Shearwater vs. Merlin II

Any thoughts on the Shearwater vs. the Merlin II for a beginning solo paddler - 6’ and 195 lbs? Would be used for day trips on local lakes/slow rivers and week long BWCA/Quetico trips. Would also like to be able to fish from it.

Two different sizes
The Shearwater is noticeably bigger…and a little deeper. Half inches and inches may not sound like much but there is a definite difference in width particularly.

Lightly loaded ( you are a little undersized) you might find the Swift boat a sail …It depends on where you want to paddle. It would be fine on those week long trips.

OTOH. The Merlin II might be a better size day tripper but depending on your week long tripping style might be just right or too small.

I had a Merlin II and a friend with a Shearwater took a three day trip in the Daks with me. We did the boat swop thing and he felt a little out of sorts in that the Merlin was too small…at least to what he was used to. It was a tad sporty for him. We did not have a load in it that day.

Osprey or Magic/Perigrine
If I was torn between a Shearwater and a Merlin II I’d buy an Osprey if I wanted to mix a little easy whitewater in with the lakes and I’d buy a Magic or a Perigrine if I didn’t.


Merlin II
Can’t speak for the Shearwater. The Merlin II presents a nice compromise of flatwater, straight ahead efficiency and maneuverability for easy rivers.

The greatest load I have paddled it with is about 45 lbs and I weigh in the 165-170 lb weight range.

I am pretty sure it would handle a weeks tripping load for a 200 lb paddler, but I don’t know that I would be real comfortable paddling it that heavy if the waves kicked up a lot.

Quite a few people find the Merlin II a little tender initially with the seat in the stock position. The seat is hung pretty high for kneeling and is canted a bit. Of course, you can buy a longer set of hangers from Bell, and even modify them to hang the seat lower and have it flat, if you plan to paddle mostly sitting, and it would feel more stable for fishing.

Of course, the Osprey is also a very nice boat that has a nice blend of efficiency and maneuverability. I would try it if you have the opportunity.

Merlin II
One of my tripping buds paddles a Merlin II for a week every year on our Boundary Waters trip. He goes in the 150-ish range. That coupled with the food barrel at over 50 pounds and a personal pack in the 40 pound range gives him a loaded weight in the 240 to 250 range. He clocks in around 5 foot 6 inches.

He has had that fully loaded boat in the snot and after hundreds of miles never felt uncomfortable.

Seat Height
Sorry I can’t offer any boat-comparison notes, but I wanted to point out that saying a seat is “too high for kneeling” is really an individual judgment, and not the norm based on the seat heights of traditional kneeling boats that I see.

I think seat height in the Merlin II depends on how you order it, because I’ve always heard that Bell offers seat drops in two different lengths. I bought mine off the shelf, with the long seat drops, and the seat was too low for my taste. I raised the seat until the top of the rear seat frame was about an inch below the top of the gunwale (in a boat with wood gunwales, you’d get the same seat height if you bolted the rear seat frame directly to the bottom of the gunwale). In a boat with sides as low as the Merlin II, I personally can’t see how the seat could ever be “too high for kneeling”, but then, I kneel on seats mounted at traditional height (the seats in my other boats are higher, and I didn’t raise them at all), not with my feet scrunched tightly under the seat the way some people prefer.

As to “tenderness”, the boat is pretty tender for a total newbie, but I think mainly when getting in and out. For a kneeler, once one’s knees are on the floor I don’t think there will be a whole lot of adjustment in getting the feel of the boat.

Have a Shearwater & an Osprey
Hubby and I use them in the Adirondacks for 4 day trips, loaded to the gills, as hubby likes to bring a lot of “stuff”. They are great in choppy water and waves. Very stable. We used them in those evry conditions this past weekend.

But in wind, if the Shearwater isn’t loaded, it can tend to be a “sail” too. Both are great boats for larger paddlers, can carry a load, easy to handle, and are stable.

you misunderstood me
When I said that the seat was hung high for kneeling I meant the seat in most of the Merlin IIs I have seen are positioned high so as to allow foot clearance under them for kneeling, not “too high for kneeling”.

But a paddler who has smaller feet, or who plans to paddle sitting may find this boat a little more user friendly if they drop the seat an inch or so, and eliminate the cant.

