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:
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.
- 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.
- Added a black Wenonah fully adjustable aluminum foot brace from www.wenonah.com
- Added black 550 chord loop attachments along each gunnel aka Cliff Jacobson style for securing packs and equipment.
- Added heavy black shock cord to both decks to hold the fifteen foot long painter lines.
- Added black shock cord to the cross braces to hold miscellaneous things such as jacket, etc…
- Purchased a Cooke Custom spray skirt in royal blue and it looks killer with the black gold from www.cookecustomsewing.com
- Added a clamp-on padded wood carry yoke for portaging from www.bellcanoe.com
- 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
- And lastly added a padded crazy creek seat for extra comfort for sitting all day.
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.