Aimed at avid racers or speed junkies making the transition to cruising, the Dufour 44 slides neatly into the niche between affordable boats with lackluster sailing capabilities and racer-cruisers with price tags in the stratosphere.
The boat is the third in Dufours new line of performance cruisers designed by Italian Bruno Felci (hull) and Frenchman Patrick Roseo (deck and interior) that aims to redefine Dufour Yachts. The pronounced shift in both marketing and design began shortly after Cantieri del Pardo, the Italian builder of Grand Soleil Yachts, purchased the French company in 2002.
Dufour still builds its boats in La Rochelle, France, but the Italian influence is clear. In terms of aesthetics and thrill factor, the 44 is miles apart from previous Dufours, which through the mid-90s competed in the marketplace with Catalina, Hunter, Jeanneau, and Beneteau.
So far, the new Dufours are surpassing expectations. Ummu de Sevilla, a Dufour 40 (albeit one with an IMS fared keel that is lighter than the one on the stock boat) owned by Spanish sailor Sergio Llorca was crowned IMS World Champion in the 2005 IMS 670 class.
The boat we sailed, Second Wind, is owned by former J30 racer Ray Sullivan. Since buying the boat in 2005, he has already cruised the East Coast from Miami to New England, and claimed a pair of wins (including one overall) in PHRF racing.
Felci and Roseo werent tasked with producing a race-winner, just a fast boat that was exciting to sail, yet still had the interior amenities, easy motion, and requisite deck plan for comfortable cruising. The trick, as with any cross-purpose boat, was to come up with a shape that could contain a tasteful apartment belowdeck and still have the sexy exterior lines that youd expect from a Franco-Italian alliance.
The boats profile view aligns perfectly with this design brief. The main saloon has 6 feet, 4 inches of headroom, yet theres nary a bulge in the cabintop. The nearly plumb bow, flat sheerline, and low cabin profile give it an appealing, streamlined form. The ends are shorter than previous Dufours, and the maximum beam is located well aft.
The boat we tested carried the standard keel with 5 feet, 8 inches of draft. The high performance keel draws 6 feet, 6 inches. For about $14,000, buyers can opt for a performance package that includes a tapered three-spreader mast, three-bladed folding prop, and Dyform standing rigging.
The 44 carries a 130-percent genoa on a 9/10 fractional rig with swept-back spreaders. Sail controls are within easy reach of the helmsman. The genoa sheets are led to primaries just forward of the wheel. Genoa lead blocks can be adjusted from the cockpit. The mainsheet traveler bridges the cockpit just forward of the binnacle. The molded fiberglass binnacle houses the steering cable sheaves and digital repeaters.
The boat has a deep anchor locker with extra room for fenders, but a disconcerting amount of saltwater backed up through the drain while the boat we tested was under sail, leaving the chain and rode sloshing in at least an inch of water. Paul Wuyts, head of marketing for Dufour, said this had not been reported in any of its other boats.
The boat PS sailed featured teak decks, an option that isnt worth the trouble, in PS opinion. The deck is nicely detailed with molded risers to accommodate major fittings, which are either through-bolted or tapped into backing plates.
The boat has a liferaft locker, but cabins below limit the amount of cockpit locker space. A removable pedestal-mounted table in the spacious cockpit offers plenty of room for four to dine. The helm seat folds down to create an open passage to the sugar-scoop transom, though the assembly is awkward to use.
Stepping below, the sheer volume of space is surprising, given the boats low profile. Owners have the option of three or four sleeping cabins, the latter adds a passageway cabin with stacked bunks forward of the main saloon. We sailed the more common version with port and starboard aft cabins and a V-berth forward. The port and starboard double berths will be stuffy in the tropics, but elsewhere, ventilation-through four deck hatches and six opening portlights-is adequate.
The guest head is conveniently located starboard of the companionway stairs. Forward of that is the generous nav station. The U-shaped galley has a deep double sink, three-burner stove/oven, and plenty of locker space and drawers. An interesting feature is the use of plastic milk-crate-style bins for fruits or veggies in some of the drawers, which lets those potatoes breathe.
