Nine years after selling Bell Canoe Works to ORC Industries, Ted Bell is back at the helm of a canoe making business.
Northstar Canoes Northwind Solo Specs
Length: 15 ft 6 in
Width: 26.5in gw / 30 in mx
Weight: 33 lbs
Optimal Load: 170–320 lbs
Capacity: 700 lbs
Price: $2,695 ($3,045 with wood trim)
The new Northstar Canoes line appeared on American showroom floors with a limited run in 2013, just a year after Bell’s non-compete expired. Their catalog has since expanded from four models in the first year to nine and increased production to several hundred boats in 2015.
When I meet with Northstar Canoes’ general manager Bear Paulsen outside a casino in a blustery border town to pick up our tester model, he tells me that business is flourishing. Even in early spring, Northstar was sold out well into the summer.
The Northwind Solo is the do-everything solo canoe
I return home with a sleek Northwind Solo. It’s one of four solo designs that Northstar makes, and the only solo in their Northwind touring series. “The Northwind Solo is the do-everything solo canoe,” advises Paulsen. “It’s perfect for canoeists who don’t want to specialize in any one type of paddling.”
Built with adventure in mind, the Solo is ideal for lake tripping, travel, and even moderate whitewater. Oiled ash gunwales, walnut and ash bow and stern decks and a low seat hung on walnut trusses make it lovely to look at. I’ve only paddled a few strokes from the dock and I already understand why this has become Northstar’s most popular solo boat just a year after its release.
Responsive and energetic, the Solo only gets better when we add the weight of camping gear. It boasts good initial stability and exceptional secondary. Two-and-a-half inches of rocker in the bow and one-and-a-half in the stern hits the sweet spot between maneuverability and fast and easy tracking.
“Traditional tumblehome can create a wet boat and carry waves in,” says Paulsen of the canoe’s shouldered flare. “We carry the flare all the way up, almost to the gunwale, instead of the widest part of the canoe being at the waterline.” It’s a dry ride in rough water and when heeled over, the Solo gets wider and more stable.
A Kevlar and carbon fiber canoe by Northstar Canoes
Longtime followers of Bell Canoe Works might recognize the Northwind Solo as an updated incarnation of Bell’s Merlin II. It’s also far more user-friendly. Famed canoe designer, David Yost returned to shape this new incarnation with his son, Carl.
The Black Lite material of our test model is made with a carbon outer and Kevlar inner. It’s the toughest hull Northstar manufactures and tips the scales at a featherweight 33 pounds.
“Most people think of carbon as the lightest weight; for Northstar, it’s the most expensive but not the lightest lay-up,” says Paulsen. “We add more material, using carbon and Kevlar together to create more durability than either by itself at the same weight.”
The same model is made in 100-percent Kevlar (30 pounds, $2,295). A fiberglass-and-Kevlar blend Northstar calls White Gold (38 pounds, $1,895).
Northstar Canoes is unique in that they sell a high percentage of solo boats, “About 30 to 40 percent of sales are solo canoes,” says Paulsen. “I guess you could say they have a bit of a cult following—that’s Ted’s legacy.”
Paddling a Northwind Solo canoe is like being in the most stable relationship you could ever want…with a canoe. Feature Photo: Geoff Whitlock