As the Head of European Design for North Sails, Dave Lenz likes making sailboats go a little faster. He is also their new class leader for the Merlin Rocket.
He spends his workday with his “fingers in lots of pies,” developing sails for big boats like the TP52 and Fast 40. Now, on the weekends, he’ll be trying to make a Merlin Rocket go a little faster—with his wife as crew.
Dave started sailing as a small child and then moved into Optimists and up through the British Youth Squad system. Olympic skiff sailing eventually led him to big boats, which led to a few jobs in sailmaking before he landed at North Sails in 2006.
Dave was a member of a top Melges 32 team in the late 2000s. “We won a European championship, and the combined winter championship at Key West, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale. Second and a third in Key West; good, solid results.”
Solid results in the Merlin Rocket will have to wait for more time in the boat.
“We’ve only sailed it three times, and only one race,” he laughs. “Hit a top mark, the spinnaker sheets came untied”
The Merlin Rocket appeals to Dave because it is a development class and tweaky enough to keep his interest.
“You can work on sails or rig or foils for slightly different crew weights. There’s lots of controls to power up and depower the rig. And it isn’t as weight sensitive as some other classes.”
Newer designs with less rig controls come and go, Dave says, because a lot of people like to be able to fiddle with their boat.
For a sail design expert, there’s also a fresh challenge written into the Merlin Rocket class rules.
“It has a combined sail area between mainsail and jib, so how you distribute the area between the two sails can vary. There’s definitely development to be done there. We’re also working on developing a 3Di mainsail, and longer term I think we’ll try a jib.”
A new mainsail model will launch very soon, Dave says.
“We’re also looking at developing a larger jib than people have been using. That will be a good option, but doesn’t fit a lot of boats at this stage. You have to have a different measurement certificate, but it’s very feasible if it makes crews faster.”
Dave is also focusing on other challenges to prepare for next season. Dave steers and his wife crews, which he says suits the boat well.
“The boat does lend itself to slightly heavier helm. It can be a bit nosey downwind, quite a handful when it’s windy.”
The couple sailed together before their two kids, currently five and seven, came along. “It’s quite nice to get a chance to do it again,” Dave says. “And there’s a fleet of twelve boats at our local sailing club.”
Looking ahead, he’s excited about their kids joining the fun. “As they get a bit bigger, they’ll be able to come out with us, or replace us at some point.”
Meanwhile he’ll just keep trying to make big and small sailboats go faster, seven days a week.
Dave Lenz is Head of European Design at North Sails in Gosport, UK.