Advantages Fun, Cheap, durable, easy to maintain. Car-toppable. Widely recognised.
Disadvantages Not good for oversize people. THe rest of your family will want to use it all the time
The International Topper is a simple 12 foot single-handed dinghy and is probably the most popular dinghy in Britain. They are made from injection-moulded poly-propelene (think of washing up bowl plastic). It is cheap and robust which makes it ideal as a racing progression for children who are outgrowing the Optimist or for smaller adults that would be overwhelmed by a bigger Laser. Also it is great for people that just like messing around in boats. The design allows for simple and quick reefing of the sail so it will remain manageable by anyone even in increased wind strengths (you roll it around the mast)
They are equipped with big foam blocks inside the hull which mean they are virtually unsinkable.
I moved into one after racing Optimists for many years and thoroughly enjoyed it. They are a slowish dinghy although when you are sailing one off the wind in a force 6 and you can’t see a damn thing for spray with your bum an inch from the water they feel anything but slow! One of the best laughs you can have as an experienced sailor is to take a mate out when it is blowing an absolute ‘hooligan’ (Force 7 or above). Once, we had over 20 stone of body weight hanging out over side and were going like a train, spray everywhere, the boat was actually humming and we were laughing like maniacs. Then the mast snapped! We managed to sail back with half a sail, still giggling madly, and when we eventually made it to the bar someone pointed out that the wind speed gauge had broken when the gust came thru that ended our day. Indicated wind speed? 75 mph! The onlookers reckoned we were going so fast we were nearly airborne! I just wish I had a photo of it!An old secondhand Topper can be picked up for a few hundred pounds and since they can’t rot and don’t require a great deal of maintenance your only worry will be the state of the sail and ropes. If you want to race then you’ll need to spend a bit more, obviously. A new one will cost well over a thousand pounds but since I never had a new one I won’t go there.
Toppers are a great way for a novice adult to get into club racing and since I was always an ideal weight for them (less than 11 stone) and too light for a Laser (11+ stone) I raced one for a long time (before getting into windsurfing) and I had nothing but fun in mine. They are responsive and can be challenging to sail well. I was fortunate enough to win many trophies in mine and when I raced on a handicap basis I regularly beat 'faster' boats. I was even invited to the European Championships many years ago. Ah the good old days etc…They are probably not suited to anyone over about 12 stone or 5 foot 10 inches tall but if you want to muck about with a mate then can get 2 people in no problem and kids like playing around in them too. In fact I’ve seen one with 13 kids on it and it was still afloat! It just wasn’t going very fast!
Overall the International Topper is a great boat for novice and experienced sailor alike. There’s plenty of racing in the UK if that’s what you want and if not they are easily portable, hard to damage and make a great little platform for ’messing about in boats‘.
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