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Reviews for Merlin II Canoe by Bell Canoe Works


Rated: 8.71/10 Based On: 14 Reviews

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10-09-2009
Submitted by: Send Email
Rating: 10 of 10

     This review is for a Bell Merlin 2 solo canoe in black gold with wood trim. I will not list the specs for the boat you can log on to Bell’s website for all those details.

I have owned and used this canoe year round for two years now, and it is my first and only solo canoe. I look at the Merlin 2 as my canoeing savior so to speak. I was about to give up canoeing after 22 years for two reasons. My canoeing partners were no longer able to go out with me anymore in my tandem and I just had two not so successful knee replacement surgeries which ended with me never being able to kneel while paddling again. My main paddling style was kneeling and I hated to sit. So I decided to give canoeing one last try and bought the Merlin 2 solo. The question in my mind was can I find a solo canoe that I would feel confident in going on a two week trip fully loaded and be ready for any conditions. I was very apprehensive about going solo and although I sometimes miss the camaraderie of tandem canoeing, I must say I enjoy solo canoeing even more now, it is extremely addictive.

I will start off by listing some of the modifications I performed:

  1. Replaced the original flat wood cane seat for a contoured wood cane seat and custom wood seat drops from www.edscanoe.com and lowered the seat to a total drop of seven and a half inches and lowered the front edge of the seat an additional half inch so it doesn’t dig into the back of my legs and butt when sitting for hours.
  2. Added a black Wenonah fully adjustable aluminum foot brace from www.wenonah.com
  3. Added black 550 chord loop attachments along each gunnel aka Cliff Jacobson style for securing packs and equipment.
  4. Added heavy black shock cord to both decks to hold the fifteen foot long painter lines.
  5. Added black shock cord to the cross braces to hold miscellaneous things such as jacket, etc…
  6. Purchased a Cooke Custom spray skirt in royal blue and it looks killer with the black gold from www.cookecustomsewing.com
  7. Added a clamp-on padded wood carry yoke for portaging from www.bellcanoe.com
  8. Added two Bell ash wood carry handles, one on each end of the canoe for the odd times I can get a helping hand carrying it, just because I hate lifting a canoe from the underside of the decks, they weren’t meant for that, from www.bellcanoe.com
  9. And lastly added a padded crazy creek seat for extra comfort for sitting all day.
Visually the looks and style of the boat is just stunning with the transparent gel coat over the black carbon fiber weave, and the wood trim which now is a golden burnt honey color after a half dozen or so hand rubbed coats of Watco Danish oil.

I am six foot one inch and weigh 220 pounds and other than my bad knees I am in great physical shape. Even for a big guy like me the canoe doesn’t seem small at all; there is plenty of room in this canoe for several weeks worth of equipment and food packs. The Merlin is so light it is an absolute joy to portage and handle alone. I use both a Zaveral carbon bent shaft and a grey owl wood straight for paddles. Although I will use a sit and switch for a nice break on occasion, I mainly use standard canoeing strokes such as the "J" stroke, etc…for paddling.

My first test outing after receiving the canoe lasted less than one minute and made me seriously think of throwing in the towel. Bell places the seat for the Merlin right up at the gunnels for a very high seat meant mainly for kneeling. I almost ended up in the water as soon as I sat down, the boat felt extremely unstable to "me" because it was much narrower than my tandems I was use to and the seat was so high. So I decided to experiment by gradually lowering the seat in inch and a half increments until I was sitting on the bottom of the canoe; then I started raising it back up to find a happy medium, one in which my center of gravity was low enough for the canoe to feel very stable and where I was sitting high enough so the gunnels weren't in my arm pits when paddling and now it feels rock solid. Between the lowered contour seat, the crazy creek seat which you can cinch down snug around you, lightly bracing both of the sides of my knees/legs on the gunnels and the foot brace, I feel "LOCKED IN" to the canoe. This is the first time I have felt like I was part of the canoe and not just riding in one, kind of like a Kayaker must feel.

