Topic : Proctor Design Variations

Hi All,

I’m coming back to sailing after many years absence.  I’m looking at getting a Merlin Rocket as I’ve always wanted one (my Dad used to be good friends with Barry Steel and sailed his MR with him off Swanage Beach many moons ago!).  I’m looking at various older wooden boats that fall into my price range.  My question is, what are the differences though the MK numbers of the old Proctor Designs - 9 to 11 to 16 to 17 etc.  I have been trying to find information online, but I can’t seem to find any there are various snippets on this forum but nothing definitive.  The history of designs on this website doesn’t seem to touch on the Proctor design at all.  I am not trying to buy a boat that would be anywhere near competitive in a MR fleet, but I would like try a bit of handicap sailing at my local club which is on a small(ish) inland lake.  So any indications of the design history/development between Proctor MK’s would be great to help with my boat buying decisions, i.e. weight carrying capability, stability, river/inland/open water, tack speed, beam, rocker etc.
And on another point… where are the usual rot spots on older wooden hulled MR’s or is it just a case of looking everywhere on them if they have not lead a very sheltered life?
Thanks in advance for any information.  I hope to join the ranks of Merlin Rocket owners and sailors very soon!


Posted: 19/09/2019 16:31:56
By: Rocket Espresso
There are many here who will have a view on this question and a lot of existing posts on this website.  If you are on facebook then also address the audience at the Merlin Rocket Revival Group.
Great to hear that you are interested in a vintage boat, they look lovely, are a lot of fun to sail, and can do well/very well both against more modern boats and within a handicap situation if sailing at smaller inland venues or rivers.
They are also relatively cheap to buy although have the complication of being made of wood and therefore needing consistent care and attention (by which I mean any small issues being addressed before they become large ones), and some sensible storage arrangements - ideally undercover during the winter to avoid frost damage.
There are as many opinions about which design is best as there are designs, although there does seem to be some agreement about which ones were absolute dogs.  However, there is no doubt that a skilled helm and crew can make most boats go well on restricted waters.  The skill of a Merlin crew seems to be a key factor so I'd be looking for a good one as urgently as for a good boat!
Received wisdom seems to be that a Proctor 9 or 9B is a safe bet for a good all-rounder.  Proctor 12s are also favoured and have a following on the Thames.  Although it wasn't successful at a national event level (seas sailing) the Proctor 16 is reported to be a potentially quick option inland.
As with all things, other designers are also worth a look if you're not absolutely wedded to a Proctor, a Holt being an obvious choice if you can find a good one.
When looking at an old Merlin and assessing its condition, remember that it has done amazingly well to survive for as long as it has, be sympathetic! One of the reasons why Merlins became popular was that they were subject to a maximum price level (unlike an International 14 for example) which meant that builders had to be efficient in their approach with both materials and time.  The fact that many have lasted so long is a testament to the innate skills of the builders.
In terms of Merlin weaknesses, the classic one is at the base of the transom and where it meets the floor.  Two things can happen to cause this rot.  Firstly, water fails to drain from the boat through the drainholes due to the hull not being propped up enough when left.  Secondly, many builders put copper liners in the drainholes which over time, due to the different expansion rates for copper and wood, cause the wood to split along its grain and rot to set in.
If untreated, the rot will inevitably spread to the hog and the planking. 
The second main area for decay is along the point where the garboard planks meet the centreboard case.  This is a symptom of the general lack of bracing within vintage hulls - you will see that many vintage boats that have been restored for racing have had additional framing put in place to reduce twist and stiffen the centreboard case, to increase the strength of the floor and limit its movement, and to resist the greater loads that can be applied by modern rigs.
Again, this rot can spread to the hog etc etc.  
I'm not sure how old a boat you are looking for but I am guessing pre sail number 2000 if your interest is in a Proctor.  If you are looking at a newer older boat then be careful of the issue of failed cascamite glue joints which is a whole world of pain waiting to happen.....
Enjoy the fun of the search and the choosing process.  Maybe come to an event for older Merlins e.g. the DeMay fixtures at Tamesis Club on 28 September or Hampton SC on 12 October will give you an opportunity to have a look at many older boats and speak to the crews.  Once you have your boat, come and race in the DeMay series.

