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Overview of the Topper Xenon Dinghy

The Topper Topaz Xenon is a relatively roomy plastic roto moulded two hander dinghy. Its fittings and standing rigging are of stainless steel and the single piece mast and boom by Seldén are of aluminium. The dinghy is virtually maintenance free, which is possibly one reason why Xenon dinghies hold their price so well. The dinghy is fitted with an effective Jib furling unit that is a real boon when launching in windy weather and a single zip reefing system on the main mylar sail. The dinghy is rated to hold a maximum of 4 standard persons but a family of 5 will be very comfortable. In practise it is perfectly possible for 3 normal (12 -13 stone 6ft) persons to sail very comfortably indeed in the Xenon (we often sail 3 up). A contributing factor to the comfort of this dinghy is its relatively high boom position.

It is very suitable for both inland cruising (comfortable for 6 footers) and racing, however its relatively powerful rig and overall design puts it firmly into the racing end of the spectrum. As soon as the breeze gets up so does the Xenon! 

The large sail area gives the dinghy a very useful performance in a reasonable wind even with 3 people on board. It is stable and predictable and, in most conditions, gives adequate time to spill wind or hike before threatening a capsize. The dinghy will sail happily in heavy conditions with a gunwhale under water, and even in this attitude instils confidence that it will not capsize. On returning to a more sensible attitude the dinghy is full of water but the very effective bailing chutes will empty the boat in a minute or so leaving it almost dry. See video snippet of a near capsize.

In strong winds the Xenon with its large sail area can be a handful for two persons requiring a reasonable level of skill and attention but the extra weight and hiking of three persons enable the dinghy to be sailed very well in such conditions. We now have considerable experience (200+ hrs on the water) of sailing this dinghy and one of its strengths seems to be how well it handles in heavy conditions.

Control Lines

The main control is via a central main sheet running through a 1:6 block set mounted on a large central hoop. The hoop provides excellent control of the boom as well as giving both crew and helm a steadying post when a rapid change of course occurs. In technical terms the hoop mounted blocks provide better control of the boom, enabling it to be pulled almost to the centreline of the dinghy, very useful when sailing close hauled. The block set and high quality ball bearing mounted switchable main sheet ratchet work well. We have sailed very successfully, with reefed sails, in Force 6 winds and found it a very enjoyable if exhausting experience. The zip reefing system is very neat and tight with none of the flapping or sagging sail material that some dinghies exhibit.

Secondary controls take the form of a Gnav lines fed back to the Helm position and  Downhaul lines also fed back to the Helm position. The Outhaul line is comfortably placed to be operated by the crew.

Single Handed sailing

Although it can be sailed single handed this is only possible in light winds. The Xenon is primarily a performance dinghy for two persons. The dinghy responds quite well when being run with the jib furled and in this mode will make for a pleasant days single handed cruising but using the jib and tacking when single handed is difficult as the jib cleats are out of reach of the helm position and cannot be easily released.

Capsize issues

A fluorescent coloured flotation pack is available that can be fastened to the top of the main sail to reduce the prospect of the dinghy inverting after a capsize. The pack itself is neat and is designed to be tied firmly and neatly to the topmost section of the sail. In practice sailing with the flotation pack in place has no noticeable effect on the dinghy performance although for serious racing you may wish to remove it. The flotation pack is less effective when the main sail is reefed and the dinghy will turtle if care is not taken. On the topic of capsize the dinghy is fitted with effective righting lines designed to be accessible even if the crew is in the water and the dinghy is floating high. The Xenon is designed with a self draining deck and consequently as soon as the dinghy is righted you can be underway again and the self bailing chutes will  empty the deck within minutes. Bailers etc are completely unnecessary.

Gennaker Sailing

Wonderful. One of the most striking features of the Xenon is its enormous gennaker (asymmetric spinnaker). Ours is black and when under power the craft is an awesome sight.  The Gennaker is operated very easily by a single launch and retrieval line.  In winds of around 10 knots and above with the gennaker launched the Xenon will plane very easily riding high on its bow wave and giving a superb ride, literally hissing through the water.  There is a single trapeze kit available as an optional extra. Even under moderate winds the trapeze is useful as the handle enables gentle and comfortable hiking without hooking on. As a grandad I find it very useful!

Construction

It is a sizeable dinghy with a broad gunwhale and an inner gunwhale that makes the dinghy much more comfortable than many in very light wind conditions. Its beam contributes significantly to both comfort and stability without detracting from performance (it has a RYA 2009 PY of 1070 – compared with that of a Laser 2000 at 1120 a similar slightly smaller fibreglass dinghy). It has a very solid build and gives the impression that it will last forever. It is not surprising that Topper is willing to provide a 3 yr guarantee on the hull. This solid build may be seen as less of an advantage when it is being pulled out of the water.

The moulded hull design is both stronger than the Fibreglass reinforced resin used in many dinghies and importantly does not suffer from the delamination problems caused when a fibre glass hull gets chipped.  For this reason it is very suitable for club and sailing school usage.

Storage

The Xenon has limited storage consisting of two 240mm storage tubes, useful for spares and a few modest drinks. The third access panel is in the stern and exposes the main buoyancy tank. Although capacious it has limited sorage value because anything small placed in it will disappear under the main deck, out of sight and out of reach, perhaps forever! That said any package that will pass through the 240mm circular cover that is waterproof and is of sufficient size not to get lost in the small recesses can be stored in the buoyancy chamber.

Cruising

One other optional accessory not often seen is a mounting block for an outboard motor. This block is bolted to the transom and provides a sturdy mounting for the outboard clamps. Don't be surprised by this. Despite its high performance the excellent comfort this dinghy provides makes it good candidate for occasional inland cruising although storage space for tucker is limited. The mounting block is available directly from Topper or the Wet and Windy Watersports Stores. The limited storage space makes the Xenon unsuitable for off-shore cruising because there is no suitable stowage space for an anchor and other essential equipment.

Family Sailing and Beginners

Topper International offer a Training Sail for use with the Xenon. The sail is approximately 70% of the standard sail and is made from Dacron. The training sail can be reefed.  This sail will make for much safer family sailing and can also be used by experienced sailors when sailing in very strong winds. The Xenon is one of the larger dinghies made by Topper International and is rated to carry 4 persons. However we managed to sail with 5 persons (two grandchildren) in a degree of comfort. If you are interested in family sailing have a peek at this 10 minute video.

 

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