Kayak Review [29]

Mirage Double (and Mirage 19)

By D. John Holster

From the outset I must say that I am not an experienced paddler in terms of heroic sea-kayaking, and am an even less experienced kayak reviewer. But I saw a small letter posted on the net some time ago, title “Fast Kayak”, referring to Mirage kayaks of various sorts, and it prompted me to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard in reality) in an attempt to correct a few incorrect perceptions some people seem to have about Mirages.

I was surprised at some of the descriptions in the aforementioned letter, such as “narrow and hollow entries”, “paddled by speed demons” to mention two. Actually “mystified” is closer to the mark. The impression in the letter was that Mirages are racing kayaks paddles by people only interested in racing.

My wife and I now have two Mirages, a Double which we paddle together, and a single 19′ which I paddle for exercise when she is having a day off. I regularly paddle with a large-ish sub-group of NSWSKC for exercise on Thursday nights throughout the year, unless there is a gale blowing, and again on most weekends. There are reasons why we have Mirages now, as opposed to other kayaks which so-called purists may prefer.

Our aim, as a couple on the water, is to go places, and see things, and not to have to worry about the weather too much, or the surface conditions. Anybody who has paddled a Mirage in bad conditions knows why there are so many devotees to the marque. Except for a small number of acquaintances who own the Sporting version (Mirage 22S), most of my kayaking friends now own a standard Mirage 19, simply because they are a great all-round kayak. We sold our “other” kayaks once we tried a Mirage, and we spend more time in our Double than in the car!.

We had many good reasons for buying the Mirage double, which we call the “Queen Mary”, but the name says it all, and the reasons had nothing to do with racing. It is a big, capable, comfortable and very safe kayak. My wife is not a very experienced paddler, but when it cuts up rough she is confident that she won’t get a dunking, because the Mirage takes all in its stride. It is quick for a given paddling effort, but at the same time we can both take our hands off the paddle, lean-back, close our eyes, and not have to worry about instantly falling out. The same thing applies in the single. Try that “lean back with eyes shut, and no paddle in hand” in an Arctic Raider and see what happens! The cockpits are quite roomy, and the entry has ample room for portly chaps like me to get in without a shoe-horn. I can even paddle “knees-up” when I’m feeling “happy-and-relaxed”, which is most of the time, even though I don’t vote Liberal. Eating a few Belgian waffles on a Sunday paddle doesn’t cause me a problem getting back in either.

The fact that a Mirage has a rudder seems to bother some people. I can’t imagine why. Because of the way the Mirage rudder is integrated into the hull design, it isn’t vulnerable like the tacked-on aluminium things on most other sea-kayaks. I have never heard of one being broken off, or bent. The big plus is that you simply point a Mirage where you want to go, and add a little paddle power. If you want to “beach” you just paddle at the beach, and forget about the rudder, as it is built to take it! The standard mid-sized rudder (they are available in three lengths) is probably not as effective as a typical long aluminium beaching rudder, simply because it only protrudes 6 or 7cm below the keel line. It is fine for most conditions although occasionally gets a little “air” on larger waves. For flat and protected-water paddling we sometimes use a short (flush) rudder, which has less drag and doesn’t get caught up in weed and the like because it is flush with the keel line. Changing rudder takes all of about a minute. It is a matter of releasing the two steering cables by undoing two small stainless steel Dee-Shackles, then pulling out the hinge pin to remove the rudder, then fitting the alternative rudder in reverse order. There is a very long rudder available for people who want to venture out in “Roaring-Forties” type seas, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever using one, as I’m not that brave.

The fact that Mirages are fast in races is a reflection of how efficient the hull design is, not an indication that it is built for racing. It is even more impressive when you know how stable it is at the same time. The standard versions excel in ultra-marathon races such as the Hawkesbury classic which is 12 hours paddling through the night, not because they are faster than anything else (which they are not), but because one can paddle them while one is almost asleep… The actual average speed to do a good time in the Classic is quite slow, but one has to be able to continue cruising along without concentrating too much on the task at hand, as concentration for more than 10 hours is beyond most of us. Having a kayak which can be paddled without thinking too much is therefore a real plus, in this and most other situations.

