It’s no secret that testing dinghies is my favorite part of SAIL’s Top 10 Best Boats competition. They’re sporty, playful, and give sailors an opportunity to explore finer points of performance sailing with instant feedback. The Tiwal 3R took home a spot on our 2023 Top 10 list for being a standout in each of these criteria. The 3R is a fully reimagined racing upgrade to the Tiwal 3, which was launched a decade ago.
I tested the 3R with designer Marion Excoffon shortly after the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis last fall, and we had perfect conditions for a perfect sail. It was breezy, but I never felt too overpowered. A second sail size option ensures that owners larger than my 5-foot-2-inch frame will also have plenty of power.
Marion and I zipped through the Annapolis Harbor mooring field with all the nimbleness you’d expect of an ultralight dinghy. She told me the boat’s testing team usually gets to have all the fun out on the water, so being out on the Chesapeake was a treat. After doing a few laps, tacks, and jibes, she pulled up next to me.
“Where to?” I asked, and she pointed out a distinctive green hull in the distance. We rounded a nearby mooring as a starting mark, and then she shot ahead, adjusting her traveler and hiking all the way. She seemed to be making a good faith effort at hitting the boat’s max speed of 14 knots.
At first glance, it would be easy to slot a dinghy like this into the “beach toy” category. However, being left in the dust as the expert showed off what her sailing machine could do made it clear to me that this boat was a real racer that required practice and technique to win. The old Othello slogan “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master” surfaced in my memory.
After being thoroughly trounced, I addressed another important element of my dinghy testing rubric:
“How easy is this thing to right?”
“Oh, very easy,” she assured me.
“Mind if I see for myself?”
It took less than a second to have the light boat tipped and barely a second longer to get it back up once I’d swum around to the daggerboard. Easy to right, easy to get back aboard. And then, because it was a warm day, I confirmed my findings a few more times.
Though it’s designed to give a sportier take on Tiwal sailing, the 3R really boasts a lot of beginner-friendly features as well. The durable inflatable hull makes tipping, crashing, and beaching virtually consequence-free. Not to mention that a child would be able to control the smaller sail option or right it without trouble.
By the time we felt obligated to wrap it up, we were both laughing and soaked.
“The development of this boat took more than two years,” Marion says. “The constraints and forces induced by the power of the new rig obliged us to modify the structure and hull considerably, as well as the daggerboard and the rudder. This is a new Tiwal, but one that retains our DNA.”
Essentially, to support the fully battened racing sail and 90% carbon rig, Marion had to design an all-new vang system on a traveler plus an all-new aluminum exoskeleton for attachment points and hull stability.
The boat deflates and packs into three bags—quite simple to throw in the trunk of a car or even check as oversized luggage on a plane—making this dinghy one of the most versatile boats of its size. An electric and manual pump also stow neatly into this luggage, so assembly can be done in 25 minutes without requiring any tools beyond the batten trim key. To complement the wanderlust this ease of transport inspires, Tiwal designed an app to help connect their sailors and create community in the global fleet (over 2,500 strong in 50 countries before the launch of the 3R).
As a testament to the “real boat” feel of these inflatables, Tiwal has found a consistent racing market for their fleet, including in the Tiwal Cup, which saw 87 sailors on the start line in 2022. So, it’s hardly a surprise that a performance upgrade to a fan favorite would come out on top as one of our Top 10 Best Boats this year.
Displacement 121 lbs
Sail Area 67 sq ft/77sq ft