Submitted: 05-07-2007 by MarQue Lintvedt
I've done a lot of paddling - hundreds of miles over 15 years in a 34 pound Blackhawk Zephyr. When I wanted a longer 16 foot boat, I naturally tried to find a Blackhawk Starship. I've paddled Starships on many occasions (I used to build Blackhawk canoes in Wisconsin) and have always LOVED them (at least some of them). In the end however, I decided NOT to get one - they're just too damn heavy (well over 40 pounds) and hard to come by in great condition. Sigh. Anyway, I test paddled MANY boats over nearly THREE YEARS and decided on the Bell Magic - with no good close second choice, honestly. It's the best, lightest, fastest, 16 foot canoe I know of, but it's not perfect.
Yes, it's fast, relatively stable, and at only 32 pounds in the Kevlar/Carbon/Aluminum gunnels configuration - quite light weight. My Kevlar/Carbon Zephyr has beautiful all-mahogany rails and after 15 years of sanding-in Watco oil, you can KEEP that beautiful wood! But, I digress... The WORST things about a Magic, are the design of the sharp inner-side of the rails (it really cuts into the side of your leg if you lean it against the side. I even place my trusty sponge alongside the rail and hold it with my knee sometimes. At one point, I even considered adding water-pipe foam insulation to the rails! That would really look awful, so I deal with it - but you get the idea. I'm pretty used to it now, so it's not as much of an issue, but still a major design flaw.
In the lightest, clear gel-coat lay-up, you can expect to see a lot of star-cracks and scratches after a season or two of serious use. If you only paddle open water and lakes, it's fine, but if you're pulling it over downed trees and doing some serious exploring, it'll show it's use. I'm not complaining, it's still a good trade-off for such amazing light weight. I mention it only because if you want to buy a boat to really beat on - the light-weight clear model isn't the one for you (I still love it, though!).
The other comment I would make is on turning. Others have said that it turns on a dime and leaves you change. That's just plain stupid. It turns well enough for a 16 foot long boat, hell - maybe it turns better than any other 16 foot boat in current production in the whole universe - but it's no dime. Why exaggerate? I've taken freestyle paddling classes and paddled with paddling instructor Patrick Moore (I still use one of his AMAZING paddles) many times and take great pride in controlling my boat with style and seemingly effortless grace, but this boat turns like a good 16 foot boat should - no better (that's why it tracks so well). When I jump in my 14 foot Zephyr, I never cease to be amazed at how FAST the Zephyr turns. Not a fair comparison, but it doesn't turn nearly well as a 16 foot Blackhawk Starship in competent hands either. To be fair, the Starship won't track as well as the Magic, but anyone who is an accomplished paddler can make a 55 gallon drum track a straight line, so I don't put as much emphasis on that as others. After all this criticism, you might be thinking that I don't like this boat much. Not true! I think it's the best boat made today for fast, day or week long camping trips if you want to carry a total weight over 250 pounds. Put that much weight (or more) in a 14 foot boat and you'll have nearly as much boat below the water than above. So buy TWO! Thanks for reading all my rambling - now go paddle! -Q