Bell Magic vs Merlin/sitting vs kneeling

This is more of a summary of thoughts that may spark conversation rather than a true question…and a bit of a long post at that. This is one that is a personal choice and that I am still trying to figure out for myself.

As you have probably noticed I have gone through a number of different boats. I buy them used so it is not a big deal to buy/sell/trade and I have learned a lot in the process.

One of the things that I have learned is about what my true preferences in terms of boat characterisitics and for the applications for which I will use those boats.

Right now I am a bit torn between the Magic and the Merlin. I currently own a Magic and have owned a Merlin before which I sold and then regretted a bit. I am picking up another used Merlin tomorrow for a true back to back comparison so that I can answer this question for myself.

In this instance though I guess I am more trying to figure out what I prefer as a paddler.

I have a YS solo which is maneuverable and fun and great for moving water. This Magic/Merlin would be used for more open water, straighter rivers, longer distances, etc and realistically would be the one I would paddle more. Especially given that I live on the water….on a fairly wide and open river.

So basically it will be my every day open water boat.

What I am torn about I guess is really whether I want to be a kneeler or a sitter for this type of paddling. Obviously the YS solo fills the niche for kneeling only. So trying to decide if I want a faster sit and switch boat or if I just prefer kneeling and maneuverability/play etc in a reasonably fast open water boat that still maintains maneuverability (Merlin).

That is really the choice I am trying to make. While both boats can be used for either sitting or kneeling there is little doubt that the Magic is the better boat for sit and switch and the Merlin is the better for kneeling.

I have gone through this same sort of process with kayaks. Much of that process was based on whether I really liked going fast and far or if I preferred something more playful and maneuverable. After much time thinking that I liked the fast and far approach, I learned that as I grew as a paddler I really learned to appreciate skills and maneuvering etc, more than speed and distance.

I definitely enjoy doing freestyle moves etc. in a canoe and enjoy the finesse and art of controlling the canoe on the water and the intimate interaction you have in wind and waves when you are kneeling. Just feels so much more in touch with the movement of the water. But I also like cranking away and going fast in a canoe too. I love the feeling of paddling a canoe fast and like sitting too which really entails a completely different stroke when sitting and using a bent shaft than the stroke when kneeling. Although I must admit I get tired of the constant yaw and switching required.

In the Merlin which is a pretty fast boat for a true “kneeling” boat you can’t go quite as fast but you can still move along pretty efficiently and seems like you can get more of your torso into the stroke than in the sitting position. I like that. I guess you could also do the sit and switch in the Merlin too but not as well as in the Magic.

So this is one I have to figure out for myself. Will have to see. I think that the two boats will ultimately be pretty close in speed. I will test with my GPS to quantify, but I would think within about 0.5 mph or so……but the Merlin I certainly more maneuverable.

I have to figure out what balance of traits I prefer and what I really want to do as a paddler. I see this as somewhat of a crossroads in deciding whether to continue as both a kneeler and a sitter (by keeping the YS solo and Magic) or if I just want to be a kneeler and focus on the art of boat control rather than strictly going far and fast (keeping the YS solo and the merlin).

I’ll have to see and will report my findings on how the two boats compare as well. This is somewhat an issue of the comparison of the two boats but probably more a determiniation of which paddling style / styles I plan to pursue since I personally believe that sitting and kneeling really are quite different in canoeing in terms of what they entail as a paddling style.

Perhaps other out there have been torn in the same decision as well.


Why decide? Either boat can be rigged
for both sitting and kneeling. I’m not sure why you say the Merlin is a kneeling boat, but quite possibly it benefits more from kneeling than the Magic.

You’re talking about two fast cruisers, neither of which is very maneuverable by my standards. (My MR Guide is somewhat maneuverable.) For the waters where the Merlin and Magic excel, you would want to have the ability to sit and hit-and-switch. Maybe, for the Magic, you can extract all the maneuverability it has to offer while sitting. Maybe, for the Merlin, you would want to kneel at times for more stability and to extract more maneuverability. But I would not commit to one style.

I’m no help at all
Never paddled a Merlin. But as a dedicated kneeler I’m pretty happy with my Magic. One of the things I like about her is that with a daytripping load I can put her up on edge and spin her pretty nicely. Not as nicely as a Wildfire but nicely enough to easily navigate some pretty tight little brooks.

I haven’t been able to do that with a weekend load but I did play around in some boils and eddy’s up on the Connecticut. Class 1 or less but she was comfortable enough that I’d happily try playing in harder stuff.

Guess what I’m trying to say is that the Magic is a pretty playful tourer when you are kneeling at least.

I’m looking forward to your side by side comparison.

I am generalizing here. But…I would argue that the Magic is a sitting boat that is okay for kneeling. the Merlin is a kneeling boat that is okay for sitting.

Both kind of straddle the fence but each leans toward one or the other.

If I were mostly interested in kneeling and wanted to sit once in a while I would go with the Merlin.

The Magic can be a kneeling boat too but why kneel when you have lost what makes kneeling so fun…the keen responsiveness and maneuverability. Magic can be maneuvered sufficiently when heeled, but not to the point where it is fun and playful in those terms.

