By Paul Lebowitz
The Mirage Adventure Island shivered with delight as she took her first sip of La Jolla salt. I pulled the big Hobie--a hybrid craft featuring two outriggers, a mirage drive and a sail--out to waist deep water, stepped over the starboard aka, and hopped aboard. The ankle-slapper surf was no bother.
A breath of air to fill the sail would have been welcome for the ride offshore, but I didn't mind. Pedaling the two-thirds of a mile out to the edge of the kelp gave me an opportunity to survey my ride and consider its history.
In 2006, Hobie launched the Mirage Adventure, a stretched-out, low-slung 16-foot solo kayak. Lean and mean, it knifed through the swells. I fished mine up and down the California coast, and south into Baja. It was a little short on capacity and a challenge to rig, but oh was it ever quick. A couple years later, the Hobie team showed the rest of their hand, adding the powerful sail and dual amas (outriggers) they'd planned from the start, and offering an accessory trampoline system spanning the gap between the Adventure's hull and the two amas. So much room, and a real stand-up capability!
The Hobie Adventure Island was born. Some called it a sailboat. That was missing the point. It was a kayak at heart, built around Hobie's elegant pedal drive. The compromise "Swiss Army kayak" design left the capable craft with a few performance shortcomings. In a following sea the low volume bow tended to dive, slowing it and making for a drencher of a ride.
Hobie designer Jim Czarnowski experienced that firsthand when he tackled the Everglades Challenge, a 350-mile self-sustaining adventure race down the east coast of Florida. "You encounter every wind and sea condition. It really puts a boat to the test," he said.
In 2014, Hobie announced an ambitious upgrade to most every one of its Mirage models. After the introduction of the MirageDrive with Glide Technology (the addition of Delrin bearings to the Mirage Drive, decreasing friction), chief among the improvements was the new Vantage CT Seating System, a mesh-backed, fully adjustable winner. Accommodating it required significant changes to the molds. The Hobie team took the opportunity to take the Adventure Island back to the drawing board.
"We added more bow volume and length, and moved the seating position back. The 2015 Hobie Adventure Island is specifically designed to be sailed," Czarnowski said. Used without the sail and amas, the central hull (the improved Adventure, no longer available separately) rides a little bow high. It is still a great touring boat, suitable for day trips, camping and fishing, but now the design compromises favor the AI's ultimate use, flying across the waves three to four times faster than the quickest kayak.
(Fans of the original Adventure will be happy to learn the kayak is still available, rebadged as the Mirage Revolution 16 with improved outfitting that makes it much easier to rig for fishing.)
There were other improvements taken from the proven Tandem Island design. They include a new swing-down centerboard and larger amas. Those are held on by dual bungees at the four attachment points, up from one. "It doubles the force that holds the amas on the Hobie Adventure Island. It is virtually indestructible," Czarnowski added. And quick to assemble or disconnect, stripping the 2015 AI down to its central hull. It comes in handy if you need to cartop the AI, but it's so much nicer to tote it on a trailer fully assembled. Just unload and go as I did.
Now that the 2015 AI leans toward use with the sail and amas and spacious trampolines on one side or both, how's it fish? I pondered the question as I pedaled out of the La Jolla State Marine Reserve into open waters, and went to work catching live bait.
There are five hooks on a sabiki baitcatcher rig, and a lot more complications to snag them on an AI. After my first successful drop for mackerel, one of the wickedly sharp hooks was sunk into the mainsheet--the sail tending line that runs the length of the hull. Lesson learned. Fishing from an AI requires a little extra care to avoid obstructions such as the mast, amas and lines. A few minutes after altering my game to keep the line over the side, the bait tank was plugged. I set out on the standard slow patrol, kicking lazily under MirageDrive power.
If there'd been wind, I might have trolled my live bait slowly under a scrap of reefed sail (the 65-square-foot boomless sail is controlled by just two lines that interact with a roller furler-sailing doesn't get any simpler). If there'd been a lot of wind, I could have headed for the tuna offshore just over the horizon with a couple of Rapalas in tow. Next time. Instead I simply pedaled, as many AI users do when they are in fishing mode.
My live bait grew agitated as I hit the famous corner of the La Jolla kelp, this year a prime yellowtail zone. Before long a fish hammered it. Line smoked off the reel. Unlike a typical fishing kayak, the AI exerts considerable drag on a fish. The entire battle played out over the right ama. There was no discernable sleigh ride. Instead of reeling myself to the fish, I reeled it to the AI.
The moment of truth arrived. With one easy move, I folded the right ama in next to the main hull (the release is right at the cockpit), and sunk the gaff on a 21-pound yellowtail. Retracting the amas didn't seem to reduce the AI's ridiculously luxurious stability so long as the boat wasn't under sail. Later I'd sit on the trampoline directly over an ama. No problem. Next time I'm fighting my fish from there. If a fish runs from one side to the other, I'll stand up and walk over. The AI is that stable. Anyone using it without the optional trampolines or home built hakas (rigid benches that span the akas) is sacrificing invaluable real estate.
Just as I finished securing my fish, a zephyr kissed the sea. When it strengthened an hour later, I unfurled the sail. It filled in an instant, the AI eagerly sprinting to a gallop. I marched effortlessly right up the coastline, progress marked by the rapidly changing scenery and the kayaks left in my wake.
The three-mile trip back to the beach that usually takes an hour to paddle passed in a few minutes. This is the real point of the Adventure Island: speed, range, sea legs. Travelling otherwise unimaginable distances is within reach. The 2015 AI is just hitting its stride when the wind is chasing traditional kayaks off the water.
Back on the beach I bumped into an old friend. "You should have bought a powerboat," the salty longtime kayak angler said to me, dismissively side-eyeing the rig. A valid observation? At $4,800 as tested, the AI is a significant investment.
I could counter with three reasons: The AI is easier to store and transport, and likely more seaworthy than any comparably priced powerboat. Like a standard fishing kayak, there is next to no maintenance required, no gasoline fumes, no noise. And the most important, which I'm confident he understands: Chasing fish using only the natural environment and your own muscle offers a special joy I've never experienced from a powerboat.
Hobie Adventure Island Highlights
With its large sail and amas, the Adventure Island provides unparallelled range and speed. The AI is just hitting its stride when the wind is sending other kayaks to shore.
For 2015, Hobie extensively redesigned the AI hull, adding tremendous volume to the bow and amas, vastly improving the ride and comfort.
With new Delrin bearings reducing friction, the MirageDrive with Glide Technology is a joy to operate, easier on joints and muscles.
The Vantage CT Seating System is a design triumph. Height, recline, lumbar support, and bottom angle are all adjustable. The mesh fabric is comfortable and dries quickly.
For stability, there’s no beating the AI. With optional trampolines or home built hakas installed, deck space for gear or even an extra passenger is abundant.
Hobie Mirage Adventure Island Specifications
L: 16'7" W: 9'6" amas out/3'8" amas in; 142 lbs rigged/105 lbs central hull; Cap. 400 lbs (central hull); $4,499; hobiecat.com.