By Paul Lebowitz
The gusts were 20 knots and climbing. The sea was a whipped, white-capped froth. Kayak Fish lens man Aaron Schmidt and I were aboard a borrowed Hobie Mirage Tandem Island a long mile off a stony line of Oahu cliffs. It was the very end of the earth, and the menacing zephyrs shrieking through our lines were blowing straight offshore. Kauai was somewhere out there 60 miles distant, but it might as well have been a million.
Hold on tight. We're in for a bumpy check ride.
For years, I'd resisted the sweet, siren song of Hobie's PR rep Ingrid Niehaus. In 2006, she'd tried to get me to test the Mirage Adventure Island, the company's original pedal-sail-kayak hybrid. The larger Tandem Island followed a few years later, but I scoffed. I'm a 'yak angler, not a sailor. Such an expensive system was nothing more than unwanted complexity. If I wanted to spend so much, I could buy something with a motor.
I was wrong.
It took fellow anglers to show me. In 2011, Australian TV fishing celebrity Rob Paxevanos teamed with Paul O'Leary to tag and release a massive black marlin from a TI. About the same time Oahu's dynamic brotherly duo of Kevin and Garrett Uyeda started racking up one impressive blue-water beast after another. When the pair invited us over to see how they do it, we jumped at the chance.
There was a catch. After one long sleep-deprived Sunday spent learning the ropes and trolling up one pugnacious kawakawa, the Uyedas sent us off on our own. Over the next three days, Aaron and I got to know every inch of this wild ride. We launched and landed in shore-pound; pedaled, paddled and sailed through calm seas and near-gales; and pulled (unsuccessfully) on a shark that nearly spooled me on 50-pound.
Consider me impressed. The Hobie Tandem Island is a stealthy multi-threat monster of a big water fishing machine. It'll never need gas or costly engine repairs. And despite what I thought, it isn't a sailboat. Aaron pegged it, calling it a "sailing kayak" with outriggers. Let me say that again for emphasis. The TI is a kayak that boasts a supplemental, roller-furling sail and folding amas that provide astounding walk-around stability when deployed. The full rig is so forgiving, Aaron took to perching on the TI's nose, toes dangling.
This is no one-trick pony. It's a flexible system with many guises. Use it with or without the mast. If you're not planning to sail, you can leave one or both amas at home. You might want to for some missions. At 190 pounds fully rigged, the TI is a lot of boat to handle shore-side.
The central hull is a tandem Mirage kayak, basically a stretched-out Adventure. It's pure high-end Hobie with all the expected features: multiple Twist and Seal hatches; a large bow hatch for below-decks storage; lever-operated rudder and dagger board deployment; and dual rudder control. And elegantly, cleverly engineered.
The distinction between sailboat and sailing kayak is a huge one, made possible by Hobie's genius Mirage pedal drive equipped with Turbo fins. Naturally enough, the TI comes with two pair. Lack of wind is never a problem, nor was too much. When conditions grew dicey as they did that white-capped day, high-torque low-drag pedal power alone would have seen safely us back to shore.
With the Mirage, tacking and wearing (fancy sailing terms for changing direction) are a breeze. The TI is extremely easy to navigate; the range unmatched among non-motorized fishing craft. It's absolutely delicious to scud effortlessly and quickly under sail power past unproductive water.
Fishing is easy too, particularly trolling, whether it is at marlin-tempting speed or the slower beat favored by salmon. The real estate for rigging is ridiculous, and cargo capacity unmatched when equipped with accessory trampolines. There are many options for fighting a fish: off the stern, from a tramp or even stand-up. With no fear of capsizing, you can pour on the hurt.
On the flip side, the TI's complexity introduced a few complications. In particularly rough seas, we dislodged an ama from its akas, the frames that connect the outrigger to the central hull. Director of Engineering Jim Czarnowski says Hobie has since upgraded the shock-cord retainers that secure the amas.
By the fourth straight day of punishing use, we'd managed to knock most of the bearings out of the roller-furling mast receiver. We play hard; we might have put too much pressure on the mast while teasing the TI's upper speed limit in a stiff wind. That is fast, so very fast; enough to throw a wake. The damage made sail deployment difficult, but we were still able to safely furl the sail. And there was one particular white-knuckle landing.
The wind still raged directly offshore. The shore-break pounded angrily, pushing a crosscurrent that threatened to turn us perilously broadside to the beach. Sail furled, we crept in danger close under pedal power, retracted the dagger board and raised the rudder. That's when our friends on shore calling the break grew wide-eyed. "Back up, back up!" they yelled emphatically.
The wave crested, lifting us high in the air. Aaron, in the front seat, stared straight down at bare sand. Taking big digs with the single-bladed paddle Hobie provides, I was just able to hold the TI clear of the crasher. It broke explosively right under the nose. A few frantic kicks of the stern Mirage Drive, pedal retainer pulled tight, had us hopping off and pushing the heavy boat up the steep beach. Hearts pounding after our technical landing, we grinned knowingly at each other. We'd pushed the amazingly capable TI right up to its limits. This is a heck of a capable fishing craft.
HOBIE TANDEM ISLAND
190 lbs full rigged
Capacity 600 lbs
$5,599 in roto-molded polyethylene
additional $378 as tested with dual trampolines
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2014 print edition of Kayak Fish. Price and specifications were correct at the time of publication.