Submitted: 08-19-2008 by Laptantidel Latuda
I rented the Hobie AI for a one-week solo touring trip in the Deer Isle Archipelago off Maine's coast.
The boat is very rugged and makes a very solid impression for the most part. The construction is very simplistic and everything is very easy to operate. The outriggers make the AI very stable platform that inspires confidence on choppy crossings. For landing on a dock or narrow passages, the outriggers can be brought right next to the hull. Carrying capacity is over 300 pounds. The whole rig can be disassembled by one person and can be cartopped on a midsize car. There are three modes of propulsion: paddle, pedal the Mirage drive, and sail. Paddling is not that simple because the amas get in the way. I could maintain a speed of 1.5-2mph while paddling the AI loaded to capacity. Pedaling is much easier, because you use your legs instead of your arms. I could pedal 2.5mph without straining and over 3mph with effort. The rig really shines when the wind picks up.
Sailing is very easy and speeds of over 5mph are easily possible with a fully loaded AI when the wind is right. The sail is very simple to operate and has no boom to watch out for when tacking or jibing. It's very efficient in light winds and can be furled around the mast within seconds when the wind gets too strong. This gives the AI a wide range of wind conditions it can be sailed in. Modes of propulsion can be combined, e.g. sailing and pedaling make a good mix in light winds. The hull is completely hollow and packs a lot of gear. You can leave amas, akas and sail ashore and just use the hull for your evening fishing trip around the island or something like that.
The rudder lever is pretty small and feels a bit flimsy. It works well though, but I like something I can use my whole hand on rather than just thumb and forefinger. The ride is wet, especially when pointing upwind. A wetsuit is a must when the water is cold. The AI weighs 115 pounds completely rigged. That means you have to disassemble the whole thing to lug it up a beach by yourself or bring some kind of cart. I was able to carry the hull by myself, but the assemble/disassemble adds to the time you need to set up camp and break it the next day. There are no bulkheads in the hull. While this makes for great spots to load everything you could need it might give you problems once you develop a leak out on the water. Now with the two outriggers you still have three buoyant compartments, but I would not take the hull out alone on long crossings. I put some flotation bags into the hull, just for peace of mind.
All things considered, you get a lot of boat for the price of a composite kayak. There's no boat out there that is more versatile and more confidence-inspiring on those long, choppy crossings. A fantastic, well engineered touring machine. I'd buy one if I had the space to store it.