Posted: 20/09/2019 07:44:52
By: Tim Medcalf
Very comprehensive answer from Tim.  The Proctor designs that were built in any great number and are around still now are not in fact that many.  There are a few Mk VI's still from the mid-1950's, full bows and probably a bit slower tacking than the later Proctor designs.  The VII was an experimental design, very few built, and the VIII was not a success.  The Mk IX and its variations have been very successful in classic racing as well as being the weapon to have at the time of building.  The X can't have been successful, very few built.  The Mk XI wasn't built for very long but is quite similar to the IX if memory serves, at the time was aimed at inland performance as was the much more successful XII.  Neither the XIII nor XIV were built much, the old design guide didn't have any information about them and I've never seen one.  I owned a MkXV, and though it fell apart in my hands and was probably never the best of the bunch, it was a bit of a dog in light winds.  The Mk XVI though it seems a very similar shape has been much more successful in classic racing.  Mk XVII was a wider boat built in the early 70's when the Merlin shape was changing rapidly and is unlikely to be as good on restricted waters.
Modern rigs put a lot of stress on classic boats.  If it hasn't been done already you should be considering strengthening the area around the shroud attachment and the join between foredeck and side deck - look for cracking here.  You can try lifting and twisting the transom and see what moves that shouldn't.

Posted: 20/09/2019 09:06:15
By: Andrew Mills

Thanks for the information Tim and Andrew.  Very informative.  I had gleaned various bit of information about the various mark numbers through this forum, particularly the Mk9, but it is much easier to form an educated opinion when the information is all together.  I'm not set hard and fast on a Proctor Merlin, just there seem to be a few more around for sale at the moment. I'm happy to undertake some work on the right boat and part of the appeal is in owning a piece of art as well.  There is no denying that the older wooden boats are absolutely stunning when all varnished up, whether standing still in the boat yard, or with foaming water splashing over the gunwales with the crew hiked over the side in a bit of a blow.

One MR that I've seen for sale that has taken my fancy is (I believe) a Mk XVII from the very early 70's.  I have yet to see it in person, but it looks to be in reasonably good condition from a couple of photos that I've seen.  Thought from the sounds of it, a Mk XVII might not be the best boat for inland lake sailing.  My in-laws live in Gosport and so which ever boat I decide on will probably her it's legs stretched at least every now and then on the Solent.  And the prospect of joining a race series (like the DeMay) is very tempting to get some sailing in around the country, even if I'm not particularly competitive (notice how I said me and not the boat!!)


Posted: 20/09/2019 12:57:20
By: Rocket Espresso
When considering boats like this I think that manners and handling of the hull are in many ways more important that its perceived performance strong points on various bits of water.
As I recall the Adur 7 was a weapon of choice as a heavy weather sea boat in the 60's and nowadays has a strong following on the river in the classic fleet! 

Posted: 20/09/2019 16:21:32
By: Chris Martin
I agree Chris, I have read a few bits that say that a couple of the Proctor Designs were 'dogs' though no-one elaborates on which ones.  I sure that any MR would feel pretty special if you have no other MR to benchmark it against, so may be it is all relative!!  Hence my original question about the perceived reasons behind the designs.  I have tried to find (without success yet) line drawing for the various hull shape to try to get a better picture of the design evolution (I'm a Design Engineer by trade so I can't help myself!!) and build up a picture of why the hulls have the features they do.  Reading the above responses, it is clear that some of the Mark Numbers where obviously little more that sketches or just ideas discussed and perhaps no even 'drawn' and were only ever built in very small numbers, if at all.  I'm going to have to go and look at various boats and take it from there.

Posted: 24/09/2019 17:56:33
By: Rocket Espresso
I think the vast majority - if not all - were actually built. Of course how many of the one offs that were deemed to be unsuccessful survive is another matter.
The Mk9 was deemed to be the zenith of performance through much of the 60's. However the early adopters had fostered the impression that it was very difficult to sail so dissuading the mainstream class from acquiring one themselves. From what I recall of the old design guide the 11 was meant to be a tamer 9 but despite an early following fell out of favour a couple of years later. The designs built after the 9 had to prove themselves against it and none really succeeded until wider boats came into vogue.
I think the Proctor 9, NSM II and now the Canterbury Tales represent the extent of the development possible with what there was to work with in their respective eras. Subsequent designs along similar lines didnt manage to replace them.

