Swift Osprey vs. Bell Merlin II

I know…lots of questions about boats. Just wanted to see what you folks out there felt about these two boats and how they compare.

Seems that they fill a similar niche.

How would you say they compare in terms of speed, tracking, maneuverability and performance in teh wind (an important factor to me living on a windy river)

Again, just curious. I have an Osprey and like it. Found a killer deal on a used Merlin…may be worth looking into. Easy to unload the Osprey if I liked the Merlin better but want to get some general opinions first.

I figure it is somewhat a toss up between the two. Seem to be same niche, but maybe they are more different than one might assume.



I have a Merlin II

– Last Updated: Apr-19-09 12:43 PM EST –

The Merlin II is a very nice canoe with good cruising speed and enough rocker to make it maneuverable on a river. Certainly not as fast or hard tracking as a Bell Magic or a Wenonah Voyageur, but it comes up to a fast cruising speed quickly and is pleasant to paddle over distances. I haven't found any unpleasant or unpredictable tendencies to weathercock or leecock uncontrollably. I have not paddled this canoe with any appreciable load.

The Merlin is usually set up with a seat suspended right at or near gunnel height so as to allow enough room underneath for kneeling. As such, it feels tender to many boaters when sitting. If you don't kneel, dropping the seat greatly increases the feeling of initial stability. I compromised by buying a pair of gunnel brackets from Bell Canoe and cutting them down so as to allow just enough room beneath the seat to acommodate my feet so that I can still kneel.

I have never owned an Osprey but paddled one for 5 miles or so in some wind on Raystown Lake a couple of years ago. I found it a very pleasant handling boat with good cruising speed. Based on that limited experience, my feeling was that the Osprey had perhaps a little more feeling of stability and perhaps a little less speed and maneuverability than the Merlin, but I could be wrong.

I think you would have to paddle both boats for a while in different conditions to judge which better meets your needs.

merlin II
I found a great deal on a used Merlin about 4 years ago. It was in the white gold layup with aluminum trim. After spending 3 years with a royalex Wenonah Vagabond I really enjoyed the Merlin. Very responsive and fun in the tidal creeks and rivers. It was not as fast as the Vagabond.

A year after purchase I started tripping with it overnights - 3 day trips. The Merlin was difficult if not impossible to trim properly. It became slow and not as responsive with an extra load.

Presently I have Hemlock Kestrel and have none of these issues. I have not paddled and Osprey so can’t compare but thought I should let you know about trim problems with extra gear. You should bring some water jugs to simulate gear load to see how it responds on your test.

I got my Merlin II
seven years ago when a small paddlecraft shop alas closed. It was a good deal I thought for an ultralite model with aluminum rails.

It did fine with moderate loads as long as the load was mostly in the stern. I found it quite trim sensitive… as far as distributing the load.

Once I had seventy lbs aft and the same in the fore section and the boat was extremely wallowy and harder than normal to control. The unfortunate coincidence of high winds and two foot waves made this boat weathercock badly. On the return leg to the put in I paddled backwards as I could not keep the nose pointed downwind. Why you ask did I not redistribute the load in the front…undividable… a 70 lb dog.

So if you can load stern heavy and bow light the boat is fine. I did several Woodland Caribou trips and Algonquin trips and a Temagami trip. Good hiking boat as it was light and several portages in Algonquin are long and some in Woodland Caribou are a thicket of blowdown.

As to your river paddling I think either Osprey or Merlin II would be fine. I find the Osprey just to be a little big for me… The Osprey has quite a flared bow and may be better for waveshedding. However I never got really wet in the Merlin II even without a spraycover.( I paddle up to about 20 mph headwinds…otherwise its better payback for travel to wait it out) I cant give you any insight into tracking or turning as I almost always heel the boat for turns…so I never turned with either one with a flat hull. I paddled the Osprey for about five hours…so its not a true comparison. I did not have the MerlinII with me to compare for speed for the Osprey but perhaps because I am looking for glide under load…more than anything. I usually do 20 mile days with packs and portages and at a slow cadence like the Everready Bunny.

I usually take several long solo trips a year and my favorite boat is the Swift Heron…another in that general class. Little initial stability but still great speed over the years despite the scratches(and not very load distribution sensitive). Merlin II was to be its replacement but to me it lacks the oomph of the Heron. I ferreted around and asked some mfrs and designers to find out if it was my imagination or what. Nope…the particular layup of Merlin II I had had a flatter bottom than intended. Supposedly that has been fixed though…

Anyhoo…I tore up the MerlinII last year. Basalt and UL dont mix in Temagami…a minor pin…duct tape to the rescue. The alumium gunwales made a nice letter z.

