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So far I have owned a Merlin (original in black-gold) a Merlin II in Fiberglass, a Rob Roy in glass (which I still have) a Mad River Independence and Savage River solo marathon. I live in South Florida and really like the delta hulls. It is typically 5 feet or less in depth, so maybe that's why I like the Deltas.
The Magic feels very similar to the Rob Roy hull, only it's easier to hold cruising pace. Seems a hair faster, but not a whole lot of difference when all-out paddling. At cruising and racing speeds, it's quite fast. Haven't put a GPS on it yet, but it feels great, cuts through the water very well. Also put two dogs in the bow with no gear in the stern to trim boat. It paddled pretty well to be that unbalanced, well enough to island hop along the coast. Been using a ZRE and a Kialoa outrigger paddle. I've wanted a Magic for at least 10 years. I finally have one, and plan to put several thousand miles on it.
I'll add a more thorough review when the winter tripping season is over. Should have enough experience with the boat at that point.
I have a QCC 600 that I also like. When I paddle my Magic with my kayak group they are shocked when I out pace them every time. They are surprised when I take the canoe out of the water using one hand! I am 64.
I have used a straight, bent, and kayak paddle and it responds well to all three, though the double-blade really gets it going in a sprint.
I outfitted my Bell with a spray skirt/cover $300 and double blade Gray owl wood paddle (kayak paddle)$150. My first voyage was solo 2400 mile trip down the Yellowstone/Missouri rivers from Billings MT. to Saint Louis MO. Me at 185lbs and around 100lbs of gear the Bell handled every water condition flawlessly. From 9 mph flood stage waters with boulders in the Yellowstone to midnight paddles in 25mph winds on Lake Sacajawea to barge wakes South of Sioux city. A few scratches and 52 days latter pulled it up on levee under the Arch in St. Louis.
Next excursion two years later the whole Mississippi 2400miles from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. Again barge wakes, boils , and whirlpools. The Bell did exceptionally well in all water conditions. I frequently canoe throughout the winter as well as paddling at night or pouring rain I am still paddling same canoe 12 years later. Probably logged more than 10,000 miles in this canoe and cannot say enough good things about her.
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
My first multi-day trip with the Magic was a recent run to Killarney Provincial Park where we spent four nights out. I had plenty of room for gear and dog and we could have easily accommodated more food for a longer trip. I’m sure I could handle a ten day trip with the Magic no problem.
I have found the Magic very stable with light chop and small waves. I have yet to get into anything big. However, I have had the Magic out in very strong winds and found my control and ability to make forward progress very reasonable. The dog shifting around can be a little concerning at times and I do try to keep her in once place. Once while paddling with two dogs I had a near capsize. Both dogs shifted in the same direction at the same time while I was not paying attention and the near gunwale went down to the water level-below the water level actually. Water was pouring in and the dogs abandoned ship. I was kneeling and was able to flick the boat back up. I paddled to shore with a about 3-4” of water in the boat. The Magic gives you a good chance to save yourself even if the gunwale is on the water. However, if you let too much water pour in over the side it will sink fast and wallow just at water level or an 1” below the surface. I had not intended to test its flooded floatability but did on a recent overnight trip in Lake Michigan. Luckily I sunk her near shore-while exiting.
I use a bent shaft carbon fiber paddle and hit and switch. Prior to the Magic, I paddled “Canadian style” in a tandem canoe. While I like the style and grace of paddling Canadian style I do prefer the hit and switch. I feel that my speed in the Magic is adequate for what I need to do. Really, I could not be happier with this canoe. Prior to buying the Magic I had test paddled a Swift Shearwater which turned out to be my second choice boat. Perhaps someday I will own a Shearwater or Osprey as well. But, I think the Magic is a great all around canoe for solo day and multi-day trips.
At 1:00 AM I rolled in with the pickup and trailer. We picked up the Bell Magic and a Bell Merlin II for a test paddle. As we were strapping the canoes down, I thought, "We're not doing this right." We had one strap over both canoes on the end of the trailer, and two straps, one over each canoe, at the front of the trailer. It should have been exactly opposite. "Oh well," I thought, "We're not that far from water."
