Dufour 36 Classic

Making North American inroads for a second time, this French company is building a 36-foot cruiser that will compete for the attention of Hunter, Catalina, Beneteau, and Jeanneau clients.


Dufour Yachts was founded in 1964 in La Rochelle, France, by Michel Dufour, when he introduced a popular 30-footer called the Arpege. The boat was so popular that more than 1,200 were sold and the builder was established as a major manufacturer in the European marketplace.

The company ventured into the American market in 1977, when it was the first to introduce boats now defined as having “Eurostyling.” In addition to rounded cabintops, the 25- to 30-foot sloops were accented by long, black windows and hulls painted orange, red, and green.

By 1986 the company was foundering in a sea of red ink, so Dufour formed the first of a series of unsuccessful financial alliances fashioned to prevent insolvency. His first was with a French union; then came a partnership with the legendary Baron Bich, best known for writing instruments and a series of unsuccessful America’s Cup campaigns. By 1988 the company was near bankrupt again, and was purchased by Olivier Poncin, a boat salesman and entrepreneur.

Dufour 36 Classic

Poncin’s initial focus was on the development of 48- to 65-foot cruisers sold into charter fleets in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Under his direction, the company also launched Nautitech catamarans.

Profits from the sales of large boats allowed Poncin to re-introduce, in 1995, the Dufour Classic line of traditionally designed performance cruisers ranging in size from 30 to 50 feet.

Poncin also completed a series of acquisitions that resulted in the purchases of Dynamique Yachts and Gilbert Marine. The acquisition of Gilbert Marine allowed Dufour to introduce the Gib’Sea line of family cruisers, also designed to compete with the likes of Catalina, Hunter, and Jeanneau.

In 1996 Poncin decided to re-enter the North American market, and hired Don Walsh, a 35-plus year veteran of the boatbulding and charter business, to oversee the operation. Dufour Yachts were formally reintroduced to the US market at the Annapolis Boat Show in 1996. Since assuming the mantle as vice-president of Dufour USA, Walsh has established dealerships on both coasts, and in the Great Lakes, Florida, and Texas. The sailboat line is composed of a 32, a 36, a 38, and a 41 (all called “Classics.”)

By 2000 Dufour was the second-largest builder in France, and had completed a $14 million renovation at its original plant. Its production facilities are now consolidated at La Rochelle and Andilly, formerly the Dynamique yard.

Changes are ongoing. In 2001 Poncin sold a 50-percent interest in the company to Cantiere del Pardo, owners of Grand Soleil, and the balance of his stock to Credit Agricole, a large French bank with a maritime tradition. One byproduct of the change is that major charter operators like Moorings, Sunsail, and Tradewinds, are now acquiring Dufour yachts for their fleets.

The company has also announced its intent to sell the Nautitech line and focus entirely on the production of monohulls. Durfour currently distributes boats in 32 countries.

Dufour’s 36 Classic was designed by Mortain and Mavrikos, whose resumeincludes lines from ETAP and Mirage, as well as Nautitech catamarans and Volvo 60 ocean racing sloops.

Walsh says the boat “was designed as a performance cruiser targeted to a buyer seeking performance, classic styling, and high-quality construction and finish.”

Viewed from abeam, her 45′ 6″ mast, 13′ 6″ boom, and 12′ 8″ J-measurement present a balanced profile. She has a nearly straight sheer and a rounded cabintop, which is carried well forward, reducing working space on the foredeck but adding space to the forward stateroom below. The bow has a moderate overhang. Her wide beam is carried aft to a fairly broad transom, and her stern is high enough above the water to allow the stowage of gear aft without affecting performance.

She carries 616 square feet of canvas with mainsail and 100% foretriangle. The standard factory inventory is a mainsail and 130-percent genoa on a Facnor furler that produces 689 square feet of sail area.

With an SA/D of 18.5 and D/L ratio of 213, we would expect her performance to be at the faster end of the scale for moderate-displacement production cruisers.