Thanks for clearing that up! (nm)

For what it’s worth
Bell’s Merlin II and Swift’s Osprey are the boats to compare. Both are 15 ft long. Merlin II is 29" wide with 2" bow and 1.5" stern rocker. Osprey is 30" wide with 1.5" bow; 1" stern rocker. God knows how the rocker compares, because Yost and Winters measure it differently?

Anyway, same length, similar width, similar rocker. Two boats to roughly the same purpose by two great designers.

Thanks for the help so far. I guess my question is more geared towards which size boat would be better for my intended usage given my size. It seems that I’m kind of on the edge. I’ve paddled a Merlin II - but only empty. I liked it but wondered if it would be two small when loaded for a longer trip. I think the max total load would be about 260 lbs. which is within Bell’s “optimum range” but is getting near the top. If the smaller size would be more appropriate, I’d also consider the Osprey. I had read that the Merlin was better suited to paddlers with little experience in solos than the Osprey which is why I was leaning that way.

My ranking, FWIW
I say FWIW because I have not tripped nor fished out of the Shearwater, Osprey or Merlin. However, I am familiar with them and have paddled them sufficiently to think I have a feel.

I would rank them the same, both in terms of most stable to least stable and from greatest load carrying capacity to least, this way:

  1. Shearwater
  2. Osprey
  3. Merlin

    I don’t have a feel for how I would rank them for flatwater speed because I wasn’t timing them or pushing them hard. All three are certainly among the top tier of solo boats.

go with smaller

– Last Updated: Jul-20-10 10:48 AM EST –

I think you'll be happier with the smaller boats, Merlin II or Osprey. I take my own advice to an extreme: At 6'0" and 220 pounds, I paddle a Placid Boatworks RapidFire, which is definitely "too small" for me by many standards. I use my boat for day-tripping much more than for longer trips, so I am biased toward a boat that works well for me when lightly loaded. I pack pretty light for camping trips, which helps.

Narrower widths (both width overall and width at the rails) help you get in good strokes comfortably. Narrowness at the waterline also helps with speed and tracking, though it can make a boat feel tippy at first. My advice is to buy a boat that feels a little skittish, but not terrifying, so that you won't avoid it but can still grow into it.

I have only test-paddled the Shearwater. It seemed like a Cadillac on calm water. I imagine it wouldn't be as nimble as I like in rough water, and I imagine it would catch a lot of wind with a day-tripping load.

I rented an Osprey for a few days. I liked it okay, but even it seemed a little large for me (too wide).

I test-paddled a Merlin II. It was getting toward the feeling I like, but still a little dull. I think it's the narrowest of the boats you are considering, while still being large enough to float your tripping load, so it's what I would recommend.

I loved my WildFire, and I like my RapidFire. Both are officially too small for my weight plus a tripping load, but for the three- to six-day trips I do, with lightweight backpacking gear, they perform quite well.

Edit: I missed the fishing requirement in the original post until pblanc pointed it out (below). I don't think my advice is so useful now, since I have never fished from a canoe. I guess that you would want a wider and flatter-bottomed boat than I recommended. Maybe a Mohawk Solo 14? It might be a little heavier and cheaper than the ones you're looking at.


I wonder why that
advice that Merlin II is not for beginners was written, I started soloing in a far twitchier cousin of Merlin II and am still nere.

Kneeling I have installed many beginners in a version of WildFire and they stay dry!

Keep the head in the rails is the mantra. Go bigger is most of your focus is on fishing. Or load the boat for fishing.All boats become more stable until overloaded.

I have found that Merlin II is severaly unhappy bow heavy unless going upwind. However asymmetrical hulls usually are not tolerant of poor loading.

I think its time to test paddle. Its a shame test paddles always take place on tiny ponds. I figure you need the nastiest conditions to make the best judgment.

260 is not too much for Merlin II. There is a little fiddle room in those performance figures. Someone I know was going to trip in a WildFire at 280 or so. And the WildFire has less volume,

You might not want to sit in the Merlin II empty but with a tripping load you certainly can.

I can’t see that anyone said
that the Merlin II was unsuitable for beginners in this thread. But I do know of three people who fell out of one within 2 minutes of getting in.

