Merlin vs Merlin II vs Sawyer Solo 13

I have a new friend whom was trying to decide between a used Merlin and a Sawyer Solo 13. I told him if it was a Merlin II, it was an easy decision. But the original Merlin? I have friends whom own and I myself have paddled a Solo 13. I have also paddled the Merlin II, but not the Merlin. As I recall, the “Original” Merlin tracks much harder since it has negligible rocker? I have a friend whom owns the Merlin while his brother owns a Merlin II. I’ll pose them the question also, but thought I’d reach out and ask for more opinions?

If you’ve paddled both an original Merlin and a Sawyer Solo 13(not Mohawk, that’s a different boat) please weigh in. BTW, my friend used to guide kayak trips so he is not a beginning paddler.


Really different boats size-wise
I can’t help much, Terry, because I haven’t paddled either. But based on dimensions alone, they fall into pretty different categories, surely.

The Bruce Kunz Merlin is a hard tracking 15 1/2 foot long solo with a maximum beam of 29 1/2 inches whereas the Sawyer Solo 13 is a 4 meter boat (13’ 2") and rather beamy (for a solo) at 31 inches. Scott Smith of Superior Canoe still molds the Sawyer Solo 13. He is a pretty approachable guy and could probably give you a run down on how it paddles. I would expect it would be considerably slower than the Merlin.

I know that baldpaddler who posts here a lot built a Merlin stripper and Paul Knoerr who posts a lot over on the myccr forum has paddled one as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of those guys have also paddled a Sawyer Solo 13 as well, so you might give them a shout if you don’t get any responses.

Paddled both Bells
I own a first generation Merlin and I’ve paddled a friend’s Merlin II. They react just as their specs suggest they would. My Merlin is extremely fast and hard tracking; the Merlin II is more maneuverable but still primarily a flat water canoe.

I’ve never paddled the Sawyer but as pblanc suggests, it seems to be in a different category all together.

The Sawyer and the Merlin are both available used, so that’s the two my friend has to choose from. He lives in an area where canoes are scarce, so…

Thanks again, this will help him!

built one paddled the other
The Merlin is a good tracking boat and great for lakes

and rec races. The Merlin 2 is a different boat. For the type of paddling I do on lakes I love the Merlin. It has the right mix of speed and manageability for the chop and boat wakes. I have even beaten an advantage in it once ! The Merlin 2 is almost as fast but not in the same league speed wise. On the Lumber river I had no problem with either in getting around the Cypress knobs and deadfall. I feel that you would not go wrong with either for rivers. by the way both were set up with foot braces and paddled with bent shaft paddles. My outlook is skewed because because

I first paddled J-boats and expect to work to make a boat turn. I don’t like to work to make my boats track.


My one cents worth
I have a Merlin and my brother has a Merlin II. The Merlin does take some effort to turn, but thats ok on a lake. The same can be said for the Merlin II even though it has a bit of rocker. The Merlin handles great with my gear behind the seat and RockC the 50lb dog in front. Unloaded, it’s fun and fast. I have no intention of trading it in for something else.

Glad To Hear From You
Hope you and Roc C are staying warm? I think he’s probably going with the Merlin after what he’s read. Thanks for the comments!

Ted Bell’s Merlin

– Last Updated: Jan-04-14 4:34 AM EST –

I've got what I was told is Ted Bell's original Merlin by Kunz or Kunze. It says "Wabash Valley" on the sides, plus serial number, that's it. I tried to get hold of Ted B. because I love this hull. I measured it years ago; it seems like it is exactly 15-foot, lots of tumblehome, zero rocker, stems begin narrow, then flair out, a bit flat on the bottom with tumblehome roundness on the side to kick the boat up. LOVE IT. It is a TRUE crossover (I don't like the Merlin II as much). Any help in identification would be okay, thanks. Neat canoe.

Isn’t your Merlin woodstrip?
Good to hear from you again.

I acquired a used Merlin II last fall and really like it.

I loved my Merlin
fortunately I still have the forms and blueprints to make another in the next few years. I beat a Wenonah Advantage one time in it !

My Friend Decided…
…on the Merlin. He’s picking it up sometime in January. Thanks for the help!

Not Woodstrip

– Last Updated: Jan-04-14 4:35 AM EST –

I believe you purchased a fiberglass Sawyer Summersong after I purchased the Kevlar one as a flatwater canoe. BOTH had rudders (I promptly removed mine). I paddle a Bell Wildfire on faster rivers (no "true" whitewater for me). The Wabash Valley Merlin (supposedly Ted Bell's first, and personal, boat) I use when I don't know whether I want rivers or flatwater. If someone knows Ted, would you ask him if he owned an early 15-foot Wabash Valley Merlin in heavy Kevlar (red, white, blue, American flag decals). As mentioned earlier, the Wabash Valley Merlin is a GREAT cross-over canoe, fast enough on flatwater (no rocker), but kicks up on edge for most rivers...

