Bell Northstar v. Mad River Explorer

-- Last Updated: Feb-16-07 7:27 AM EST --

I've got both these canoes (Mad River Explorer and Bell Northstar) in Kevlar. The Bell's lighter and pretty or prettier.

Both have wood trim.

Cliff Jacobsen includes the Mad River in his wild river canoeing books as being a great bang-it-up heavy-duty freighter which can handle anything out there. I, personally, love the way it paddles, period.

Anyway, I didn't really care for my Mad River Malecite as a solo (just a little "fat" for me) so I purchased the Bell Northstar with the intent of placing a kneeling thwart in the center for solo paddling.

Wondered if the Northstar is as good a big water tandem as the Mad River. Really haven't paddled it enough to know if I love it or not.

I collect hulls, culling the tribe each spring. The Mad River is in new condition, but I didn't want to sell it because I'd like to tandem some northern rivers in her someday. But, I wondered if the Bell would serve this purpose as well.

Also, where's my Malecite fit into this??? I've got to get rid of some canoes or my wife won't eat.

Any suggestions? Is my logic as flawed as I assume? BTW, I'm 5'11", 220 lbs. and my paddling buddy is 6'1" and 225 lbs.


Your logic is perfect:)
You must sell one of those canoes immediately… the Northstar…for a really good price…I’ll pick it up second week of March:)

I go through the same throes every year, collecting hulls all summer, then deciding which to sell in the Spring, if any.

Right now I’m down to two on the market, a Nova Craft Supernova Blue Steel, and a Dagger Sojourn. The ones I’d like to add to my fleet this year so far; Nova Craft Pal Royalite, Bell Northstar black gold and I have the Swift Shearwater Kev ex on order. My, my, life is sweet!

the malecite
as long as its an older one and then you can sell it to me.

Wellll now

– Last Updated: Feb-16-07 3:42 PM EST –

I know the Explorer very well. It's a fine pick up truck of a boat. Handles current and waves nicely. Steady as they come but a bit slow and not particularly agile. Solo unloaded the wind will really push you around. Add some weight, either another paddler, some gear or both and that's much less a problem.
Just got a Malecite. I'll know better this summer how those compare.
Only seen add copy on the Bell. With similar beam I'd be surprised if it soloed better than the Malecite. With finer ends and tumblehome I'd expect it to be faster but wetter and maybe not quite as steady as the Explorer.
But the proof is in the paddling. Subtle tweeks in hull design can make for interesting performance differences.
What say we meet back here around September and compare notes?


NorthStar in big water
Never seen one in big water.

The ad copy doesnt seem to hold up for whitewater.

Its a good fast performance cruiser where you dont need a lot of storage capacity.

Have seen Explorers and have used one in a couple of Arctic Rivers. Good wave shedding, of course at the expense of a little speed.

I dont do much wardrobe tweaking I gather canoes. I have a hard time throwing them away. Usually one boat isnt flat out better than another, just different .

I have been working on unloading a Sawyer 190 now for seven or eight years. I almost did until I saw how well it worked for a solo even though its S glass and heavy. Still I dont trip with it. Too small for two, two heavy for one on unmaintained portages. But the fastest small tandem I ever paddled.

Bell NS, MRC Exp and Malecite
The NorthStar and Malecite, and Sawyer 190, for that matter are all the same class canoe - ~ small class DR racing spec. All three are very fine canoes and very seaworthy.

NorthStar is the better solo choice due to differential rocker and tumblehome. [Hang the kneeling thwart at the third thwart position.]

By the way both Sawyer 190 and NS are DY hulls, I’d be amazed if the 190, an earlier, symmetrical, hull could give away eight inches and still outrun NS.

The Explorer is, roughly, a Malecite that has been widened and deepened to yield a short class freighter.

All Good Input - I’m Checking Bow& Stern
Depth of bow and stern could tell me something more. I’m going to check these and see.

I’m guessing the Explorer is the deepest of the three, maybe they are all close in width…

Too tired to look tonight. Any stats persons out there??


I’ve always said that the Explorer is

– Last Updated: Feb-16-07 7:54 PM EST –

to the canoe world what the “thirty aught six” is to the gun world. That is to is the canoe that all other canoes are judged by. It's a big full bodied confident (thus the Rabbit) canoe that can handle just about anything.

By comparison the Malecite is just as confident but with a much lower shear it's not as effected by wind as much as it is by waves. I think of it as a sport version of the Explorer.

The Northstar on the other hand is a much more refined canoe, It has a nice tumblehome and rounded curve to the sides that make it feel less stable than the MR boats but in real life the secondary stability is excellent. due to it hull shape it will ride out rough water with a much smoother ride than the other two. With equal paddlers it's a faster boat too.

But like I said many would feel much safer in the Explorer, it a pretty solid ride even in mild white water.

Bow, Midships & Stern

– Last Updated: Feb-16-07 8:03 PM EST –

Bell Northstar is 20.5 13.5 17'5

Exolorer 21 14.5 21

Malecite 19 13 18

The only way to really tell the difference in the three is to try them. The Northstar is the high performance boat of the three. Comparing the Northstar to the Explored I'll say that the Explorer will feel like a tugboat and Tommys referance to a pickup truck is dead on.

I have to add, Both the Explorer and the Malecite are decent poling boats, The Explorer makes a good sailing rig too. I will not say the same for the are going to get wet if you try that.

It was pure, dumb luck
that the second canoe I ever bought was a MR Explorer. I was just looking for a do-it-all canoe that could take some abuse in whitewater but handle the flatwater with aplomb as well. The fact that it was also set up to paddle solo was a plus.

I have come to appreciate how versatile it is. I’ve had it in a lot of different conditions, and it handled them all well. Even a 15-20 kt wind on Middle Saranac Lake in NY, although I was thankful I brought along a kayak paddle.

Don’t know much about the Bell, but it is probably not as versatile. Certainly faster, though. In whitewater, I’d take the Explorer tandem if I had a choice, though.

Now I just need a lighter solo wilderness tripper for the longer portages.