Hobie Adventure Island Review
By John Denison - Grand Junction, Colorado - USA
photos courtesy of Hobie

Normally, we don't review commercially built boats here at Duckworks but since there are, at last count, two of these boats entered in the Everglades Challenge and since the Hobie Drive has been adapted to fit in a number of homebuilt boats, we present this.

I tried the Hobie Mirage drive system (their foot pedal flipper thing) a couple of years ago down in Texas and was impressed, though I thought I could paddle faster. What kept me from getting one of their boats (besides the price) was the only hulls they had at the time were pretty short and fat, plus the sail option they had was small and didn’t look like it had much upwind capability. They said you put the flippers in the straight down position for lateral resistance. At that time their primary market was fishermen, and apparently they were successful, at least in the Texas gulf coast market.

Adventure Island

So, one evening I was surfing the net somewhat bored and decided to see if Hobie was up to anything new. I have 2 ½ Hobie 16 beach cats (the ½ is a pitchpoling story!), so I have long appreciated Hobie’s innovation (I love the simplicity of the traveler on the H-16). I believe a guy named Ketterman, who invented what went on to be the Hobie Trifoiler, also invented the Mirage drive – both truly inspired mechanical engineering works of art, in my opinion. Anyway, the Hobie website touted the new Mirage Adventure Island (A.I. for short), so I checked it out. Oh my!

I’ve been long into sea kayaking (I’m getting too old for whitewater kayaking and beach cat sailing). Done some kayaking in Prince William Sound, Great Lakes, Florida, British Columbia, and Baja, but no heavy-duty multi-week expedition stuff. I have a Nautiraid Packer, a Feathercraft single, an Aire Sea Tiger, plus a couple of sit-on-tops, along with a bunch of whitewater kayaks I’m trying to get rid of. I’ve tried Klepper’s sail rig on my Nautiraid, parafoil kites, and even a homemade Tyvek sail. Long distance limitations with the upper body paddling thing are increasingly an issue for me. Lo and behold the A.I. comes along with 3 propulsion options: pedal, paddle, and sail!

I had a trip planned to the Texas gulf coast in January, but I was going to visit my father in Florida before Christmas. Wouldn’t you know it, there was a Hobie dealer near my father that had A.I.s in stock! Dolphin Dive and Tackle is the unlikely name of the Sarasota, FL Hobie dealer. They are a long time “institution” in the area and carry an extensive line of kayaks. They have very knowledgeable folks to deal with and claimed 10 mph speeds observed on the A.I. in Sarasota Bay. I went to their “demo day” on a small lake and was sufficiently impressed I was helpless. They cut me a good deal and the A.I. was shipped to Grand Junction, CO just before the big snowstorm hit Denver.

O.K. enough background, how does the thing sail, paddle and pedal? First of all it is plastic and therefore pretty hefty for cartopping, which is what I did driving to Rockport, TX. They list the rigged weight at 115 lbs., with the main hull (Vaka is the cool Polynesian term!) weighing in at 62 lbs. It is the Vaka that is challenging singlehanded. The pontoons (please, the Amas!) are too long to fit in my shortbed full sized pickup with camper shell, so they went on top too, along with my wife’s Perception sea kayak. The pontoon bars (that would be the Akas) and daggerboard go into this very nice bag Hobie includes. As an extra touch the daggerboard has its own neoprene sheath, as one wouldn’t want any dings in this fine foil! Briefly, a few of the additional specs. are: length: 16’, sail area: 57.5 sq. ft., capacity: 350 lbs. Other specs and details you can get off the Hobie website.

First the Mirage Drive: Again this is a mechanical masterpiece IMHO. With the A.I. you get the new “Turbo Fins” which are of course bigger than the old ones. I tried both at the demo day and you do notice a difference (they say 10% more speed and effort). As far as the effort goes, the shop guys said to just slow your rate down until you are comfortable – that works. The motion is back and forth instead of circular like on a recumbent bicycle. There are ingenious adjustments for travel length to fit different length legs and this really cool adjustment to the trailing edge of the fins that either gives you higher top speed or faster out-of-the- hole acceleration (no you won’t be able to pull a water skier!).

