Bell Northwind / We-no-nah Spirit II


first I’am sorry for my lousy english. I just put words together and hope that most of you will understand me.

Spirit II and Nortwind are both great canoes but I have to make my decision and choose one, and for that choosing I'am asking your help!

I’am looking for good allround canoe. It should work in two weeks wilderness trip, two big man+gear ( 550 lbs), big lakes, up and downriver, max class II rapids, rough portages. And in fishing trip, trolling/casting, light load (250 lbs). And last it should work as family day tripper (2 yrs son, moves like a lightning).

After many testpaddlings(Northwoods, MNII, Champlain, Sundowner) there are two canoes left, We-no-nah Spirit II Kev Flex-core and Bell Northwind Black Gold. Now I'am asking your comments / help to compare to these fine canoes, what are strong points / weakness?

Thank's, Miksa from Finland

My experience
The Spirit II is a great all around canoe. But it is quite wet in class II and if your bow paddler is a big guy who likes to kneel, there isn’t room for a decently wide knee placement.

Haven’t paddled a Northwind so I can’t comment on that. But I would expect it’s a touch dryer and wider in the bow.

Bell’s tandems are unique. They feature tumblehome, effectively narrowing the rails at the paddling stations so paddlers can apply a more efficient, vertical, paddleshaft.

Bell’s Black/Gold is one of the best laminates in the industry.

Northwind is one of the better all around trippers ever designed by David Yost, one of the better designers of all time.

Spirit II is a decent boat, but if you can afford the better boat in a better laminate…

Spirit II

– Last Updated: Dec-04-08 10:14 AM EST –

We have the Spirit II kev flex core and are pleased with it. Have had it loaded much heavier than you suggest and it does well. However, we have never taken it down any fast water empty or loaded so not sure about that. We use it a lot both up and down river in lighter current, 475lb loaded, and it does well. A very stable boat. No experience with the Bell though.


Between Those Two
I’ve spent probably a minimum of 15 days paddling the Spirit II, but only flat water. Good friends (puffingin and Duluthmoose) have a royalex Spirit II and can make the big boat “Dance.”

I prefer the Northwind and own one, but my bow partner is my wife, not a “Big guy.” But I can tell you the Northwind I own, Royalex, works well on rivers and flatwater. The “Shouldered tumblehome” on the Bell is a Godsend on long days and wish all my boats had it. One more point to consider, Bell has a new boat out that should be similar to an XL Northwind, the “Eveningstar.” You may want to try IT out before making your final decision. Good luck! Oh, BTW, here’s a Northwind REALLY loaded down. WW

My comments

– Last Updated: Dec-04-08 4:13 PM EST –

WW is encouraging me to respond, although I feel my time in Bell's is very limited. I will say I spent a little time in a composite Northwind and Northwoods back when I was shopping around for a wilderness lake tripper about a decade ago. I discounted the Northwind at that time because my usual load would be 550 to 600 lbs, and that would give only 8.5" of center freeboard to work with in waves. Both these Bell trippers could be steered entirely by the sternman and that cetainly is not the case with zero rocker trippers like the one I purchased at that time. I never paddled a Northwind with a 550 lb load, but if it's anything like my wife's Magic, as you approach the upper load limit for performance with that Bell boat, the stems on a level trimmed hull get buried and it becomes much more difficult to maneuver the boat. That does not seem to be the case with my royalex Wenonah Spirit 2. Once you initiate a change of direction, it wants to continue the spin until you stop it, even if it's loaded with 550 pounds. My opinion is that a Spirit 2 with a 550 lb load and about a 5" draft is more maneuverable than the composite 17'6" Northwind or the 18'6" Northwoods from a seated paddling position with a similar load. Kneeling and leaning could be a different story. I've had my Spirit 2 through quite a few class 2 experiences, and know that standing waves over 16" are going to get the bowman wet, and that I should line through or portage anything that looks techical (S turns). On lakes the Spirit 2 does fine, handles pretty good waves, but is probably a slower ride than either of the Bells. In fact if most of your paddling will be on large lakes and you may have to face wind driven waves, I suggest you take another look at Champlain. I think a Champlain is as maneuverable as the big tripper composite Bells and will handle any waves you are brave enough to be out in.

There was a comparison review in the
September/October 1999 issue of Paddler magazine. They liked both the Royalex and composite versions of the Spirit II, finding the Royalex version more maneuverable. They liked the Bell Northwind a little better than anything else in the comparison test, commenting that it was maneuverable enough for class 2 and also the fastest canoe in the test. (However, the Spirit II was the only other canoe in the test with any claim to being fast.)

thank you for information
Great to read your comments. I think that both canoes are good choise for me.

I think that differences are speed and how the canoes handle big load’s.

Champlain and Northwoods are too big for me. I don’t like to feel that I’am sitting on ship. Small creeks are great!

If you like you should go to some map site and check the place name Savonlinna, this is my backyard. And when I drive 600 miles north I’am in Lapland, biggest wildernes in Europe.

Next week will be the week of the decision :slight_smile:


Good Fun!
I’ll sure look up a map of your backyard and check it out. Lappland, is a rich place in my imagination, much like our north woods here in North America. Its as much a state of mind as a place.

I’ve got some Finnish made knives (Jarvanpaa) that I use with pride.

About the boats: I’ve owned a Wenonah Aurora and a Sundowner. I’ve also paddled rented Wenonahs. They are good boats. I think the Spirit II will work fine for you. I’ve owned a Northwind in royalex and liked it very much. Better than any of the Wenonahs I’ve paddled in moving water. It was more manueverable, and less pushed around by current. I made a week long trip in the boudary waters in a Northwind in Kev lite. We probably weighed 420 lbs. + easily 130 lbs. of gear. We had no problem in wind driven waves. We didn’t have it in any swift water to speak of. Maybe just a little near a couple of portages. I thought the boat handle beautifully. It was easily handled in the wind and waves which were fearsome at times. We really liked the boat. I’d love one in black gold.

That looks like a paddlers paradise Miksa!


it’s time to
make my decision. Thank’s for good information. Tomorrow I’will go to canoe dealers and make my order. I’am still wondering is it We-no-nah or Bell.

Main reason for my problem is different test weather. When we tested Northwind there was real strong wind with whitecaps. Normally in that kind of weather we stay in dry land but now we even turn our side to wind, and we were ready to swim back to shoreline. But what happens, absolutely nothing!!! It tracks great, totally dry ride and real safe feeling.

When we try Spirit II the weather is different. No wind at all, water was like a mirror. It tracks and turn easily. But it’s too easy weather.

Now the winter is here and we can’t retested them. And if I want to get the canoe in spring I have to order it now, of course special winter discount is not a bad thing :))

But after you comment’s I’am sure that I can’t make wrong decisions. Both candidates are great boats and suits for my purposes.

After tomorrow it’s time to forget canoes and start telemark ski’ing season!


Made my decision, Bell Northwind Black Gold, 5 trim with kneeling twarf. Thank’s to everybody for helping me.


Made best choice
You’ve just acquired one of the finest tandems ever made.