Car Toppers
by Chris Tan

Ever wanted to own a boat of your own? Always passing those rivers, lakes and ponds, thinking of the fish on the other inaccessible side? Tired of being unable to rent a boat? Then read on.

After several years of borrowing car-toppers and other boats, I finally saved sufficient cash and plucked up enough courage to get my own car-topper. Through my window shopping, previous boating experiences and research, I managed to be exposed to the many different types of boats available. Maybe you might consider owning a car topper. Well, this article might interest you.

The first thing one has to realise is that money might not be saved by the purchase of one's own boat unless a trip is made every weekend for a year or two. Then would the purchase cost of the boat and outboard motor would be worth the expenditure. On the other hand, fishing trips can be planned at any time. Returning late or early is not a hindrance. Another advantage is one is able to go to places where there are no boats for hire.

Right, you want to get a boat. Now what type? I left out trailered boats due to the cost and lack of launching facilities. That leaves only boats that can be put on or in a vehicle. The other consideration would be weight, not too heavy. So size would be a limit too. A heavy boat would need more than two strong persons to get it on and off.

In this article I will mainly deal with rigid car toppers but a lot of the information would apply to most boat types. A brief word on inflatables and folding boats. Their greatest advantage is in their compact storage space. The disadvantage is the purchase price and the cleaning up! Having to reinflate or reassemble it, then waiting for it to dry before deflating or packing it up, is a real nuisance. I know because I've been through the inconvenience after a long tiring day! Adding accessories to them can also be difficult.

I also always have had the greatest fear of hooking onto my own inflatable. Fortunately this has not happened, yet. However, I have the greatest respect for inflatables in their ability to handle heavy seas. Where other boats would be swamped, it still rides the waves with ease.

Lets look at the more common rigid car-toppers. Fourteen feet would be about the maximum size for two persons to lift a boat on to a roof rack. It would weigh in the region of 50-60 kg.

There are basically three types of materials used for car topper construction - Fibreglass, aluminium alloy and plastic (polyethylene). Fibreglass is the cheapest. Aluminium alloy and plastics cost double or more than fibreglass.

I feel that aluminium alloy boats are more durable than the Malaysian manufactured fibreglass boats. I have had numerous experiences of fibreglass car toppers cracking and leaking. Fibreglass boats also deteriorate in the sun, the result of UV light breaking down the resins. The resins also tend to absorb water, making the boat heavier after an extended time on the water. There are, however, excellent methods of fibreglass construction available, making fibreglass boats as strong as aluminium alloy boats. But I do not think that these are used by our local car-topper manufacturers due to the high cost of manufacture. But again, Fibreglass boats manufactured here are considerably cheaper!

Let us now compare weights. Aluminium alloy is the lightest compared to fibreglass for the same size. Plastic boats have approximately the same weight as fibreglass.

Metal boats are the noisiest of the boat materials used. Moving around and picking up gear in an aluminium boat has to be done with care, so as not to scare the fish. Fibreglass is a trifle quieter. After that comes plastic, then wood. One way to overcome the noise is to use carpeting. But then the little car-topper would get heavier.

There are two methods of construction for aluminium alloy boats - welding and riveting. Riveted boats can have the rivets loosened after years of use and pounding. Generally using a hammer to re-tighten the loose rivet would suffice. If not, the rivet would have to be drilled outand a new rivet used. Welded aluminium alloy boats need to use a thicker gauge of aluminium alloy than a riveted boat, making it heavier, but a stronger boat. If the aluminium alloy is too thin, welding weakens the surrounding alloy.

Aluminium alloy has good resistance to impact. At the worst it would just scratch or dent, not affecting the hull integrity. Fibreglass would have the outer waterproof coat scratched , or worse still, a cracked the hull! Aluminium boats are almost practically maintainance free, unlike fibreglass which should have its coat of paint renewed periodically.

A friend in Australia owns a twenty five year old 14 foot aluminium alloy boat! It has never given any problems. All he does is hose it down after each trip!

Plastics are highly resistant to impact and abrasion. They slide easily over rocks, and dents will rebound out due to the memory effect of the material. Some manufacturers of these plastic boats claim that their boats can be wrapped around a rock and still be used after that!