How fast? I’ve read claims of 5kts. top speed and 3kts. cruising, but that of course it depends on who’s legs, and whether or not you have the amas attached. I tried paddling and pedaling w/o amas (easy on and off as well as folding against the vaka) on a no wind day, and found I could not get my paddle in the water and pull a stroke because the pedaling made it go too fast! I quickly found myself minimizing any paddling in favor of this remarkable pedal device. The fins fold up against the hull at the far end of each stroke, so you don’t damage them (too much) beaching the thing. Of course most will pull the unit out (easy) and stow it topside to avoid nicking those lovely foils (~$85 to replace them). Pulling the drive out and “plugging” it in is easy but dropping it would be real expensive so I put a leash on it.

Paddling: Not much to this section-you won’t want to do it. I noticed in the literature that they don’t mention paddling the A.I., so I had to try it (a pretty nice paddle is included). You don’t paddle with the amas on because you run into the akas. It might be easier with a single bladed paddle. Without the akas on, if you are using the Mirage Adventure (as the vaka was called before the A.I. conversion), you will want to use the Mirage drive. The paddling exception would be for shallow water, like the rivers I plan to also take it on. Assembling the boat with amas and sail rig is remarkably fast; Hobie is into KISS.

Sailing: The best part for last! I am a rookie on this thing so I didn’t go out when it was gusting over 20mph (wind chill <50 F plus waves, and yes I am a wimp). Full wetsuit, gloves, booties, and a hooded paddle jacket was just enough.

I had a GPS and saw a top speed of 8.5 mph, so I believe the folks who say they have exceeded 10 mph. Things get a bit twitchy and the spray is really flying over about 7 mph, so I might have missed a glance at the GPS at a little higher speed. I started to bury an ama on my demo sail, but not down in TX, which surprised me as I was definitely going faster. When you are right at water level these speeds are thrilling.

Roller reefed (sail winds around the mast) a little one day, but mostly kept it full. The roller reefing works well, much better than the Gary Hoyt system on my Escape Rumba. Sail has two vertical battens, is boomless and cut high enough along the foot to pass easily over your head. No boom downwind is a problem, but there is an easy barber hauler fix out to the ama sterns on Hobie’s website.

I almost forgot: I tried towing my wife in her sea kayak while sailing one day. Tied a line to the stern aka and to her bow loop. It was a blast with her hooting that it was like surfing, and 5.5 mph on the GPS. This might be the best way to go with another as we also tried her riding on the back, and that does put the stern down too much. Next time we will put a quick disconnect at both ends as she almost went over hot doggin’ back there! At that speed it would have been bad for both of us. Kids on an inflatable might be way fun.

You can sail with the Mirage drive, but you get a plug to put in the hole for sailing, and you do notice a performance difference. The daggerboard projects two feet below the hull and has a neat kick-up feature if you hit something (does that make it not a daggerboard?). Would a longer one make it point better?

The rudder is a unique twisting gizmo that lies flat on the deck when pulled up. There is one tiller lever to steer with and a separate lever to move the rudder up and down which does not work very well (addressed on Hobie’s website). The rudder has adequate surface area for sailing (more than a regular sea kayak) and I did not have any trouble with it coming up under speed as some have (maybe I wasn’t going fast enough!). There is a set-screw (plastic so it will shear) to hold it down, but then you can’t pull it up unless you get in the water. In my opinion the rudder raising system is the biggest fault with the boat, and not a huge deal. Regular sea kayak rudders that deploy straight up and down have always worked well for me (some better than others). There are some comments on the website forum of people having trouble rounding up under higher winds; maybe the rudder was coming up a bit. I didn’t have this trouble, though of course I did want to point higher. Hey, once you’ve sailed Melges scows, nothing else seems to point high enough!

The tiller lever is O.K. and you gotta have it when using the Mirage drive as both feet are occupied. But it gets tiresome after awhile, and I found myself wanting a common sea kayak foot operated system when sailing and just paddling w/o the amas. The seat is unusually comfy and you can really get into full recline mode when winds are moderate, except for the position of that darn tiller lever you have to reach forward for too much. I am hard to please aren’t I ! It looks like a foot rudder system will be easy to adapt (forward of the Mirage drive) in addition to the tiller lever.

In summary (finally) the boat is a blast the way it is, and I would recommend it to anyone. Hobie does many nice touches like the aka bag and a full-length bag for the mast with sail rolled up. Modifications I will make are the mainsheet barber hauler for downwind sailing and foot rudder controls. I do have a small spinnaker and if I just……… Two A.I.s are entered in the March 3, 2007 Watertribe Everglades Challenge (300 miles!). Just finishing this event is a big deal. We will see how they do!

John D.