Accesorizing My New Merlin II

Now that I have a beautiful new boat, it looks like I’ll be having to get some new gear to match. I’d appreciate any ideas on outfitting this boat, but so that this post isn’t too open-end I’ll pose a few specific questions:

  1. The paddle. My beat up plastic whitewater paddle just isn’t gonna do. As I will be using this boat primarily for cruising I thought a nice beavertail would work. I’m 5’10" 170 lbs. Paddle suggestions?

  2. Portage yoke. I don’t anticipate a whole lot of portaging, but I’d like to carry the boat in comfort (I know it’s only some 30 odd lbs. but I’m gettin’ old!) from parking lot to water and back. Portage Yoke ideas?

  3. Interior protection. Any ideas for protecting the interior surface when I step in with dirty sandy footwear. I have a foam kneeling pad but I was wondering if there is some sort of thin mat that I could extend from under the seat back a couple of feet. I thought this might protect the boat from me grinding the dirt in when I brace with my feet. It needs to be thin, as my foot space under the seat is tight as I want to get it. Any ideas?

Odd-ball idea for floor protection
In my rowing boats, the area where my heels rest on the floor gets a lot of wear and tear. I painted those spots with porch enamel (same stuff used to paint wooden porch floors and stairways). This will be much thinner and lighter than any kind of mat, and as your feet wear out the paint (which will take a long time - this paint is TOUGH), you just touch it up a little as needed.

Chosen Valley
Check out Chosen Valley for a highly recommended portage pad. I have yet to purchase them but they are on my list for the Spring.

I wouldn’t think you would need to do anything to the inside of your canoe for protection, but be sure to use 303 on the outside. It will help protect from uv damage.

I have a beaver tail paddle and like it, although I have injured my shoulder and may try a bent shaft paddle in the Spring to see if it helps. It will force me to hit and switch.

Some ideas
I use a Bell “freestyle” kneeling pad which is quite large. Bell no longer makes this pad… but you can make your own using mini-cell foam. The object of the freestyle pad is to completely cover the floor and chines of the canoe from gunnel to gunnel. The length is also important. It should extend from well in front to your knees to just beyond where your toes reach. A large pad of this sort allows for comfort & complete freedom of movement for kneeling in a wide variety of positions – including knee thrusts and transverse kneeling. With such a pad you have a non-slip surface and protect the bottom of your canoe from wear.

As to solo portage yokes I have a Bell yoke with Chosen Valley pads. It’s very comfortable on the shoulders, no doubt about it. Also check out c2g’s pics of the new sculpted portage yoke he recently made – very sharp! If you have the skills to make one it would be a super nice appointment to your new canoe.

As to paddles… Beyond choice of paddle-craft there’s probably no other topic that has more diverse opinions… Bents, two-fers, short modern blades, long traditional blades… after you’re done sorting through all that you’ll arrive at the paddle brand decision… a swirling caldron if ever there was one… Oh yeah, carbon vs. wood… The of course you need to decide on the proper length… My, oh my… I say start a collection and get one of everything in all sizes! ;^)

I favor traditional single blade straight shaft paddles myself. A Bending Branches beavertail is a good quality reasonably priced paddle that pleases me. It has a relatively sharp edge for quiet underwater recoveries, a “rock guard” synthetic edge for protection and a symmetric palm grip. A good all-around paddle.

BTW, the only Nashwaak paddle I ever personally saw was in a paddle shop in Ontario - a nasty club of a stick with grain run-out and a glaring knot right at the throat that surely would have broken in minutes from the put-in. I don’t know if that junker was typical of their production or not… but it did carry their label, so it did get through their “quality control”… I’d never order one sight unseen.

Nashwaak Paddle
Wha Ho, Pilgrim;

Ah’ have a cherry Nashwaak Cruiser paddle which is exquisitely made. My favored flatwater paddle in my herd of 25+ paddles. Unfortunately Nashwaak is no longer producing paddles so I’ll have to build my own using my Cruiser as a model. Every other Nashwaak I’ve seen was top quality, so you may have seen a production reject or something.

Fat Elmo

a couple of ideas
Portage yoke - The Chosen Valley yokes are great, but for a short carry from the parking lot to the water you might want to go for the Bell cantilevered yoke. The only thing I like about it is the fact that it is quick and easy. However, I’ve talked to other folks who like them, so perhaps I’m just being picky. My first solo yoke was a Chosen Valley pedestal mount, so I’ve been pretty spoiled.