Posted: 24/09/2019 19:07:17
By: Chris Martin
What happened to the Proctor design guide that used to be on this website. It must be around somewhere ?

Posted: 25/09/2019 10:13:49
I had a Mk9 for a few years and she was delightful boat to sail on the river but we never tried her on any open water, I can see they might be a bit tricky in a strong breeze as were Proctor N12's of that era.  We sold the Mk9 and bought a very nice Smokers Satisfaction which proved just as good on the river but more competitive on more open water, especially so with light(ish) all up weight at Salcombe...  You might find a nice Smokers or an NSM which would give you some great sailing for relatively small investment.
Agree with all the comments on old wooden boats, it can be tricky to spot problems or poor repairs especially in the more complex areas of constriction ie centreboard-case/hog etc.

Posted: 25/09/2019 14:30:54
By: Dave C
Unfortunately I've just found out from my club that they won't let me race a merlin rocket as it's handicap is below their cut off. So after all this, it looks like I'm not going to be able to join the ranks of Merlin Rocket owners and sailors for a while yet. I'll have to get my boys well and truly into sailing then look again and join another club with more water to sail on! I'll have to search out a nice N12 or may be a Firefly instead!

Posted: 28/09/2019 21:31:02
By: Rocket Espresso
Someone in our club is selling a nice N12 3286 if you are interested? (Hertfordshire)

Posted: 01/10/2019 12:09:01
By: Godfrey

Sounds interesting Godfrey, Could you let me know some more details please (can you PM on here?  - not been on here for long enough yet to find out).  Though will depend on the spec and price….of course!  I’ve got a couple of others that I’m interested in though here is not the place to discuss I suppose!

Thanks all for your help on the original post, I am pretty gutted that I can’t sail a Merlin Rocket at my club, but hope to get one and sail elsewhere soon!

Posted: 02/10/2019 17:14:01
By: Rocket Espresso
I have N12 for sale, N3033.  Completely refurbished this year,  excellent suit of little used Hyde Dacron sails,  also cut down mainsail, Proctor C mast, good top cover and undercover, combi trailer.  Pictures on N12 site.
Located Cambridgeshire.  £100.  Contact - [email protected] 

Posted: 02/10/2019 17:54:36
By: Mike Liggett
Regarding your club's handicap cutoff point, did you appreciate that the Association recommended handicap adjustment is + 60 points for sail nos between 166 and 2164, which would cover many of the boats you have in mind? (See "PY" under "About" on the MROA website). That could put you up to 1040 which might do the trick for you?
Dan Alsop
ps I'll have a look for a really old design guide.

Posted: 26/11/2019 22:01:47
By: Dan Alsop
When looking for something else I found my old design guide from 1986 (which I think was when I joined the MROA).  It's a bit tatty but I should be able to scan it and put it somewhere if there is any interest - the Revival facebook site for example.

Posted: 27/11/2019 09:48:30
By: Andrew Mills

That remains me of the piece I wrote for the mag 30 years ago, when I tried to locate the other MkXV’s listed in the yearbook. Amongst others, that unearthed your Evan Macombich #1498, and in fact I still have your handwritten letter dated 4 Feb 1989,- typical doctor’s style! Cheers Rod & Jo.

Posted: 05/12/2019 18:14:59
By: Rod & Jo Sceptical
 Thanks Dan, I hadn't appreciated that fact.  Though unfortunately my dreams of getting back into sailing have been put on the back burner for a year as it has been decided that there are more important things to spend our money on.  One of the boats that I was looking at was a Proctor MK17, so this rule wouldn't have helped much.  Still, once I get the green light to get a boat, I will try to apply this rule and persuade the club that a MR is perfectly acceptable!

 Andrew, have you uploaded the scan of the design guide to the Facebook page?  I'll have to join the Revival page to have a read!


Posted: 18/12/2019 18:15:42
By: Rocket Espresso
Though it's taken me a while to do it, I have now scanned my old design guide from 1988 and uploaded the PDF to the Revival Fleet FB group, if anyone is at all interested.

Posted: 05/01/2020 10:09:21
By: Andrew Mills


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