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Merrymaid: a story of innovation, tribulation and resurrection
16th October 2023
Merrymaid holds a special place in yachting history, having been built in 1904 at Camper & Nicholsons Gosport shipyard with a pioneering design. Now listed for sale with Camper & Nicholsons, we recount her 120-year history of immense highs and lows, as well as her current owner’s epic tales of round-the-world exploration.

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MERRYMAID Luxury Sailing Yacht for Sale | C&N
34.10m | Camper & Nicholsons | 1904 (2008)
3 Cabins | 6 Guests | 6 Crew

Asking: € 3,950,000

C&N News

Merrymaid: a story of innovation, tribulation and resurrection

Few yachts tell the tale of yachting over the last 120 years better than 34m Merrymaid. A masterpiece of maritime history, the gaff cutter emerged from the Camper & Nicholsons shipyard on England’s south coast in 1904. She went on to pioneer yachting inventions from powered engines to Bermuda racing rigs, before embarking on an epic circumnavigation with her current owner.

A chequered history

Merrymaid from the drawing board of Charles E Nicholson, the maverick naval architect who designed Endeavour, Creole, Istria and many of the greatest yachts of the 20th century, all of which were lightning fast. In her first Royal Yacht Squadron race, Merrymaid scooped second place in a field that included the Emperor of Germany’s Meteor – a schooner four times her size. 

The original owner of Merrymaid was textile heir Thomas Hardcastle. He swiftly cashed in on her racing success, however, selling her to polo playing stockbroker Robert Young in 1905. Yet Hardcastle missed Merrymaid so much that he repurchased her in 1908 for use as a cruising yacht. At this time, Hardcastle added a shocking novelty: the first petrol engine to be installed on a classic yacht. Packed with power, comfort and a hull that turned heads in every port, Merrymaid was ready for any itinerary.

In 1912, Hardcastle used 900 litres of petrol during a Baltic voyage. Yachting Monthly chronicled his 50-port itinerary. Setting sail from Southampton, Merrymaid took in Kiel, Copenhagen, St Petersburg and northern Finland for the midnight sun. Tragically, just two summers later, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II turned Europe’s cruising grounds into a warzone. Merrymaid, like so many classic Camper & Nicholsons yachts, took refuge from World War One in the Norwegian fjords.

After the war, yacht racer and art collector Elizabeth Workman purchased Merrymaid because Charles E Nicholson had added yet another invention: the first ever Bermuda rig installed on a competitive yacht. Nicholson’s new sailing configuration saved a shocking amount of weight. It also meant that her topsail could be changed or dowsed in record time. By 1930, all Big Class racers had copied the pioneering rig.

By this time, ownership had passed to Sir Thomas Royden, the Chair of Cunard, a gentleman who knew a thing or two about boats. Once again, the clouds of war culled Sir Thomas’s tenure of Merrymaid, as her lead keel was melted down to make helmets and bombs. In 1945, she was laid up alongside America’s Cup challengers Endeavour and Velsheda in the mud of Southampton’s River Hamble. An ignominious chapter for Camper & Nicholsons most acclaimed yachts.  

Ironically the Southampton mud preserved Merrymaid’s teak and oak planks. As did her long ownership by Roy Squire — a humble train driver who safeguarded her as his family’s houseboat during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Until, yet again, tragedy struck. During the 2000s, Merrymaid endured bankruptcy, neglect and a refit performed by well-meaning French carpenters who had never worked on a boat, let alone a yacht of this calibre. In 2006, the semi-rebuilt Merrymaid was auctioned in Toulon. After 102 years at sea, this was her nadir.

The resurrection

But hope was on the horizon. During the same decade, a passionate owner of a 22m Sparkman & Stephens sloop was searching for a classic yacht large enough for a circumnavigation. “I looked at about 60 boats over five years, mostly from Antibes to St Tropez and along the English coast,” he explains. “I didn’t have a checklist. When I see the right boat, I fall in love.” When he saw Merrymaid, it was love at first sight.

And so Merrymaid was purchased by her current owner and transported to Southampton Yacht Services (SYS) near her original build yard. “All the planking the French carpenters had done had to be replaced – a really big exercise,” he remembers. During the two-year rebuild he had one overriding worry: that with the new wood keel she was going to “end up bent like a banana with reduced sailing capabilities”. Fortunately, SYS replaced everything and she sailed wonderfully.

“It might have been an error to immediately start a round-the-world voyage,” concedes her owner. But after a 70-year hiatus, Merrymaid was eager to set sail from Southampton once again. In 2008, one of her early logs on the voyage reads; ‘Happily arrived in Ilha de Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, after having sailed 1,426 nautical miles in perfect weather’. An update in 2010 reads; ‘Safely arrived in Panama’s terrific San Blas Islands after having sailed 1,095 nautical miles from Cayman Islands’. Minor refit issues occurred enroute, but SYS was always on hand for support.

Merrymaid made more stops than the round-the-world sailor Joshua Slocum. “I read all the circumnavigation books,” says her owner. “Charles Darwin, Captain Cook, Robin Knox-Johnston, Francis Chichester. So, places like Cape Horn and Patagonia were something I had to see. I came to shore at Puerto Williams [the southernmost settlement in the world] and some locals said I was crazy to bring Merrymaid there. I said ‘listen guys, you have an aluminium hull. If you hit something you’re in trouble but we can carry out repairs ourselves’. People underestimate how sturdy these classic boats are.”

China and Vietnam were highlights. Was it strange to dock a capitalist yacht in a communist port? “No, because everyone loves these classics,” says her owner. “On occasions we radioed a harbour and asked to do a few repairs. And when we arrived they said, ‘Oh wow, give us half an hour and we’ll give you pride of place.’” In South Africa, the descendants of former owner Roy Squire came on board, sharing photos of their old life on the boat.

During the six-year circumnavigation, Merrymaid’s owner was on board for 75,000 nautical miles. “They were the happiest years of my life,” he reflects. While many circumnavigating owners choose to fly out for a few weeks to meet the yacht in different destinations, this owner asserts that the best experiences happened during the passages. Like when the owner and captain were looking for an island to pause at between Tahiti and Fiji and spotted a little coral atoll on the map called Suwarrow. On this idyllic island, crew members lowered Merrybaby, a classic gaff-rigged sailing tender built by Butler & Co. “At the end of the trip, everyone said this was the most wonderful stop of the whole trip,” he claims.

A new chapter

Even the greatest circumnavigators tire of paradise islands. At dusk near the end of Merrymaid’s voyage through the Indian Ocean, somebody knocked on the owner’s cabin and alerted him to a beautiful island ahead. “I replied, ‘OK, that’s island number 817 and sunset number 3,802!’” he laughs. After the voyage of a lifetime, even the sublime becomes commonplace.

All of which means it’s time for a new owner to follow in the wake of Thomas Hardcastle, Elizabeth Workman and Sir Thomas Royden by writing the next chapter of Merrymaid’s 120-year history. The circumnavigation proves she has everything needed to make another round-the-world trip. Her manifest includes twin water tanks, twin Seafresh watermakers and additional fuel bladders that add to her 1,920 nautical mile range under power. “There are spares of everything,” confirms her owner. This born pioneer, sold in immaculate condition, is ready for a new adventure.

If you like to learn more about Merrymaid please contact our senior sales broker Jean-Marie Recamier and yacht sales advisor Jessica Ruez.

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