A life so rich, so full it is difficult to capture. An incredible voyage forever tucked away in the hearts of all who knew and loved him.
For 25 years as winter approached the shores of the Maine coast, Merle set sail south on the Wings of Time with his lifelong friend Dodge Morgan to the Caribbean. A dead run to a longer sun and calmer seas. In his lifetime, Merle would sail the world. As a child growing up on Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine, he rented a little boat for 25 cents an hour and taught himself.
As much as he loved sailing, he loved music. For 26 years he played the acoustic bass professionally, forming his own band, the Star Makers.
He bought Handy Boat Yard in Falmouth, Maine in the late sixties. A yard he would develop into a major yacht destination complete with a restaurant, a chandlery, a repair yard, a sail loft and a mooring field of 300 boats. He always made the time to mentor the many young people who were drawn to the yard, hiring them to work in the restaurant and the dock store and drive the launches, providing three generations of youth with training and encouragement. One former employee said it best, “Merle was my role model, my friend, my teacher and mentor and as an adult, my inspiration. He was a legend.”
To the larger community, Merle’s contributions were many and notable. He co-founded the MS Regatta with his close friend, Dan Wellahan , raising over 3 million dollars for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society . He was President of the American Boat Builder’s Association and the National Ensign Class. He sat on the Board of Directors of OPSail 2000, and the Storm Trysail Club. He was also on the Advisory Councils of the United States Coast Guard and of Pearson Yachts and was awarded the title of Director Emeritus of the Gulf of Maine Ocean Racing Association for his many years of dedication to the sport. Merle also was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the International Rotary Foundation.
As Merle grew Handy Boat Yard so did his reputation as a racing sailor grow. He won both national and international trophies. One of the first was the 1972 National Ensign Championship followed by first in his class in the Bermuda Race and then the Transpac . After that winning a series of off shore races from the Monhegan Race to the Yarmouth Cup to Maxie Regattas in Europe on Kialoa as well as the PHRF New England Championship and first in the Block Island Race Week in 1985, Merle received the Yachtsman of the Year award in 1986. He was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2021.
Whenever possible, he loved having his wife Barbara and one or more of his children aboard. He named all his racing boats Scaramouche after the character in the French novel who was “born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad “.
He lived and worked by a strict code “perfect is good enough “he often said quoting his friend Ronnie Butland. Merle lived what he loved. He said that after he bought the boat yard, he never worked a day in his life. His life touched so many others and all benefited from his warmth, wisdom and great generosity.
He once told a reporter that if he could spend the day with anyone of his choosing, it would be his father and he would spend the day listening.
He held memberships in the Cruising Club of America, the Storm Trysail Club, the Portland Yacht Club and the Centerboard Club.
Merle Hallett died at his home in Vero Beach, Florida on the 13th of December. He was 94 years old. His wife, best friend, and first mate Barbara Hallett, and his children, Cindy, Jay, Connie, Richard and Will all share the great gift of his life.
For Merle, a grand new voyage on a calm and peaceful sea has just begun.
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