My 1 1/2 cents
I have owned both boats at the same time.My impressions;The Osprey seems a bigger boat,is a better down river boat-more manoverable and seaworthy,and the sliding seat is real handy. The Merlin is more responsive,a little more tender,slightly faster with a slightly longer glide, and prettier a slightly better flatwater boat.



– Last Updated: Apr-23-09 6:59 AM EST –

Had some severe storms rolling through last couple of days when I have been out paddling. About 25 knot winds.

Today the wind was really kicking up. As I was going to launch I set my Osprey down in the grass. The wind picked it up and it was airborn about two feet off the ground....did a couple of flips and then landed on concrete and bounced.

Barely even had a scratch on it! I was happily surprised.

Also experimented with the sliding seat...it helps in the wind. I was able to paddle pretty well in these conditions with the Osprety. Not perfect, but manageable...and a tough boat!

I also found sliding seat useful in other ways. it seems to change the boat completely. Boat seems to track much better with the seat pushed back and this seems a better set up for sit and switch paddling.

Bad thing is that the clamps on the seat suck.


Trim adjustment…
is a wonderful thing.

I’ve put a lot of miles on both. It’s subjective but I’d call them “very” different. Paddling upstream against a stout current Merlin cruised at 2.7 mph vs. Osprey at 2.3-2.4 on GPS…Merlin feels “much” more efficient. Since speed goes with square of velocity this soft data indicates Merlin approx. 20% more efficient (since speed was more than 10% better at same effort). Osprey still plenty efficient for most practical purposes. Osprey “much” more maneuverable than Merlin even with similar rocker specs…you can lean an Osrpey and get the stern to swing around wildly/effortlessly…Merlin much more sticky (cooperative but not reallt that maneuverable). Merlin will not get blown around in any wind…Osprey is affected by big wind. I’ve put more miles on my Merlin II than all other bats combined but that’s because it works for my specific needs and overall I like Osprey better. Now that my 65 pound paddling partner (lab) is gone I’d generally prefer an Osprey…weight of dog bogged down the Osprey but seemed to enhance the personality of the Merlin. Osprey rated for 260 pounds max for efficency and me plus dog put us slightly over and made the bow noisy and the boat a bit sluggish while Merlin remained silent, happy and fast.

all interesting comments…

I am still considering. I do like the Osprey. I have started fooling around with the sliding seat and it really does make a difference. Seems kind of like dropping the skeg on a kayak.

From reviews here and elsewhere seems that most say the Magic is a bit faster. Most also seem to say that it does not do particularly well with a load and is trim sensitive…the post above about the load enhancing the handling of the boat is interesting.

I also did not realize that the Osprey is intended for loads 260 and below. I weigh 200 pounds so with some camping gear I would be getting pretty close to that limit.

I guess I should have mentioned my weight. That makes a huge difference in affecting the handing of a boat as we all know. A boat that is playful and fast to a 130 pound woman may be quite the opposite to a heavier person.

Any thoughts on which boat might be better suited to a heavier paddler?

I know that this is all splitting hairs; however, maybe one boat is just not really ideally suited to someone of my weight. I think that most canoes are designed around the assumption of a bit lighter person. Maybe mean of about 160 pounds to cover both men and women I would guess.


try packing to max
My Hemlock Kestrel is rated “efficient” to 250lbs. I weigh 170 lbs and in our camping season I load that boat above the 250lbs because we have to carry all our water on trips. I do not find it makes the canoe sluggish it is more stable but it is still very responsive. That was not the case with my Merlin II, it became very sluggish and tiring to paddle for extended miles in higher winds.

Why don’t you do an experiment and load that Osprey to where you think it will be with full gear load on a week long trip. That should tell you more than anyone of us can. It’s what I had to do to prove if my Kestrel was able to take me safely across the glades for more than a week.

loaded solos
I liked the weight of the dog in my Merlin II because it enhanced glide but gave up acceleration…but the boat had plenty of “extra” acceleration so I appreciate the extra glide. The weight did not help handling…the boat was more responsive with a lighter load.

I had a Hemlock Kestrel and also found that it could take a big load (like me and the dog) - above it’s rated load. It’s a neat boat - faster than Merlin II but smaller.

My Osprey had the kevlar skid plates which I did not like…they made noise and it just got worse with the dog, although the boat always handled the dog’s weight and the sliding seat was nice to keep the trim right and make room for the puppy. I just noticed that the dog’s weight affected this solo more than most others for straight ahead cruising efficiency.

I’ve never found the Merlin II to be sluggish under any conditions.

They are all great boats!