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I know of one other owner that ordered his boat from Australia, and I don't know of any dealers in the southeastern US, but if you want the best, fastest and most responsive sea kayak, get a Mirage.
I'm a pretty big guy, 6'4", 240 lbs., so I got the 580 (580cm, about 19'). My sweetheart got the 530. They are kevlar/glass so they are light, but somewhat fragile. Not the kind of boat to drag up on the beach or rocks.
The great things about this kayak are it's speed, which at 19ft long, I'm usually the fastest guy on the water (until and Epic shows up). With the large surface area of the standard rudder, the boat has a lot of maneuverability, and because it's in a fixed position, that's less chance of a mechanical malfunction. I find the boat to be very stable for a sit inside, having taken it on open ocean in Hawaii and not getting swamped or tossed. The day hatch provides plenty of space for me to pack food, and fishing gear. The area right behind the seat is great to place a water bottle or bladder, underneath the seat is where I put my bailing bucket and sponge. I'm 5'8" and have plenty of legroom. I'm looking forward to packing it out and taking a trip to the outer banks of Virginia's eastern shore later this spring.
The choice of the 580 was driven by this kayak seeming to be one that was not above a relatively new paddler but also one that was paddled by some of the most serious sea kayakers in the country. People seemed to rate this model whether they paddled the local river on sundays or spent several weeks at a time on the Southern Ocean. For its reputation and quality the price is excellent (its not really much more than many plastic boats). Being custom made I was sure that my long legs would have room - something that has been a problem for me in other boats that are supposed to be 'roomy'. Its reputation as a fast boat was a bonus for me rather than a major consideration in the decision.
The order was handled efficiently by email and the product on arrival was exactly as I had expected. The fit out is functional but fairly spartan (which I guess helps keep that price competitive). I intend to spend a morning with some closed-cell foam and silasec to pad out the thigh braces. The seat is straight fibreglass but surprisingly have not found that uncomfortable in practice and see no need to add padding. The kayak looks great with a nice gel coat and sleek proportions on the roof racks. It is a long boat although the highly flared bow means the water line is not as long as the measurements suggest. Given the width of the boat and only slightly above average length of the waterline it is interesting that it is regarded as fast and efficient to paddle.
I have given this boat about 150km of test paddling so far including time on a river, the bay and out to a local island. First thing I noticed with the boat on the water was the primary stability. This was only fractionally less stable to me than the 'beginner / rock-solid' boats I had previously tested. However those other boats were scary when up on an edge or hit on the side by an unexpected wave - you want to go over. On edging with water just to the sprayskirt the 580 was solid. The secondary stability has been confirmed on the steep and fast bay waves at about a metre we have here. While small these waves with their steep sides knock small things about. From a side angle the boat lets these waves slip underneath without disrupting your balance. Indeed I happily fished with rod in hand for a couple of hours on drift in such seas with waves parallel to the boat and occasional confused waters from powerboat wakes without feeling the need to brace or tuck away the fishing rod.
I had been led to believe that primary and secondary stability were mutually exclusive but to me at least, the 580 seems to score highly on both. Certainly it is a boat you feel secure in pretty quickly. And from my research I know it is the boat most popular for big ocean trips in Australia and is proven in seas well beyond anything I am likely to encounter. However this gives me confidence that the boat (the paddler is another story!) won't be found wanting if unexpected weather hits when on the water.
I have practiced my wet entry's and a cowboy entry was achieved from the first attempt. My rolling is still pathetic so no comments on that maneuver in a 580 from me.
Paddling wise the boat feels efficient. I can cruise at about 3.5 knots with an easy stroke that you feel you could do all day. On sprint the boat is much faster - but I have no measure of what the top speed under this effort has been. The boat picks up waves fine though it does broach easily on our short steep waves coming to shore. Perhaps this is the length and the standard rudder giving no purchase on these waves. A brace into the wave gives a simple broaching ride into shore. Wind has had no effect on the boat up to the 20 knot winds which is the maximum I have paddled it in to date. The bow slices cleanly through chop and waves without kicking up much spray.
