Vagabond or Merlin II

-- Last Updated: Mar-07-07 7:09 AM EST --

I know there are a lot of users of the Merlin II as well as the Vagabond on this board. I'm considering one or the other in the next couple of weeks when I travel way down state to one of the few big name kevlar boat dealers. I'd like to get some feed back from users on what they'd recommend I get based upon your use of the boats. I typically am a day tripper and almost always include fishing (fly fishing) in my paddles. Most trips are only a few miles in length. I sometimes do overnighters and a week long trip or two each summer. I'm a bigger guy, 6'2" amd 230 lbs. Definitely want a solo canoe, and one that responds well to the paddle. I'm usually dealing with some wind and waves so ability to manuever easily is a plus. I'm leaning to the Merlin, but have not ruled out the Vagabond. Wondering if the Merlin will have enough initial stability to be comfortable when fly casting. Plan to try before I buy, just would like some input from people who have actually paddled these canoes for more than a test run.

Addendum: These are the only 2 choices of solo kevlar boat available. Unfortunately this dealer is about the only kevlar canoe dealer near me and they are a six hour drive away. Pretty much limited to boats on hand. Other kevlars are tandems which I am not interested in. I live in a remote enough area that kevlar canoes are rare and Old Town canoes abound. Already own two OT's, one is the solo Pack. Prisms, Magics, Voyageurs, etc. are just not available here.

Merlin a Bit Small
For any type of fishing at your size, the Merlin’s a bit small. I’d look for a Sawyer Autumn Mist.

Sawyers are back in production.

I find the Wildfire to be a better fishing platform than the Merlin II. Both can be tippy unless you kneel, which I do. That’s why I suggested the Autumn Mist.


I own a Vagabond and have owned
an OT Pack. I used both boats primarily for day tripping and fishing (I have used the Vagabond for a week long trip) I replaced the Pack with the Vagabond because I wanted more glide and more space. I do not fly fish but I found the Vagabond to be a stable fishing platform. I do not stand, however. My Vagabond is royalex. I understand the kevlar version is faster and glides even better do to the cleaner entry lines of the bow. I also have a kev-lite Magic which I use primarily for tripping. Much faster and better tracker than either the Pack or Vagabond, but a little less initial stability. Just my 2-cents.

Something about this thread
intigues me. How far north are you that you only have one “big kevlar” dealer with “two” canoes to choose from? Are you “far north” in Nunavut? Could you drive another hour or two and get more options. IMHO neither Vagabond or the Merlin II is the best boat solo for fly fishing, but they will both work if that’s all you have and you are willing to work at it a bit. I’ve owned and fished from a Vagabond and I own and fish from a Swift Osprey which is similar in size to the Merlin II. Either one will be a thousand percent improvement on your Pack.

BTW, it doesn’t do the poster much good to suggest boats he doesn’t have access to. And, Sawyer Canoe Company is no longer in business. They closed last fall and the forms went to Superior Canoe Company which is inactive

Andy in Virginia

If nothing else, because you are a bigger guy I think you should choose the Merlin. The Vagabond is a nice boat but the Merlin has a bit more capacity and may be a bit more versitle.

My two cents.

Merlin II
I’m similar in height, but don’t weigh as much as the poster. I’d recommend the Merlin II over the Vagabond. Merlin II is more fun and certainly more maneuverable even though it’s 6 inches longer. At the poster’s weight he’s well within the suggested load range of this boat - even with some day-tripping gear. The handing characteristics of the Vagabond always seemed so staid & boring to me – I vastly prefer how the Merlin II paddles. Of course like most Yost designs the MII does have differential rocker – not a favorite of mine… but I still prefer it over the lethargic performance of the Vagabond. Just my opinion.

Merlin II…
…If initial stability is secondary.

I own a Merlin II (WhiteGold, 39 lbs.) and recommend it highly (but with a caveat), but have never paddled a Vagabond, so cannot compare the two.

The Merlin II is incredibly versatile (I have also used Magic, Voyager, and Prism). I noticed another poster indicate that 160 lbs. is the optimal load for the Merlin – this is not correct. My experience is that it handles better with a load for me (I weigh 160). Bell lists the optimal load as 160-280 lbs., which I believe based on my experience paddling loaded and unloaded in various conditions. When I pack fully loaded for overnight trips (carrying full GaniteGear Great Nimbus and a Granite food pack or SealLine 35 gal. dry pack, total weight ~70 lbs.) it handles superbly, even in wind. I have paddled through rough water/wind on large lakes and had no problems whatsoever (in fact, during a trip in the BWCAW last year, I pressed on while some tandems headed to shore in a strong wind). This puts my loaded weight about the same as your unloaded weight (230). I sometimes place ballast in the bow and stern to improve handling when paddling unloaded, especially if windy.

The Merlin II is responsive and maneuverable, especially for a 15’ boat. And it is fast! Not as fast as say a Voyager, but faster than a Magic and Prism for me (and faster than the Vagabond, I’d bet). Tracking is only fair (my only complaint). I see the Magic was mentioned in the thread as another option. The Merlin is rated for as much load as a Magic and is a better boat in all ways (even faster according to my experience); you will find many other posts on this forum to this effect.

