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Submitted: 08-16-2000 by John L

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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