Displacement of 13,000 pounds and ballast of 3,528 pounds produces a 27% ballast ratio; however, with much of the lead deep down in a bulb, plus her generous beam, she produces a fairly stiff ride. The draft of the standard keel is 5’10”. A shoal draft version is an option.

The spade rudder is an elliptical shape suspended on a self-aligning ball and socket bearing. The standard steering gear is Whitlock rack and pinion, which, in recent boat review outings, we’ve found quite responsive. The boat was very easily handled while motoring in tight corners.

Don Walsh says Poncin faced two challenges in designing a boat with international appeal. Feedback from Dufour dealers and sailors was that buyers were demanding more headroom, even in mid-sized boats. The challenge was increasing headroom to 6’2″ without raising the profile of the already moderately high cabintop. To our eye, his designers succeeded.

The second challenge was designing interior layouts that appeal to Europeans, who prefer smaller, intimate quarters, compared to their American counterparts, for whom large open spaces seem to be more important. (Are there continental imperatives here? Where’s Tocqueville when we need him?)

The solution lay in a compromise: a two-stateroom layout that would be ideal for couples entertaining the occasional guests; or a three-cabin layout providing large skipper’s quarters and two staterooms in the stern.

Heads fore and aft were initially offered, but the forward head has been eliminated in favor of one head aft to starboard. This is a good decision. Two heads may be important in charter fleets, but a long-term owner will eventually tire of sleeping in smaller quarters than necessary in exchange for having a big space (with plumbing) devoted to storing a toothbrush.

It’s always a treat to find a design feature that bucks the status quo, as long as the feature works. In this case, Dufour has gone to a linear galley arrangement to starboard, and put a bench seat amidships facing the table and L-shaped settee. This layout has been used fairly often in European boats, but rarely in American ones. The layout has some advantages: Compared to the typical L- or C-shaped galley located at the foot of the companionway, this affords the placement of a full-sized head compartment (doubling as wet locker) and nav station aft (easier yelling to the cockpit) without compromising access to the aft quarters. From a practical point of view there are a couple of problems: It’s harder to lug and stow groceries; the galley doesn’t vent as well as when it’s right near the companionway; and there’s a bit more of the feeling of having the kitchen sink in the living room.

As for the cook and the cooking, most people feel more secure in an L-shaped or U-shaped galley, especially if they need to be belted in. However, there are so few people skilled today in sea-cookery (cooking with roll, pitch, and yaw) that we suspect this won’t matter to many buyers. If it does, a safety belt can still be rigged, and the bench amidships will act as a good posterior brace on either tack.

Countertops have two-inch high wood edges, and the stove is gimbaled, so utensils should remain on a solid surface.

Deck Layout and Rigging
Like most contemporary production boats, the 36 Classic is rigged for single- or doublehanded sailing with lines led to stoppers in the cockpit.

Dufour 36 Classic

The deck-stepped double-spreader Z-Spar mast sits on an aluminum brace in the deck located atop the main bulkhead. As PS readers know, we’re uncomfortable with deck-stepped spars on boats this size that may be taken offshore. It’s nice not to have the leaks, though.

Chainplates are located aft of the mast to disperse rig loads; they’re attached to stainless steel tie-rods bedded in the hull. Spreaders are swept aft far enough to increase sheeting angles on the breeze without interfering with the mainsail on a downwind leg. An inner forestay prevents excessive mast bend but does not function as a staystail stay.

Halyards, lines for a soft vang, outhaul, and reefing lines are led aft to Spinlock XA rope clutches and a Lewmar ST30 self-tailing winch.

The traveler is mounted out of the way on the coachroof forward of an area molded to house a dodger. The traveler is too short to be of much use in heavy air, although it would serve to get the boom on centerline in light air. Mainsail control would benefit greatly from a solid vang.

Sheets are led through turning blocks equipped with clutches to Lewmar ST40 self-tailing winches. The clutches ease singlehanded sail trimming since it’s possible to tail a sheet by hand until it’s snug on the winch, engage the clutch, and finish grinding the sheet with a winch handle. Couples sailing shorthanded will appreciate this arrangement.

