By Pat Sturgeon
It has been more than 10 years since the CS 36 Merlin was first introduced in the boating market, but despite its age, this design is still one of the most popular boats in its class. With the CS 36 Merlin, CS Yachts became one of the first builders to bring the euro-style of yacht design to North America. Large aft cabins and aft cockpits provided good carrying capacity, and a generous beam all the way back to the stern kept the helm spacious and created truly usable swim platforms. The new plumb bows extended waterlines and created better value per foot. All of these changes proved positive for CS, and remain popular with many boat builders and buyers even today.
The CS 36 Merlin followed the introduction of the CS 40 and CS’s then new designer, Tony Castro. It was a time when the average cruiser’s family was growing up, and parents, left with the frightful choice between leaving their teenage kids at home alone or keeping them on board along with a few of their friends, were looking for a little extra space. With plenty of sleeping room and a door that you could close off to form an actual separate cabin, the CS 36 Merlin was one of the best floating cottage alternatives on the market.The Merlin is often confused with the CS 36, which brokers tend to call “The Traditional”. The latter is the older, Ray Wall-designed 36, and although similar to the Merlin in construction, it is very different in design. CS Yachts built about 100 Merlins between 1986 and 1990, and throughout that period, construction changed along with technological advancements. The purchaser also had almost five pages of options to choose from— a Kevlar or fibreglass hull; a swim platform or regular transom; a 28 hp diesel or a 43 hp turbo; a tall or regular rig and by the end, four keel configurations (shoal, wing, deep and performance bulb). As a result, other than the 20 or so that went into charter, no two Merlins are alike.What does remain constant among the boats is CS’s legendary high quality construction. The company is well known for its glassed-in bulkheads to both hull and deck, and the use of large interior modules for a clean interior look. The hull is hand-laid fibreglass or Kevlar with balsa core above the water line to reduce weight and add stiffness, without compromising the structural integrity. The hulls and decks were then vacuum bagged, which is a process by which the resin is drawn up through the laminate to eliminate voids and reduce the amount of resin required for the same strength. The hull-deck joint is through bolted and sealed with a butyl tape, which never hardens. Many people see the oozing of this butyl tape and assume something is wrong, but it is quite normal and can go on for years. Typical CS owners consider it just part of the maintenance. The advantage of this sealant is that you seldom have to re-bed any leaky areas of the toe rail or deck fittings; you simply tighten the nut on the underside and it recompresses the butyl tape. The chainplates are made from stainless steel, forged at right angles and then bolted to the main bulkhead and the deck. There is a structural grid system glassed to the hull, which also incorporates the engine stringers. The hull has a flat bottom, and as a result, very little bilge space for excess water, so if you have any leaks, it is essential to keep an eye on the bilge.The Merlin has a three-cabin layout; a forward cabin, main saloon and aft quarter cabin. The v-berth is slightly offset and the starboard side is shorter where the head bulkhead encroaches on the forward cabin. Storage is fair in the forward cabin, with two opening cupboards at the foot of the v-berth, large cave lockers and storage under the v-berth itself. The head is a good size with plenty of room to store toiletries, and the lack of teak keeps cleanup simple. Across from the head is a full-sized, cedar-lined hanging locker. Both the hanging locker and the forward cabin have their own teak doors.
The main salon is very bright because the main hatchway spray shield and the slider are made of Lexan. The table, located aft of the mast and just off centre, is permanently fixed and has two wings that fold down when not in use. CS pre-wired the teak chainplate covers for stereo speakers on all of the boats, and the main cabin is full of reading and overhead lights. The starboard settee has a fold out extension to make into a large double berth and the port side serves as a single berth. Under each berth in the main cabin are massive water tanks which hold up to 130 gallons of fresh water. A chart table of a modest size is located at the end of the starboard settee and offers extra storage room under the lid.
The galley is set so far back in the cabin, you almost feel as though you have left the room when you are in it. It is very functional in that it has a tremendous amount of available counter space for food preparation. CS makes use of kern for the cutting board and sink cover, as well as for the ice box lids. The smaller of the two ice boxes has its own drain and can be quite effective with a little insulation on the lid. There is a double sink and a top-of-the-line Force 10, three-burner propane stove and oven, and plenty of storage in the sliding cupboards along the back of the galley for all your dishes and food stuffs. The main ice box is about 7.5 cubic feet and most Merlins have a microwave built into the bulkhead directly behind.
The Merlin was one of the first boats to clean up the clutter on the deck—the winches are all self-tailing and all of the lines are led aft through deck organizers and clutches, so there is no need for a lot of winches. The anchor well is designed to fit two anchors or a flush-mounted vertical windlass. The cockpit has curved seats and canted coamings making it very comfortable for long excursions, and the optional swim platform is popular with most cruisers. The platform is wide and deep, and usually there is a built-in shower in the transom. There is one huge cockpit locker that you can get lost in. The Merlin has a separate fibreglass garbage bin in the locker that is large enough to accommodate a full-sized garbage bag and a trapdoor through the bulkhead from the galley to stuff the garbage in. The main sheet has three possible positions, depending on when, or what, you ordered. Most pre-1990 Merlins had the traveller directly in front of the wheel on a very short track. Some of the following boats had them on the bridge deck in front of the companionway. Finally, the market pressure to move the traveller out of the cockpit triumphed, and CS put out a redesigned version in late 1989. This version put the traveller on the coach house, but the mainsheet attaches only one third of the way back from the goose neck. This makes it very difficult to sheet the main properly and it is not very healthy for the integrity of the boom. However, the cruisers who like to sail in a greenhouse love this set up, as it makes it possible for full enclosures while sailing.What makes the Merlin a great coastal cruiser is its space and features, but the price is paid in its seakindlyness in a choppy sea. Since the boat has a flat bottom and a low stem angle, which gives it a long water line, it tends to throw water back from the bow and slam through waves. The low-aspect main and a high-aspect foretriangle results in a long boom, a very tall mast, and a very powerful rig. The ballast to displacement ratio is 43 per cent or more, making it a stiff boat, but when the wind picks up you have to reef early to keep it upright. The reefing system is very simple and both the tack and clew can be reefed from the cockpit. The boat moves quite well in light to medium air. Most of the Merlins came with furling systems for the Genoa. The simple layout of the deck and sail handling systems make the CS Merlin a very easy boat to sail single-handedly. CS tried to cater to a couple of racers with deep pockets and produced two (what I call), high performance boats. On these two boats the keel is a deep draft bulb and the rig is a extra tall, flexible rig. I had the opportunity to race on one and it did very well against strictly racing designs.
Although there were not many Merlins made for the production time, and they remain primarily concentrated in Southern Ontario, it is a popular design that has its own micro market, and satisfied customers have kept the price stable between $95,000.
Originally published in Canadian Yachting’s Winter 1998 issue.