PBW Rapidfire vs Shadow vs Vagabond?

For clarification, I’m referring to Placid Boatworks Rapidfire http://placidboats.com/newpack.html vs Placid Boatworks Shadow http://placidboats.com/shadow.html vs Curtis Vagabond http://www.hemlockcanoe.com/ (in “Photo Album” section in sub group “Curtis Canoe Catalog Pages”)

  1. My recollection from other discussions on Rapidfire like canoes (dimensionally, not seating), that the Rapidfire and Vagabond have very similar bottoms and therefore handle very similarly. Do I have this correct? The Rapidfire obviously has narrower gunwales and appears to have a few inch longer waterline.

    I own a fiberglass Curtis Vagabond and am wondering how different the experience would be paddling the Rapidfire (both bottom seat and kneeling seat) vs the Vagabond, other than the 38 lb Vagabond weighing 10 or 12 lbs more than the Rapidfire?

    Besides the weight advantage narrower gunwales, does a wood trimmed Rapidfire have any advantages over the fiberglass Vagabond?

  2. What are the handling and ease of paddling differences / similarities between Placid’s Rapidfire and Shadow? From what I’ve gathered so far, the Shadow has a higher top end speed and some have said it’s a bit more effected by wind than the Rapidfire.

    What else?

    How is the maneuverability between the two when heeled?

    I’m 5’6" and about 165 lbs in street clothes with my pockets full and my belt loaded.


cant answer your question because
it requires the presence of too many boats at the same time.

Shadow in two configurations, Rapid in two configurations and Vagabond in one.

Shadow to me is a little faster than Rapid but not enough to notice at my normal speed. I cannot begin to get a pack into it hence my interest in what it would do otherwise was simply not that great.

Your interests may vary and a pack the least of your concerns.

I have most seat time in Nomad and RapidFire…currently a few hundred miles in both. Did not GPS times so any “speed” feeling is subjective. I do not normally heel any sit down pack canoe to the rail as my ability to right it is more limited than kneeling. Nomad goes to the rail well. I would expect all to have fine secondary stability and all to be well behaved with that usually “gives us fits” stern quartering wind. Rapid and Nomad both hold course well. Have no idea of Shadow. My only test was at a calm time.

I expect Charlie would be of a lot more help than I am.

I don’t heel any boat to the rail.
Not even my Curtis Lady Bug or Bell Yellowstone Solo or Blackhawk Zephyr.

Most interested in do they turn noticeably easier with a bit of a heel. The Vagabond turns noticeably easier when heeled just a bit than it does when flat.

My Sawyer Summersong and Wenonah Advantage, on the other hand, require a bit more effort to turn, even with a bit of a heel.

I don’t like to work too hard to turn.

The reality is that most of my paddling is a few hours at a time following the shoreline of lakes in relatively shallow water - just 1’ - 4’ deep.

My Sawyer Loon handles the shoreline exploration quite nicely (without using the rudder) and will still get up and go fast when asked, but it weighs 56 or 57 lbs, so I don’t get it out too often. I’d love to have a boat that handles like the Loon, but weighed 40 lbs or less, but I don’t think such a boat exists.

Packs aren’t a concern for me, just a dry bag or two.

I paddle open boats mostly with a single blade, because I don’t like paddle drips from the double blade.

If I acquired a Rapidfire or Shadow, I would most likely also get a spray deck for use with a double blade when I want the kayak experience, instead of taking my heavier kayaks.

Thanks for your input.

I had thought that you had also purchased a Shadow.

I think you would Shadow a blast
given your parameters.

I suggest you join the Placid Boatworks party the last weekend of September at Fish Creek Pond just west of Saranac Lake in New York. Its a DEC campground.

Be prepared to present a dish to share and also good company.

Anyway there is a good day paddle that has pound it out opps (as well as chances to bail) in some of the most scenic paddlegrounds you will find anywhere.

Just show up…no rez necessary.

I think the only person who can answer the questions you have asked is you…

I would go with an Old Town Pack, that way you can do white water as well as ocean crossing.

Rapidfire in shallow water

I owned a Bell Rob Roy, special ordered in Black Gold when it wasn’t yet offered as an option. I was very pleased with that boat until one day Charlie brought a Rapidfire to an event I was at. I loved the handling of the Rapidfire and was thrilled with the increased speed. So, to help me finance buying the Rapidfire, I sold my Rob Roy to a friend who had been lusting for it.

Soon after I picked up the Rapidfire I paddled down a shallow stream that leads into a large lake. To my surprise the Rapidfire felt slow paddling down that shallow stream (1’-3’). I felt much more drag than I recalled from the many times I had paddled the Rob Roy down that stream. When I reached the deep water of the lake the Rapidfire again became the wonderful fast canoe that it is.

