With windsurfing in the 1970s and 1980s there came a new sport which offered a new excitement and freedom with traditional dinghy sailing falling in popularity. After a period, the dinghy world responded, launching a new series of boats more exciting and dramatic than windsurfers, but taking their cue from one of the oldest of dinghy classes, the International 14, begun in the 1920s.
Although it has advanced its design enormously at various times, the International 14 has done this in a series of intermittent lurches. After the class was formed, Uffa Fox designed Avenger, being the world's first planing dinghy, winning 52 first places in 57 races in the 1928 season and changed small boat design. Ten years later, when Peter Scott and John Winter experimented with Beecher Moore's scheme of the crew hanging over the side on a wire attached to the mast, this 'trapeze' concept was banned.
The Class association further banned self-draining hulls and other developments and became a thoroughly stagnated organization until extinction threatening in the early 1980s, the class went through a period of reinvention.
As a development class, the association freed up rules permitting much lighter boats, twin trapezes, a bowsprit, asymmetric spinnakers and anything that was possible in a maximum hull length of 14 feet.
This resulted in a supercharged skiff akin to a smaller version of the Sydney Harbour 18-foot Skiffs, allegedly the fastest dinghies in the world.
Using the International 14 as prototype, production builders soon followed through with new high performance racing dinghies such as the Topper ISO incorporating a self-draining hull, fully-battened mainsail, asymmetric spinnaker and trapeze. Unlike the prototype, which is a development class, the new designs were sold as complete ready-to-sail packages. Sarcastically referred to by traditional sailors as 'pop-outs', the new boats succeeded in capturing a new sense of excitement by would be sailors to dinghy sailing.
At that period, on the South Coast of England, a group of sailors were designing a much more advanced concept that was aimed at the Olympics. In addition to the other high-performance features, the Laser 5000 has an imaginative weight compensation system comprising of adjustable standing-out racks.
The crew are weighed prior to a regatta and the racks set to the required position plus ballast weights are added enabling light crews to get their centres of gravity further outboard than the heavier crews. The Laser 5000 is a fast and large dinghy and is matched by their rivals from Topper with the Topper Boss, which is more sophisticated with carbon fibre spars and carbon/foam hull.
Topper, which is a marketing organization rather than a boat builder, started promoting the Topper Boss with a concentrated advertising and free demonstrations and if this ends in a purchase, the buyer is offered a boat-handling and race-training course.
As an advanced dinghy, this is sensible, if only for safety reasons, and is equivalent to the courses offered to purchasers of high-performance cars. A 3 year warranty and a company-supported class organization setting up running the regatta programme is something new to sailing, although a familiar service in many other product fields.
Although the Laser 5000 and the Topper Boss were instigators, neither of the classes received approval to become a new Olympic class, the honour going to the smaller and simpler 49-er. These two boats represent the peak of dinghy-sailing in Europe, and it is appropriate that they appeal to physically fit sailors with an fondness for high adrenaline sports, and bank balances to match.
Not all the open water high performance dinghies are quite so demanding as the Laser 5000 or Boss, as a high proportion of sailors are based on inland waters, and their needs are different.
LDC Racing Sailboats commissioned a high-performance dinghy without racks or trapezes from Phil Morrison a renowned English dinghy designer.
With experience of the Merlin-Rocket and other development classes, Morrison produced the RS400, a fast two-person dinghy with an asymmetric spinnaker. This type of sail when running dead downwind has limitation, so a retractable bowsprit was incorporated that swung from side to side so that the spinnaker set can be more like a conventional one.