Paddles - like Arkay said, you’ll get a lot of opinions on that question. I’ll leave the straight shaft traditional paddle debate to other folks. However, you might want to consider having a bent shaft paddle to complement your straight shaft. I’d recommend a Zaveral Power Surge flatwater paddle if your budget can handle one. The medium weight is fine, and you can save a few dollars by getting a factory second. The quality on the factory seconds is fine. When I look at my Zav’s, I assume their standards are pretty high, as all of mine are seconds and they look fine to my untrained eyes.

Nashwaak paddles available again
Nashwaak started selling paddles again about a month ago. If I remember correctly, someone else does everything but the grip, then Jeff finishes the grip himself. It took him a while to find a company that could do a good enough job on the paddles to satisfy him. It’s good to see his paddles available again.

portage yoke confessions

I wish I could take credit for the yoke, but I can’t. It’s a Bell yoke that I cut down to fit a solo boat. I like the Teal yokes as well.

More on Paddles
I’ll second c2g’s recommendation re: a bent shaft. The Merlin II responds well to a bent shaft, even for hack like me who steadfastly eschews the hit-and-switch style. I generally take one along as the perfect complement to my Nashwaak Cruiser.

Yes, that nasty Nashwaak I saw may have been a production reject. Yet there it was in a retail paddle shop with the brand name on it for full price… That situation does make me apprehensive about their QC.

FWIW, Nashwaak is back in the paddle business. Their paddles are now made by Grey Owl to Nashwaak specs – or so I read a while ago at the Nash. website. I have a couple of GO brand paddles that I love, but that’s also a company whose quality varies – in their case from “okay” to great.

My experience has taught me to select my wood paddles either in person or have a paddling friend (who I trust) pick it out if distance is a problem. I’ve just been burned on quality issues too many times on mail order deals on paddles. The one exception I make is with Ray Kettlewell’s fine (truly) handmade paddles. Ray selects for grain quality better than any other paddle maker I’ve seen.

Personally, I’d only use a straight paddle for solid class II and above. Anything less than that and I’m going with a bent shaft. I have a double-bend wood and a ZRE. They’re both great paddles, and definitely more efficient than a straight shaft, for me at least. I don’t kneel, though, and NEVER get a chance to paddle whitewater, except the salty, foamy stuff.

Nashwaak Paddle
Wha Ho, Arkay,

Many thanks ta ye an’ c2g fer de info on Nashwaak’s return ta offerin’ paddles again. But I’ll still try ta build one fer myself just fer de fun of it. Thanks again fer de info.

Fat Elmo

Merlin II outfitting
The t-shaped kneeling pads that Bell sells would would well for you…they stay put and they are thin. I use two end to end…one for me and one for the dog in front of me. Or you can get an inexpensive rollup exercise mat at Kmart for $10…and then if you like you can buy a narrower kneeling pad for extra comfort right at your knees. All of the Grade VI pads are very well made and seem to last for years with minimal wear.

My Merlin II has tough plastic d-rings along the inside of the rails at the front and rear ends so I can then string a shoelace from side to side and make a little shelf to rest an extra paddle on, and like to use the velcro double-loops (get them from Piragis) around both front and rear thwarts for easy and secure anchors for paddles. In this way you can attach two paddles right to the boat securely and easily…and your extra paddle is secure and out of the way when paddling.

I also like the Bell seat pad because the straps go both front to back and side to side, so it’s very secure and never moves…like some other seat pads. I find that with the seat pad it’s very comfortable to just rest the boat on your shoulders using the front of the seat edge as your yoke - for short portages.

My Merlin loves both straight and bent carbon paddles. My personal preference leans towards a Black Bart bent shaft and a Zav straight shaft.

I’m a kneeler …
but all this talk of sit-n-switch has got me wondering. I suppose to mix things up once in a while I might like to sit instead of kneel, especially if the Merlin handles both well. For kneeling I’m pretty sure that I’ll eventually pick-up some version of a beavertail. I’ll get on the water this weekend and play around with the paddles I have to try and determine what length of beavertail to get. For the sit-n-switch I’ve noted the recommendations for bent shaft paddles. Does this mean I would also need to install a footbrace and if so any recommendations? Regarding the pad, what is Grade VI? Is it a brand? Regarding the D-rings, are they attached to the wood or the composite material? Any risk of damaging the composite when attaching things such as D-rings?

Merlin II
I’m a kneeler too. Kneeling and bent shaft paddles go together just fine.

If there’s a paddle shop near you then it’s always great if they let you test paddle paddles…great to try before you buy.

If you tell me how tall you are I can probably give you good length recommendations. For a bent shaft maybe look at 50 inches or the next shorter length if you’re like 5’6" or shorter. I’m 6’1’ and a 52 fits me fine, and I could use a shorter paddle if I wanted to. Most experts would tell you to err on the shorter side.

