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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.