Ian Holt, Merlin Rocket designer.

28/01/2010 23:13:41
Keith Callaghan
I have often wondered what happened to the most successful Merlin Rocket designer of the last 25 years (and that is some understatement).
Well, I got an email from Ian this week. and I thought that there may be quite a few of you who would like to hear some news of him. So here (with his permission) are some extracts from his email:

Hello Keith – I found your web site quite by chance, and thought I would drop you a line to say hello.
I dropped out of the Merlin Rocket Class in a strange way. Just as I took delivery of the original “Canterbury Tales” I joined the magazine “Yachts and Yachting” which ironically left me no time to sail Merlins as I was too busy at weekends sailing other boats! This also introduced me to multihulls which got me completely hooked and I never wanted to go back to monohulls again after that.
Now I live and work in China, and – don’t laugh – I race radio control yachts! It’s a surprisingly popular sport here, and in complete contrast to England is popular with teenagers. They are encouraged to build their own boats as college projects. Makes me feel positively antique!
We race One Metres here but I am currently fitting out a Mini40 – a 48 inch long trimaran. This will be the one and only RC multihull in China (I am guessing) but I hope to get some interest in this class. In England they are successfully getting these boats airborne on foils, and this will be my goal later in the year once I have learnt how to sail the beast.
Good luck with your new Merlin designs. Personally I was really disappointed that the class stayed clinker build. It could have been a really smart 2 man non trapeze boat with smooth hull. Progress is progress and the class should have moved forward.
Back to work…

Best regards

29/01/2010 08:34:07
Paul Dean
Very interesting comments from Ian, I have never met him but have much admiration for what he he did for the class. However, I can't say I agree with his comment regarding the clinker hull. I think it is precisely this that sets the Merlin apart from other classes and makes it such a beautiful dinghy. Everyone in the sport recognises the Merlin for its mainsail shape and clinker hull and this is what will continue to make it a sucessful, marketable dinghy. Perhaps he is right and the Merlin should have moved on, but personally I think it may have made the Merlin one of the many "faceless" 2 man dinghies on the market, and easily forgetable. For me, as a child sailing Cadets, I used to admire the Merlin appearance and how exciting it seemed to sail of all the dinghys at my club then, and it is partly for this reason that I finally bought one 4 years ago. Merely my opinion, of course!!!

29/01/2010 08:59:22
Rod & Jo Sceptical
I think this is one of those occasions when everyone is right ! 

As Keith, who never misses an opportunity, pointed out recently, the underwater shape of his latest boat is not different from what could have been done with a 4 plank design, and in an age of moulded boats it’s hard to see any advantage in retaining the clinker look.

BUT, I suspect many people, including me, will feel like Paul.

29/01/2010 09:03:44
I have to agree with Paul on this point. I think it is the fact that the Merlins have not progressed so far that keeps them competative up and down the fleet, not only in boat speed but in peoples knowledge of how to sail them. This is what enables alot of people to go off and do something else and come back to Merlins time and again and compete.

I think the MRX is a perfect example of what would have happened to the Merlin had it gone down that route. I know they are popular at Wembley but they never really took off did they? and they were loosly based on what was thought a Merlin should have become (correct me if I am wrong).

I love the Merlin the way it is, and that is not going to change, I only hope the boat does not change too dramaticly.

29/01/2010 09:49:43
Long live clinker. It's beautiful.

Good to hear Ian isn't sailing dull yachts, but getting RC models onto foils!!!

29/01/2010 10:22:23
Ancient Geek
Whatever you call the Merlin Rocket you could never call the boat or most of its sailors "faceless" both are characters, the world need such boats and people!
As to smooth skin - is there any evidence it made the National 12 a better or more popular boat, two even one trapeze never, it's changed totally, the Int 14 Class from a gentlemans (Sorry girls gentlepersons.) conveyance to just another skiff.
The Merlin remaind a totally modern traditional racing dinghy there may not be so many built in recent years, it may be relatively expensive (It's price has always been about that of a family car.)but it's simply the best.
It ain't broke so don't fix it.

29/01/2010 10:35:33
Keith Callaghan
Well, I expected that the majority opinion would be that 'clinker is beautiful'. There have been decades of opportunity to change the rules, and over all that time the majority have wished to stay with clinker. So be it. I agree that clinkerism is one of the differentiators which make the Merlin Rocket so unique and easily recognisable - and beautiful. Our far-sighted founding father, Jack Holt, (no relation, I guess) proposed clinker build for its cheapness and ease of construction - so anyone with a little skill could design and build a Merlin. That is true to this day. 
Here is another interseting extract from my discussions with Ian:

