments (navigation, sail, AIS, autopilot, radar), egine controls, sound system and speakers, lighting (inside and out), new stove, countertops, new refrigeration and freezer, prop shaft, water heater, interior cushions and bedding, refinished cabin sole (floors), new paint from the top of the mast to the bottom of the keel, new rod (not wire) rigging, new running rigging, new windlass, new anchor and 250′ of chain, dinghy davits, sails (3), seacocks, waterlines and fixtures, rebedded keel and a rudder inspection. Among many others. Many of these we did ourselves. On a boat, when something breaks, you either hire someone to fix it (which takes forever), or you go from ignorant to an expert by doing it yourself!
Safety: Yeah, this is what everyone asks about. We have THREE EPIRBS (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), one of which is brand new. These tell emergency services (like the Coast Guard) exactly where you are, when you fire them up. They also turn on when wet. They work world-wide. We have a brand new Offshore Life Raft that can be deployed if necessary. We ALL wear inflatable harnesses anytime we are above deck (they shouldn’t be worn below deck, as they could impede escape). They inflate automatically, as well as manually. As they are harnesses, they have tethers. These are ALWAYS attached to “jacklines” that run the length of the boat port and starboard. The idea is that you can’t fall overboard. If you still manage to do so, each harness has a tracking device on it, as well as a strobe light, that is electronically tethered to the boat. One of the EPIRBS is wearable, so in the event someone has to do something risky, they can wear an EPIRB. We also have a Garmin In Reach. It works similarly to the EPIRBS, except that it lets is “check in” automatically (you can follow us), we can occasionally text, and it is also wearable. It is self contained, with its own map software. While people are still occasionally lost at sea, technology has minimized these occurrences.
Electronics: We have at least 7 GPS enabled devices with Marine Charts on them. We also have a traditional sextant, and paper charts if we need them (thank you Uncle Hubert). I’ll have to re-learn use of a sextant… We have 3D Doppler radar that includes collision avoidance software. But the ocean/gulf/sea is a very, very empty place. We also have AIS (Automatic Identification System) that broadcasts our location via VHF radio, and then uploads to satellites. All commercial vessels are required to carry it, and most ocean-going recreational vessels have it. Boats and ships show up on your Chart Plotter, with the name, speed, direction, picture, draft, and MMSI number that you can call directly. As long as they are in VHF radio range, you can see what they are doing, and you can hail them. We have 3 VHF radios on the boat. One is connected to an antenna 70 feet in the air. We have an autopilot that can (and will) steer the boat for us. You can tell it which direction to go, you can program a route for it, or you can tell it to steer an optimum course based on wind speed and direction.
Where are you going? First Leg: Port Aransas, Texas to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. 750 miles (650 nautical miles). So, doing the math, at 6 knots, as the crow flies, that’s over 4 days. Since the prevailing winds are directly in the direction we want to go, we plan on 6 or 7 days, and hope for 5. In the unlikely event that we get offshore of Isla Mujeres with plenty of fuel, we might elect to continue on.
How far from land do you get? Only a mile or so. Because the bottom is only a mile or so down! The answer is probably 3-400 miles.
What do we do at night? We keep sailing or motoring. We have only 250 of anchor chain, and then another 250 feet of line. Anchoring in more than 100 feet of water just isn’t possible. And even the shallow Gulf of Mexico rapidly gets deeper than that. We may reduce sail for safety.
What is our range? We don’t have solar or wind power. That leaves us the engine’s alternator or the generator for power. The generator is much, much more efficient. It charges our batteries at 100 amps, which means we probably only have to run it for an hour or maybe 2 hours a day. It burns 1/3 gallon an hour. That gives us about 10 month’s worth of fuel, if we don’t run the engine. Unfortunately, we don’t carry 10 month’s worth of food.