'Merle of Malham' 1966 John Illingworth designed racer, built by Raymond L'Abbe at his St Malo yard, for the 1966 JOG series at La Rochelle. This is a beautiful and very fast and capable little boat, which has undergone considerable refurbishment in the last 15 years or so, but now needs a new owner to re-step her mast and get her back out to the start line. Many of the more recent works completed by Tim Gilmore, included refitting the galley, new coach roof windows, localised resplining above and below the water line and a couple of new keel bolts. More significant works took place between 2005-2007 including the installation of a new 14hp Nanni engine, replacement of the deck, rebuilding of the cockpit, rudder and stock and a refurbishment of the original Sparlight mast. Now reduced for quick sale and available to view by appointment at Birdham Pool Marina.
Deck and construction
Sails and Rigging
Captain John Illingworth enjoyed a reputation as one of Englands foremost yachtsmen in the 1950's and 1960's - a successful race skipper and designer responsible for some cutting-edge yachts of the period.
Merle was his own yacht, designed by Illingworth & Primrose for the 1966 Quarter Ton Cup series at La Rochelle and built by Raymond L'Abbe at his St Malo yard, France. 21 feet at the waterline and with a transom stern and heavy displacement for her length. She was named, like several of his successful boats, after the family estate at Malham, Yorkshire. She won the 1967 Channel Class and was second in the 1967 Cherbourg Race.
In John Illingworth's book 'The Malham Story' he described 'Merle' as extremely weatherly, and when they had a decent breeze of a force 3, she got into a clear lead over everyone else, in a big fleet. "Although she is a small boat, I would be quite happy to set off across the Atlantic without any preparation, except obviously a few extra jerry cans of water on board." Her aluminium mast also proved a effective radar reflector, with a large tanker halted in her tracks when he came across 'Merle' on a trip back from Breskens!
Illingworth sold her in 1969 and she was based for many years in Ireland, before returning to the West Country in the mid 1980's. In 2005 the previous owner purchased her midway through a major re-fit - the hull had been burned off, checked and one plank replaced below the waterline. Four new laminated beams and hanging knees has been fitted to add strength for a blue water voyage. The decks, interior and engine installation had been removed and the stern tube had been blocked in for good measure!
Between 2005-2007, whilst the boat remained in the West Country, the previous owner replaced the decks and renewed the interior to the original Illingworth layout. New engine beds, new engine and all ancillaries were installed by a Nanni main dealer. The cockpit, rudder and stock were rebuilt, areas of the hull resplined, original Sparlight mast refurbished and finally new bronze deck hardware fitted from Classic Marine.
After 2007 the boat was moved to Chichester Harbour and is believed to have spent time on a swinging mooring, before coming into Birdham Pool sometime before 2012 when her mast was unstepped and she spent a few years in a shed. Between 2015 - 2017 Tim Gilmore's yard undertook work to fit a new teak hatch, refasten hood ends, fitted new coachroof windows and stainless surrounds, did some localised resplining above and below the waterline, changed a couple of keel bolts, refitted the galley and made alterations to the aft lazerette. The boat was relaunched in 2017, and although she never had her mast re-stepped, she received care each season from Tim Gilmore's yard, being lifted and antifouled and the brightwork rubbed down and varnished in 2018, 2019 and 2020.