These days, performance-oriented designs have a short shelf life as new trends are replacing existing ones in ever shorter cycles, driven by progress in design and construction for state-of-the-art racing yachts. What counts is performance, not aesthetics or comfort, hence the lines of production yachts follow the design lead of performance boats.
Prime examples are wide sterns or the trendy hard chines, which first were developed for offshore racers, but now have been adopted even for pure cruising boats by most producers. In addition to performance, the new designs also add space and comfort below, no doubt a pleasant side effect. But now another trend is making inroads, with boats getting more voluminous in the forward quarters, especially on the waterline. Again, offshore racing has been driving this development, which is especially evident by the current crop of Volvo Open 70s.
For the re-launch of the performance line, the French Dufour yard already incorporated this budding trend, as indicated by the conspicuous and unusual shape of the bow of the new Dufour 36. The nearly vertical topsides transition to a distinct U-shaped bottom and a boot top that runs in a straight line from stern to bow. All this still looks a bit unconventional, because thus far at least, a narrow, nearly concave entry was considered fast.
New ideas, new shapes
Standard designer Umberto Felci also drew the lines of the new 36 and was on hand for YACHT’s exclusive test in La Rochelle. The goal was to concentrate buoyancy as close to the center of the vessel as possible to make full use of its entire length. As a result, the boat should remain well balanced under heel while resistance is being reduced. To achieve this, a wide stern with the hard chines needs more a more voluminous bow and vice versa. This thinking has informed the hull shape of this new model, which marks a departure from the previous designs of Dufour’s performance line. This explains why Dufour likens the new 36 to the beginning of “a new era”.
Another novelty for Dufour’s sport series is the arrangement of the chainplates, which are directly attached to the hull. Previously they resisted this accepted practice and retained the narrow chainplate positions with a shorter mast, but larger overlapping genoas. On the 36, the foot of the headsail is much shorter (114 percent overlap), which puts the mast with its strongly angled spreaders a bit further aft. The greater distance between the shrouds also reduces the rig forces, which in turn simplifies and slims down the size of the necessary hull reinforcements that transfer the rig loads to the bottom of the hull. Another benefit is the significantly thinner mast profile. Felci calculated that the new rig design helps trim the weight by approximately 150kg, which is a lot, considering that much of it is saved aloft, where it hurts performance the most.
Still, with a displacement of 6.4 tons all up the Dufour 36 turned out on the heavy side. Competing boats from other manufacturers in this class might be a tad shorter, but still are quite a bit lighter while retaining a similar ballast ratio. However, none of that was felt during the test sail that was held in a modest breeze off La Rochelle. The 36 surprised with liveliness, was extremely agile in turns and rapidly accelerated back up to full speed afterwards.
On this boat, the helmsman only reluctantly gives up the wheel. The flawlessly tuned Jefa cable steering allows sensitive steering with acute feedback from the rudder. It enables the helmsman to drive the boat to its potential upwind, which is fast and a great deal of fun.
But there are more perfect workstations to enjoy, including an exemplary cockpit layout and well placed fittings to encourage active and sporty sailing. This leaves the main trimmer as the only one with legitimate gripes. His area forward of the steering pedestal is too cramped for effective operation of the winch that trims the main sheet that’s rigged in the style of German Admirals Cup racers. The control lines for the traveler and the backstay are also difficult to handle from that spot. Ambitious racers will have to change the hardware layout in this area.
At 10 knots of wind speed the speedo showed about seven knots sailing close-hauled. While this is good, the tacking angle of 90 degrees was not quite satisfactory as 80 degrees would be ideal for this type of boat. It did not escape notice that the tracks for the adjustment of the jib-sheeting angle were positioned far outboards, which would require the addition of barberhaulers. After our test, Dufour installed them for trial purposes and reported much improved tacking angles with the same set of sails.
The chainplate for the headstay is mounted all the way forward on the stem, which extends the J-measurement and thus powers up the genoa. However, it makes it impossible to mount the roller furling gear below deck, which would benefit aesthetics and performance. An available option is the low-profile furler with belt, which was in use on the test boat and kept the tack close enough to the deck to satisfy ambitious sailors. True racers will prefer a foil forestay sans roller furling anyway. The retractable bowsprit for the masthead gennaker can be extended up to one meter forward of the stem. A pity that the trim line for the sprit has to be handled from the foredeck not from the cockpit. A carbon pole that’s about 10 centimetres longer is also on the options list.