Except for shrouds that terminate in the middle of the 18-inch wide side decks, movement forward is easy. A longer handrail on the cabintop would be a plus in a heavy sea, or at night. Goiot hatches located amidships and on the bow provide ventilation and light belowdecks.

The design of the cockpit moves the boat out of the “dockside entertainment center” category. The U-shaped space will seat six adults, four comfortably. The area measures 60″ on centerline, but usable space on seats is reduced to 48″ because the 32″ destroyer wheel intrudes into the bench. That’s enough space for four adults; two others may sit in cramped quarters on the corners. Seats, however, are 16″ high and have 13″ supports, so are comfortable.

Many boats this size have a 30″ wheel that makes the cockpit more hospitable. However, a larger wheel gives better control, and facilitates steering from the leeward rail. A smaller cockpit also creates more space belowdecks.

The area is not entirely Spartan, however, since a table that folds out of the way on the pedestal opens to provide a 24″ x 28″ dining platform. However, it’s devoid of molded cup holders. Sacre bleu!

Instruments on the steering pod will be directly in front of the helmsman, and engine controls are at the fingertips. Engine switches are under the companionway step.

Despite the two staterooms aft on our test boat, cockpit storage was larger than expected. Lockers port and starboard running half the length of the cockpit to the stern are 12-25″ deep, 45″ wide, and 51″ long. They will easily store extra sails, an inflatable dinghy, and dock lines.

Orienting the galley along the side of the hull removes a visual obstruction typically encountered when stepping below. The resulting impression is of a wide-open space measuring nine feet on the centerline, with a width of nearly eight feet. Headroom is 6′ 2″. The area is surrounded by solid Khaya mahogany; a teak sole is underfoot, a white headliner overhead. The joinery workmanship is good.

The centerpiece of the area is a 48″ long dining table opposite an L- shaped settee to port. The table will seat four to five, and the aforementioned bench and cooking brace will seat three more in a pinch. The bench, although it has a stowage area convenient to the galley, is an impediment to movement along the centerline. Don Walsh says that one client requested that the bench be mounted on tracks with stops, so that it could be slid under the table, and a dealer made it happen.

Dufour 36 Classic

Meal preparation will be on a counter measuring 28″x 21″; the reefer is below. Additional counter space is created atop the Eno two- burner stove when a wooden insert adds a 24″ x 24″ surface. Adequate storage for utensils and stores for short cruises is outboard and below the counters and stove, and behind the settee.

A forward-facing navigation station to port has a 30″ x 26″ chart table with storage below a comfortable 27″ wide seat. The electronics panel is on the small side (at least for American technos).

The head is a wide-open, low- maintenance molded fiberglass compartment with enough elbow room to allow showering in relative comfort.

Aft staterooms have more than six feet of headroom. The doubles on our test boat were furnished with 80″ long queen-sized berths, and two-door lockers that are larger than we are accustomed to seeing on 36 -footers. Spaces below the berths are occupied by tanks.

The real beneficiaries of the small cockpit/single head arrangement are the skipper and mate. The master stateroom forward is furnished with a queen-sized (78″ x 54″) berth outboard to port, a small L-shaped settee, bookshelves, and two double-doored cabinets. It’s a big space on a mid-sized boat. With a deck hatch, overhead light, and two reading lights providing illumination, the space will nicely double as a cubicle in which to retreat with a book.

Dufour’s construction methods are on a par with other high-end production builders. The company produces the 36 Classic to meet Bureau Veritas Standard One and CE Category A, both standards for unrestricted offshore cruisers.

The hull is constructed of one layer of fiberglass mat in vinylester resin, and six layers of fiberglass mat and tri and bi-directional non-woven glass, all hand-laid. The hull above the waterline is cored with high-density PVC foam; the entire structure is vacuum-bagged in an effort to achieve a void-free bond.

