Narrowing solo canoe choice

Hello there,

I need advice on choosing a solo canoe.

I am 235 lbs, 6 feet and paddle mostly flatwater (big lakes) with sometimes little C1-C2, week end to seven days trips.

I narrowed my choice on three boats :

Bell magic (merlin II ?)

Wenonah prism

Swift shearwater

What makes them different from each other?

solo canoe
I’d say that you can’t go wrong with either a Shearwater or a Merlin II. Both are effortless to paddle, a joy on lakes, handle rivers just fine, and will handle your weight easily. I’ve owned both and with the dog my load is about 275 pounds.

The Shearwater isn’t quite as fast as the Merlin on lakes, but it turns better on rivers and is more fun to freestyle. But it’s still quite fast and effortless compared to most boats…just a touch behind the Merlin. The Shearwater is a bit more stable…and ultimately will handle a bigger load than the Merlin II.

You can’t go wrong with either one.

my impressions

– Last Updated: Feb-25-04 9:32 PM EST –

You would probably be well served by any of the three boats, but which one you should buy will depend on what characteristics you value the most in a boat.

The Shearwater is easily the most maneuverable. I think it is a very easy paddling boat, meaning that it covers distance without making you feel like you have worked yourself to death to get to your destination. I think it is the slowest of the three boats, but the ease with which it paddles may make it worth giving up a little bit of speed. I've been told it tends to be fairly dry in rough water. If you get one, I would recommend buying it with the sliding seat. Being able to adjust the trim by moving the seat is a big help when it gets windy.

The Prism is an easy boat to get used to. It is probably the strongest tracking boat of the three, and is also the least maneuverable. Initial stability is high for a solo boat. Secondary stability is also good. The boat can be heeled pretty far, but obviously not as far as the Magic or the Shearwater (this is because of the tumblehome on the Prism). It handles a load well and, in my opinion, is pretty seaworthy.

The Magic is very efficient, handles wind and waves well, and travels well with a load. I just got back from a three-day trip where we carried water as well as our other gear and my Magic handled it easily. It falls between the Shearwater and the Prism on the maneuverability/tracking scale.

The MerlinII is more maneuverable than the Magic, but is slower and will not handle as large a load.

My recommendation will be different from whitewaterweenie's because my preference is normally for a boat that tracks well, whereas I get the impression that he favors boats that are maneuverable enough that they can be freestyled. Of the four boats, my personal favorite is the Magic, although I could easily live with any of them.

bucket vs. wicker
I’ve got a kevlar flex core Prism for sale in the classified, and a review of it in the product reviews. I’ve not paddled a Magic or Merlin enough to review them, but I own their little sister Wildfire.

The huge difference, IMHO, is whether you 1) want to sit in an adjustable bucket seat and have a foot bar to brace your feet against (Prism); or 2) want to sit on a traditional wicker seat when all is calm with no foot brace, and switch to a kneel with your feet underneath the seat when things get dicey (Magic/Merlin). In sum my opinion: the bucket seat is far more comfortable and efficient, crying out for bent-shaft sit and switch, but the traditional wicker seat is more versatile as it can do beavertail/freestyle and is much more desirable if you’re going to get into any whitewater.

Prism has a smaller length/width ratio so it is going to have better initial stability but will weigh a little more (all other things like length and material choice being equal). Thus, if you are going fishing Prism is better. Also, Prism will hold more capacity, but is accordingly slightly more susceptible to the wind and frankly can get a tad hard to handle in following seas if not loaded down.

It’s all good.

If your staying on flatwater
There is a flatwater rocket for sale in the classified section. A Blackhawk Starship! If I had the cash I would buy it in a heart beat. One of the ozark paddlers uses one(Pat #1) and it absolutely flies!

Beautiful boat, narrow and long.

I own a wood-trimmed Shearwater …
with an Exp. kevlar hull that weighs about 45 lbs with it’s seat out. Beautiful boat that is perfect with about 250-300 lbs in it. With only 200 lbs in it, it has substantial windage but is better with a cover snapped on. And with it’s rocker, it’s steering is susceptible to rear quarter breezes when lightly loaded. Very solid initial and secondary stability with it’s flared hull … and maybe the most seaworthy of the canoes discussed. Not that fast, but I row it at about 5 mph easily. For speed, go with the Prism and foot brace … but be prepared for it’s high profile catching the wind if lightly loaded.

