NEW singlehander classes are now threatening the long standing hegemony of the venerable Laser. A leading example is the Devoti D Zero, which is making a splash in the UK sailing market, having sold over 100 boats here already among worldwide sales, delivered or on order, of 300, writes Alan Henderson.

The D Zero is a single handed performance dinghy, with a single sail of 8.1sq.m set on a two piece carbon mast. The laminate, square top sail made by North Sails, is hoisted on a halyard, and the D Zero is well specified, also including a carbon boom and full Harken fit out. It is built by Devoti in Poland, whose high quality Finns have almost taken over that Olympic class.

The D Zero’s hull is 4.2m long overall with a beam of 1.42m, quite similar dimensions to the Laser. Designer of the D Zero, Dan Holman said, ‘I understood and enjoyed the techniques and the style of Laser sailing, but also the value of off the beach leisure versatility and robustness. I guess I looked at creating a boat to a similar brief 40 years on, unhindered by baggage of legacy, min weights and half century old material tech.’

So the D Zero is indeed lighter, faster, has a modern controllable rig and is much more comfortable to sail. Together these changes have brought about a big jump in performance compared to the Laser, with the D Zero over 60 PY points quicker.

The D Zero is also much easier to rig than a Laser, as its mast is permanently up, so all you have to do is hoist the sail with its halyard.

The D Zero’s performance upwind is good, with the rig adjustments working well. The helm can adjust the usual sail controls of kicker, cunningham and outhaul to try to achieve a good looking sail shape for the conditions.

But two other important controls are those on the aft traveller and the toestrap, both on cleats aft. The traveller control lets you set how far off the centreline you sheet the mainsheet/boom, and getting this angle right, thereby avoiding oversheeting, is important.

The toestrap adjuster lets you set up for your height and leg length, as well as being able to set a different toestrap tightness on the reach compared with upwind.

These two controls’ cleats are mounted aft, near the stern, while the kicker, cunningham and outhaul are all on the foredeck, just aft of the mast. All move well, and the rig bends nicely. The mast rake is also adjustable on the D Zero, and this is set up before going afloat.

Sailing the D Zero initially in about 10mph winds, the boat pointed well against other classes. However it was tempting to bring the boom too close to the centreline, and to over flatten the sail.

Instead I felt the boat went better in these conditions by cracking off a little, keeping the boom around the inside edge of the side tank, and using the outhaul to give some extra fullness to the sail low down.

The hiking position is excellent for comfort, with gently rolled decks, rather than the right angles presented by the Laser on its gunwhales and on its cockpit.

This is a big step forward compared with the Laser, you feel you could hike for ever with no pain or strain. Not only is there a comfortable shape to these rolled decks, they also have non slip moulded into them, giving the helm good grip.

So with your body nicely anchored, you are free to explore how far fore or aft you should be, and whether a lot of fore/aft movement helps your upwind progress. But the D Zero does not feel like it needs as much in the way of kinetics as the Laser to make good progress upwind against a chop, instead it offers a comfortable ride more like that on a bigger boat.

The vertical bow gives the D Zero a little extra waterline length, compared with the raked bow of the Laser, while the narrower bow also helps slice through the waves rather than crash into them.

The D Zero has a single padded toestrap in the centre of the cockpit, and your feet brace well against the opposite inner tank. The boat feels quite compact and narrow, and while the dimensions are similar to the Laser, it offers a much more comfortable ride. There is limited free board like a Laser.

When it is time to turn downwind, the cunningham and kicker loosened easily. The class allows some freedom in how to set up controls, and those on the test boat worked well. There is a nice thickness mainsheet, with a ratchet centre main and two side cleats. The unstayed rig allows you to sheet out as far as you like on the run.

The D Zero offered a stable ride downwind, and on the run, you can sail by the lee, Laser style. Gybes were good. Like the Laser, the D Zero is a fun reaching machine, offering a fast ride on close or beam reaches, planing easily.

On broader reaches, it was possible to occasionally bury the bow, but the boat lifted out well, and the water drained instantly going aft through the open cockpit. The D Zero also has a small drain hole near the mainsheet block, so it is a dry boat.

When sitting in on runs or broad reaches, you can go on your knees on the floor, and there was little need to move side to side compared with beamier, less stable singlehanders. Instead you could concentrate on sheeting and steering.

Capsize recovery was trickier than some classes. There is no distinct gunwhale to grip, instead just a smooth curve round from deck to hull. This means there’s nothing to stand on if you invert, and there is no righting line. D Zero owners are permitted to fit a strip of ‘non stick’ where the gunwhale would be, which aims to give a little extra grip.

The foils were a tight fit, and so stayed nicely in place, and as a light boat, it is easy to raise from ‘on its side’. After the first righting, I tried to go into the boat over the side, but the boat is light and came over on top of me. Going in over the stern worked better.

The design is pretty, with smooth edges everywhere, but has it overdone the smoothing in the quest for a modern look?

Heading home, I was running onto a lee shore, with a tightly fitting dagger board and rudder blade. I would certainly have preferred a lifting rudder, instead of the cassette type rudder on the test boat. Happily, a lifting rudder can now be supplied by Devoti, having been shown for the first time at the Dinghy Show.

The D Zero is lighter than most dinghies, with the designer having taken advantage of modern materials. Ashore, it should be handled with care to avoid it blowing off the trolley, so it is worth tying it down to the trolley whenever the sail is up.

Lightness also means less momentum coming through a tack. When feathering before a race start, the boat slowed down quickly. But you would soon adjust to this.

The D Zero is an easy boat to step into, and anyone moving up from a slower singlehander such as a Laser, Radial or Solo would soon feel at home.

The sail size is well chosen at just over eight metres. My feeling was that the D Zero is primarily aimed at average size men. As quite a compact boat, it is not really for big people, who might prefer Finns or Phantoms, and hence the D Zero fits neatly into Devoti’s range under the Finn. I would estimate around 70-90kg as ideal helm weight.

The class literature on the other hand notes that buyers of the D Zero can range from 55 to 115kg. There is a smaller, blue sail available, measuring 6.9sq.m which needs a shorter mast bottom section. The class say this blue rig is aimed at ultra lightweights of around 45kg, but I’d suggest the blue rig could be fun for bigger sailors than this.

The D Zero is marketed by UK distributor Suntouched, who have just appointed Boat Bits of Huddersfield as its new northern agent.

The class has a northern circuit, which includes an event at Largs on 21/22 May, when test sails will be available. Price is £5,995, or a special deal is open to clubs buying a number of boats.

The D Zero is a pretty, well designed boat offering good performance and with surprising stability for its speed. It is comfortable to sail, with a modern, controllable rig. The hull has a stylish shape. All gear and sails are high quality, and should last well.

Purchasers may buy the D Zero for its sailing qualities, for its looks, or for its well chosen rig size. With these qualities the D Zero can appeal to a wide range of enthusiastic racing sailors.

• The D Zero is backed by a keen class association as well by its dealer network. Suntouched can be contacted on 0208 1330104 or www.suntouched.co.uk