Discussing this paddling experience with Charlie, he said the delta hull shape of the Rob Roy works better in shallow water and the hull shape of the Rapidfire works better in deeper water. He then went into a discussion of reflecting waves that, out of respect of Charlie, I don’t want to try to paraphrase. His explanation gave me reasons for what I had felt paddling down that shallow stream and the subsequent reduction of effort and increased speed of the Rapidfire when I reached the deep lake.

I still love my Rapidfire, think it’s a superb design for general paddling and have no regrets on buying it-it’s a “keeper”. (My friend still loves the Rob Roy and would like to buy another).

I share this experience only to point out that the Rapidfire is more efficient in deeper water than the very shallow water you suggest will be the most common depth you paddle. If in fact you mostly paddle slightly deeper water the Rapidfire will be an excellent choice. 4’ depth should be ok, 1’ depth will have increased drag from the interaction of the hull shape with the bottom. There is no free lunch, the drag in extremely shallow water is the price I willingly pay for the low paddling effort and wonderful speed in deeper water.


How do Rapidfire & Rob Roy compare
maneuverability wise?

Thanks for your insights.

IIRC the Sawyer Summersong is also a delta shaped hull and that is why it feels slower than it’s reputation when I paddle it in shallow water. Deeper water is another matter.

Old Town Pack is about 3" to 4" too wide
for my preference. I sold my 26 lb Phoenix Poke Boat a couple years ago because it was wider than I like.

Maneuverability is of course subjective and judged differently by every paddler. Other than Matt Broze, who subjects every kayak he paddles to timed turning tests, few of us record valid test data. While I was a single blader for decades, an interest in Bart Hauthaway’s pack canoes followed by substantial shoulder surgery have turned me exclusively into a double blader. Sitting on the bottom is acceptable to me as I do so in kayaks.

From that perspective, the Rob Roy is maneuverable. At times it’s slightly affected by rear quartering winds but not excessively so. A nice canoe to paddle. I found the Rapidfire was slightly stronger tracking and slightly less affected by wind. It’s still maneuverable, not like some hard tracking canoes or kayaks where you have to fight the hull to make it turn. The Rob Roy is also fine, just slightly looser tracking-some may prefer it. Your experience and opinions will likely differ, so try them both to form your own opinion on where you draw the line between maneuverability and tracking. For me the Rapidfire strikes the perfect balance between tracking and maneuverable.


Delta verse Symmetrical

– Last Updated: Feb-14-11 10:10 AM EST –

Strongly Swede-Form, or Delta shaped hulls handle differently than symmetrical hulls.

Delta shapes generally site the paddler further aft in the hull because the Center of buoyancy moved aft with the strong asymmetry. Handling is compromised because the bow sections tend to have minimal rocker and are fairly far forward from the paddler's station and because these hulls are usually paddle with a bent paddle. All three items mentioned compromise the ability to draw the bow to the paddle blade. ShockWave, SummerSong, Advantage, Prism, Encounter, Magic and Rob Roy are all strongly delta shaped midwestern hulls that turn best by skidding the stern rather than drawing the bow. GRB and Savage offer eastern variants.

Severe Delta Shapes with minimal rocker are standard in USCA racing because most race courses tend to have many shallow water sections. In shallow water, multiple transverse waves are replaced with a larger single diagonal wave with a huge trough behind it because the area under the hull is restricted. The broad, flatish aft sections resist squatting in trough and the long skinny fore sections cut through the bow wave more effectively. The handling characteristics are a secondary concern, especially as most racers are well practiced.

Delta hulls tend to have sticky bows and loose sterns, they are turned by skidding the stern away from the required direction of turn. An outside, carving heel also helps turns. Magic is somewhat unique in that it has more bow rocker than any other hull in class, and its' bow will draw to the paddleblade.

Conversely, ICF race courses have a minimum depth requirement, and the much faster ICF hulls are more mildly Swede-Form with significant but differential rocker, roughly 3" bow, 2" stern in 5m, ~16.7', solo boats. ICF racers tend to be pretty well practiced themselves.

Back to OP questions:

The differences between Vagabond and RapidFire are subtle. Rocker is about the same, 1.5+1=2.5, 1.35+1.35= 2.7, and can be adjusted to differential or symmetrical with trim. Rapid is a little longer and has a little more tumblehome. Choosing comes down to if one thinks David Yost might have learned anything in twenty five years of boat building.

