Behind all the big boats

We take a look at what there is for the small boat sailor at the Southampton Boat Show

Wednesday September 20th 2006, Author: Toby Heppell, Location: United Kingdom
A grey and miserable start gave way to a wonderfully sunny day on the first day of the Southampton Boat Show, leaving thousands of punters wandering over bridges in thick jumpers and coats looking hot and exhausted but ultimately content.

From the small boat perspective the show can be a bit of hard work, with dinghies not featuring prominently. It is also a deceptively huge event, covering 155,000sqm and over a mile of Southampton’s waterfront. The majority of the area is taken up with extremely large yachts and powerboats (and a not inconsiderable amount of burger, fish and chip or hotdog vans.) However, if one looks hard enough there are a number of interesting things to be seen.

The first thing to note is there are two sections were the dinghy stands are put. The first is called ‘The Arena’ getting to this is simple: simply walk straight in the main gate through the ‘Solent Hall’ and out into the open, this is ‘The Arena’. Here you will find all sorts of dinghy related stands, it is also where most will spend their money, with stands such as Purple Marine, Trident, Rooster and many more. Also here are a number of smaller boat builders and manufacturers, including Vander Craft boats.

Last year at the show we saw a very nearly ready for launch V3000. In last year’s report (here) we were told by company owner Jeff Vander Borght that since Laser had dumped the boat he had acquired the rights to sell them and was making some minor modifications he thought were required to get the boat up to the level it should have originally been. This year Vander Borght is back and the boat has had another change, following a number of Laser 3000 owners who went through the boat picking up on a few things they were unhappy about over the last year. Vander Borght is very open about this and is keen people get to test the boat so he can make final refinements. He says this is exactly the reason why the class will be better with him because a big company like Laser does not have the time to do such things.

Changes to the V3000 (left) this year have largely revolved around the sails with the class switching sail manufacturer to North Sails, using the exact same sail cloth used when North made the 49er sails back before the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Also the jib has been moved forward to in front of the spinnaker chute but has increased in size to continue to overlap the main. Full battens have also been added to the jib and Vander Borght believes the boat is now ready to go.

Also on the Vander Craft stand is one of the many Phantoms to come from this company over the years. Vander Borght keeps churning these out year after year and the class is looking extremely strong with 79 of them at the recent UK National Championship. The news here is for the first time Ovington Boats will be producing the raw hull out of the moulds with Vander Craft doing the finishing. “I have been making trailers for Ovington Boats for a long time now so this seems to make sense. I can go up there with a batch of trailers and come back with a batch of hulls,” Vander Borght explains.

If you happen to end up in this area of the show we would recommend doing most of what you want to do here before moving on. The reason you should do everything here is simple, the other dinghy stands (RS, Laser and Topper) are right over the other side of the show - a walk involving two bridges and a lot of moving out the way of other people.

When across the other side of the show, however, there are some very interesting things to see. Firstly there is the RS stand with its usual selection of boats we have seen before, but one that is being displayed at Southampton for the first time is the RS Tera (left). The Tera, we were told by the RS representative talking to us although with no degree of confidence, is to their knowledge, probably, the cheapest dinghy at the show. This boast could well be true. Coming in at £995 (£1298 for the limited edition Ellen MacArthur boat at the show which comes with free t-shirt etc) it certainly represents a very inexpensive option. Clearly this boat is aimed at the pre-RS Feva age group and looks like a decent enough boat. It is, as with many new boats for youngsters, a polyethylene rotomoulded piece of kit, making it more bump and neglect resistant.

Although it’s clear competition, the Optimist, will not be feeling overly threatened by this boat it does feature a number of rather cute details. At only 9.5ft long and with a two piece mast it is possible to order the boat and have it shipped to your address in a box, making it a simple process of putting the mast together, putting it in the boat and going sailing.

Again, as seems customary for any new design, specifically for young sailors, the boat comes with more than one rig option. The sport rig is made from Dacron and looks a little bit ‘sailing school.’ The pro rig looks much sexier and with fully battened main and a more modern see-through cloth it is clear most kids will want this sail of the two. Though we have not seen it sailing on the water the pro sail looks a nicer shape, both sails are made by Hyde. We were told the 33kg hull would still be quite comfortable with a 60kg sailor in it, although we are sure the boat would float with this weight in, it is unlikely to be sailed properly by anyone over 50kg.

Moving onto the Topper stand we were expecting to see another new rotomoulded boat in their ever increasing range of polyethelene mono-hulls. It was with a great deal of happiness, then, that we saw a new catamaran, looking very sleek and professional in the corner of the stand, the SL16. Although we say new the boat is actually not all that new at all. It began life as the SL15.5, designed and produced by Sirena for the French Sailing Association as their youth catamaran. Since this time it has had a larger rig put on it but the platform has been kept to become the SL16. Topper International is to distribute this within the UK.

Perhaps, most exciting about this is its future potential. Evidently ISAF have made it pretty clear they’re keen on the boat as the next youth catamaran to replace the Hobie 16. There is due to be an effective test event for the boat over the 14-15 October at Brightlingsea when, we are told, ISAF will make an official decision.

Finally we were lucky enough to attend the official launch of the Artemis 20, a new boat for disabled and able-bodied people. We have seen some picture of this boat but seeing it in the flesh we were bowled over by how pretty it is. The hull looks sleek with it’s carbon on display for all to see. Its tall carbon mast looks like it is a normal size for the size of boat and the large picture of it sailing looked really great. However, what is most striking about the boat is it looks like a proper boat, a boat able-bodied folk would sail and want to sail. In short it does not look like a boat designed for disabled sailors.

The man behind the boat, Dave Rutter, told us they had built the boat to look and behave like a kind of mini America’s Cuy boat and you can certainly see this echoed in the design. On the inside the seats fully rotate, slide and tilt allowing the sailor to sit in almost any angle they like and the controls look simple and easy to use. So far three of these boats have been built and there are another two on the way. One of these boats has been donated to Hillary Lister (the quadriplegic sailor who sailed across the Channel last year in a Soling) who is going to attempt to sail round Great Britain in it. “I am incredibly excited and proud to be associated with this project. I think we will really see disabled and able-bodied people sailing together for the first time,” commented Lister.

It seems likely there will be a push for this boat to replace the Scud18 which has only just been selected as a new Paralympic class. Rumours abound that some owners are unhappy with the boat and there are number of small irritating issues. As ever these are only rumours but it should be enough for the folks behind the Artemis 20 to at least try for the spot. “I think it looks great and I am really excited about having a go in one. It just looks so much more exciting than the Sonar or the 2.4mR,” commented British Paralympic sailor, Helena Lucas.

Southampton Boat Show runs until this Sunday, 24 September and is open every day from 1000-1900, with the exception of the final day when it closes at 1800. Adult admission is £12.50 in advance and £14.00 on the door. For full details see

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