This nimble performance cruiser offers high-tech and European style
Rays from the cool midmorning sun ricocheted off the glass and steel of Chicago's glittering skyline as we powered past the inner breakwalls of Monroe Harbor. Beyond the moored boats we quickly hauled up the main, unrolled the genoa and snuffed the diesel. The conditions were ideal, 15 knots from the northeast, a moderate chop and puffy clouds producing an occasional shadow. In short, it was an ideal day for putting the nimble new Dehler 34 through
its paces. "This boat appeals to experienced sailors," explained Jeff Papanek, who along with partner Gary Goldstein, represent Dehler sailboats in North America. "Our typical client is someone who is comfortable with new technology, appreciates European engineering and wants to sail fast."
The 34 is the latest model from the well-respected German builder Dehler. Located in Meschede Freinohl, in the eastern district of Hochsauerland (a long way from the sea) the factory will produce about 130 boats this year, ranging from 25 feet to 47 feet. Roughly 15 to 20 will be sold in the United States and Papanek and Goldstein believe that the 34 is particularly well suited to this market. Unlike other European racer-cruisers that tend to be spartan, the 34 has a comfortable, finely finished interior. Dehlers are admired in Europe and are known for incorporating innovative features into solid boats that perform well.
The 34 certainly fits that description. The in-house design team has created a low-profile hull with a long waterline, an efficient underbody and an easily handled fractional rig. It also has a bit of deck camber and the soft trunkhouse lines that are Dehler distinctions and keep its boats from appearing extreme. Company literature describes the boat as a family yacht that can win races. Papanek and Goldstein translate that into "performance cruiser," and with the knot meter kissing 7 knots as we accelerated past the breakwall on a close reach, I found no reason to disagree with them.
The Dehler 34's hand-laid fiberglass hull includes a balsa core, which not only stiffens the hull but also adds a layer of insulation. This is important if you sail in the North Sea, it's also not a bad idea for Lake Michigan, Puget Sound or Maine. Balsa cores don't raise the red flags they used to as today's laminating techniques limit the potential for core delamination. An extensive stringer system helps distribute rig and keel loads throughout the hull. Structural bulkheads are bonded to the hull and deck and several molded parts are used throughout the interior.
The deck is cored with end-grain balsa. The hull-and-deck joint is typical of Dehler's innovative engineering. The joint is laminated while the boat is still in the mold resulting in an integrated, monocoque structure. This process requires putting the molds together-no small undertaking, especially with bigger boats. This is a terrific joint, watertight and strong. It does, however, make finishing the boat more challenging because interior construction components must be able to fit down the companionway. Of course, this also means that they can be removed through the companionway for serious repairs or retrofits, a major plus down the road.
An aluminum section with a rubber strake is screwed into the hull to form a rubrail. And while I clearly recognize the practical value of a rubrail, it is a bit of shame to add fasteners to what is otherwise a completely watertight hull-and-deck joint. Aluminum backing plates are laminated into the deck to support winches, cleats and other load-bearing fittings. The spar is keel stepped and although the mast pierces the forward center section of the table, there is no better way to support a mast. The keel is a combination of cast iron and lead and fastened to the hull floors with beefy stainless steel bolts. The freestanding rudder has a stainless steel shaft and self-aligning bearings.
The T-shaped cockpit is relatively deep, which lends a sense of security in big seas. Although there is no bridgedeck, the companionway board ingeniously slides into a slot in the cockpit sole and can be locked in various positions, in essence giving you an easily deployed bridgedeck when you need it.
The cockpit seats are comfortable and Dehler's fiberglass work is excellent. Compound curves flow naturally out of what must be a very intricate deck mold. There is a large locker to starboard and smaller lockers next to the helmsman seat. The cockpit benches are not quite long enough to stretch out on, but the extra space is worth the tradeoff, especially on a 34-footer. The stern pulpit is split, allowing easy access to the sleek swim step astern.
Tiller steering is available, although according to Papanek, the $4,500 dollar wheel-steering option is almost always chosen. The large diameter wheel is mounted on a triangular pedestal and the helmsman has a nice perch both behind the wheel and on either side. Visibility is good, although it might be different with a spray dodger in place. All sail controls are led aft; this is a boat that an experienced sailor can singlehand with relative ease. The mainsheet and traveler controls are located just forward of the wheel. The Lewmar 44 AST primary sheet winches are just reachable from the helm. Other controls led aft include the Dehler QuickReef single-line slab-reefing system.
