I'm looking at older Merlin's to buy for club racing. I've been doing a lot of reading on this great site and gather they can be a bit flexible at the shrouds and the way to overcome it is through mainsheet tension? Anyway, it's got me thinking a lot. What is best? Currently debating an old smokers satisfaction in Kent, that has a round hoop and to my mind that doesn't do enough of anything. Won't ever really center and in the wrong place for tension? Square hoops enable centering (and phaffing) but still only pull from mid boom, but allows easing of the sail with traveler without losing leach tension. And then there's split tail? This centers every time, generates leach tension but isn't so good easing out in a blow as you lose that tension? Even if I don't buy I know need to know some opinions as it's doing my head in over thinking it!
The boat also has split side decks, the add says it's usual due to hiking. Is it an easy fix or are we talking re deck?
Ramble over. For now
You are dead right about the hoop, which was probably fitted as an afterthought when every newer boat had one. It works well if you can apply enough rig tension to keep the jib luff taut but you probably can't in an old Smoker's with a high bow tank. Square top hoops generate if anything less mainsheet tension by design and the traveller width is insufficient to be able play the traveller not the mainsheet in gusts. If you are sailing on restricted water the traveller is a bit of a faff to tack every time and if you run out of length in a gust you will be swimming, however it is the best solution without resort to hull surgery.
From experience your side decks and particularly the carlins on the inner edge are crucial structural components and if they are letting go the hull will be able to twist considerably which is not quick and will also cause structural issues elsewhere because of the twisting of old cascamite joints. It's probably feasible to take it all apart and reglue with epoxy but that isn't a particularly quick job and a bodge won't hack it (again from experience!). If you are not fussed about seeing them then a few screws here and there holding everything together with the reglued joints should be OK for a while.
Old git John
And what about the third option of split tail and binning the extra weight? Are there other options? I presume a full width traveler but cost would be prohibitive. And a fixed rear bridal would be almost as restrictive as the central hoop although generating more leach tension.
I've had the split tail option in the past as well and as long as you set it up so it doesn't catch round the corners of the transom or on you when gybing it is pretty straightforward, does not intrude much on your space either but as you say once the boom is off the centreline you will not be able to use mainsheet tension to maintain jib luff tension so as soon as you ease the main the jib will become fuller, which is not really what you want. One other solution for older boats is some sort of space frame triangulating the points between mast step (presumably on the hog) the shroud attachment points and the mast gate. Not that pretty but it takes the load off the 40-year-old cascamite.
The inwhales add a great deal of structure strength, especially in a boat such as a Smoker that has little, if any, triangulation.
Splitting inwhales is a very common problem even on more recent boats and usually comes about due to impact damage, or more seriously and in your case more likely, the the glue giving up and the boat starting to twist.
There are a few fixes for this issue, all of them being ways of cleating the laminations together so that they cant move. Glueing a pice of 3mm ply on the back face will work well and is my preferred method. People have done it with carbon tape and even a foam sandwich layer. The key is getting all the old varnish off the back and getting as much of the old glue out of the splits as possible.
Mainsheet. Ive never got on with a split tail in a merlin, the tiller extension is too long and needs to got around the back which the split tail prevents. You should be able to put together a new traveller system for around £200 with the cars available today. There is no need for integrated cleats, indeed back in the 70s i doubt they existed!
If it was mine i'd probably use a centre bridle.
We had a round hoop on Panatella. I added a center bridal and also kept the hoop for the subsequent purchase, this worked OK and allowed tacking by taking the tiller extension aft. As Chris says the aft bridal is a bit tricky in a wide Merlin, you can get away with a stern bridal on a narrower Merlin as they use a shorter extension but the Smokers is not that much narrower than a modern Tales. Having said that Will Henderson has the aft bridal set up in his Winder Tales.
For older boats. Stern sheeting using a bridal – it is very
important to be able to get the main on the centre line without affecting the
leach tension of the mainsail.
Whilst tensioning the forestay, by heaving on the mainsheet,
to tension the forestay and thereby open the jib leach is an ideal position in
the ideal sailing conditions i.e. crew on the same side deck correct leach
tension boat flying. In practice this
state is rarely achieved for very long!
It is more important to get the main on the centre line and
be able to get the main correct leach tension using kicker tension and where
possible assisted by the mainsheet.
As for opening the leach of the jib and rig
tension, who knows? Trial and error will eventually work this out I hope. But obviously
you can’t just heave the jib in tight when using a close sheeting position for
the jib track
My first Merlin was a v light and flexible Smart Smokers which went extremely well with an almost-full-width traveller which was pretty well universal at the time. Jerry Rook who had the boat built and often crewed me said to get Merlins of that vintage to go upwind told me to pull on the mainsheet as hard as I could, then put my foot against something and pull even harder. If overpowered, he said whatever you do don't ease the mainsheet - just let the traveller down a bit. All this was to keep the jib luff tight.
However because the traveller had to be sheeted to windward to centreline the boom in light and moderate conditions, tacking was a real faff so I tried a fixed length centre bridle. This was an absolute disaster - the boat was unbelievably slow upwind even in a moderate breeze. Obviously a stern bridle would suffer in the same way. So I immediately went back to the traveller and then later, to make life easier, I fitted twin carriages on the track with a short bridle, which with careful adjustment avoided altering the traveller position on every tack.
Several years after I sold the boat she came to the race training fitted with a hoop. I had a spin in her and guess what.................she was a dog once again. There must be dozens of tracks and travellers in sheds all round the country so get busy searching!
Hope this helps, and good luck,
ps Wait for a boat that is not coming apart! They do exist.