Wenonah Advantage
Yes, my Autumn Mist Merlin would win a race against a Wenonah Advantage, which is a very nice boat. Never owned one, had the next length up, some crazy 17-foot flatwater tripper which gets blown sideways down a lake if empty. I’ve owned a Bell Magic, as well, but I feel my Sawyer Summersong (15’6", 28 wide) is a more efficient hull (thanks Dave Yost)…

Sawyer Solo 13

– Last Updated: Jan-04-14 4:06 AM EST –

Solo 13, to me, at the time 220 lbs., was a slow disappointment. Probably great for a faster river, it is BORING in ANY flatwater. Sawyer made much better solo boats, including the large Autumn Mist, the flatwater Summersong, and some solo racing canoe which was fast but I didn't like it's "personality". Not an expert - just owned or paddled a schit-ton of canoes, et al. I've never paddled a solo Sawyer which I like for rivers.

Merlin II Hard Edges
Agree the Merlin II is better at mostly flatwater, as it’s BOW chines are less forgiving than it’s stern’s. To me, the bow “catches” in moving water (too “fine” an entry), but it’s an okay enough crossover (I prefer the original Merlin, if that is what my 15-foot Wabash Valley is).

Original Merlin ZERO Rocker

– Last Updated: Jan-04-14 4:38 AM EST –

If my Wabash Valley (I think it's 15-foot) is an original Merlin (and I believe it is), it has zero rocker, but fine entry stems which flair beautifully into a a tumblehomed hull with a flat/round bottom & medium-high gunwales (gunnels). On moderate rivers, the tumblehome allows you to pull the fairly long stems out effortlessly if kneeling, so it performs "like" a shorter canoe when asked to. Nice

Couldn’t Agree More

– Last Updated: Jan-04-14 4:29 AM EST –

duggae: Yes, the original Merlin TRACKS. But the roundness of the tumblehome allows you to kick it up on edge, especially if you're primarily a "kneeler". Very fast (not fastest) on flatwater, fairly admirable on most rivers (never ran rapids in it)...

Dave Yost

– Last Updated: Jan-04-14 4:33 AM EST –

I spoke with Dave Yost regarding original Merlin v. Merlin II v. Swift Osprey (another great canoe). Yost, at the time, told me the Merlin II wasn't the canoe the original Merlin is (was). The Merlin doesn't really FLAIR behind the solo seat as does the Merlin II and the Osprey. The Osprey, in my "humble" opinion, has a rounder entry (more suitable for rivers) than the Merlin II. Yost SURE knew his hulls, probably still does. Flashfire, Wildfire, Starfire (& Sawyer Summersong & Merlin II: ((I think he designed these)) are some of my favorite hulls. DY is the greatest designer of canoe hulls (ever?)...

Yes Merlin II is very nice
I remember you’re a darn hull-collector like quite a few of us. Do you still paddle the Sawyer Summersong on flatwater, rudder attached? Nice to be back on the board. I finally am able to run some rivers (retired “early”)…

Apples, oranges, melons

– Last Updated: Jan-05-14 10:26 AM EST –

The Sawyer Solo 13 was an entry level solo. Short and wide to minimize weight and drag, it was a nice, fun, boat stable enough for fishing but unlikely to keep up with a group of hard chargers intent on a destination. It's the melon in the group, replaced in the market by wide ride rec Kayaks.

Bell Bruce Kunz designed Merlin was a destination, say orange, type boat. It had fine lines, almost plumb stems, narrow entry, bubble-sided tumblehome, strongly asymmetrical and with zero rocker. It didn't turn well because like all bubble-sided boats, the first 10 degrees of heel lifted the stems a little, but more heel, past the widest point, placed less hull volume in the water, increasing instability and reducing stem loft.

With that fine, unrockered, bow one needed to paddle it like the citizen racer it was, switching sides to keep the stern in line.
It was made in a mold split from stern to amidships along the keel line. The the mold deformed over time and the last hundred hulls were hogged, bow and stern lower in the water than the center. This did not improve handling.

Yost's Merlin II was a minor redesign of the Curtis Nomad, the apple in our pantheon. It had differential rocker and shoulders, so came out of a two piece mold. The rocker improved forward handling and maneuverability. The shoulders allowed the hull to be heeled to a much greater roll angle; the stems lifting higher and the boat eddy turning a much tighter arc than the original Merlin.

Both Merlins have similar tracking characteristics, being about the same length, width, and having about the same draft. Those waterline dimensions describe the "Block". Dividing the hulls volume by that of the block yields Block Co-efficient, the number best describing tracking ability. The less of it's block the hull fills the better it tracks. We can approximate the number by dividing waterline length by WL width, a much easier calculation.

A data sheet pre-dating my involvement in Bell, indicates Merlin at 15.5 ft overall length, WL close to 182" with 4" waterline of 29". I doubt that figure, probably 29' max beam, 27" wl. Merlin II was 15" overall, closer to 174" at waterline with max wl of 26". Merlin's is L/W ratio is 6.74, Merlin II's 6.84. Yost's Merlin II should track immeasurably better than Kunz's Merlin. But that's only part of tracking, the interaction of handling characteristics and paddler proclivities being the other.

Paddlers using a high cadence might find Merlin tracking better when switching sides often to keep the stern lined up behind the "pinned" bow, characteristic of a delta, strongly Swede form, hull. Paddlers using a slower traveling J stroke will likely find the less Swede form Merlin II, it's bow allowing easier adjustment, tracks with less effort. Paddler's carrying the blade aft of their bodies will see all four corners of the lake in either canoe.

The more asymmetrical Merlin can be expected to perform better in shallow water as the delta shape resists squatting. Merlin II will run more efficiently in deep water.