I am a long time fan of the Spitfire, purchasing a first generation model several years ago and a vacuum bagged one more recently. I primarily used the boat as a day paddler for picnics and excursions, and found I could easily keep pace with most kayaks and canoes. I am an ex-racer and inefficient hulls drive me nuts, but this boat really moves well for a 12 footer.
I recently loaded the boat for a camping trip and found it to be remarkably able to carry a load with ease. Between me and my packs, I put about 230 pounds in it, and it could have easily handled more. I also used it empty on a big lake with a following wind and had no trouble with weathercocking when I stowed a 10 pound daypack behind the seat.
Best of all, I found the Placid Boatworks folks to be excellent people to work with. I am only about 5'3" and too short to get over the gunwales with the standard seat, so the folks at Placid Boatworks put in a slightly taller seat and it's been perfect. So I am about to buy a third generation model with composite thwarts and gunwales. See you on the water!Spitfire review:
First of all, I need to qualify this review with my purpose for buying the spitfire. I plan to use this pack canoe primarily for fishing and wanted a lightweight, maneuverable boat that behaves predictably and so my review is in this context. Second of all, my personal thanks to all of the folks who reviewed this boat and the Rapidfire on Paddling.net. The reviews were invaluable to me in my research prior to buying this boat.
I am an experienced sea kayaker and an avid kayak fisherman and the design of this ďcanoeĒ really appealed to me. The folks who described this as a kayak with out a top deck were right on. This boat handles much like any mid-sized, well made sea kayak, except itís half the weight and with a beam of 24Ē, its primary and secondary stability is quite good. Itís not quite as stable as the raft of tug-boat fishing kayaks on the market that are 28 Ė 33Ē wide, but if you are at all experienced you will feel very comfortable in this boat, even in a moderate chop. I found it much more stable than most canoes I have been in and I am sold on the lower seating arrangement found in the Spitfire, RapidFire or for that matter, kayaks in general.
Tracking: The boat tracks very well with a minimum of correction required, even in a quartering breeze. I was quite impressed with this as I had the boat out in 12 Ė 15 MPH wind the second time I had it out and it was really a joy to handle. While it tracks well, it is extremely maneuverable. A slight lean or a bit more power on one side of the stroke and this boat turns very quickly.
Speed: Itís all relative. I own two 18ft, all-out sea kayaks and this boat canít hang with them, but I also own a 15í fishing kayak (Malibu Extreme) and quite frankly, the fishing kayak just got demoted for use by inexperienced friends. The Spitfire simply is far superior. Itís 1/3rd the weight, faster, with just as much storage and it looks a lot better to boot. I also own a QCC 400XL and the Spitfire paddles very much like this boat speed-wise, at 1/2 the weight and from all appearances, a bit sturdier construction. Bottom line: If Iím going to spend the whole day paddling or taking a multiple day trip, this isnít the boat I would choose. If Iím going fishing or going to pack a boat between lakes, the spitfire is perfect. To be honest, based on this boat, if I could only own one boat, I would likely go for the RapidFire. The increased length would allow it to be much faster, while the weight is still so much better than a sea kayak or a traditional canoe.
Weight. I could not believe this boat the first time I picked it up. Iím used to handling high end, composite kayaks and this boat at 23 lbs is just about Ĺ the weight of my 18í kevlar sea kayak. This boat is perfect when you have to carry it any significant distance. Putting the boat on top of the car is a joy!
Fit and Finish: This boat is very well made. The guys at Placid Boat works make a beautiful boat that is light weight but is quite rugged. I thought about buying one of the ultra-light pack canoes, but I decided on the Spitfire, because of its reputation for its durability. I am VERY happy with my decision. I have a good friend who is an expert kayaker who told me early on in my kayaking that when you buy a boat there are three factors: Strength, Weight and Price. You can choose 2. With the Spitfire, you get a very strong and light-weight boat that is beautiful, at a price commenserate with the craftsmanship.
