From 1967 until the mid-1980s French boat builder Dufour was one of the world’s most prolific and innovative. The first model, the 30ft Arpege, designed by founder Michel Dufour and launched in 1967 was well ahead of its time, with a low-centre-of-gravity bulb keel, wide beam and innovative deck construction.

Other Dufour yachts, notably at 27, 35 and 41ft, were soon added to the line-up, before a new range was launched in the mid to late 1970s. Like many other boatbuilders, the company struggled in the recessions of the 1980s, shrinking to a fraction of its former size and undergoing several changes of ownership. However, it wasn’t long before new funding was found and the name revived. Since then, more than 30 popular new designs have been launched.


Dufour Arpege

Dufour’s first model sold around 1,500 boats in a production run of almost 10 years.


Dufour yachts: Arpege

Good performance under sail and plenty of space below decks made the Arpege a popular choice in the late 1960s and 1970s. Photo: Rupert Holmes.

There were numerous reasons for its appeal, with those who valued performance appreciating the stability – and therefore sail-carrying ability – conferred by the wide beam and low centre of gravity keel. At the same time, cruisers who were more concerned with space and stowage found it in abundance, thanks partly to the generous beam and also a novel layout.

Right forward is a spacious heads compartment and sail stowage area, while the saloon is in the middle of the boat, with two settee berths, outboard of which is a pair of pilot berths. Stowage is excellent, and even better on boats where owners have converted pilot berths into lockers. It’s easy to arrange cushions to span the gap between the settees, creating a huge double berth here. Aft of the saloon, and separated by a bulkhead, is the galley and chart table, plus two quarter berths.

Looking back at the combination of stability, sail carrying ability and space that had never previously been offered in a boat of this size, the success of this model is not surprising and the design has since been proved through many ocean voyages.

Arguably the only weak point in the original design stems from the foam sandwich deck construction. This has two separate mouldings glued together via the foam in a similar manner to modern decks. However, at the time of the Arpege vacuum bagged construction, which ensures full penetration of the resin, was not used in boat building and delamination is a potential problem, especially where water has been allowed to penetrate the foam via leaky deck fittings. Fortunately, an increasing number of boats have been successfully repaired with modern materials.

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Dufour 30

This boat, built over a five-year period from 1998 to 2002, has a relatively narrow beam by the standards of today’s cruising designs – it’s a very similar figure to that of the Arpege, but with the maximum beam carried much further aft.

Dufour 30

Three separate sleeping areas down below ensure the appeal of the Dufour 30 endures to this day.

This, together with a modern rig and deck layout, plus a high stability bulb keel, helps to confer good sailing performance, although this is achieved at the expense of a little less space below decks compared to some rivals.

Nevertheless, the Dufour 30 can sleep up to six people in private fore and aft cabins, plus the two saloon settees, although early models had an open-plan forecabin. Today the design makes a good value boat that’s relatively easy to look after and an economical size to run.

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Dufour 34/34e

Named European Yacht of the Year in 2003, the 34 was part of a long-running range of three performance yachts at 34, 40 and 44ft.

Dufour 34

A reliable performance yacht in all conditions, the two-cabin version is preferable to the slightly cramped three-cabin layout. Photo: Rupert Holmes.

This range was part of a move by the company to produce fast yachts with comfortable fully-fitted accommodation that were also designed to be well mannered and be rewarding to sail. They tended to appeal to knowledgeable buyers, often with a dinghy racing background.

This boat has a spacious and fully-fitted interior, although the hull’s finer forward sections restrict interior volume compared to more cruising oriented designs. One consequence of this is that, although a three-cabin version is offered, this is relatively cramped and most owners opted for the two-cabin option. In both cases the central part of the boat – saloon, galley and nav station – are identical. These are spacious, with good stowage and are well arranged for use at sea.

Forward of the main bulkhead two cabin models have a spacious cabin, with good stowage and standing space, although with three-cabin models, the heads compartment uses some of this space. Two cabin versions have a good-size quarter cabin aft of the galley and a decent heads compartment aft of the navigation station.

With decent sails and a crew that pays attention to sail trim the helm is finger light and perfectly balanced, even with winds gusting over 30 knots. Downwind in these conditions there’s little tendency to broach, unless the boat is pushed exceptionally hard.

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Dufour 36

Built from 1999 to 2004, this was another popular model in the range.

