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Dufour 38 Classic

1999 June 7
Dufour is a famous name among European cruising sailors. These strongly built French yachts enjoyed a fine reputation on this side of the Atlantic during the early '70s, but hard times descended on the builder later in the decade and Dufours vanished from these shores. The name was purchased by Olivier Poncin in 1993. Since then the company has reinvented itself and now markets a full line of sophisticated, state-of-the-art cruising boats. Production rose from 280 boats in 1996 to 800 in 1998, and with ambitious goals for the future, Dufour is now a highly competitive yacht manufacturer that has major marketing plans for North America. The recently introduced Dufour 38 Classic is a fine example of its work. Dufour sailboats have a reputation for being seagoing passagemakers. The builder has a philosophy that stresses a combination of performance and comfort under all manner of weather conditions. The 38 crosses oceans and is as at home in the Virgin Islands as the English Channel. The 38's underbody, with its fin keel and fine entries, combines speed and stability with fingertip control, even when reefed in heavy weather.

The 38 has the streamlined deckhouse and slight sheer typical of modern-day cruising boats, with a nicely executed reverse transom that allows for the obligatory swimming and boarding area. It's a good looking yacht, even without the optional teak decks, and has a large cockpit with contoured seats. I particularly like the wide sidedecks that make it possible to move forward safely and rapidly, using the long grabrails on the cabintop. Not that 38 sailors need to go forward that often. All halyards and sail controls are led aft to the cockpit, and there are self-tailing Lewmars either side of the companionway. A large anchor locker and hefty bow roller clearly make this a boat that rejoices in being anchored off rather than glued to a dock. A small optional teak seat in the bow pulpit would allow someone to contemplate life when under way or at anchor.Cockpit comfort

The cockpit is comfortable, but the relatively short bench seats make it impossible to sleep there. Visibility from the helm is exceptional, and there is some separation from the crew working the jib and mainsheets, the latter being set over the cabinhouse, giving excellent control of the main. The liferaft stows under the aft helm seat and is close to hand. A convenient grab handle rises from the compass binnacle, and can double as an instrument bracket. The same fitting also supports the cockpit table, and is an excellent place to hold on in rough weather. This is a comfortable seagoing cockpit that very much fits with the character of this boat as a serious passagemaker.

The companionway leads into a large, well-ventilated saloon with a somewhat unconventional arrangement by American standardsÑa dinette to starboard and a slightly curved galley counter to port, with stove, refrigerator and lockers. This arrangement was quite common in American production boats of the 1960s, but is rarely seen today. It's very livable since the cook can simply hand food or drink across to the seated crew, although I have never sailed offshore with this galley layout and might miss being able to jam myself into a U- or L-shaped cooking area. The solid backrest of the midships dinette bench serves as a strategic support for the cook under way, and most things can be reached from this bracing position. It is a matter of getting used to a different circulation of dishes, pots and pans. The counter space is truly enormous. One of the layout options allows the owner to convert the dinette into a double berth, although I think many will eschew this given the two aft cabins and foreberth. A well-equipped navigation station with hinged chart table and bench seat lies aft of the dinette, with a chart light, nicely placed locker, space for a radio, and the electric panel close to hand. There is a large drawer for charts under the table.Beauty below

The interior is finished with a white deckhead and veneered mahogany, a Dufour trademark, which gives a pleasing effect with its carefully chosen grain patterns. Moving fore and aft under way is made easier by rounded grabrails on either side of the deckhead and the dinette seat back. During the Annapolis Boat Show, I spent an hour sitting below talking to owner Erick Chiang and reviewing the interior. It's a very comfortable boat. The main stateroom is a large V-berth forward, with two possible arrangements. One option installs a head and shower to starboard with a hanging locker opposite; this is in addition to the head that is already slotted in aft of the galley. I would prefer the second option, which leaves the boat with the single aft head and a bench seat and large locker in its place forward. It certainly makes for less complex plumbing and frees up valuable space for storage.

Whatever the option chosen, the head is nicely designed with a comfortable teak shower seat and easily cleaned configuration. Two double berths lie in small cabins on either side of the companionway under the cockpit, each with its own hanging lockers, a layout typical of French production yachts. This would work well with children aboard, even if it is a little cramped for two adult couples. With a small crew, these cavernous spaces can easily become large storage areas. Engine access is excellent and achieved by removing the companionway and the engine cover on either side inside the aft cabins.Under sail I sailed the 38 on a quiet Chesapeake Bay morning with no more than 8 knots of breeze. I would have liked more wind, but there was enough to test the 38's sailing capabilities. The 50-horsepower Volvo diesel provided perfect control at slow revolutions and a nice cruising speed of 6.5 knots at about 2,300 revolutions. Engine noise at this level was surprisingly quiet. The 38 maneuvered at close quarters with impeccable manners. I really appreciated the well-engineered cable wheel steering.

Outside the harbor, we hoisted the main, unrolled the genoa and ghosted to windward. The 38 kept moving at 2 knots in a virtual calm, tracking nicely and shouldering aside the occasional boat wash without a fuss. Soon the wind strengthened to 8 knots. I immediately noticed the smooth acceleration and stiffness under me. The boat heeled and settled to work without fuss, giving you a nice sense of confidence in her abilities.

In my book, there are cruising boats that make for comfortable short passages and brief cruises, and then there are cruising boats that have a certain indefinable quality to them that hints at longer voyages and taking any weather the elements throw in along the way. The Dufour has this latter quality, and exudes the manners and solidness of a thoroughly confident cruising yacht.

This feeling became even more pronounced as we eased onto a reach and settled down at a steady 6 knots: I had one hand on the wheel, which was in perfect balance, and a comfortable cockpit for watching the world go by. Unfortunately, we had no rough seas to test the boat's seagoing mettle, but I have every confidence the 38 would take swells and broken water in its stride.

This is a seaman's boat with an understated flair and a nice stride that will cover long distances without fuss. It will also take care of you when the Gulf Stream kicks up or a 40-knot blow is on the nose. She is easily sailed single-handed or by a couple. It would be a good boat for those with Caribbean, Pacific, or trans-Atlantic plans, especially if you plan to ship out with a small crew.

The 38 comes with a "grand cruiser package" that includes an upgraded Volvo Sail Drive, roller furling, electric anchor windlass, and a good instrument inventory, even a "Dufour dishes package." Most skippers will purchase this option, which adds about $25,000 to the base price. It includes equipment you will add at some point anyhow.

The Dufour 38 Classic is a good all-around cruising yacht that is unobtrusive but surprisingly fast, easily controlled by a small crew, and the kind of boat which, like a favorite dog or cat, becomes a special part of the family.LOA 38'2"; LWL 32'3"; Beam 12'7"; Draft 6'2", optional shoal draft 4'9"; Displacement 14,300 pounds; Sail Area 760 sq. ft.; Engine 50 hpCruising Package $164,694Dufour Yachts USA1 Chelsea CourtAnnapolis, MD 31403(410) 268-6417, Fax (410) 268-9739 http://www.DufourYachts.com