I like the integrated rudder system and I find the pedal system feels natural. The brace bar with pedals above mean that you can constantly make minor adjustments with your big toes without moving your feet. The boat does not turn sharply - but that it was never expected to do. A lean helps a bit on the turn but you can only do so much. You can see the wake and feel a lot of drag with the rudder on full lock. Going straight or near to straight the rudder seems to cause very little drag. The rudder doesn't pick up weed - even in the thick beds in the river.
Criticisms? A bit more padding and comfort features around the boat would be nice for some but then this would no doubt impact on the competitive price. It would be relatively easy to put some plastic caps or tubing cut-offs over the exposed bolts in the hatches to ensure there is no risk of them snagging on gear. Some more decklines across the back (day hatch area) would be nice for those who use paddle floats (though I can't see myself needing to use a float with the ease of cowboy entry) or for the spare paddle. The foot pedals aren't the easiest to adjust though it is a robust and great-to-operate setup when in place.
Overall though I am very happy with the product (though it seems most reviewers on this site are happy with their boats - which means we mostly do our research well or are just really happy with whatever our own kayaks are!). I have no qualms about taking this boat out for long trips on the ocean and being comfortable and feeling secure. I like a boat that doesn't take take too much constant mental effort to keep the right way up in steep chop and gets from A to B with minimal muscle strain. The designers have done a very good job of bringing together a stable, highly seaworthy and comfortable kayak for a good price. I don't want to say a good compromise of features as it doesn't seem to compromise much (eg. how can the secondary stability be there with the primary stability and how can a wide, stable boat be proven to be faster than most?). It is easy to see why this boat dominates paddling groups and is the boat of choice for expedition sea kayakers in Australia.
OK, maybe you are thinking that the 580 will make a good cruiser for day paddling. You'd be very correct. Using a standard European touring blade I sprinted to 6.4 mph in the 580-surely nothing close to what an athlete could mete out of this kayak but for 24 miles and in conditions ranging from pea soup to the above mentioned wind and chop I easily maintained a 4.5-4.7 mph average according to Mr. Garmin (and reaffirmed via Mr. Suunto). For an hour I easily cruised at 3.7mph into a 12-15mph headwind intentionally not wanting to work too hard knowing I still had 8 miles to the landing. Bottom line from this experience is that the hull is efficient, but you know that already because in your research you've found that the 580 is the predominant kayak chosen and listed as winning the most races in Australia.
Particulars of the kayak:
In north America a Mirage 580 will instantly stick out of the crowd due to its unique integral rudder. At one time Dagger offered a kayak with such but currently the only manufacturer offering such in the USA is Epic. I'll discuss the rudder in detail later, now I want to go over the obvious features of this kayak.
What about the cockpit (and that interesting shape)? If you like 'cowboy' entry you will love the 580. If you don't know what a 'cowboy' entry is you need to contact your BCU coach (humor me OK). The cockpit size is of course relative, huge if you're coming from a Strand SOF, large indeed if coming from a Lincoln Eggemoggin, a wee bit bigger if coming from a Nordkapp Jubilee, but the sweet part of the 580 cockpit is the fact that it can feel tight if you want it to be or loose and that's without outfitting!
As mentioned in the beginning you cannot look at a Mirage kayak and not notice the rudder. Here's a pic of the rudder from the rear. Like bilge pumps, there are endless debates over rudder versus skeg versus no rudder and nowadays having rudder and skeg. The Mirage system takes care of all arguments! How can this be you ask. It's simply really, when in the neutral position (and do note that if the kayak is moving the rudder with self neutralize) you have no rudder-but you can have a skeg! So how can that be? Well that depends on which rudder you have installed at the time. Mirage offers three different length rudders. One that is flush with the keel line, one that extends a bit, and one that is really long. Mine came supplied with the one that extends almost 3.5 inches below the keel (an extra rudder is $100 AUS). So if you have an extended rudder you always have a skeg. If you have the flush with keel rudder you only have a rudder when it's being used-how simple is that!