The double-spreader, tapered mast is supported by single upper and lower shrouds to port and starboard, and it's led to pod chainplates. Dyform wire is used for the standing rigging. The rig is fractional, but just barely, Dehler calls it a 9/10ths rig. Standard sails are by Elvstom, a two-plus-two main and 105-percent genoa. A rigid boom vang is a popular option as is spinnaker gear. If you are really pulling out the stops you can opt for a carbon pole. The Lewmar genoa leads are adjustable from the cockpit, a feature that really should be standard on every boat.
Our test boat was fitted with an interesting and highly recommended option, TBS decking. A synthetic surface applied over the nonskid, it provides excellent traction but unlike other external nonskid products, it does not tear up your feet and jump out at you as an add-on. Of course if you must have teak decks, the factory will apply them but be prepared to pay for them. The tapered stanchions are well supported, and didn't flinch when I put some weight on them as I made my way forward. A stainless steel handrail on the trunkhouse could be extended a tad farther forward. There is good-sized external chainlocker and single anchor roller forward. I would have the factory install the optional electric windlass, an age-related feature that I seem to appreciate more
In true German fashion, the interior uses the available space without ever feeling crowded-a hallmark of good design. The plan is fairly straightforward. Forward is a V-berth double with hanging lockers to port and starboard. The saloon is spacious and includes an L-shaped settee to port with a drop-leaf table. There is plenty of storage behind and beneath the settees and an essential wine locker in the table. A straight settee, which makes an excellent sea berth, is to starboard.
The nav station is to starboard and features a decent-sized chart table and room to store charts below. The electrical panel is outboard and there is plenty of room to add electronics and repeaters. The seat is a bit cramped. Aft of the nav station is the head. This is the perfect spot to locate the head on a small, aft-cockpit boat. It is spacious and includes a shower stall. The L-shaped galley is opposite the nav station. A three-burner propane stove, double sinks and refrigeration are standard. Sink filler plates extend counter space and there is storage above the stove and beneath the sink. The aft double cabin is tucked to port. The bunk looked a bit small until I crawled into it while we were under way. It was quite comfortable and the ride was so smooth I was tempted to catch a few zzzzzs.
The interior is finished in mahogany with solid wood trim and door frames. The workmanship is superb but not ornate, the interior just feels right, seat backs are angled for support, bunks are easily entered, and there are handholds just where they need to be. There are opening hatches in the forward cabin and saloon and six opening portlights for adequate ventilation. A plastic water tank holds 43 gallons, this would need to be supplemented for longer cruises.
A two-cylinder 2GM20, 18-horsepower Yanmar saildrive diesel is standard. A two-bladed folding prop is also standard. This is a sweet little engine, it is not only efficient, burning around a half-gallon an hour or less, but it also has plenty of punch, it pushed the nearly 10,000-pound 34 along at more than 6 knots. Access is good from behind the companionway and through the aft cabin. The 25-gallon aluminum fuel tank will likely not need to be filled
Looking east, the blue-green waters of Lake Michigan looked like the ocean. I was impressed. I was also impressed with the Dehler 34's soft ride. There was a bit of chop but the 34 sliced through the water without pounding. Driving the boat hard on the wind we were a bit overpowered yet the helm was completely manageable. We pushed the boat well inside of 40 degrees apparent before it became obvious we were pinching. Easing off the wind we flattened the boat and felt it accelerate immediately. The boat is responsive-one of those boats that you can sail and trim by the seat of your pants. Reaching offshore we sped past 7 knots. We conned Jeff into preparing the asymmetrical spinnaker and popped it up. Driving under the chute, we sped past Navy Pier. The 34 balanced nicely, even as we came up onto more of a reach. We needed to press the halyard winches into service to handle the spinnaker sheets, but that's okay, I like the idea of not cluttering up the cockpit with small secondary winches aft.
We had another boat to test, so reluctantly we headed back toward the harbor. The Dehler 34 combines comfort, ease of handling and exciting performance. It's not cheap, but that's life. If you are in the market for a quality mid-30s performance cruiser, fly to Chicago and take a good hard look at the Dehler 34. Be wary however, if you find yourself test sailing the boat you may end up writing a check.