The main saloon is a well-appointed social center, with an L-shaped dinette to port and a starboard settee to starboard. Either can serve as a sea berth, though the starboard settee is a little short. The centerline table with drop-down leaves will seat six comfortably for dinner-during which you can enjoy the lights of the harbor through the two fixed portlights below the sheerline.
The forward V-berth has 6 feet, 2 inches of headroom, a hanging locker and shelf space. Two small seats on either side of the berth offer extra storage space. Interior joinery is Good to Excellent: varnished wood grain veneer with blonde wood trim, stylish seat cushions, and teak and holly floors. Dufour and other high-volume builders dont go to the trouble of rounding all the corners and sealing edges of bilge hatches, which keeps the veneer from delaminating or chipping at the corners.
Each Dufour bound for the U.S. is designated as such at the start of its production run, ensuring that buyers here dont wind up with a mish-mash of fittings and appliances that work fine on one side of the Atlantic, but not on the other. However, a few items that fell short of standards set by the American Boating and Yacht Council caught our attention. The batteries (100 Ah engine, 2 x 135 Ah house), stacked in the port aft berth in a dedicated battery compartment lacked covers overthe terminals.
The lid to the propane locker aft was not gasketed, though it is unlikely any leaks at the tank would make it into the cabin.
The through-hull valves are the in-line type and appeared to have components made of various alloys (presumably zinc among them), not the more rugged bronze flange type that are intended for this service. Our tester did not like the way Dufour closely aligned six through-hulls to accommodate hoses to the head. (Zipper is the image that came to mind.)
Access to all systems was adequate, including some far recesses in the bilge, rare in boats with interior liners. The boat is powered by an efficient Volvo Penta TAMD-2 with a saildrive, typical of many modern high-performance cruisers.
We sailed Second Wind on Biscayne Bay, in Miami, Fla., with 9-11 knots of wind, and were impressed by its speed, acceleration, and handling. Sullivan had the boat fitted with a 95 percent jib that he uses in winter, but even without the extra horsepower of the standard 130-percent genoa, the boat had the zip of a sports car.
The Dufour tacked quickly through angles 90 degrees or less, recorded speeds of 6.7 to 7 knots going to windward, and accelerated quickly to 7.3-7.5 knots when we eased the sheets and bore off with the wind at 90-110 degrees true. The helm was very well balanced. The boat tracked well unattended on a reach, yet was very responsive to slight changes in rudder angle. Though we did not set the screacher, it would no doubt have delivered an adrenaline rush.
The boats wide beam, coupled with deep ballast provided a stable, if not fairly stiff ride. Sullivan reported that the boat handled well in its first real test, a long beat into 30-plus knots off the coast of New Jersey. In a recent PHRF ocean race, his toughest competition came from the
Melges 24s, which surfed past him on the downwind leg.
The efficient Volvo pushed the boat at 7.6 knots at 2500 rpm and registered 83 decibels in the main saloon. The port quarter berth yielded 90 decibels, indicating a need for better sound-proofing. The boat handled well under power with no pressing need for a bow thruster.
The Dufour minimizes the inherent compromises in a high performance cruiser, and at $325,000 for a basic boat delivered, is less expensive than comparable U.S.-built boats from Sabre and Tartan, which PS believes feature better systems, fit, and finish. With the Dufour, you get a stylish boat with excellent sailing performance, above-average fit and finish, and adequate systems delivered in less than 90 days. The fact that Dufour continues to build its boats to Bureau Veritas Category A standards, which sets strict engineering, scantlings and safety details, is reassuring to one planning offshore work, although PS would like to see all systems brought up to American Boat and Yacht Council standards as well.
With the launch of its parallel line of cruise-oriented Grand Large boats (also designed by Felci and Roseo), Dufour is clearly filled with great expectations. How well the boats in either line will hold value on this side of the Atlantic hinges on how successful the company is at building wider dealer support in the U.S., and delivering boats that set themselves apart in a crowded field. In our opinion, the Dufour 44 accomplishes the latter quite handily.
Contact – Dufour Yachts, ( 33) 5-4630-0760, http://www.dufour-yachts.com/.