Canoe selection help

Hi all, On an impulse I bought a used Placid Shadow (for fun and the Adirondack 90-miler). Well, I can’t paddle it well no matter what I try ( I have taken lessons). It just isnt the right canoe for me. I think something smaller might be better. I am looking at a Rapidfire, Swift 14.8 and the Hemlock Kestral. A canoe that may not be as fast, but easier to keep at top speed. As far as I can tell that they should all be very similar performance. Those of you with experience, how would you decide among these (especially since demos are tough to find). I guess a Trillium could be thrown in the mix…
Thanks much!

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Welcome to the forum.

What in particular are you having problems with? When you say smaller is a foot shorter going to change that much? Do you paddle it with a double blade kayak paddle?

When you took lessons what was the instructor advising you to work on?

Sorry for all the questions but sometimes giving more information can help others help you with suggestions.

Hi Bud,
I have tried both double blade and single (bent shaft) with the Placid Shadow. I think the primary issues causing my challenge, at least according to the guy who gave me lessons, are too much rocker and not enough weight in the canoe. Also, as you know, the Shadow is for better paddlers (I am average). I am 6 ft, 170 lbs, 57 yrs old of average strength. I paddle most of the time with an empty canoe.
I have paddled a Swift 15.8 (pack) with no problems. I also paddled a Rapidfire with no problems. So, I guess smaller isn’t the biggest necessity, but rather a boat that isn’t as challenging as the Shadow. I have no doubt that a great paddler can make the Shadow win a marathon race, but for me it is a lot of work. I would rather be a tad slower and have an easier paddle…more fun for sure. thanks for helping!

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I understand at 170# you will only be drawing maybe 3” of water and with 3” rocker in the bow and 1.5” stern you will need your seat location darn near perfect to keep from being blown around or even tracking in general. Kind of like herding cats.

Sorry I can’t help you out more with the canoes you are looking at I have a heavy wide 14’7” tandem I made into a solo perfect for beating up on rocks in our river and I had a similar problem as it was designed for 700-800# when I first got in it solo with no extra weight it was tough until I got it balanced properly. People were telling me to add weight like 10-20 gallons of water to the bow. I didn’t want to be pushing all that extra weight along just to solve my problem. Getting it to track and also run very shallow was great when empty and I now have two areas to load gear when I want it so I stay balanced.

Just yesterday I was thinking of taking a string out and measuring the rocker in mine. I might have to do that. my guess is 1” on both ends.

Thank you. Just confirming my issue is helpful!

If you are looking for speed and want to race and you did well in the Rapidfire the choice seems clear. Go with the Rapidfire. It will certainly be faster than the Hemlock Kestrel. I can’t comment on the Swift boat but the Rapidfire is one of the two or three fastest stock (non-all out racing boats) I have paddled.

Hi Tgreen1515…just had nothing else to do right at the moment;-)
Sounds like this may be your first boat…y/n? Anyways from Shadow videos it looks like a straight-ahead recreational racer, without much initial stability . Anyways, yeah they are for paddlers with balance yet when paddling in any conditions but smooth, as in the shop’s backyard ponds…they’re not comfortable to be in…are they? As waterline-length is often a mark of speed…there are other specs which fall into play. As pblanc mentioned…the Rapidfire sounds like a place to start, then try a few others for comparison. Paddling one for yourself after you’ve removed a canoe’s NAME from your mind can solve many issues…you’ll know it when you can feel it…

I haven’t paddled the Placid boats or the 14.8/15.8 Swift Cruisers but I used to own a Kestrel and I’ve put some miles on a friend’s Trillium. Both Kestrel and Trillium are super low effort boats that are stable and friendly. For lakes Kestrel may have a slight edge and for all around use Trillium may be best since it turns better than Kestrel. Both are great boats if you fit their weight limits.

You guys are great! Yes,the shadow is my first solo canoe. I have finished the 90 miler in a Minn 2 and a Jensen 18, but wanted to start paddling solo. I was trying to make decision without demos, but i think that was an unwise idea. Like you all said, start with the Rapidfire and go from there. I am trying the Kestrel Saturday ( I live 20 minutes from Hemlock Canoes),. You all take care.

You also might talk with Gene Newman (GRBNewman Designs) in Canton New York. His Classic XL might fit your needs.

