The Hobie Mirage Tandem Island

Few designs pack as much fun into 18 feet as the Hobie Mirage Tandem Island, a two-person pedal-or-paddle kayak that converts to a sail-powered trimaran by attaching a pair of akas and amas, and stepping a carbon-fiber mast. The roller-reefing loose-footed mainsail carries a generous amount of sailcloth up high and is supported by vertical battens. The boat’s robust rotomolded hull encourages beaching, while a generous amount of stowage makes it ideal for multi-day sailing adventures. Equally impressive is the boat’s pedal-powered MirageDrive propulsion system. When the wind softens, the crew simply starts pedaling, and locomotion resumes.

I met up with Dan Carpenter of Hobie Cats NorthWest on a sunny but blustery mid-February day on Seattle’s Lake Washington to put the boat through its paces. We quickly set up the rig, and Dan graciously offered to sit up front, in the wet zone, while I scurried into the aft cockpit seat and slipped my feet into a set of bicycle-like foot straps.

These pedals are attached to a set of arms linked to a power-transfer mechanism that moves a pair of flipper-shaped appendages in a double-scissor-like motion, like the flippers on a penguin. When sailing, the flippers lay flush against the hull, minimizing drag.

We started out with the sail furled and the amas deployed. In flat water, along a wind-sheltered shore, we had no trouble pedaling at 3-5 knots. After that, we headed out onto the open lake where the wind was just starting to tear off six-inch wavelets. Dan unfurled the mainsail, while I trimmed and steered using the stubby tiller that’s fitted alongside the aft cockpit. A second tiller is fitted in the front cockpit as well, so that everybody aboard can share in the fun.

The first puff hit and our sleigh ride commenced. I footed off as our apparent wind clocked forward of the beam, the leeward ama pressing hard into the water. Our windward float started flying almost immediately, but the main hull stayed in the water the entire time. We never once came close to capsizing, even in the biggest puffs.

The Tandem Island tacked through roughly 100 degrees and delivered 8-9 knots of boatspeed in 12-18 knots of wind. After several progressively smoother gybes, I learned that—like many multihulls—it responds beautifully if you first head up a touch to build your apparent wind before coming around. In the biggest puffs weather helm was problematic sailing to windward, but we overcame this by slightly luffing the sail. Otherwise, the boathandling was straightforward.

Back at the dock, we de-rigged and folded the akas and amas alongside the hull, and Dan slipped a slick set of wheels into a set of underside receptacles, creating an instant dolly. Unstepping the rig involved a mechanical release at the mast’s bearing ring. The carbon-fiber mast and colorful sail are light enough for an adolescent to manage.

The Tandem Island is an ideal boat for couples, families or cruisers looking to ditch the beaten path. The hardest choice, of course, is deciding whether the day’s agenda should include kayaking, pedal touring or sailing—or all three.