For longer trips
For longer trips I prefer the Prism’s beefier cousin the Encounter. I too am a larger paddler and have found the Encounter a reasonable substitute paddling unloaded but without peer when loaded for an extended trip. The boat tracks exceedingly well, stays increadibly dry in open water, and can (with skill) be maneuvered through tight river passages. Unloaded the boat does present a lot of freeboard so wind can be a challenge or advantage depending on the paddler’s skills. The boat’s not quite as fast as the Prism, but will hold its own paddled against the Bells even when it’s heavily burdened.

I was also one of the nine folks (including c2g) who did the swamp trip last week. Not only did the boat handle my gear, but I also carried a fair amount of the kayakers heavy or oversized gear, (including four folding base camp chairs, 8 1/2 additional gallons of water, porta pot and an additional duffle stuff bag), with relative ease. In past trips I’ve had the boat even more heavily loaded for extended open water/coastal bay trips.

I’ve the ultralight layup and am quite happy, but I believe there is a flex-core model currently posted, (the flex core may be a bit more balanced toward fiver running).

It’s interesting that
you feel that the Sheerwater is more maneuverable than the Magic. I’ve never felt that. I always felt that the Magic fully heeled over to the rail would turn BETTER than any other 16’ boat.

I’ve never been a big Wenonah fan, though their boats are without fault for their intended purpose.

The Sheerwater has always felt sluggish to me. I think it’s more of a feel than actuality, as it moves right along. But it always feels like I have to work harder than I feel like it needs to be.

All three are great boats based on your need. Big loads, spend some time fishing, birdwatching or anything that values stability… Go Sheerwater. If you sit, and prefer paddling almost exclusively sit and switch with a bent…choose a Wenonah (Go ahead, any of them). But for how I trip, and for what I expect from a canoe (kneeling exclusively, and utilizing as much boat heel as needed to execute the turn I require… I’d personally pick a Bell Magic. The Merlin II is fine for day trips at your size, but far too small to trip.

Have fun making your choice… and hope your soon on the pond.


Thanks for your input, very helpful.

Happy paddling to all…

solo choices
i paddle a prism, on many of my camping trips. It’s easier to trim with the sliding pedestel seat. some of the old sawyers are nice if you can find one. I take my fg aut. mist out when the need for speed arrises. you have narrowed it down to some very nice boats. you always have to compromise on some aspect of design. just go with what works for most of your paddling. you can always buy another later. as long as your not doing alot of heavy ww buy the lightest layup you can, you will thank yuorself later.

I can only speak of the…
Bell Magic, which I own. I glassed in a Wenonah pedastal seat to replace the stock cane seat. I also installed a Bell foot brace. This makes for a great solo lake tripper, also works fine for northern Michigan rivers like the Au Sable and Manistee.

what about C1-C2
I have not seen any posts here considering the fact that this person wishes to use this boat occasionally in Class 1-2 river situations. The Prism would not be a could boat for that. It does not maneuver well at all, nor do any of the available layups do well in moving water collisions. I think either of the other two boats would be a good choice. I like the Shearwater alot, but have not paddled it, only its smaller cousin the Osprey. The Osprey is a very seaworthy boat.

Agree with PK and c2g
I have a Shearwater with a good full year of use behind me. At 6-3 and 220, this boat is wonderfully proportioned. I used it most for fishing and most was on flatwater. The rivers I was on were really low class one at best. I did have it in some chop and whitecaps and once again it hold true to what the others said.

I really like the Magic and paddled it enough to want one as my next boat for flatwater and tripping.

I tried the Merlin briefly last year and sort hung out on all sides as my friend NT put it.

Paddler01 let me try his Encounter last fall, THIS is a high volume freighter of a boat, very nice to paddle for a guy my size. As he says for an extended tripper it is great.

The statements regarding wind effects are definitely true in the Shearwater, can’t speak much on the others. A sliding seat is an excellent idea, I have used ballast in the stern to alleviate the rear quartering wind issue, works ok. A spray cover would be helpful as well.

You’ve gotten some nice info from some good paddlers here. Just thought I’d add my $.02 from another “big person”.

Sorry, I should have been more specific. I was thinking of maneuverability when the boat isn’t heeled or just heeled a little bit.