Dufour 36

Not to be confused with the brand new performance 36, the 10-15-year-old Dufour 36s are high-volume cruising boats with plenty of standing room and a dedicated nav station.

It’s a high-volume cruising boat with excellent accommodation relative to its overall length and was offered in a choice of two-cabin owners and three-cabin charter layouts. Both share the same spacious forecabin, with an offset double berth, small corner sofa, extensive stowage and generous standing area.

Similarly, the saloon is identical on both versions – it’s offset on the port side of the main cabin, with a large table and space for seating the whole crew plus a few guests. Aft of this is a dedicated navigation station with its own seat. A linear galley runs down the starboard side of the saloon, with a compact heads compartment abaft of this on three-cabin boats. Two cabin models benefit from a larger galley with additional worktop space, plus a large hanging locker near the companionway that’s ideal for foul weather gear.

The 36 benefits from an easily-handled rig of modest size, with a larger number than usual for this size of boat fitted with roller-furling mainsails. This model should not be confused with the recently-launched new 36, which is part of the company’s performance range and sports twin wheels and a racing-style T-bulb keel – reviewed here: Dufour 36: Clever High Performer.

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Dufour 40

Launched in 2003, this performance cruiser at one time accounted for some 20 per cent of the company’s sales, with production reaching 130 boats per year.

Dufour 40

A popular design in its day, there are twin-head versions available plus numerous other variations. Photo: Rupert Holmes.

An Umberto Felci design, it offers good performance, with clean hull lines, a near-plumb bow, long waterline, efficient rig and good stability thanks to the low centre of gravity keel.

Like the 34, the helm is ideally balanced and she settles easily in to a deep groove upwind, tracking well, without demanding undue attention from the driver and only rounds up gently in the very strongest gusts. Downwind the Dufour 40 is similarly well behaved, with a quartering sea doing nothing to knock her off her track and the deep, high aspect rudder providing good control. In stronger winds and large seas the boat will surf effortlessly with excellent control.

A choice of interior layouts provide options that will suit most owners, including a two-cabin version with single heads and separate shower room. A twin-head model is also offered, as is a three-cabin layout, with a second aft cabin in place of the separate shower and one of the cockpit lockers. With all layouts the galley is impressively large and well appointed. The saloon is comfortable and spacious, although the starboard settee is too short to be used as a sea berth for adults. All versions also have a large owners’ cabin forward, with an offset double berth, additional seating and plenty of stowage.

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Dufour 560 Grand Large

Announced towards the end of 2013, with the first boats scheduled for delivery in spring 2014, this is the company’s biggest-ever model and the current flagship of the range. It joins a line-up in the cruising range that includes the existing 310, 335, 380, 410, 450 and 500 models.

Dufour 560GL

The first Dufour 560 Grand Large yachts will splash down this spring becoming the company's flagship vessels.

Below decks the 560 can be arranged with three, four or five cabins, plus skipper’s accommodation. In addition, there are four different layouts possible for the master cabin. In all cases the spacious and comfortable saloon spans the full width of the boat and there’s a large galley forward of this.

The hull is of a contemporary style, with a broad transom sporting chines in the topsides to increase stability when heeled. The sail plan is designed to be flexible and efficient, while remaining easy to handle: as well as a self-tacking furling jib, rather than an unwieldy overlapping genoa, there’s a fixed bowsprit from which asymmetric spinnakers and code zero reaching sails can be flown. The working zone of the deck for trimming sails is arranged around the twin steering wheels, which are separated from guests’ sunbathing and on-deck dining areas.

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Take a look at some of the other popular yacht marques profiled by Rupert Holmes: Six Bargain Bavarias: Family Cruisers that Won’t Break the Bank, 5 wonderful Westerlys: Centaur, GK24, Discus, Fulmar and Oceanlord and Five top Jeanneau sailboats: Melody, Sunrise, JOD 35 and Sun Odyssey.

Written by: Rupert Holmes
Rupert Holmes has more than 70,000 miles of offshore cruising and racing experience, in waters ranging from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn. He writes about all aspects of boat ownership and marine travel, including destinations, seamanship and maintenance, as well as undertaking regular new boat and gear tests. He currently sails around 5,000 miles per year and in the past couple of seasons has cruised from the UK to the Azores, as well as winning his class in the 2014 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. He also owns two yachts, one based in the Mediterranean and the other in the UK.