Customer Service: Wow. I didnít have the pleasure of going to the factory in person, but boat my boat from Joe and Charlie after discussing it with them directly. These guys are great. There was a problem initially with the delivery plans for my boat, and Joe went way out of his way to make sure I had my boat for the weekend that I intended to first use it. In fact, given that the delivery service bailed on us, I had planned to drive up and pick up the boat, but Joe arranged to deliver the boat to me at the last minute. Awesome personal service. I really appreciated it. Given that I donít know them and have never even met them face 2 face, I can only conclude that this is indicative to their focus on customers.
Overall: I rate this boat a 10. For what it is trying to be, which is beautiful, well made, light-weight and strong, it does really, really well. Looking forward to many years of enjoyment.I purchased my Spitfire a little over 6 months ago and have paddled it over a dozen times in that period. Often when I read these reviews I wonder what the reviewer is comparing the boat in question to. Before purchasing the Spitfire I had paddled large tandem canoes and kayaks, solo kayaks, and Native Craftís Ultimate 12 Ė a sort of SOT hybrid.
My Spitfire has the cobra XLT gunwales and the higher contoured graphite seat and weighs in around 23 lbs. I paddle it with both a double paddle and a single stick. Recently I purchased a Wenonah Solo Plus and paddling the Solo Plus has given me new insight into the Spitfire.
The Spitfire is a light maneuverable pack canoe with elegant lines and a high-end feel. The workmanship is excellent, the gel coat finish is uniform, the lay-up is smooth and even, and the material is of the highest quality. It has good secondary stability but primary stability is not great. Getting in and out of the boat is a bit dicey, even after months of practice, but once you sit down, put your feet on the foot pegs, and lock your knees against the gunwales you feel a great sense of control and connection to the elements. You engage with the water and waves in an immediate way, as if the hull is an extension of your skin.
Tracking is typical of a boat this short and unless the trim is carefully adjusted the canoe weathercocks as soon as you stop paddling. I have paddled two short boats and find that both suffer from this problem. It isnít until you reach 14 feet that tracking noticeably improves. Having said this, with a double blade the Spitfire is easy to keep on course and responds quickly to draws, pries, and sculls. Effective sculling is sometimes counter intuitive in this craft and I still need to work at improving my feel for how to direct the boat in this way.
My Spitfire is perfect for poking along shorelines and is so light I can carry it on my shoulder for several hundred yards without a second thought. For longer carries, I put a piece of foam on my shoulder and head off. The light weight means I can effortlessly move the canoe on and off my vehicle and over beaver dams and log jams. Dock entry and dry land entry and exits are challenging. I have paddling boots and I highly recommend a pair to give you the freedom to set the boat in 6 inches of water before climbing in.
The boat has good lines and design, but part of the trade off for small size and low weight is a fairly low top speed before the bow wake develops and you feel the drag that indicates a performance plateau. This is not a fast boat, but certainly the low mass makes acceleration from a standstill better than average.
If you fish, this boat is worth considering because unlike SOT kayaks, it is ridiculously light and easy to carry around and the performance is better on average than the SOT kayaks I have paddled. You are not going to stand up in this boat, however, so forget punting or fishing from a standing position. I have fished with both a fly rod and a spin caster from this sitting position and like the feel and control. Itís easy to move around a lake and easy to reach gear between my feet. I also like it for photography. I leave my camera on a tripod at the lowest height and set it between my knees. I find it easy to alternate between paddling and taking pictures.
The Spitfire is an excellent boat for recreational paddling, casual day and weekend tripping, fishing, and carrying to that obscure put-in youíve had your eye on. It is perhaps the best all round pack canoe on the market and should win awards with the ďgo lightĒ gang. It is not the obvious choice for long trips or white water. New paddlers will find it tippy at first, but after several hours on the water the return in immediate sensory appeal will compensate for the initial skittery sensations. The only competition for this boat would be one of the feather light boats that weigh in at less than twenty pounds. The extra strength and gel coat of this package is well worth the extra few pounds in my opinion.