This boat does not weathercock in winds between 12 and 15mph--with or without rudder deployment. It suffers from no windage. It will turn on a lean and it will turn dramatically when leaned and rudder thrusted. It is rock solid in stability primary and secondary (that's what you get for 22.5 inches). It will tract like the proverbial train yet it is not rudder dependent to do so (versus a Looksha II which is rudder dependent, and a QCC700 which some say it is very desirous to have a skeg or rudder). If you want a Mirage 580 because it is a work of art then know I agree but remember I've never seen a kayak that didn't catch my eye... how long it holds my attention is another matter. If you want a very fast day cruise you won't go wrong here and if you want a kayak for paddle camping you will find the voluminous rear hatch your best friend ever. If you want a kayak for BCU training I have no idea in which direction they will turn their nose after looking at the rudder....I did have to specify bow and stern toggles when ordering, something not normally found on a 580!
Would I order a Mirage again? 100% certain that I would. The kayak is a joy to paddle. It is simply less work to accomplish what you would in other designs. Is this saying that less skill is needed? No, you can still work on and progress on all the skill sets but then again if you just want to paddle you can. Remember the question of intended use, well for me its distance paddling and kayak camping. The Mirage suits either with many positive features and benefits. Is it perfect, well no, it didn't have tethers on the Valley hatches and there is no perfect kayak without a 4th hatch.
(note: this review has been edited for length with permission of the author)
When I decided to add a second kayak to the fleet, my wish list included: (1) excellent rough water capability; (2) reasonably fast; (3) good tracking; (4) stable enough for a "cowboy scramble" rescue; (5) day hatch; and (6) nice build quality along with the ability to pick colors for hull, deck, lettering, etc. In addition to the Mirage 580, I considered/tested: QCC Q700X, Epic Endurance 18, (Onno) Tideline 19, Current Designs Extreme. The new Epic 18x, with the integrated rudder and day hatch, wasn't available so I have not tried that boat. I decided on the Mirage 580 since all of the other alternatives were missing one or more items from my wish list.
Let me start by saying that this is a great all around kayak. It's fast, stable, comfortable, tracks well, and is maneuverable (when using the integrated rudder). The cockpit is well designed in that the outer rim allows for thigh bracing and there's enough length to allow "knees up" high-speed paddling. I like Snap Dragon spray skirts and custom ordered one to get a good fit. The custom route only costs about $10 more and the fit is perfect. There is enough room between the side of the seat and hull for a hand pump on one side and a paddle float on the other. The paddle float isn't really needed for re-entry though I still bring one along just to be safe. I installed a River Runner bilge pump in the cockpit behind the seat. Mirage will also install an electric bilge pump as an option.
I ordered mine in Kevlar with an "expedition" lay-up. Lighter lay-ups are available. Mirage sets the boat up for your size, weight, etc. My hull and deck are white while the join line, hatches, fittings, lines and bungies are all black. It looks great and I've had lots of complements. Mirage also offers some less conservative color schemes. Overall, I would say the build quality is as good as my QCC. Some of the deck fittings on the QCC are better, but then again QCC has the best fittings I've seen on any kayak.
For me, pragmatism trumps tradition so the integrated rudder pleases rather than annoys. This device is really convenient and doesn't seem to slow the kayak at all. The rudder can be removed entirely and there are two or three versions of the rudder. It's easy and fast to swap or remove the rudder. I have the "race" version, which is flush with the keel as well as one that extends below the keel. Using the rudder works much like the rudder pedals in an aircraft. Even the longer rudder glides through kelp beds and over beach lines without getting hung.
Mirage is great to work with. Receiving a shipment from outside the country is a pain in the ass. My first boat was damaged and I had to fight with the insurance company to get them to agree to pay. The US port charges can add up, especially if you use a customs broker. I cleared the second boat through customs myself and saved several hundred dollars.
I would highly recommend this boat. It's worth the trouble to get is shipped from Australia because there's not anything like it here in the US.
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