At the present the only rigid plastic boat available in our country has a network of interior aluminium tubes for stiffening, as the unsupported polythylene sheet simply does not hold its shape unsupported. Unfortunately the same metal framework that holds the plastic in shape also keeps it from giving when the boat smashes headlong into a rock. Another boat manufacturer of plastic boats has come up with cross linked polythylene. This plastic boat does not need internal bracing, making it ideal for our rocky rivers. Hopefully we will see this marque of plastic boat available here in the future.

I would probably go for a plastic hull if I were to expect to use the boat in rocky rivers with rapids, where plenty of scrapes are expected. Local fibreglass car toppers have been used by the Taman Negara staff and found unsuitable; cracking and punctures are the common result from impacts and repeated scrapes. They still find the local timber long-boats the best. Unfortunately these are too heavy and long to car top. That is not to say fibreglass is not a strong material. Top quality construction methods and materials (using epoxy resin instead of polyester resin and cloth fibreglass instead of chopped strand or fibreglass roving) are used in white water kayaks for example. As far as I know, aluminium boats have not been heavily used in our local fast rivers extensively as they are relatively new in Malaysia. They have good resistance to impact but do not slide over rocks very well.

Hull shapes are the next area to look at. The first thing a boat buyer would have to decide is where the boat is to be used most of the time. There are two extremes to the shape of a hull, flat bottom and V-bottom, also a long pointed hull versus a squat-wide hull.

A flat bottomed boat planes easily, thus requiring less power on the transom, easier to store gear on its flat floor, roomier as the bow of the boat is broad. It is generally known as a punt. But a punt is better suited to sheltered waters as it handles choppy waters very bumpily. The occupants get a very wet ride too. Flat bottom punts need strakes and keels to limit wind drift and improve hull directional stability. Punts are very good fishing platforms as it has great inherent stability. The draught of a punt is less than a V-bottomed boat, allowing it to enter shallower waters, but the difference is just a matter of centimeters.

There are now versions of punts with a sharp bow, allowing it to cut through chop at low speeds. But, once it gets on plane, it still has a very uncomfortable ride. Once I was using a punt with a sharp bow in a reservoir when a storm blew up, causing small waves. While trying to find a bay to shelter in, I found that trying to get the punt up on plane was impossible, the slamming of the punt on the waves was unbearable. Thus our top speed was reduced by ninety percent! It took us ages to get to a sheltered spot.

V- bottom boats are designed to give smoother rides. The steeper the V the boat has at the stern, the smoother the ride, generally. This is essential for estuary and coastal fishing. But, the more V it has at the stern, more power is required to get the boat on plane. A flatter stern is easier to power but gives a harder ride. Deep V's are not available on car-toppers, but the slight V available on some models, do give a signifigcantly smoother ride compared to models with flat sterns.

A great advantage of fibreglass is that it can be easily shaped into complex shapes. I have seen some of our local fibreglass car toppers with very complex hull shapes, giving beautiful handling characteristics. They are designed with chines to give stability at low speeds and maximum lift to get it on plane as quickly as possible. Then a lower set of strakes will give it minimal friction and directional stability once the boat is on plane.

The width of a boat makes a considerable difference to its performance. For the same length the wider boat, ie 52 inch wide boat would be slightly slower than narrower boat of 44 inches. Nonetheless, the wider boat would be substantially more stable as a fishing platform.

The number of seat rows in a boat should be taken into consideration. A boat with three or even four seat rows would be able to seat a good number of persons comfortably. But a boat with two seats would give more room for gear and fuel for lengthy fishing trips.

The information I have provided here is only a rough guide. There are so many variables to a boat. Take the weight for example, a twelve foot fibreglass boat maybe lighter than an aluminium of the same length, but the aluminium may be broader or the fiberglass boat may have a exceptionally thin hull. A narrow boat may be as stable as a broader boat due to the chines. Or a punt style boat may give a reasonable ride in choppy water due to its complex hull design.

Choosing a car topper for your fishing style would be best done by talking to other fisherman with car toppers. Can they recommend a particular boat? Why is it recomended? Look at their style of fishing. Is it similar to your own? Check out the performance of the various different types of car toppers by actually testing them. Only so much can be judged by looking at a boat. So you would have to make your choice of boat based on the type of fishing you would want to use the boat for. Or else get several boats, each for different fishing environments. This is my dream!