Construction quality is another choice. Pb's RapidFire and Colden's Vagabond are infused Carbon Kevlar laminates that can be had with integral foam cored rails. At ~25#, infused hulls are lighter, stronger, stiffer and without internal voids compared to hand laminations. Wood trim is a heavy, irregular, high maintenance, vestige of the past. The old Curtis Vagabonds and current Helmock Kestrel are the same hull contact laminated by one of the best hand laminators in the business.

We can't discuss subtleties of handling because, while we know he is a compact guy, we don't know if The OP kneels, sits high or sits low; uses a straight blade or a bent. Maybe all of those, which, with that impressive stable of wildly divergent hulls, further confuses.

Heeling is a key skill in boat handling. It lifts the stems, shortening overall length in the water and increasing rocker, both aiding turning. It can deflect the leading stem towards either, chosen, side. Greater heel angles increase all those benefits.

Problems with wind at best described by John Winters "The Shape of the Canoe, pg 33, diagram pg 34. With it's extreme 8.5 Length/ Width ratio and a sliding seat, the Pb Shadow team had no windage issues crossing shallow Middle Saranac Lake with a screaming North wind during last years Adk Classic 90 miler.

There was a solo canoe community in C-U in the late 80's early 90,s, but that seems to have gone away, with Conclave, which offered a broad range of instruction. Try contacting the guy known as Canoeist11 on this site to figure when he's teaching in the area. A day with Tracy will help more than one more hull.

delta vs. symmetrical hulls

Thanks for putting into words what my paddle knew but my mind struggled to explain.


Thanks Charlie.
I sit 90% because my knees don’t much like kneeling. Usually the seat is high enough to get my feet under when I do choose to kneel.

I use a Zav most of the time, but sometimes use the Wenonah Black Light straight (Grey Owl Freestyle) as change of pace.

I seldom use a double blade in open boats because of the excessive paddle drips when using 220cm to 230cm paddles. Even a 240cm drips into the Summersong, which only has 20.5" gunwale width. I’ve also never paddled a canoe in which using a double blade paddle actually felt better than a single blade. The canoes I’ve paddled seem too inefficient with a double blade and I wear out much faster than when using the same paddle in my kayaks. I gather that the Rapidfire and Shadow actually feel efficient with the kayak paddle. I’d believe that about the Shadow with a 22" water line, but would have to prove it to myself with the wider Rapidfire.

How are the Rapidfire and Shadow similar and different with both the kayak paddle and single blade? Which is more pleasurable for you to paddle with your Zav bent? Which would be more pleasurable exploring the nooks and crannies of a lake’s shorline? If I were to buy either a Rapidfire or Shadow, my expectation would be to use a short Zav bent most of the time until I got a spray deck to keep double blade paddle drips out. Even then, I’d use a single blade most of the time.

I’m all for the low maintenance and lower weight of the composite gunwales. Wood feels good, but I get no pleasure from maintaining it.

Shallow suckwater sucks and neither my Summersong or Advantage seem to feel any faster than my Curtis Lady Bug when tooling along the shallow shoreline, but are noticeably more efficient in the deeper water. I ofen paddle in water that’s got areas not even deep enough to get my entire paddle blade wet.

It sounds like both the Rapidfire and Shadow both favor deeper water, but do well enough in shallow water.

There is now a Rapidfire in northern IL, so I might get to try one this season (are you listening, Magic Paddler?).

I may not get a chance to try a Shadow anytime soon, unless somebody out this way buys one.

Not many folks solo canoeing in central IL anymore. I’m usually the only single blader on group river trips.

The Shadow intrigues me because of it’s narrow beam and relatively large rocker. If it’s as playful as the Vagabond when paddled from the sitting position, I just might like it.

RF verse S
The RapidFire is pretty close in performance to the Curtis Vag, particularly when sitting. Rapid has more tumblehome which allows greater heel angles, but they won’t be achieved sitting. Rapid had differential radii at bow and stern, which enhances turning and tracking. It’s a couple inches longer and a little faster.

The big difference is fourteen pounds, ~37% weight reduction, and the sliding seat option, which allows instant trim adjustment. If you are happy sitting in Vag, you’ll probably be pleased with the higher seat sub pan.

Shadow is a foot longer and 2 inches narrower. It is faster and tracks better, due to 8.5 compared to Rapids’7.3 L/W ration, but also turns nicely due to heroic bow rocker. It can be had with the same sliding seat, but most prefer the low sub pan to improve stability in that narrow hull. One can switch high for low sub pan seats. I do not know Joe’s pricing for a second four-piece seat; pan, sub pan, slider tubes. A more complex version with vertical and rake adjustment similar to ICF seats is planned, but fitting eight components will make that pricey.