The Merlin is somewhat fun and playful in my opinion…but not a super great sit and switch boat because of the reduced tracking and speed.

Both are compromises.

Guess I am trying to choose which will be my primary style and which I am willing to accept more compromises on.

Mad River Guide only somewhat maneuverable…wow…you must paddle some great boat G2D! I think that thing spins like a top.


Simple: keep both
Paddle both. Enjoy both. Sit. Kneel. Whatever.

Is something forcing you to pick and choose between the two boats? If there is, sell him or her on the used spouse market.

first of all thanks for not calling me crazy just yet…

I raised the seat on my Magic such that I can kneel in it. Paddled it tonight.

Definitely do NOT like the Magic for kneeling. Just don’t. I do enjoy it as a sit and switch though. I also experimented a little with paddling with one knee down. Can do that now with the seat a bit higher. I like that position too and lowers your center of gravity a bit for more stability etc.

Will pick up the Merlin tomorrow and see what I think. Will also paddle it a bit as a sit and switch with the bent shaft and see how it compares to the Magic in that regard. I know I don’t care for the Magic as a kneeling boat…lets see how the Merlin does as a sitting boat. Of course it is a great kneel and heeler.


Which Merlin?
when I built my Merlin (Bruce Kunz designed solo canoe )

I just put in a pedestal slider like you would find in a

J-Boat. Love it as a sit and switch alround boat. i have used it in 6-12" waves on lake Norman with No Problems. I understand BellCanoe works Made the Kunz Merlin then had Mr. Yost redisign the Merlin into the Merlin 2. I suspect the Merlin 2 would alos run nice as a sitand switch.

Don’t overthink it; think less/paddle more.


I am just a pretty OCD kind of a guy. I do paddle a lot…every day…sometimes twice a day. Well into the hours of darkness now in the evenings, and year round.

Most of my thinking about these subjects happen while paddling. Lots of time to think!

I just am very particular and very passionate about this sport and looking for how to best enjoy it.

Rest assured that I am not an “arm chair paddler” lol… If anything I paddle too much! Plus all of these debates I have about things just result in me paddling more because I have to get out on the water and test new things / experiment etc. There are lots of permutations of the same boat…just changing the seat height, paddle length, paddle type, etc can make a huge difference as you know.


YS Solo good for kneeling or sitting.
At least it is for me. I installed a Wenonah sliding footbrace in my royalex Wildfire / Yellowstone Solo and sit in it most of the time.

Does the Merllin have a footbrace?
If not, it really won’t be a good comparison for sit & swith vs the Magic.

I was wondering about that…
I got a royalex Wildfire last week. I am normally a sit and switch paddler when in canoes, but thought I’d try a kneeling design. I’ve been out 3 times and don’t know if my one knee will take a dedicated kneeler. I did see a pic in the classified of one with a factory installed footbrace and wondered about installing one. I think we are about the same build…5’6" 145 lbs. I was out for about 2 hours today on a Lake Erie tributary as well as on Lake Erie with it and my knee really got tight. Lake Erie on 11-14 in a canoe! The lake was so flat I could have probably paddled to Canada! I used a yak paddle while out on the lake and got the boat really moving. It was fun paddling into powerboat wakes…

You havent figured out your "style"

Thats all. They are different boats. Whats better? Who knows?

The Magic would drive me nuts where I like to paddle (twisty old canoe routes). The Merlin II does not drive me nuts. The second spins well in place when heeled…the first makes a lazy u turn. Speed is not my priority though I can cover many miles in a day. If I want speed where I paddle I better learn to run on portages.

The Merlin II just fits what I do better. It works fine with hit and switch. It works fine with (aaaah…a double blade…sssh). It does decent FS moves although with less whip than a shorter symmetrically rockered boat.

Why not keep them both? And the footbrace is a fine idea in any tripping boat. It wont interfere with kneeling.

Some Explanations…
I have to explain myself a bit here…first I am a very particular person and pretty obsessive about my passions in life.

In my extensive search for the right combination of boats for me (I have been through this with kayaks already and been through at least a dozen) I am not merely looking for a boat that will make up for shortcomings as a paddler or to provide some attribute that is just not attainable. Nor is it that I spend more time thinking about boats and gear than actually paddling.

I am just a very, very passionate paddler. I love the sport and am totally obsessed with it. I plan much more time actually on the water than pondering about boats.

I love many aspects of the sport and each boat that I try addresses some different facet better than others.

My search is one to find out which of those facets I like the most and find the boat that offers the best combination of them…but the problem for me is that I like all the facets and you just can’t have them all!

I am also constantly trying to define my desires and true uses.

One thing I do have to say is that it is largely a matter of making choices about style. I like both sit and switch and kneeling. Both are different and offer different aspects that I enjoy.

So I have to figure it out. I like it all but can’t necesarily have it all. But…I have a lot of fun and learn a lot in my search.