You should paddle it before purchasing, however, because it is a very lively hull design (very narrow – only 25.5” at the 3” waterline – w/ rounded design). Initial stability is not great (it rolls, but not an issue for me), which you can get used to, but of which you need to be aware, especially when fishing. I shoot photography out of mine. Secondary stability is very good. There are better options from the standpoint of stability – I also own a Souris River Quetico 16 that I solo for heavy fishing, which is very stable, but the Merlin II offers better maneuverability and speed; I paddle the Merlin more because it’s just much more fun.

I am guessing that the Vagabond will be more stable from its specs (wider at waterline), but not nearly as fast or responsive. You will be faced with the ever-present trade-off dilemma of canoe purchases!

I paddle it both kneeling and seated (I have my seat set low in a sitting position, which improve stability while seated, but I also kneel from this location; some find it difficult to fit their feat under the seat in this position.). You can get short- and long-drop seating attachments to place the seat as you like.

I recommend the WhiteGold layup, which is cheaper and more durable than KevLight. My model is very stiff. This layup is no longer listed on Bell’s site, but they will still make it for you. I am not a fan of Bell’s KevLight (too fragile). BlackGold is nice, but not necessary in a solo boat where WhiteGold weighs less than 40 lbs., unless you don’t mind spending $600 more to save only 6 lbs. (I have weighed mine and it checked in at exactly 39 lbs. as advertised vs. 33 lbs. in BlackGold).

The Merlin II is a fun boat to paddle.

Have fun!

now we have a clue
the original poster is from Northern Maine, which in my estimation actually is “far north” where the black fly is the state bird and the state flower is the satalitte dish. Just kidding.

Are there any demo days or canoe events coming up in that region this spring? Is it too far to drive to the Adirondacks Paddlefest?

New England Paddlesports
March 30

Kittery Maine

As canoedancing noted I am from far northern Maine. As I told him in an e-mail from back of beyond in the North Maine Woods. A common saying up here is “Ya cahn’t get theah from heah.” Sometimes that feels to be a truism. Though I would not trade it for all the convienences in the world…been there and done that. Thank you very much.

Thanks all for your input. The stability and lack of rocker and a foot brace make the Vagabond enticing. Also being touted as “fishing canoe” by Wenonah draws me to it. However, I think the Merlin’s rocker will allow it to respond better in waves and wind which I often face here. Who doesn’t?? Plus Bell boats are just beautiful and a very sweet paddle. Before moving back of beyond I had paddled a few Bell tandems and always enjoyed them.

I suppose once I see them and perhaps am able to demo them I’ll know which one is THE ONE.

merlin and vagabond
I started off fishing and doing only day trips with the Vagabond in royalex and loved it. Was fast enough to keep up with my friends in rec kayaks and stable for fishing. It is not as stable as a “pure fishing canoe” but you get used to it’s initial tippiness.

After I sold the Vagabond I picked up a used Merlin II in white gold and find it weighs ALOT more than the royalex vagabond so don’t know if I believe that 39lb weight it’s more like 45 lbs!

Anyway, I weigh 160lbs and with day tripping gear for a fishing trip find it is less stable initially than the Vagabond. The white gold and aluminum rails are noisy so that may be a factor to consider for fishing. I ended up lowering the seat 4" so I can get more stability and still kneel.

For touring with an additional 100lbs of gear/food/water on board it feels more stable and is still fast unlike the Vagabond that feels less lively and bogs down. The Merlin is extremely sensitive to trim more so than the Vagabond.

For pure fishing and no touring I prefer the Vagabond. For paddling pleasure and touring the Merlin II.

your not far from canada. could you try the swift osprey?

Don’t Reprimand Me
Sawyer’s back in business

Thought of the Shearwater or Osprey, but Swift canoes are a long drive from here, plus taxes upon return make it not a feasible option.

For the info! Love both fishing and cruising. Often have to cruise to get to a good fishing spot. Oh what to do??? LOL!!! I’m sure either boat will make me smile.

Another model
For fishing and short paddles, Definitely the Vagabond.

For a fun boat to paddle, Definitely the Merlin II.

But I think the Wenonah Argosy would give you a drier more maneuverable ride than the Vagabond while providing a more stable platform than the Merlin II.

So between your to listed options, I am going to choose the Vagabond.

Merlin II
Gotta say, Merlin II. Fast, not as fast as my Magic, but fast non-the-less. Fun, it turns pretty easily. Sexy, it looks nice. It’ll hold your weight. I’m 200 and my buddy that owns a Merlin II is also 200 and we had it on week long trips – we both trip ultra-light though.

If it feels a little tender, drop the seat. It’s a completely different beast with the longest seat drops that Bell has. Personally, I like the middle size, but not the shortest in the Merlin II.

Swift Osprey
Swift Osprey is as fast and agile as the Merlin II and more stable. If you are interested in Swift canoes they ship trailer loads into the US and there aren’t any taxes if you meet the trailer somewhere or arrange a drop off somewhere other than a dealer. Swift probably has boats going to somewhere near Maine this spring. Prices are very competitive with Bell composites. It’s worth a call to find out anyway. If you need a little bigger solo the Swift Shearwater is a good choice.

Swifts are awesome. I knew a guy who had a Shearwater that he used primarily for fishing. I had canoe envy to saw the least. I have a line on Prism I hope and it is less of a drive than the first dealer. So time to rethink.

It’s an overstatement to say the Osprey is as fast as a Merlin II. It should provide more stability, but trades off some speed/efficiency.

Each is a great design.