First impressions — in all things — can be notoriously unsound. Take note first kayak owners.
Check out the Mirage 580. Its reputation within the club has taken a battering, albeit in mirth.
And the manufacturer doesn’t defend it, at least publicly. Yet it stands alone, sales keep rising; orders come from around the world. Why? Paul Hewitson, boat builder, says he ‘builds boats’ and they ‘speak for themselves’. Paul says they ‘win races and sales are good as a result’. Therein lies the problem.
If we believe the banter, then we have to believe it is too fast to enjoy!? Club sea kayakers enjoy their Sunday socials and weekend trips. And what about the expeditioners, is it too fast for them too? The coffee set has something to say about that as well. ‘Good for rivers, not designed for the sea’ and ‘There, I saw her go, a Mirage upon the sea’. It’s always a good laugh to hear their jokes. Moreover, ‘Mirage’ is on their lips and that is what matters. It amuses me as an owner of an old 19 and recently a paddler of the newly born Proto 580 Expedition. Paul is more sensitive of course; his heart is in his kayaking thoroughbreds and stable. Nevertheless this businessman smiles on his regular pilgrimages to bank his takings. And now Paul is banking on his new expedition boat to capture the high seas and your interest.
It cost me nothing to read and listen and to chuckle as an ‘object of mirth’ being a paddler of a Mirage. Long ago my ego had been satisfied. The boat has spoken. The Mirage boats have taken me from Sydney to Hobart 4 years ago and this February from Melbourne to Hobart and cruised the waterways around Sydney… circumnavigated the waterways around Sydney in fact, up over the Cambelltown divide and back to Manly town from whence I started, a 380 km round trip. There is no shiny gel coat left on my old 19 now. It has done a lot of work. Obviously it is not a suitable fibreglass boat to climb the races and rock gardens of the upper St Georges River. It is a sea kayak not a rock hopper. The real point being the ’19’ did it on our rivers, along our coastline and on open water. And this is an old Mirage model, clearly it was built to last.
Enough said about what is already known about the Mirage stable. You have already formed your opinion and own a boat.
What’s this! What about this Proto 580 Expedition you ask! Sounds awful doesn’t it, so instead I called it the Viking Princess after my adventurous daughter and I was immediately happy again. It’s a prototype model, born to be in open water. It will be officially re-named soon in some pagan ceremony with Bass Strait waters captured in a bottle just last month.
The test drive across Bass Strait was uneventful. It is the same tried and tested 580 kayak in current production with new features in support of its promise to be something of a wild thing in a rush… a thing of beauty too.
There are so few kayaks that are demonstratively different, such as the ‘fold away’ types (Klepper) with leg room for instance. You can sleep in those and some very noteworthy expedition successes have been achieved. My interest is in ‘point to point’ kayaks, that is, landfall stops each night, when sleep outs on the water are taken under duress. Most expedition kayaks fall into this category.
The Viking Princess and has been developing over several years for the serious expeditioner that paddles point to point. It is as slow and fast as you want to make it go. Nice to know you can get out of trouble quickly and land on the beach first out of that blow. It is a lazy boat too; one or two strokes and other paddlers are working their boats, three, four, five strokes to catch up. The Club’s ‘cruisers’ really haven’t missed this point over all these years have they? Perhaps they really want to go slow. I’d rather do the hard work where it really matters — staying out of trouble.
Whilst crossing Frederick Henry Bay near Hobart town in a strong following nor’easter wind and under sail (2/3 sq metres of sail) and paddling, the kayak achieved 19.8 km/h (GPS reading) and the boatload was 105 kg. The white manes of the wave crests raced this little princess home that day. The open water from Deal Island to Cape Frankland, Flinders Island was paddled and sailed in a diminishing 3 metre swell, with a 5-10 knot cross wind in 10 hrs, that’s 8 km/h over 80 km. Some regular 70-80 km distances per day during an expedition of this magnitude are satisfying for a 47 year old.
This production boat will eventually be special for rather different reasons. Four years ago I recommended a number of improvements for an expedition boat. For those that are familiar with the 580 these upgraded features listed below will grab your attention.
The boat was toned and muscled up to 27 kg of 3 ply Kevlar/fibreglass sandwich that included a bilge pump, deck compass, battery and solar panel. The standard 580 weight average is 23 kg (without solar panel) depending on the paddler’s requirements at the time. There is Kevlar in the rudder now and the rudder bracket is bolted on to a thicker fibreglass wall. It is built to take on a white pointer attack and remain afloat so I am told.
Kevlar won’t even hold the shark teeth to souvenir for the yarn at the campfire, should it happen to you. Try to believe it. It has actually happened. Non believers will say its another Mirage/fish story.
Yet this boat is heavy and can take a reduction of glass off the deck, perhaps as much as a kilo. However the deckline and sail fittings must maintain their strength.
On occasions while loaded up, under breakers, sea sick and washed up on beaches, Sydney to Hobart, Melbourne to Hobart and around Sydney I have not gone over. That’s stability for you. Enough said.