I have gotten the Merlin out once. My initial assessment is that the Merlin is not as easy to spin around like the YS solo, but that does not mean it is not maneuverable. It will carve a very nice turn and respond quite well to minor inputs and heeling. I find this is especially true in textured water and wind. It is also a better sit and swith boat I think than the Magic is as a kneeling boat. It offers a better compromise in my opinion. It also just has a nicer feel in the water than its Royalex sister I have in the YS solo simply because of the material.

The Magic definitely excells more as a sit and switch boat and is certainly the better choice for this style of paddling but I believe it is more of a niche boat in this regard than the Merlin.

Will have to do some more paddling to make more thorough observations.

Maybe I should just keep both. I just have too many boats and they “aint cheap” But then maybe I just need to. Right now I have four canoes and two kayaks…and five kayak paddles…and six canoe paddles…and three bikes…and a ton of backpacking gear…and just so many other toys. Maybe that is just the reality of the sport!

We’ll see.

But my own shortcomings in my obsessive compulsive nature I do plan to provide some insightful feedback here on what I learn that may be useful to those others who have tolerated my obsessive search!

It is a great learning experience.


The perfect boat or toy
One of the things Americans obsess about is the perfect equipment.

There is no such thing. Everything is a trade off.

As you expand your knowledge of paddling however and your skill set widens, however, you come to appreciate that every boat is different. It might be a small way. Storage then becomes the issue!(My problem is I have lots of storage…rule is that if I havent used it in a year it goes out)

There is way more out there than you have paddled…rather than worrying over it… just paddle what seems to fit your style best.

In the long run it really does not matter. Grummans have done well in a variety of places from the tropics to the Arctic Sea.

What does matter is the paddling experience and the pleasure it gives you.

I too spend time on the water…71 paddling overnights this year and another 100 or so day trips.

that is what I was essentially trying to say in my long post…I have learned this from kayaks and now from canoes…all boats are trade-offs. You are right that no perfect boat exists…I believe it is a matter of finding a boat or boats that allows you to best cover the niches you seek determined by your paddling style, conditions, location, etc. and that provides you the most enjoyment based on your preferences.

I am still in the discovery mode. As I said I like certain aspects of all the boats I have paddled. Just looking for the one or ones that provide the best balance of traits and trade-offs that is best for me.

I am starting to think more about keeping both though…having a YS solo for applications where I need plastic is great and for super maneuverability (especially now with the wider thwarts I put in), having the Merlin for kneeling and river touring, and then the Magic for sit and switch woudl be a great combination and would not force me to have to choose between sitting and kneeling or have to make serious trade-offs if I want to do both. Despite the fact that all boats can be paddled either way the fact of the matter is that there are big trade-offs in my opinion when using a boat like the Magic as a kneeling boat or a boat like the merlin as a sit and switch. I don’t like big trade-offs as a perfectionist!


Sure all boats are compromises
But in highly skilled hands, any one of them can do a whole lot more than I’m capable of getting out of it. As has been said many times, it’s the paddler, not the boat.

Wait till you get older
and you find your needs changing.

It’ll happen that you sell something because its not quite what you want at this time…and in twenty years you will be searching for it again!

true and…not…
Agree that it is not the boat but the paddler. But that implies that someone is looking for a boat to compensate for shortcomings in skill. Not necessarily the case.

Also, I don’t care how good of a paddler you are, a Magic is just not as maneuverable as a Wildfire. And no matter how fit you are a Wildfire will never be faster than a Magic. I don’t care who the paddler is.

As a skilled paddler I can get the Magic to turn quite well, but not as well as the Merlin. I paddled the Magic recently on a very narror stream in the Adirondacks that had one 90 degree turn after another in about 14 inches of water and with a fully loaded boat and bent paddle. No problem…but not nearly as much fun or as easy as the Merlin or Wildfire would have been. It is not so much about not being able to get a boat to perform a given task, but rather achieving the maximum level of enjoyment out of the sport by having the mix of attributes you like.

Kind of like cars…on a windy mountain road a Porsche is a lot more fun to drive than a Ford Expedition but both will do the task. On a rocky dirt road both will do the task as well but I would prefer to be in the Expedition. No matter how good of a driver you are you will not get the Expedition to outperform the Porsche in its environment and vice versa.

In my case I am just looking for what I personally prefer. All boats will perform well but there are tradeoffs in design that will be the same tradeoffs for any paddler.

I am not looking for a boat to do something that I can’t make it do, but rather one that I just enjoy more.

I am pretty obsessive about boats, but invariably whenever I bring up these topics no matter how carefully I approach it I am often accused of being an armchair paddler or someone who is just a lousy paddler and looking for a boat to make up for my shortcomings.

I guess those are reasonable assumptions but neither are the case.

Guess maybe I am just out there when it comes to boats but that is part of what I enjoy.


Trouble understanding this quandary
If you were out paddling around in Friday’s remnants of T.S. Ida, you should be pretty happy with whatever boat you were in. Even in the lee, that must have been an interesting evening.

Since I know you’d be happy paddling even if you only had a log for a boat, this quandary between high-end canoes must be be pleasant agony.

Good luck with it, I’ll follow along with interest.