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
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.
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
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
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
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!