Well... the wind was oscillating and gusting. I know it was reading 24-26 knots on the gauge going upwind. IF we were traveling at 3-4 knots, then perhaps it was only blowing at 20-21? But, the gust that took us downwind was large!
How many people did you have onboard?
2, my fiance and I... less than 330 pounds together!
Gotcha, with only 2 on board the boat is a little tricky to keep flat so reefing at 20 with gusts higher would help keep the boat under control.
Cayuga, very unpredictable! There were whitecaps, something I don't like in the M25
The Merit does have a low freeboard and can be a wet ride, but I assure you it's a solid boat. You made a good choice by going with the #3 for your headsail. Carrying a full main downwind worked well, but maybe you should've reefed going upwind with only 2 onboard. If you had 5 on board w/ 4 guys on the rail, then you can carry a full main in 20+ pretty easily.
backstay full on?
Nope, I kept letting it off when the wind died down to 15-18... probably about 1/2
Outhaul full on?
As full on as we can get it (cleat is way too small for the line)
Gotta go max backstay in 20. Heck even in 13-15 w/ the #1 you should have max on. I upgraded the purchase to mine to 24:1 on the backstay. Also I upped the outhaul to a 4:1. Works ok, but sometimes I want even more purchase on the outhaul. Something to think about in the future.
Halyard/cunni full on?
No Cunni on the main
No worries on the cunni, but adding a little bit of main halyard would help keep the draft forward and flatten the main a bit, depowering it.
Traveler at center, and Boom WAY out due to the gusts and not wanting to heel!
Quick rule of thumb, for typical triangle shaped mains like ours, playing the traveler usually works best. On big squaretop mains, or big roach mains, plaing the sheet in puffs works best. I usually set the sheet tension for average conditions and play the traveler in puffs.
Where were the jib cars placed?
Pretty close to fully forward
Try moving them back one hole. On my #3 we carry the car all the way forward in most conditions, I've also drilled holes in between the factory holes to give myself more adjustment. Remember to add a bit of halyard on the headsail as well to help keep the draft forward.
We have quite a bit of rake.
I’ve added a toggle onto my forestay that’s about 1.5” long to increase the forestay length. If you’ve checked it with a bucket on a string you’re probably good to go. I think most of us are running 30+ feet of forestay length. Some as much as 30’-6”.
Through the companionway, not just the lazarettes, and the angle of vanishing stability on them is something ridiculous, lime 95 degrees or something. U guys ever been in a broach or a bad knockdown on a merit 25?
We’ve wiped out but nothing that has got the spreaders wet. I’ve had water start to fill up the cockpit but it never got more than 6”-8” before the boat stood back up. These boats aren’t quite as tender as the J’s. The lazarettes don’t flood due to the coaming around the cockpit. In heavy weather, on any boat, you should have the boards in. Period. Three (3) Merit 25’s have done the single handed trans pac to Hawaii, and 2 sailed back on their own hulls. You can read one story here Merit 25 Home Page
there were minimal modifications to the boat, but they did include a smaller companionway opening and a ‘box’ to reduce the volume in the cockpit. This one in particular was knocked down twice, under chute and under bare poles. Just exactly what do you plan on doing w/ this boat?