Surely one would not argue that a Holden Commodore would be no good as a family tourer, just because one version of the same car wins races? The same applies to Mirages in general. The run of the mill 17′, 19′, and Double Mirage are a fantastic all-round kayak for people who want to tour without adrenalin rushing through their veins. The build quality is exceptional too. Our double is two years old, has travelled several thousand kilometres, yet it has never had a drop of water leak into the compartments, despite being buried in waves on numerous occasions, from every direction imaginable, with the decks well and truly awash. Of course it has never been rolled, because we have never found conditions bad enough to cause it. It may happen one day, but when it does, the deck design is such that one can re-enter with the kayak in the upright position, without assistance. It is in bad conditions where a Mirage shines, not racing.

While paddlers with lots of experience may like to fight with twitchy rudderless boats in rough seas, I, my wife and many other arm-chair paddlers prefer something we can rely on to get us from A to B and home again. Something that we can point and paddle allows us the freedom to go most places on the water, and see what we want to see. For this a Double Mirage is a remarkably friendly “tool”.

I must confess that I have competed in the Hawkesbury Classic a few times, twice in the Mirage double. The reason for doing it is to keep my fitness at a high level throughout the year to enable more adventurous “social” paddling. Having a goal like doing the classic provides a good incentive to keep up the paddling week in, week out. Also, the social aspect of training paddles with friends is every bit as much fun for me as poking around in rocks seems to be for many others with a different inclination. Each to his own.

Author John Holster and paddling partner Kris Jaryn in a Mirage Double putting in the miles training for the 111km Hawkesbury Classic ’96.

The Mirage double is now our oldest and most travelled kayak, and I have tried to think of some bad points to bitch about. There are a couple of minor niggles. The pedal set-up is simple and robust, and the “surf-ski” type steering pedals are quite controllable, but the main bar is a little flat and low for the back-seat paddler. A little “adjustment ” with spacer blocks and a twist on the bar fixed that problem. It is also awkward to adjust the footrests for other paddlers, and the taller they are the more difficult it is to reach into either cockpit to fit the wing-nuts.

Another niggle is the recessed area around the cockpit coamings. It doesn’t have any natural drainage, so after taking water over the deck, the recess holds water, which is then always against the spray-deck seal. I suspect that some water then enters the cockpit thru’ this way, but it is seldom very much. It would seem better to me if the water drained away in the first place. On the other hand, the current design does improve the strength of the kayak.

We have done some small modifications to the kayaks to make them more comfortable for extended paddling times. Strap type hip-rests have been added to all the seats which minimizes the development of numb legs, and I added a small light to the inside of the compass so it can be read at night. We bought the “19” with a pump fitted, and have subsequently fitted pumps to the double (just in case). The factory fitted pumps are a really professional job, and planned for in the original kayak mould. In fact, so many of the details in the original design are well thought out and planned. The deck fittings are all recessed, there is a nice flat spot for fitting the compass, the hatches are recessed so one doesn’t get caught up on them, and so forth.

I am not saying Mirages are perfect, but they are better than anything else we have paddled or seen so far. I am so pleased after two years ownership that I have ordered another single so Gisela can paddle on her own occasionally too. For all you techno-buffs, the standard fibreglass 19’s weigh about 23kg and the doubles 34kg, which are easily manageable for wimpy paddlers like us. All-in-all we are very happy little paddlers with our Mirages, and have not been paid to say that.

In spite of his desire to be labelled an adventurous social paddler rather than a speed demon, John Kolster and his paddling partner Kris Jaryn came in 4th in a field of 29 in the Open Doubles in the recent 111 km Hawkesbury Classic, under the 10 hours with a blistering 9 hours 56 minutes and 54 seconds; also in the top 10 in this class were NSWSKC members Nevil Lazarus with John Wicks and Tony White with Andrew Philips, also in Mirage Doubles – Editor