Mirage 530 vs Epic 18X - Comparisons on Sydney Harbour

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River or Location: 
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A while ago I watched a youtude clip http://bit.ly/1DlEExo comparing an Epic sea kayak against a more traditionally designed sea kayak.    As a new owner of a Mirage 530 IRT, I found the clip disturbing as the comparison clearly positioned the Epic ahead of the Mirage.

Last weekend I went on the club’s training paddle for the Hawkesbury Classic and was lucky enough to be lent an Epic 18x Sports by a fellow club member.  The Epic was a revelation – fast and comfortable.

During the following week I sought to compare both the Mirage and Epic by paddling to work on consecutive days in each kayak.

The Paddler:  Without result or reputation, and currently ranked within the bottom 10% of competitive marathon paddlers in NSW, I claim no authority or technical expertise.

The Testing Track:  My morning paddle to work takes me from Rose Bay to Collins Beach, Manly.  Roughly 8 kms, and I break it into 4 distinct sections.  The Rose Bay to Shark Point provides a straight forward run. Shark Point to South Head see me running down the middle of the harbor  around Sow and Pigs reef for about 3 kms.  South Head to North Head is two kms and combines technically difficult water and the competing demands of Sydney’s ferries.  The last kilometer dash is from Cannae Point to Collins Beach.  Of course I have to get home, so the course gets flipped in the afternoon.  So test comprises the 8 sections to and from work.

Stage 1: Rose Bay

The Epic - Instantly the kayak takes off, it draws my body forward, asks me to paddle and feels fast.  The cockpit is roomy and the footrests connect both the heal and the ball of the foot.  Surprisingly the gentle 3 knot westerly wind creates a wave which strikes the kayak at 70 degree and causes a constant unsettling effect. This was not in the video. Still the speed is fast and I know I am on track for a personal best time.

The Mirage - I squeeze myself into the cockpit, it’s so small compared to the Epic.  Instantly the start reveals a sluggish performance.  I am constantly comparing performance with the day before.  I come to my first conclusion, I have to push the Mirage – push, push, push – but the Epic sucks me in, draws me forward.

Stage 2:  Down the Harbour

The Epic – This is the make or break section, 3 kms paddling downhill with the tide.  By now my body is warming up and I am starting to swing.  The connection between my feet, my hips and the paddle is sublime – this is fun.

The Mirage – I am well into the paddle now.  I can feel that my connection is only with the ball of my feet and the drive involves only the outside of my hips.  Unlike the Epic, I am getting nowhere near the same drive through the legs, the draw though to the gluts and the flick of the hip, and nowhere near the speed.  Years of sitting on the couch have built my buttock muscles into my most powerful muscle group, but in the Mirage, my bum has gone missing.  Reflecting on the previous day, I come to my second conclusion – the Epic is a Siren, it sweet talks to me, it encourages me to paddle harder, go faster, not give up – and how could I resist – it creates that long sought after kayaking zen when water, kayak, body and paddle are working as one.  The Mirage feels stubbornly mute.

Stage 3:  Across the Heads

The Epic - I am heading into the Heads, there is no sign of the large swells from the day before, so I am looking for a quick crossing.  The ferries are ahead of me, so I know there will be a 15 minute gap before they sneak up behind me and demand my attention.  If the Epic was singing to me before, the song suddenly switches to an incomprehensible Eurovision dirge in Estonian.  The large flat bow of the kayak is copping more slaps than an ABC miniseries, and without a sea rudder, the kayak is continually pivoting 45 degrees back and forth. I have to drop my paddling effort by 10% and focus on my core muscles on maintaining some directional stability. Surprisingly despite all the difficulties the speed remains high.  I suspect this problem would be less with the sea rudder.

The Mirage – The heads are picture perfect and with little feedback from the kayak I lose my concentration and I paddle off course.  I push the Mirage across the ocean swell, rebound waves and ferry wash with interruption or impact. 

Stage 4: Across Manly Cove

The Epic – Rounding Cannae Point with an outgoing tide always results in a surge effect, but I am surprised when the speed of the Epic drops by 60% and remains there for the 200 meters as I enter Manly Cove.  Once released from the surge, the Epic bounces back and demands more effort.  I put in one more flurry of full body effort and race to Collins beach.  I mark the time on my GPS. I know it is a fast time, not my fastest – those minutes in the heads where the Epic was babbling Spanglish and the Cannae Point surge robbed me of a new record. Still there seems to be lots of room to go faster.  Not wanting to run the kayak up on the sand, I jump out of the kayak at around knee depth, but somewhere in my oxygen-depleted brain I misjudge the depth and find myself in chest deep water.

The Mirage approaches Cannae Point. I remember how the Epic’s speed collapsed in the tidal surge the day before.  I am watching my GPS, I line up the same entry point, the speed doesn’t change.  The Mirage slices through the water and I am into Manly Cove.  Now the last concerted effort. Can I match the Epic’s time?  I reach Collins Beach,  I check the water depth a little better and jump into knee deep water.  My speed is 0.36 km/hr slower than the day before on the Epic, it doesn’t seem much, but the Epic always felt faster, made my body feel better.

