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Submitted: 07-27-2005 by ajs
I've owned a Bell Northwind Royalex for a couple of years now. It's a well built, capable canoe. The cane seats are comfortable on long trips, and more versatile than tractor seats (Wenonah stock option) when fishing and moving about. Bell slopes the seats down to assist with a kneeling style of paddling, but if you prefer to sit, you'll want to level them out a bit. This requires a bit of reaming on the seat holes and power sanding of the seat drops to get everything just right. You could just level it by throwing in some washers in for a lower albeit sloppier look. Since this is really a recreational canoe, it seems to me that most people will be sitting and that it should come stock in a level position...who fishes from a kneeling position?
The Northwind Royalex is more nicely appointed than the competitors. The gunwales are full and nice to handle, with the rivets hidden, and the thrusts are all stained hardwood. The location of the yoke on my boat makes the stern heavy when portaging, but with paddles strapped in the front, it rides level.
Although Royalex boats in general do not have as fine an entry as Kevlar boats, this seems more pronounced with the Northwind Royalex. Bell says the blunt entry and exit is a design feature (a la Dagger, whom they acquired, and who specialized in river canoes and kayaks), and that unless you are paddling very hard, you won't notice that the entry isn't as narrow. I agree somewhat, but kevlar boats with a fine entry paddle much more smoothly and provide more glide.
The flip side of the blunt entry is that the canoe excels when you are doing anything but going fast in a straight line on calm water. And if you run into something hard, the blunt end is less apt to crack, which is why many Royalex canoes have blunt reinforcement on the ends anyways.
The hull has a rounder tumblehome than many other Royalex boats (some Mad River boats I've seen are very flat) and is VERY stable on large (30 mph wind building over an 8 mile lake) chop and waves. For example, to avoid taking water from large waves when paddling crosswind, I can lean the boat (loaded with kid, gear and dog) nearly to the downwind rail - and feel very stable doing so.
The day I dropped it 6 feet onto concrete while putting it away in my garage, I knew I'd made the right choice choosing Royalex over Kevlar. After paddling it on calm lakes, rocky rivers and large windblown lakes in the boundary waters, I knew I'd found the perfect all around boat. At a price under $1000 on sale, I don't get all freaked out when it gets hung up on a rock or bangs into something. $2000+ for a Kevlar boat would have taken some of the fun out of canoeing for me, because I would have been too worried about damaging it.
I guess that's the most important thing when choosing your boat - don't spend so much that you'll miss out on fun because you're fretting about the hull. If that means a banged up aluminum canoe for a couple hundred bucks, then that's the best boat for you.