The acceleration is amazingly quick, and it maintains its speed exceptionally with a nice relaxed paddle cadence. It tracks and holds a straight path very well with minimal corrective strokes, turns quickly and carries a substantial load. I have had a total of around 310 plus pounds in it for a recent trip and the more you place in it as most canoes, it becomes even more stable feeling. Even with this load, it has plenty of freeboard in wind swept waves. When in the water the canoe has a perfect profile for bucking the wind, but I will admit the spray cover helps a lot in the wind and rain.

There is one odd thing I hadn't seen before. The day my canoe was delivered to me from Piragis out in Ely MN to Seattle Washington, there was a little rough line about half the width of a pencil on the outside of the hull right in the middle of the canoe running from one gunnel to the other. I thought maybe the transporter cinched the ends of the canoe down to hard and it being a stiff ridged hull material made it crack, so I called both Piragis and Bell to inquire on this and I was told it is suppose to be there, it is a mold line from casting the black gold lay-up. I admit it did bother me at first, but I could care less that it is there now.

Lastly I am very aware that clear gel coats over colors, especially dark colors like the black gold really show even the smallest scrapes and scratches a lot, so I am very cautious with it. Not just because the boat cost over two thousand dollars, but because I take great pride in caring for the things I own. Any scratch shows up as a bright white line on a black surface. The one thing I was told by the old timers when I first started canoeing was that canoeing is a wet footed activity, and so for the vast majority of my canoeing the bottom of my canoe only touches water, I enter and exit with the canoe in the water and I never run it up on the shore. A good pair of neoprene boots makes doing this comfortable when it is warm or cold out. And although it is impossible not to get any scratches on a canoe, mine are very limited, and it still looks great after two full years of use.

I just returned last evening from an early fall paddle on a local lake and had two otters inquisitively swim around my canoe making their squeaking and chirping sounds for five minutes and then a great Blue heron flew over my head within a couple of feet. If it were not for the Merlin 2, I never would have experienced this magic, and I am thankful for that. I look forward to many more years of solo canoeing thanks to Bell and this boat.

I give the Merlin 2 a 10 out of 10 and two thumbs up, I couldn’t ask for a better canoe.

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08-17-2009
Submitted by: Send Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     I've had this boat out twice, once in a stiff wind when I was the only one out on the lake and once in calm waters. I've found it easy to control even in the wind with a partial underwater recovery. I have the Kev light layup with wood trim and it weighs in at around 34 pounds.

It tracks straight yet turns easily and has good glide and acceleration. I am 5'10'' and weigh a little over 200 pounds and I find it very stable and plenty roomy. It does have some wobbliness on center like all Bell hulls but it firms up quickly when heeled and has very good overall stability once you get used to it.

The finish was not perfect as I found what looked like some light scuffs above the tumblehome crease and I noticed the same thing on another new Bell Magic at the canoe shop. Evidently it occurs in the manufacturing process and it appears to be of cosmetic impact only. Still, for over $2,000 the boat should really be free of any defects, though nothing in this world is perfect. For that reason I rate this boat a 9 rather than a 10.

Having said that I would have to say that this boat does everything well and it may be the best solo boat available if you can only own one solo canoe. Two thumbs up from this canoeist!

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04-06-2009
Submitted by: Send Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     I bought my Merlin II used a couple of years ago. Black gold, tan, with wood trim. I've enjoyed the boat but didn't feel moved to write a review until after a long paddle on Saturday. I took the canoe out on Weeks Bay (central Gulf coast), with a stiff wind and some challenging chop. I was amazed with how well the boat handled when paddling into the wind - it really gave me the confidence I needed to handle the weather. My only complaint: I just can't paddle on my knees for very long at all without discomfort (I suppose you have to be raised doing that your whole life to enjoy it), so I had to lower the seat and install foot braces to make the boat fit my paddling style.
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05-08-2007
Submitted by: MFSIII
Rating: 10 of 10

     I bought a merlin2 in 20044. I primarily use it for tripping. It paddles effortlessly, handles well in the wind, and under load (300lbs+). My only complaint is that the seat was to high to sit, but I lowered it. This boat is designed to kneel in! So don't complain if it's tippy! It is the best solo boat on the market!
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07-04-2005
Submitted by: ---
Rating: 8 of 10