Leaving the baggage behind
Among the many noticeable and useful features of the Dufour 36 are the removable fibreglass cockpit storage boxes that simply sit on the cockpit floor and are attached with screws on their sides. For racing they remain on the dock to save weight and clear some welcome space in the cockpit. This is good news for the headsail trimmers, who now can work the winches more effectively while standing up. The boxes have only 100 liters of storage volume, which is plenty for small items like sheets and winch handles, but not enough for fenders or other bulky stuff. To accommodate this kind of gear, Dufour added a large storage cubby in the aft lazarette, which also would hold another sail like a gennaker and also offers good access to the steering quadrant.
Rather unusual for a performance boat is the fold-down swim platform on the stern. On the Dufour 36, this platform is less a feature for taking a dip but an access ramp to the cockpit and a cover for the exemplary stowage of the life raft in the stern. For family sailing this hatch is also available in a version that’s 20 centimetres wider, so it completely encloses the cockpit when raised, which is a useful safety feature for small kids.
One cabin aft, one forward, the pantry and a nav station next to the companionway, one head and a large lazarette aft: this class of performance cruisers in the 35 to 36-foot range offers little variety for the interior layout as the size hardly allows alteration in the arrangements. The Dufour 36 is no exception and neatly fits the common standard.
Little pain, lots of gain
Looking at the details, however, the French surprise with several new and unusual features. The double door of the forward cabin has been tried before, but not on a Dufour. With both panels open, this door conveys a new sense of space from both, the fore cabin and the saloon. Both areas merge into one, yet remain separate from each other.
Another one of Dufour’s slightly unusual features is the lazarette. Because of the removable cockpit boxes, this area can’t be accessed from deck. Stuff that’s stored there has to come through the aft peak or through the companionway and the head. This can be quite an act and dragging around bulky stuff could harm the surfaces. By laminating the boxes to the cockpit floor and creating a direct access to the storage space below, Dufour offers a workable alternative solution for cruisers.
The size of the berths in the forecabin are surprisingly comfortable. They’re long enough and offer downright palatial dimensions with a width of 1.82 meters at shoulder height. Interestingly, the hard chines in the bow section put the berth rather low without giving up bunk space. As a result, it’s easier to get into bed and the cabin feels much larger.
It’s a different story in the aft cabin however, where only one adult will be able to bunk in comfort, because the engine cover narrows the shoulder space to 1.25m. But the settees in the saloon can double as berths if the backrests are removed, which enables a total of five adults to spend the night in comfort. The yard backs up the performance claim of the boat with many accessories that can be easily removed to save weight. It’s all small stuff, but in the end it adds up. There are the massive Corian covers in the pantry and the nav station, all doors and the nice foldout saloon table that normally rests on two columns that are anchored to the floor structure with cables.
Then there’s this smart idea of movable internal water ballast that needs a little tweaking. As an option, both 100-liter water tanks under the saloon berths can be connected with hoses and a pump to add more ballast to the windward side, either for added stability or to make up for some of the rail meat that probably will be missing when the boat goes cruising with a small crew. On the test boat the whole process took am agonizing five minutes, but with a high-capacity pump and larger hose diameters it could work.
A reasonable offer
Dufour Yachts is known for its thorough hull construction with iso-polyester resins and osmoses barrier. The deck is vacuum-injected that guarantees strong and homogenous bonding and perfect surfaces on the inside, which eliminates the interior hull liner. Still, there was little bit of sloppiness, including untreated, raw edges and corners that took a little bit away from the boat’s overall high quality impression. Dufour promised to take better care with the production boats.
The base price without sails is €140,320, a fair amount that doesn’t leave a lot of margin, but still is in the ballpark of most direct competitors. It carries a small premium, which won’t bother customers who appreciate flexibility and take pleasure in the many well thought-out details. Fore more details see Dufour Yachts.
This article was re-published with kind permission of YACHT, Europe’s largest sailing publication.