Mirage’s rudder is rather unique for a sea kayak particularly for an expedition model. The integrated rudder remains part of the contoured boat and the boat is stiff. The rudder is a stand out feature and remains for good tracking and as a directional fin to improve wave riding. With such a rudder more time is spent paddling than braking while on a wave and no sweeping strokes are necessary in the wind or currents. That means fewer arm and back related injuries. Club ‘bruisers’ appear to seriously want a boat without a rudder. As a left field thought, a simple solution is to fix the rudder in either a locked or unlocked position as preferred on the occasion. Control of this rudder as it is for steerage could be managed from the paddling position. As I say it’s a left field thought.
Like all rudders this rudder sustained damage when a roller rammed me, broaching 100 metres to Scamander beach on Tassy’s east coast. The gel coat cracked and the bracket bent but the rudder continued to function normally for the remainder of the long voyage. For those that want the rudder off, it would be like asking Porsche to put the engine in the front.
The fibreglass foot pedals have been reinforced. It is easy to move/remove and adjust on the pin and slide rail. Some heavy duty adjustment to the stainless steel cabling has been earmarked for standard equipment in the final model.
Solar Panel & Electrics
The really new feature is the solar panel mounted under a clear section of deck at the rear, not prone to damage. It provides power for a range of 21st century duties. Recharging batteries allows an isolated kayaker to power batteries for mobile phones, laptops, cameras, radio, GPS and lights. What was provided was a success although there were teething problems. As a standard in built feature it is potentially opening a wide range of innovative possibilities mostly in and around camp. There is more than enough power. Maintenance and the skill to repair this electrical system will require knowledge and a repair kit in the demanding salt environment to maintain reliability. The electrical contact points on this prototype will need to be refined to improve dependability. At this point a range of changes is required to include a regulator, fuse and diode for 12 volt direct current.
I was able to supply power to my mobile phone and use a 12 volt fluoro light in the tent for 6 weeks without using a domestic source. Why, even a heater could be used for cold winter nights in the future!
This is another great improvement when little things matter most. The rear ‘valley’ oval hatch has replaced the neoprene and fiberglass storm cover. It is water tight and now easier to remove. The same good access remains. The boat is as watertight as hatches can be. The problem of equipment snagging on the screws remains and is fixable. I understand this problem will be overcome in the production model. I will be very pleased about this, as so much watertight equipment has been damaged from these screws snagging.
Paul has resisted carry handles on his boats; perhaps it has disturbed the smooth lines of the 580’s deck. At last they have arrived and needed for a 100 kg loaded expedition boat. No more do you have to handle a slippery bow point or jamb the hand against the moving rudder. The grips are located on the top deck, not flopping over the bow where at times they’re difficult to get a clear grip. A small point but it counts.
Spare Paddle Locators
Currently you can easily make good with the deck lines and some added shock cord and the spare paddles will quite easily be accommodated. Still, no specific home has been devised for the essential spare paddle.
The standard shock cord is provided, limited in its use. A professionally applied netting to the shock cord would be helpful to trap small items on the deck. It is so easy to do and is invaluable.
The popular sail used now sits on the deck just in front of the front hatch and remains in place at sea. My rig springs into place and retrieved on shock cord when released from the cockpit. New deck fairlead fittings, which could be part of the deck line fittings, can be installed should the manufacturer provide this innovation. It would be very neat and convenient to assist a sail installation.
Fishing Rod Holders
Such useful hunter gathering tools were installed above the day hatch. Trolling is a successful method of catching fish and you are guaranteed to get a fish in a short time.
A kayaker should land through a wild surf thinking foremost of survival not in preserving the gel coat and glass. A boat like this needs an abrasive resistant stem. Perhaps the manufacturer will accommodate. A metal stem would be ideal.
A storage shelf under the deck using the current available part for stepped masts is useful, particularly when you want to clear the decks on wild days.
It’s a nuisance wearing booties. Professionally installed padding glued down under the pedals would be a help.
Beside the seat, space is available and flare holders were installed. The installation was difficult but the flares were so easy to remove in an emergency.
At the moment there is no production kayak readily equipped for an expedition yet a production model with standard features and options of the items above would give that opportunity to a well heeled buyer or a buyer needing the professional touch. Most importantly a fully optioned boat that this kayak has promise to offer would set the standard internationally.
Thoroughbreds stand alone for comparison. They are bred for specific reasons. This kayak was born to be in Bass Strait. This Viking Princess will be a beauty.
And my own viking princess will paddle it one day. The smaller 530 model can accommodate mums and small people; mums can share in the same wild child experience too or simply the wild side just waiting out there on a day trip or weekend away.
The final production model is available in May 2002. What will become standard equipment and features optioned will be announced prior to its general release.
By the way, did you here about the kayak that got away? Last seen lapping against a single palm tree on a desert island? A dog was pissing on it! Yeah, yeah, it was the Mirage not the tree.
Get a Club ‘cruiser’ or ‘bruiser’ and his dog to choose between a forest and a Mirage and they both will shake a leg on the kayak. Yeah…now if it was a Viking Princess?