Stage 5:  Returning across Manly Cove

The Epic – Return journeys are always a little more difficult, I am a little more tired from the morning, I am frazzled from work and the wind is always stronger.  The run from Collins Beach to Cannae Point is fast, the body in tune, there is a lot to like about this kayak.

The Mirage – Again I feel another sluggish start.  After 3 consecutive attempts at personal bests in two day, the body is tired, but for the trial to succeed I have to give this effort the full tilt.

Stage 6:  Across the Heads and Petticoat Junction

The Epic – I enter the heads, there is more wave and wind action than in the morning.  Again the Epic song sounds like Ikea Chinglish.  Again it’s a technically difficult paddle, but the speed is there.  About half across the head, I reach Petticoat Junction, the 400 meter section of the crossing which is exposed to wave action from three different directions.  Again the Epic drops to another level of incoherent handling. I slip into survival mode and just focus on safety.

The Mirage – Sometimes crossing the heads is all about timing.  As I break into the heads, I can see a cruise ship making its way down the harbor.  Playing chicken with a cruise ship can consume the mind – do I race a head or do I hold back? The demands of the day determine only one answer and I bear down hard on the kayak.  The Mirage is now feeling sweet, it approaches Petticoat Junction at speed and crosses it without missing a beat.  I am well in front of the path od the cruise ship, but a poor yacht has misguided and they feel the full force and indignation of an incredibly loud ship’s horn.

Stage 7:  Back up the Harbour

The Epic – Paddling back up the harbour usually offers the prospect of catching ocean swell wave as they surge up the harbor.  No such luck today.  It’s all about technique, connection and power and the Epic is flying.  I’m going for a personal best.

The Mirage – My body is responding to the Mirage far better than in the morning, my crossing was fast, and the rhythm is good. I sense I may have the Epic’s measure so I push the Mirage even harder.  I come to a couple of other conclusions.  I don’t want to be in rough water in the Epic.  Maybe this is an unfair judgment given the lack of a sea rudder.   Secondly, the Mirage has an uncanny ability to sniff out the smallest run or wave and make the most of it.  As I am coming up the harbor, the Mirage runs with the current to drive on the pace.  As I come to the end of this section, bang on the tip of Shark Point, the gentle northerly winds are exchanged for a blustery southerly, just as I turn south into Rose Bay.  The change is instantaneous.  The chance of finishing this test are blown away.

Stage 8:  The last run across Rose Bay

The Epic – the 2 km run to Rose Bay is as sweet as it gets and by the time I reach my destination I have achieved my personal best.   My body feels great and I have paddled in a style and speed which has escaped my in my Mirage.  I know there is scope to go even faster in this kayak.

Paddling the last 2km directly into a 20 knot headwind is always going to be a test.  I have gone from chasing down a personal best to just wanting to get home.  The bay explodes with a stampede of the white horses charging straight at me.  I have to dig deep.  The Mirage is fantastic, it becomes an extension of my body. It carves through the oncoming waves and slowly I start to build speed.  Now the Mirage starts to talk me – don’t give up, punch through, trust in me.  The headwinds destroy my time, but not my technique.

Conclusion

Back at home, I download my GPS and compare my times at the end of section 7, the turn at Shark Point into Rose Bay.  At that point, the Epic is slightly over a minute ahead of the Mirage. It felt closer.

Choosing a kayak is all about compromises.  The Epic 18x Sport is a fast, fun kayak for advanced paddlers.  It draws you forward, calling for more effort and rewarding with more speed, it’s an intoxicating and rewarding cycle.

The Mirage 530 IRT is fast, light and looks the part. In calm conditions, it leaves a gap between expectation and delivery, especially after paddling the Epic.  I pay and pay and pay but it only grudgingly respond.  But as I found many times crossing the heads and paddling into the headwinds, the Mirage is a mudder, it’s the racehorse born in a storm and only truly comes to life in adversity.

For me paddling alone to work, crossing the heads and dodging ferries and cruise ships is all about safety.  The Mirage 530 IRT provides a safe fast kayak generating trust in troubling waters, just when I need it.   If I could have any kayak, the Epic 18x Sport will be my kayak of choice for paddling fast across flat water.  Probably the real test would have involved an Epic 18X Sports with a sea rudder, and a Mirage 530 IRT with a larger seat.

Anyone can go to Anaconda, buy any kayak and a paddle and call themself a kayaker.  Joining a kayak club provides the opportunity to enter a community, share knowledge and experiences, swap and buy kayaks, learn about safety, learn about personal boundaries and work with others to achieve your paddling goals.  On this occasion, I am grateful for the generosity of the club member for the sharing of expensive and fragile kayak.