HOBIE MIRAGE TANDEM ISLAND: Not Your Mama’s Pool Toy

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Tandem Island

Now this was a fun assignment! I’ve had a few glancing encounters over the years with Hobie’s roto-molded Mirage Drive kayaks and even sailed one once for a few minutes, but never before had I been asked to officially test-sail one. This took place courtesy of Fay’s Boat Yard on Lake Winnipesaukee a couple of weeks ago. I know what you’re thinking, that these things are just glorified pool toys, but really I was impressed by how well engineered this little vessel is.

This is actually on SAIL’s current Best Boats nominees list (hence the test sail), because there are enough new features aboard to make it a fundamentally different craft than its predecessor. These include: new deadly wave-piercing bows (personally I’m not sure these make much difference on tiny hulls like this, but they do look cool); a new improved Mirage Drive with bearings for smoother, more efficient operation (yes, this is definitely improved, I’d say); a pivoting centerboard instead of a daggerboard (great idea, for several reasons, and very easy to operate); larger amas (no way that can hurt!); and a stiffer two-piece carbon-fiber mast (ditto).

All well and good. But the biggest new feature really, IMHO, are the redesigned seats. Hobie’s new Vantage CT seats are lightweight, quick-drying, infinitely adjustable with great lumbar support, more elevated than before, plus you can pull them right out and use them as beach chairs if you want. The most important thing, particularly for creaky old guys like me who normally end up crippled if they sit in crummy kayak seats for too long, is they are super-comfortable.

New seat

The miraculous seat

Seat sump

The basement beneath it. You can drain the seat sump and keep your butt drier by giving a quick yank on that lanyard connected to the little ball plug

Assembly

My minder Jason assembles the boat. It is heavier than I expected–the hull is 130 pounds on its own; the total boat rigged is 240 pounds–but is dirt simple to put together. Installing the amas (which Hobie for some reason likes to call “akas”) and the rig, and also uninstalling them, literally takes only a couple of minutes

Rotating mast

The rotating mast, in all its glory. The vertically battened sail–which has a fantastic super-efficient shape, by the way–just rolls up around it. Note the folding ama arms: these can be easily extended and folded up again while you are underway

I was acutally grateful that we had very moderate conditions for our test sail, because one thing’s for sure: this is not a dry boat. In any sort breeze and/or chop you will probably be happiest wearing a bathing suit. Even in the light conditions we had a little water came aboard, but the little trimaran definitely behaved like a sailboat, pointing reasonably close to the breeze and maintaining good speed–up to 5 knots (per my handheld GPS) in a 7-to 10-knot breeze. In a much stronger breeze, I’m guessing it provides a fast, raucous blast of a ride.

One thing I noticed is how flexible the craft is. We seemed to undulate over the small waves we met, and I can only assume this helps the boat cope with larger waves and keeps the ama bows from burying themselves too quickly when running at speed. I also liked how easy it was to use the Mirage Drive to augment speed when the sailing got slow. On most sailboats I feel like I have failed as a sailor when I resort to auxiliary power, but on this vessel it felt perfectly natural (and not at all guilt inducing) to give a few pedal strokes when I wanted to boost the boatspeed.

Cottage

I’d never been sailing on Lake Winnipesaukee before and had great fun inspecting the many cottages that line its shores. Garage-style boathouses appended to actual houses are a very common feature

Jason's head

The back of Jason’s head. Most controls can be handled from either cockpit station, so you need to get straight who’s doing what so you don’t thwart each other. In this case I ran everything and Jason was just a passenger. Note my feet position: when sailing it’s best to keep your feet together so the Mirage Drive flippers under the boat stay in line and act as proper foils. The paddles stow on the ama arms and can be instantly deployed if needed. You can also put tramps on the arms and carry passengers and gear out there if you want. The boat’s total carrying capacity is 600 pounds

Rudder control

Here I’m pedaling a bit while showing off the rudder-control lever in my left hand. The action is very intuitive; you just turn the lever in the direction you want to go. It is however a bit stiff with little mechanical advantage and works best if you pick a setting and leave it there for a while, rather than constantly working it. I suspect this would be particularly important in strong conditions. My one suggestion to Hobie for future improvements would be to somehow make the helm smoother and easier to operate

‘Nuff said for now. Be sure to look for a full review of this charming little multihull in a future issue of SAIL.

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