For straight shafts I use 56-58 inch in general. For long-bladed paddles like beavertails then I need like 62 or 63 inches.

The inexpensive Grey Owl Scout is quite a bargain. My wife is 5’7" and hers is 54 inches and a perfect fit.

My D-rings fit right between the hull and the wood and are held in by the same screws that hold the rails together…very clean and no damage. One can also get little C-shaped plastic things that screw right into the rails (made for managing sailboat lines in small boats I think). I got mine from Ron Sell at Unadilla Boatworks (734-433-1651). Another easy way to go is just take some thin nylon rope, then back out two screws a few turns at the front and rear of the boat - back on screws on oppostive sides of the boat - then wrap the nylon rope around the exposed screw head and tighten it back up. Instant mini-clotheslines at both ends of boat.

I also removed the stickers from my Merlin II to make it look more clean and also be a bit mysterious. Always fun to disorient folks a bit. People guess that it’s a Flashfire or Wildfire.

Finally I also had Ron Sell “inset” the thwarts a bit. Just cutting little notches in the ends of the thwarts so they fit up tighter against the rails for a nice tight fit and cleaner look. You’d see that the thwarts on some really well made boats like Hemlocks and Blackhawks are already “fitted”.

The Merlin II is a very fine solo boat. I tested one out this year and my decision came down to the Merlin II and a Hemlock Peregrine.

I will probably get one of the kneeling beds, similar to what Bell has in their catalog. This provides cushioning for your knees and extends back to rest your feet on, under the seat. The Bell’s bilge area felt a bit abrasive on my feet.

With regard to a portage yoke, I’m not sure that this will be needed for trips between parking lot and put-in. Most clamp-on yokes fit over the tops of the gunwales, so you would likely have to remove the yoke prior to putting the boat on you car top rack. With the light weight, I’m thinking about not getting a yoke - can always get one later.

Regarding paddle - I’ve got a nice straight shaft solid walnut otter tail and am considering adding a bent shaft to the collection. I looking at a Grey Owl catalog - they look very nice.

Good luck with your choices.

More Paddle Questions
Thanks Whitewaterweenie and all the others for the great information. I paddled about 10 miles today on a big lake (New Melones, CA) and now have some more paddle questions. To help better understand my questions here is some background: I come from a whitewater kayaking background and have canoed up to class II. Basically, my paddling experience has been on rivers. I’m 5’10" tall and weigh 170lbs. The paddle I used today is a 54" wooden Sawyer straight shaft (round with a t-grip). I was in my Merlin II which has the seat set about as low as it can go. Until today I’ve never had to paddle across a wide expanse of flatwater. It taught me alot. It didn’t take me long to figure that my old J stroke wasn’t going to get it done (with this paddle anyways) so I started switching sides. Why do I always here about sit-n-switch and not Kneel-n-switch? Is SnS supposed to be more efficient? Anyways, I began taking about 4 short, quick strokes on each side. I immediately noticed the increased speed. I settled into a nice rhythm and was quite pleased with this new discovery. I also noticed that when I was doing nice vertical strokes my top hand started near the top of my head. I had read that the top hand should go no higher than ones nose. This puzzled me because in other canoes I’ve always used a 58" paddle so I thought 54" would be plenty short enough. Do I need an even shorter paddle? Does this indicate anything about the size of bent shaft I should purchase? Since I’m still also considering getting a beavertail paddle does my boat set-up indicate I should get one on the shorter end of the spectrum? Any chance I’ll get more speed out of my J stroke with a beavertail? Comments appreciated.

I have always been a fan of Grey Owl paddles. They have both traditional and modern wood paddles. The Chieftain is beautiful, all walnut, and a good mix of not too long, but not quite as short as your traditional rec. paddle.

When went to copy the link I saw that they also now make carbon fiber paddles, not my cup-o-tea but many like them.

Thank you for giving us enough info to help you. Yes you can kneel and switch! Itis your boat! I have knelt through half of the 70 miler in new york switching. I stand about 5’10 and wiegh about 200 pounds. I am using a 50-52 bent shafts in my Merlin. My top hand is between my forehead and my nose when I start my stroke. I Then try to push down on my top hand through the stroke till the recovery. In the old days before bent shafts the marathoners used a fairly short straight shaft. ( for a while, we are always looking for the little extra edge!) I am told by those whose opinion I respect, like Norm Paddletothesea that I should be using an even shorter paddle for cruising/racing…

As for your experience out on the lake is it not wonderful when it starts coming together?


What I was recalling when I made the comment “the top had should go no higher than ones nose” was a formula that I had read for determining the proper paddle length. Never mind on that question. I would never have guessed that my search for the right paddle would require more research than my search for the right boat. I’m learning!