Instead of going two blocks to the waterfront, however, Mikey directed me to the end of Park Point, over a mile away. The roadway was rough, and you guessed it - one of the canoes fell off. I've been hauling canoes around for decades and this is the first time I've ever lost a canoe. Fortunately, there wasn't a car behind us, and we were only going about 20 mph. The canoe, which is used by the staff at the canoe store - and is already scratched up every where a canoe could be scratched - showed little sign of its sudden parting from the trailer.
We threw the canoe back on the trailer, rearranged our straps, and continued on our way. I've been hearing good things about the Magic ever since I started thinking about a solo canoe, three or four years ago. The only negative I'd heard was it had some initial stability problems commensurate with its slim design. Everyone advised me it was tender, but that you soon got used to it. Having had a lot of initial stability problems with the We-no-nah Minnesota II, I was not about to pay a lot of money for a canoe I didn't like the feel of. That's why I wanted to try out the Merlin as well.
We put the canoe in the water and put a 40 pound tent in the bow for stability. I asked Mikey to let me get in the canoe by myself. I stepped in and crabbed up to the seat, turned and sat myself down. Hmmm - no stability problem there. I reversed and paddled down along the shoreline. There was a fair chop going, and I decided I should be going against the wind - rather than with it. I turned around. No problem. I went up wind - into the waves. Canoe handled fine. I layed in the trough - just to see how the canoe would handle. I tried ommering - just for the heck of it. Going down wind, I tried quartering, and decided there was no need for it. The Magic went so fast with the wind; there was no point in quartering. I was at shore before I could have made the necessary adjustment. I tried exiting the canoe - without help, and had no problem at all. I kept my feet dry, and did no damage to the canoe.
I agree with those who have criticized the low-slung seat. It would be nice to make adjustments in the height and the front/rear position more easily. I can't paddle my boat from a kneeling position, and, because the seat is fixed, if you set off with a trim problem, you'll probably have to get into shore to change your load. When I inquired about seat alternatives, the company's response was basically that I was an idiot for asking.
I like the Magic better than the Wenonah 17 and 17.5-footers that compete with it for paddling aesthetics and overall design, but if I were buying again today I'd probably take a longer look at those two boats.
The Magic looks like a really aggressive (tippy) design. But I have never paddled another solo canoe that offers this degree of user-friendliness. I use mine for tripping and lunch workout paddles. Hit-and-switch is a good method with the Magic. The seat drops are long for this reason. (But Bell offers shorter drops, or you can easily trim the stock drops yourself to kneel in the boat.) I found the low seat to offer the ability to stretch on water without losing the stability or control of kneeling.
The canoe hums along. The tracking is wonderful; it corrects effortlessly as well and because of this is a joy in funky, windy chop. The boat is dry in head on and quartering waves. It seems to read my mind when I'm concentrating on holding a line in strong winds and it stays the course. Following seas? No problem, shift the load and enjoy the ride. This canoe surfs boat wake and wind-driven waves with an amazing amount of nimbleness and control.
Face it: would you buy a 16 foot solo and expect it to turn like a fourteen footer? The Magic practically does. I have a 14'9" Dagger Sojourn that will not flat turn and struggles to hold its heel angle for leaned turns. Not only will the Magic flat turn, it does so with a week's worth of gear in the bilge. Heel it and it spins like a 16 foot canoe should not. This is pretty easy too given the exceptional secondary stability in the Magic's design.
Be fair -- if you're shopping short canoes, don't expect the Magic to feel like canoes that aren't in its class. But other comparable designs (e.g. Wenonah Advantage) can't touch the Magic's versatility. It is a great boat the beginner tripper as well as the initiated backcountry traveller can enjoy because it is stable, easy to control, and reassuring in all kinds of water.
Aside from the minor construction details, I like both boats, and love the Magic. It fits and moves so well you could almost bond with it. I've found I can't go too long without getting my "Magic" fix.
Most impressive, was the trim and workmanship in this boat. Before this trip, I would not have considered purchasing such a boat with aluminum gunnels. However this boat had the best aluminum gunnels I have seen on a boat. The pop rivets were concealed and the aluminum was nicely anodized in a light slate gray color.
The hull was Bell's Kev-Crystal, unpigmented. The fabric in this lay-up alternates black strands with natural colored kevlar strands. This provides a much more pleasing look than natural kevlar alone. From a distance it gives the boat a somewhat green color.
All that detracted from the experience were the rather ugly plastic end caps, and a seat which was hung to low (on this particular boat) for me to slide my feet under when kneeling.
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