Submitted: 12-17-2002 by Jonathan Long
For those of you who have never heard of Mirage Sea Kayaks read on: MSK is located in Sydney, Australia and owned by a great guy named Paul Hewitson. Mirage is the most popular boat maker in Australia and New Zealand. There does not seem to be the breadth of choice that we have here but the boats that are available are all of what might be considered a 'performance' type here. Mirage Sea Kayaks are most like Current Designs as far as quality and finish and Valley/Nigel Dennis for design and function. But they all have integral rudders.
On to the review: I bought a 22S, which I received in June after a few month on the phone with Paul. The process of buying one and importing it direct is much less hassle than I expected but it is a whole lot more time and hassle than walking into a dealer and buying one. So...
The 22S is designed primarily as a race boat. It is really 22 feet long and only 18 inches wide. Just so noone is confused about the intended purpose of this boat: It is meant to go very fast in a relatively straight line. With adequate skills this boat can handle some extremely rough water but it would definitely be called 'tender' relative to a normal sea kayak. It's length makes it more stable at 18 inches wide than I expected. The closest relative it has here in the US would be the West Hill Family (Thunderbolt, X-Par Missile etc) It is not quite as fast as the Thunderbolt but slightly more stable.
I have a solid roll and confident braces. This is not a prerequisite for paddling this boat. I know many racers whose 'capsize maneuver' skills are minimal. Keep in mind that if you flip over and wet exit this boat is tougher to get back in to than a regular sea kayak due to it's width. It would certainly be possible with a practiced paddle float reentry.
The boat: it is available in both fiberglass or Kevlar. I opted for a medium weight layup of Kevlar as I thought I might see some breaking water and surf someday. In Kevlar you can get the boat as light as 26lbs. Mine weighs 40lbs. The gel coat finish is excellent and the boat is made with a surprising attention to detail. I was very impressed with it when I unwrapped it from the cardboard and bubblepack. I even custom designed a racing stripe that runs the full length of the foredeck which they did for no extra charge.
The seat is a minimalist's dream and I am sure that the other models come with more posterior support. Initially I thought I was going to mind having no backband but in this boat I don't miss it at all. The seat is adjustable front to back and it works well. The rudder is a unique design that I have seen only on Dagger boats. The Mirage design is better and it eliminates two of my biggest criticisms of the traditional 'bagel cutter' rudder that we see so much of in the US. This rudder is hung beneath a supportive 'tail' on the stern. There is no putting it up and down, that's where it is all the time. Less complex, less breakage. This rudder does have two tabs that extend from it's sides where the cables attach but as a whole this rudder is much more streamlined and much less likely to tear a hole in someone in heavy water. Towing with a towline does not present any hanging up problems like a traditional rudder does. This rudder is interchangeable with three choices: Race, Touring and Ocean, each longer than the next. I bought a Race rudder and an Ocean. Changing one for the other requires no tools and takes about 1 minute. Very simple, so far I have had no problems with it. Function: this system is not like the sliding footpedal design you most often see in the US. Paul said that the sliding footpedal system binds up too much in a heavy folowing sea so they didn't use it. Instead there is a fiberglass footrail across the footwell of the cockpit (which is adjustable) and mounted on top of it are two pedals that you actuate with your big toes. This enables the paddler to make minute steering adjustments without losing a solid place to set the balls of you feet. I can attest that this system works well. The other alternative that you typically see in race boats is the tiller system which works equally well for racing. This system works better for touring boats and comes standard on all Mirage boats.
The S has one 7.5" VCP front hatch and a neoprene/lid hatch in the stern. The hatch lid is held on with a simple and novel bungie and hook arrangement that works well. The rear hatch has not leaked during the limited rolling I have done. The front hatch is true to VCP and is 'tight as a frog's bum' (thanks Derek)
There are no bow and stern toggles which is sure to raise a ruckus with the BCU clones. I don't find a problem with it as the boat does come with perimeter decklines that are expertly mounted. Carrying is simple and easy even without the toggles and towing is just as easily accomplished from the decklines.
All the other models of Mirage boats come with a day hatch: 7.5" VCP.
General reaction: I bought this boat to race it. I did not buy it to teach paddling skills or guide in or do multiday trips. That said, I could do all three in a pinch but ... I would rather not. The fact that this boat does not turn well should not be considered a fault. Sumo wrestlers are not light on their feet like dancers. As anyone who has been paddling more than a few times probably knows: there is no boat that does everything well. Any claims of such should be doubted. So, within the realm of it's design the 22S is an excellent boat. It is very fast. I am hoping that I will soon be able to propel it at or near 7mph for 10 to 20 miles. It is very stable considering it's width. I can sit and eat my lunch in it (on relatively flat water). The cockpit is roomy, adjustable and takes a skirt well. The boat is aesthetically the best looking boat with a rudder I have ever seen. For the experienced paddler looking for a turn of speed or the intermediate looking for a challenge this boat is a mixture of thoroughbred speed and solid, well built sea kayak technology.