     I purchased my Merlin II kev crystal with aluminum gunwales a couple of years ago. I also own a Wenonah Sandpiper and a Grasse River Boatworks Classic XL. Each of these boats has a specific use. The Wenonah is great on small twisty rocky streams and the XL is used by my wife when we want to use solo canoes. I lowered the seat of the Merlin II and the initial stability is much better especially since I paddle with a 65lb. lab in the front. The boat handles nicely on the flats with ample speed, though not close to the XL and turns beautifully on streams and rivers. It has more than enough room for gear and with the differential rocker the boat still handles quite well with the dog. I paddle quite often on the Erie Canal and when some inconsiderate large yachts create some enormous wakes, the Merlin handles them with ease. The more I paddle this boat the more I like it.
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05-09-2005
Submitted by: View Profile Send Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     This is a great all-around canoe. I'd give it a 10 as an all-arounder, capable of moving water and flatwater. Probably the best solo for this type of mixed use. As someone else mentioned, it is a bit "twitchy" on primary stability, but, hey, do you want a fast flatwater boat which is still very adept in moving water???
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10-25-2004
Submitted by: View Profile Send Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     I purchased this boat in the fall of 2003 and wanted to log a few hundred miles on it before I offered a review. Mine is black gold/kevlar with cherry trim, and even with all the scratches it still looks pretty sweet. As my boat was purchased on a pro deal, I was informed up front that it might be subject to some cosmetic imperfections, and there were a few minor ones.

I paddle primarily rivers, typically nothing more than class II, and use mostly straight shaft paddles and sometimes a bent if I paddle some long open stretches of water that I want to cover quickly; no hit-and-switch, though. The boat is probably tippy for the novice, but the secondary stability is fantastic. The differential rocker really enhances the tracking, yet it turns quick enough for most twisty maneuvers around deadfall and rock gardens. If you are experienced enough to use weight shifts to change the pitch, such as a high kneel thrust, the turning is incredible. Effortless acceleration, good glide, and at 38 lbs., make this my all around favorite solo.

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10-01-2003
Submitted by: DanSend Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     I've had my Merlin II in White gold construction for two seasons. It is primarily used for flatwater tripping in the BWCA, Quetico, & Woodland Caribou Park. The Merlin II handles my 6' 2" 195 lbs with full tripping gear (~ 280 lbs total). The canoe is very quick paddled both sit & switch and traditional straight shaft. I've also found it to handle rough, choppy water fairly well. The canoe weighs 43 lbs in almond White Gold with wood trim. I enjoy rubbing Watco Oil into the woodwork which now looks "dipped in honey". The canoe is flat out beautiful. I'd give the Merlin II a "10" in performance and a "8 or 9" in construction. There were a few minor gel coat and wood trim imperfections, but I'm very finicky. I hope to enjoy tripping in this beautiful canoe for many years to come.
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01-24-2002
Submitted by: Send Email
Rating: 5 of 10

     I test paddled a fiberglass model and was not impressed. The boat had a dead feel to it and the bottom oil canned also those aluminum gunnels are awful. Also the boat handled just fine using sit and switch padddling strokes thats just freestyle hype in my opinion. The boat was easy and predictable too lean. I would rate the glass model a 5 out of 10.
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06-28-2001
Submitted by: J.D.Send Email
Rating: 10 of 10

     I recently purchased a Bell Merlin II, and am thoroughly satisfied with the workmanship and performance. I am used to my Mad River Independece 15'8" size, but I am very comfortable in the Bell. I would strongly recomend this canoe for any solo enthuisiast...J.D.
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10-15-2000
Submitted by: Tom
Rating: 9 of 10

     A hot rod solo in my opinion. Mine is "black gold" (carbon/kevlar). It does look nice. This boat is fast...it hums! The acceleration is outstanding...the boat feels very light and willing to go. If I don't take the dog this is the boat I'll paddle - and other solos (and many kayaks) will be hard pressed to keep up. It turns very nicely (a touch "twitchy - characteristic of some Bell boats in my opinion, but nothing that will scare you - just not as comfortable/enjoyable heeled over to the rail as my Swift Osprey). Maybe not a beginner's boat; it may feel tippy to a beginner. The weight is easy to handle so it's always a pleasure to grab this boat and go. Overall - a killer state of the art solo boat that will outperform 99% of solo boats on the market, and will probably out-perform every other solo boat than can turn well.
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08-16-2000
Submitted by: John LSend Email
Rating: 10 of 10