My best design was “Once Bitten” – sail number 3355. This was my second design and took in all my lessons learnt from the first one (Nice Legs). Here I had already introduced flat garboards and it look very different up front to the norm at that time. [We went to] the Queen Mary Winter Championships in early 1985, soon after it was launched. We won every race by almost a whole leg. It was an amazing experience and shocked the fleet. Soon after that I was sent to work in Norway for 6 months (I was working for the oil and gas engineering company John Brown). Alan Warren heard about my situation and called me to ask if I would sell the boat, so his eldest son Martin (RIP) drove up and collected it. 3 months later I got a call from Peter Impey saying he had cancelled an order with Guy Winder and so there was a free slot, so did I want to take it? I jumped at this and I designed “Diamond Smiles” over the phone calls to Guy Winder from Norway! We got the boat ready just in time for the Nationals and finished 6th overall. Alan was loving Once Bitten but kept capsizing! The crew had to be more agile to keep the bigger forefoot from digging in downwind in the gusts.
After that I was being taken seriously and Nick Aubrey order one of my designs, so I now had 2 good helms using my boats and this turned the tide for my popularity and Jon Turner made it known that he was interested to build one – it would be his first ever non-Phil Morrison design. I made the mistake of saying “yes” I designed Canterbury Tales in 1986 (I think) and placed the order with Jon. Yes, Jon did make changes to the hull and we agreed to split royalties 50/50. At the time I was not fussed about the royalties – I was just enjoying my sailing! I took new drawings off the original boat and compared them to mine, and he had faired out some chine lines and reduced a hard point. He did not alter the basic design.
My last active sailing was in Dubai (I worked there from 1998 to 2004) crewing on a J22. We won the Middle East area championships there two years on the trot. In 2003 I managed to get 2 burst discs in my neck (looking up at too many tell tales?) and had to have an operation on my neck. That made me decide I needed a new hobby. I decided to start radio control sailing.

29/01/2010 10:44:50
Keith Callaghan
Here is some more from Ian,
*(I have informed him that he is once again the designer of the Merlin Rocket national Champion boat)

When other builders got involved I stopped getting royalties (though I think Kevin did pay me some) and by the time the Winder plastic boats appeared I was working overseas so not in a position to discuss, so let it die. I have no idea about the “EZ Roller” design – it’s not mine!
I left England January 1998 for Dubai. I left Dubai for Baku, Azerbaijan in February 2004. I left Baku for Almaty, Kazakhstan in January 2006, and I arrived in Shanghai in August 2008 - by all means let people know where I am, if they are interested!
So what design does Glen Truswell use?* Rob Holroyd rings a bell too but cannot put a face to the name. But I see the likes of Alan, Dan Alsop, Stuart Gurney, still in the Nationals results.
If I had stayed in the Marlin class my next step was to go back to Once bitten and have a rotating mast - 6 inches of unmeasured sail chord area there, I seem to recall. But we didn’t have carbon masts in those days so too heavy………

29/01/2010 17:18:54
mark nicholson
Nice work Keith! Thanks for bring this to attention.  It's good to know what happened to Ian after not seeing him for what must be close to 20 years.  We knocked about together a lot in Merlins at QM, so please send him my best wishes.

30/01/2010 08:55:54
Keith Callaghan
I'll certainly do that Mark. I've suggested to Ian that he rejoins the MROA as an associate member, to encourage him to get involved again in Merlin Rocketry. He is a golden asset that the Class should nurture.

30/01/2010 10:22:54
As a newcomer to the class, and having watched its development from afar over the years, I find this 'historical' (sincere apologies to those involved if you consider that 'being alive' precludes you from the 'historical' category!) detail fascinating. It is depth such as this which will ensure that the Merlin and many of the other 'old' classes, will live on. How many RS400s or other SMODs will still be referred to by name in 30yrs time?

30/01/2010 11:56:21
the gurn
Ian must have been very patient scrolling down the national results!!

31/01/2010 15:54:04
do we do an honourary associate member.....?

31/01/2010 16:38:51
One For The Record

31/01/2010 16:58:59
Why muck about, I suggest we create one!

01/02/2010 17:29:22
Just for the record Nice Legs was no slouch either finishing second in the ST and in the top ten at nationals in the early 90's. If this boat had been campaigned in the late 80's it would have been pretty devastating against the then NSM opposition. It did need some wind and flatter water but was a great boat.

18/10/2017 05:41:39
Ian Holt

Am I only 7 years late joining in on this chat? 
This is what you should ask Santa for when you want a bit of a change from clinker hulls.... (!)

18/10/2017 05:42:00
Ian Holt

Am I only 7 years late joining in on this chat? 
This is what you should ask Santa for when you want a bit of a change from clinker hulls.... (!)

18/10/2017 11:17:48

Read this post just now and hadn't spotted it was from 2010 ;-)

I owed Once Bitten back in the late 90s, and recall how fast she was off wind in a blow. Alex and I did capsize her quite a lot at the windy 98 champs at Abersoch. The bigger rudder helped some, however the telegraph pole style Needlespars mast didn't!! Would loved to have sailed her with a carbon mast. I think she's been at UTSC for the last 17 years, but not seen her for a long while. 

18/10/2017 13:06:12
Andrew Mills
I think Once Bitten was in Andrew Maddison's hands for quite a while but not being sailed.  Another classic Merlin that it would be great to see out and about.

19/10/2017 15:32:30
Andy still has Once Bitten and used her at Cookham a year or two ago. Great boat and as you say, a great shame not to get used often.

19/10/2017 18:48:25
I think Andy must have had her for about 15-16 years now then! He brought it off the guy I sold it to.


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