But the OP said he wanted to fish from the boat. When fishing from a canoe, one is generally sitting, shifting weight (without a paddle to brace with) while casting, leaning out to land fish, and often reaching around behind one’s self for items. I can see how a Merlin II with the seat mounted fairly high might feel rather unstable under those circumstances.

Shearwater vs Merlin II
I’ve owned and spent many hours in both and I also had an Osprey. All are very very fine boats in my opinion.

If fishing is a big consideration then the Shearwater is better due to size/space and stability. I parked my Merlin II in a pole barn by a river alongside a guy with a Shearwater that fished every time he went out. My limited experience fishing in canoes tells me that you want all the space you can get for those long/awkward rods and the rest of the gear. I think you’ll find the Shearwater comfy and well-sized for you, although the Merlin II would indeed be more of an “ideal” fit for you in size (width) and volume. The Merlin is a bit more efficient than the Shearwater for cruising, but the Shearwater turns better than the Merlin. The Shearwater and Merlin both have a lovely effortless feel for cruising…but the Merlin’s natural pace is a notch faster. The Merlin would indeed be better on a super windy day but the Shearwater will serve you well for the vast majority of normal paddling. The Shearwater is way more fun for playing around with freestyle moves than the Merlin…the boat turns on a dime (skooch the sliding seat forward and lean the boat and it spins like a 14 footer with the rear 6 feet of the boat out of the water!).

I think the Shearwater is a more magical, sexier boat than the Merlin but I have to admit that my Merlin is my most-used boat and it always has been.

You can’t go wrong with either boat.


Other way around
What I’ve heard was that the Merlin II was better than the Osprey for beginning paddlers. I think I’m going to try to spend a bit of time in the Merlin II loaded and go from there as there as the Bells are more readily available in my area.


– Last Updated: Jul-27-10 10:02 PM EST –

Anyone thinking the Shearwater at 16'3" turns tighter than the Merlin at 15' needs a paddling lesson.

They are both great boats, but Lay them both to the rail; Merlin skids a much tighter turn.

agree for sure
Yes, I fully agree that the Merlin II is better than Osprey for beginners. The Merlin II is a wonderfully stable and forgiving boat. In my experience the Swifts are only more stable when fully leaned over and even that is probably more a matter of taste (the Swifts lean to the rail very easily…they do not fight back - which some people like and some may not…the Merlin is always trying to right itself more aggressively than the Swifts). The Osprey is a more lively, responsive (hot?) boat than the Merlin II. Your original post was comparing the Shearwater to the Merlin II; the Merlin II is way mroe stable than an Osprey…but the Shearwater is even a touch more stable than the Merlin II. It’s a significantly bigger boat than the Merlin II (wider and longer…more volume. Both Merlin II and Shearwater sound great for you and if you have a Bell dealer close by the Merlin sounds best. In my experience there is more variability in the contruction quality of the lightest lay-ups from both Swift and Bell so personally I’d go for a medium weight or premium (carbon) lay-up. Or if you get a light lay-up look it over closely and try to test paddle it; I like a stiffer boat.


I have to say that all of your comments around Swift boats sound odd and inconsistent with your usual excellent advice. It seems odd that you would have nothing positive to say about Shearwater or Osprey if you have spent time in these boats! Your comments are based on spec’s…no comments based on personal experience?

I’ve spent at least a hundred hours each in an Osprey, a Shearwater and a Merlin II (three of my absolute favorite solos)…lots of back to back paddling on consistent sections of river. Maybe my load makes the difference…I do weigh more than you. I think you are right in that the Merlin may turn tighter than a Shearwater if it’s skidding…but both Swifts have sliding seats and if you skootch them forward and then shift your weight forward and lean…the rear ends of the boats are pointing towards the sky…and they turn like the short boats that they effectively are. Maybe you can lift the tail of a Merlin II effortlesly; I can’t (and I can always use more training I am sure).

My normal paddling routine is upstream against current where I need both efficiency and maneuverability. Merlin is faster (for same effort) than either Swift by about 10% (10-15% based on GPS) but Merlin II gets pushed around much more by current than either Osprey or Shearwater - because they turn better than the Merlin!

Is your experience different? I fully agree that it makes no sense based on specs since Merlin II has more rated rocker than either Swift.