     I’ve been hearing a lot about Bell Cone Works. Their boats have been described as the Mercedes Benz of Canoes ­ the perfect combination of Luxury and Performance. Their primitive web site and ultra-plain catalog made me skeptical, but a visit to the showroom and conversations with Bell owners intrigued me. Now that I own one, I’ll agree ­ these are no doubt the Mercedes of Canoes. While I still wonder how their web site, catalog and owner’s manual (two sheets of photocopied paper) can be so ­ unappealing - this boat is every bit it’s cracked up to be!

I purchased a Merlin II in almond with wood gunwales, and gosh - is it pretty. The 15’ Kevlar hull is protected by a flawless gel coat and trimmed with furniture-grade white ash and black walnut. Oh, and it only weighs 33lbs! My Merlin came setup for kneeling (seat placed high) and ­ because of superior stability - is my preference. Paddling this boat only strengthened my opinion of what Bell has been able to do. Its maiden voyage was on a relatively calm Mohawk River early in the evening. Having spent more time in Sea Kayaks in the recent past, the boat felt pretty “rolly.” The sensation of initial “tippiness” went away after a matter of minutes, and the secondary stability would soon be proven. A few high-speed motorboats flew by and served up a nice helping of 10-14” waves. Head-on into these waves, the boat ran dry and had a very “soft” feel. When the waves ran parallel (which normally makes me very nervous), the hull simply absorbed the wave energy that might have easily tipped a boat of different design. I am by no means a polished paddler, yet this boat was easy to keep on course ­ without switching sides! All I did was flick my wrist a little bit at the end of each stroke, and the boat would track straight and true. This boat moves silent through the water. The slightest lean would set the stems free and I was turning on a dime. Bell’s asymmetrical hull and differential rocker really work.

I’ve read that the Merlin is not a boat for sit and switch paddling, and I’m inclined to agree. While I have not tried it, I’d certainly install much lower seat drops before I would (there are three different seat drops available from Bell). If you’re a sit and switcher, you might look at the Magic, which seems to be built for this. If you like a boat that is beautiful to look at and a joy to paddle, look no further than the Merlin II.

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03-20-2000
Submitted by: ---
Rating: 9 of 10

     The Bell Merlin II is an elegant canoe in the way it looks and the way it moves. It travels quietly and effortlessly. Heeled, the stems break free and it turns quickly. If your stroke is good, it's happy to track well. Its glide is delightful; static draws and pries put it into graceful, flowing sidepasses. The low sheer (17-12-15) allows it to deal with the wind comfortably -- my primary consideration in selecting an open water canoe. If you're a sit-and-switch bent paddle type, this boat is not for you. If you're accustomed to freestyle boats that firm up when heeled to the rail, you'll have to rely more on balance than you might like. However, if you believe a canoe should be knelt in and are moderately skilled with a straight paddle, you'll find the Merlin II exquisite on flatwater.

Too bad Bell keeps the Merlin II a secret. The photo on their web site is that of a predecessor that doesn't resemble the boat now carrying the name. The Bell catalog is no more helpful -- it has no photos of the Merlin II. And prior to the current catalog, the specs and description were wrong.

The Merlin II is a cruising canoe designed by David Yost. In Bell's line it falls between the sport canoes -- Flashfire and Wildfire -- and the hard-tracking Magic. (All are Yost designs.) Find a Bell dealer and take a look and a test paddle. You may learn to appreciate it as much as I do.

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02-26-2000
Submitted by: BobSend Email
Rating: 6 of 10

     This is a nice versatile solo boat that I used for a research project on subadult endangered green turtles. Unfortunately, the boat had numerous flaws and pittings around the gel coat adjacent to the gunwales. After removing the outwales several scallop shaped bites were evident. Four months after purchasing the boat the rear flotation overexpanded and what appeared to be delamination occurred. Calls to the company rep were cordial and a visit to see the boat was promised. No one returned the calls or followed up. Despite these problems the boat is a good design, however I believe customer service is not the company stong point.
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