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Buzz Class Association

Life's a Buzz

Buzz Boat Test


Among the multitude of new high performance dinghies arriving on the market, Topper's Buzz has kept a lower profile than many. Lacking the all-out blasting power of some of the newer, bigger boats, the Buzz packs only marginally less punch for a fraction of the price, ranking among the best in a crowded field.


Rigging is simplicity itself. With the mast standing securely in the all-enveloping gate, there are just two shrouds, the jib luff wire, trapeze elastics and the spinnaker halyard to attach. Although the sailmakers probably wouldn't recommend it, the spinnaker chute arrangement is designed to allow rigging and unrigging without removing the kite from the chute or even so much as untying the halyard - just the job for those Le Mans open meeting arrivals. Once hoisted on the two-to-one halyard, the jib furls up, keeping it tidily out of the way while the rest of the job is completed. In truth, there is not much more to do, aside from fitting the rudder and hoisting the mainsail.


On the slipway, the main, with just four full-length battens hoists easily, and in little more than a quarter of an hour from arrival, it's time to go sailing. The daggerboard drops into an unobstructed slot and the rudder goes down with Topper's customary lift-push-click-lock tiller mechanism. All you do then is sheet in and go.


Acceleration, in upwind mode is not quite in the Ferrari league, although it's certainly brisk enough. With both crew at full stretch, progress is more rapid than one might expect from a boat that is after all no longer than a 420. As with all asymmetrically rigged boats, the rudder provides a substantial proportion of the underwater lift, although steering is not half the task one might expect, with a forward raked blade providing fine balance and light loads on the tiller. In salt water, progress upwind is steady and rapid, though waves, especially the short Solent variety can disturb her equilibrium with a nasty slam. Precise and careful steering elminates all but the biggest waves from problem status, but get one wrong and the flat bow sections let you know all about it.


As with all fast boats, turning the corners is the key to racetrack performance. For the crew, it's quite a long run from one side to he other and agility will be high on the shopping list of any crew-hunting helmsman. The helmsman also needs good balance and not inconsiderable flexibility to get from one side to the other with the low boom requiring a head-down approach. Kneeling is not much of an option and it quickly becomes clear that it is essential to stay on your feet if any kind of manoeuvring is to be accomplished successfully.


A distinct lack of non-slip in the helmsman's quarters does little to help with job security; though the moulded-in nonslip on the floor and rollered-on finish on the gunwale is effective in so far as it goes, the problem quite simply is that it doesn't go far enough. The ribs in the floor are especially slippery and somehow ones feet always seem to end up on them.


With tacking at least partially mastered, the time inevitably comes to turn the big corner and hoist the kite. Most easily accomplished by the crew with the helmsman hiking hard, getting the little beauty out of the bag requires a fairly substantial pull. The single-line halyard system serves both to extend the pole and raise the sail, so some friction is inevitable. Once the spinnaker's up, the buzz serves up her biggest surprise - blistering acceleration.


For what is after all quite a small boat, downwind speeds are remarkably high and the transition from displacement mode to full-on planing provides a surge of acceleration that confirms the helmsman's worst suspicions about the non-slip; it's surprisingly easy to get left behind as the little boat moves into lift-off mode. Moderate rocker and very flat aft sections produce a bow high attitude and it's obviously important to move the crew weight aft to maintain trim.


Despite the speed, this is no hairy-scary monster and aside from a small excursion into shallow water (of which more later) we never once felt out of control. Coordination is the key with the biggest puffs requiring a simultaneous ease and bear away. With the kite up, rudder loads are significantly lighter than upwind although without a trace of lee-helm. Gybing is as simple as one expects, although the distance form side to side and the big angles required through the gybe require a determined approach from both helmsman and crew.


So taken were we with the Buzz's performance, that normal navigational efforts were forgotten, with inevitable consequences on a day of low spring tides in the central Solent. Disaster in the form of a high speed contact with the Bramble Bank ended with Rob nursing sore ribs after a rapid excursion around the forestay and the helmsman (OK, it was Peter, if you must know) somewhere up by the shrouds. Fearing the worst, a close inspection isolated just the tiniest         of chips in the aft edge of the dagger board - remarkable considering the force of our impact.


Once we had waded out into deeper water, righting the boat required just Rob near the end of the board; lighter crews might need a double effort especially in rough conditions. Despite being a wide boat, the Buzz floats low enough in the water to relieve most of the drama involved in getting onto the board and capsize recovery is simple enough to stimulate a 'push it to the limit' attitude in a very short time.


Judging by our attempts to destroy the boat, and her reluctance to submit, the Buzz is a pretty tough little number. Foam sandwich construction has been used throughout although the emphasis on durability - reflected in the weight - ensures a tougher structure than might be expected. Close inspection reveals a universally high build quality with an excellent standard of finish throughout. The foils remain a weak spot and despite suffering only minor damage, small quantities         of water did manage to find their way into the hollow daggerboard once the edge was damaged.


Fittings are from Ronstan with an M7 rig from SuperSpars. The sails from Sobstad's British Genesis production facility are adhesive bonded rather than sewn although they look none the less durable for that. Shape wise, the sails look well developed with the main easily controllable using the outhaul and cunningham. Fixed jib leads preclude any form of adjustment and for most crews the blessing of one less thing to look after will be more a blessing than a curse.


Coming on the heels of the Iso and a multitude of designs from other manufacturers, Ian Howlett and the team at Topper have been able to refine the design of the Buzz, to the point where it is one of the nicest of the new generation trapeze boats. Judged by what Shirley calls the 'grin factor', the Buzz must rank among the best ever tested by Y&Y, with smiles and whoops of joy emanting from the little boat throughout our test. There is something infectious about Topper's baby and no matter what disaster strikes, the boat always provides fun by the handful.


As an introduction to high performance sailing, the Buzz offers an almost perfect compromise of simplicity and thrills. On price too it holds a critical advantage undoubtedly offering more raw performance per pound than any other boat currently on the UK market. Even though it might be viewed as an introductory boat, there will, for many crews, be little need or reason to move on to other things and with a racing circuit just starting to flourish, the Buzz looks as though she will live up to her name.


Photographs from the report can be found in the Buzz Gallery, here


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