If money isn’t much of an issue take a look at a Savage River Blackwater. They are in Western Maryland. Blackwater There are a couple of paddlers in my area that think highly of it.

Also, sometimes Sawyer Shockwaves come up for sale.

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Thank you. I will be in Canton in 2 weeks and will stop by GRB. I have not heard of the black water and will give them a call., your ideas are much appreciated!!

I had an opportunity to paddle a Savage Blackwater and a Wenonah Advantage back to back at Cooper Lake at the Western PA Solo Canoe Rendezvous a few years back. The Blackwater was faster than the Advantage and that is saying something. Felt pretty stable too.

As a beginning paddler, nearly all boats are going to give you some trouble.
It is possible to solo a large tandem once you learn your skills.
No canoe moves near its maximum speed without a lot of extra effort.
Longer canoes are faster.
Rocker makes canoes maneuverable.
I really like big canoes with a lot of rocker for everything.

Thank you! I am admittedly very new to solo paddling. I agree that all canoes can be challenging…what I need to figure out is how much of a challenge do I want. The Placid Shadow is too much for me at this stage. Regarding Max Speed, you are spot on. The trick, as you know, is to find a canoe that you can power with the most efficiency (if you want to cover long distances). When I raced the MnII, our total weight (2 paddlers) was about 280 and not only did we suffer in strong winds but exhausted ourselves trying to reach max speed. Regarding my initial post, I can’t thank all of you more! Clearly there are knowledgeable people willing to share their thoughts and, so far, I agree with all of them!

I have paddled a good many solo canoes but that was over lots of years in many different settings and obviously at different ages and levels of fitness. But for what it is worth, here is a list of the half dozen solo canoes that I have personally paddled that I would regard as “fastest” that are not all-out marathon racing boats like the Wenonah J boats:

Savage Blackwater
Placid Rapidfire
Mad River Tempest

Then not quite as fast but still pretty fast:

Sawyer Shockwave
Wenonah Voyageur
Wenonah Advantage

and close but not quite as fast:

Bell Magic

I just started reading the forums and stumbled onto this thread. My experience with a Shadow is similar to yours. I had less paddling experience than you, though; mostly self taught newbie starting with used pack boats, moving from a Slipstream “Wee Lassie” to a Slipstr. Impulse 13 and then a used Shadow that I bought on impulse because I admired the Placid canoes. It pushed me WAY out of my comfort zone but really challenged me to work hard to improve my double blade technique (trying some single, also) and attempt to understand what hull design was all about. Such a wonderful boat, but I’m 69, not a super strong paddler and came to the conclusion that it was more boat than I needed or would grow into. Better to get it into someone else’s hands. Found a demo Rapidfire, sold the Shadow and I’m much happier on the water. Have you found another canoe yet? I’m toying with the idea of a Northstar Trillium pack, but it’s pretty much impossible to find one to demo in upstate NY. Has anyone here paddled a Trillium pack?

Thanks for the note. I am sure there are some who absolutely love the Shadow, but I suspect that those are paddlers with very well developed skills. I am 56, 170 lbs, in pretty good shape and have done the 90-miler before. The Shadow is just not for me. It’s not the first canoe I have struggled with…I know I am not the best paddler. However I know I’m not bad either. I was almost ready to buy a Swift canoe (demo on Irondequoit Bay), but fell in love with the Hemlock Kestrel. I was able to try it at their place on Hemlock lake. It may not be the fastest or lightest, but I can paddle it well and do more with it than just race once a year. By the way, I paddled the Peregrine as well and it is amazing too. Hope this helps. The rapid fire is excellent. I have heard the Bell Magic fits the category but I haven’t tried it.

I highly recommend checking out genes GRB Classic series. It’s on the leaderboard in the 90 stock class single blade category every year. I’ve owned one for decades and it’s in the “never sell” category, tracks well and leans a turn quite nicely

Good to hear you’re enjoying the Kestrel. I bought one a couple of years ago and am really appreciating it’s versatility. It’s a fun boat whether kneeling and using a straight blade paddle or sitting and using a bent blade paddle. I weigh just under 150 lbs so it’s a good fit. Just curious, but why did you choose the Kestrel over the Peregrine? For me it was the Kestrel’s nimbleness vs the Peregrine’s speed.


Actually our family owns both :). I think you summarized each well. Big fans. I agree with the other poster about GRB classic. That would be my clear second choice…