After the hull is cured, a solid fiberglass grid that provides multi-directional support and a base for furniture is bonded to the hull and reinforced with secondary laminations. Then, bulkheads are tabbed and glassed to the hull and deck, and cabinetry is installed.

The hull-deck joint consists of an inward-oriented flange on the hull, onto which the deck is laid and bonded with Sikaflex adhesive, and self- tapping screws secured on six-inch centers. After the toerail is laid over the joint, it is secured with self-tappers. Though we prefer bolts, nuts, and backing plates, Dufour’s method satisfies the Bureau Veritas standard.

Dufour’s warranty states that any part manufactured by the company will be free of defects caused by faulty workmanship or materials for a period of 12 months from the date of delivery to the first-use purchaser. It also states that the hull of each boat will be free from structural defects in materials and workmanship, and free from gel-coat blistering on underwater surfaces of the hull, excluding the keel and rudder, for a period of 10 years.

We sailed her on a typically blustery day on San Francisco Bay in 15-20 knots of wind with a 1-2 foot chop on the nose when sailing to weather. Our test boat, with Guy Frank of Cruising Specialists in Alameda aboard, was powered by a 120% UK Dacron headsail and main at full hoist. Though she heeled 15-20 degrees when we were hard on the wind, we didn’t feel overpowered and the helm was balanced.

Since the boat was recently commissioned, we sailed without the benefit of electronics, but our spar fly and compass indicated a tacking angle between 80 and 90 degrees.

As we beat across San Francisco Bay and began taking water over the deck, we depowered the main and the ride became drier without sacrificing pointing ability. She cleanly knifed two-foot waves. By ranging on marks on land, we estimated boatspeed upwind at better than six knots.

Easing sheets, we put her on a beam reach, and felt her accelerate without loading up the helm. Since she was equipped with an Autohelm 4000, we engaged the unit and found that she tracked well despite being slightly overcanvassed.

As we returned to the marina, the Saildrive, with a fixed two-blade propeller, allowed Frank to back down a long finger, turn her 360 degrees in a boatlength, and slip between two moored boats without putting a ding on the new gelcoat.

Standard gear vs. Grand Cruise
Excepting the absence of an electronics package, the “Cruising Version” of the 36 Classic is equipped well enough to meet the needs of most weekend sailors. Standard gear includes a mainsail and genoa on a furler, fully equipped galley and head, pressurized hot and cold water, VHF radio, ground tackle, and Dufour dishes for six. The engine is a 30-hp Volvo 2030 Saildrive that powered our test boat quietly at six-plus knots.

The significant additions to the “Grand Cruiser” version ($6,280) are Autohelm ST60 electronics with log, speed, depthsounder, and windspeed, and an MLR FX 312 GPS. A second cabintop winch adds $726 to the price, and an Autopilot ST5000 $4,151.

A “Performance Package” adds spinnaker gear , larger winches, an adjustable backstay, and folding propellor.

This is a well-constructed, seakindly sloop in the mid-price market that will vie for attention with Hunter, Jeanneau, Beneteau, and Catalina.

Though we sailed her in stiff breezes, we’d guess she’ll perform well in windspeeds as light as five knots. When the wind freshens, she shows a good a turn of speed, and is well-mannered.

The deck arrangement makes for easily doublehandling, and a cockpit with space for six on a 36-footer is large enough for our tastes.

Spaces belowdecks are well-conceived and executed. Lounging spaces are large enough for 4-6; we think Dufour made an intelligent decision when the second head was removed.

Sleeping accommodations in the three- cabin version are large enough to accommodate six comfortably, but empty-nesters will likely appreciate the larger quarters in the two cabin version.

The current price for the Cruising Version is $130,537; for the Grand Cruising Version, $136,760 (FOB New York or Baltimore).

The 36 Classic will boost comptetition in the American production-boat market. It’s good to see Dufour back.

Contact- Dufour Yachts USA, Inc., 1 Chelsea Court, Annapolis, MD, 21403; 410/268-6417; www.boatshow.com/DufourYachts.html.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.