Gib' Sea 33
Smart and practical design carries on the innovative tradition of the Dufour Group
If there's nothing else to be said about the French boats on the U.S. market these days, it's that their brochures afford sailors the opportunity to finally make use of those high school foreign language classes. Why should you buy the new Gib'Sea 33 from Dufour? Parce qu'il a 22 idées nouvelles pour vous convaincre. (Because it has 22 brand-new ideas to convince you!)
Well, whether all 22 of those ideas are truly brand new may be subject to some debate. But the new Gib'Sea 33 does incorporate a number of innovative features that make it a fine and seaworthy cruising boat, something that should come as no surprise considering it comes from an organization that is part of the Dufour constellation.
Now going on its fourth decade of doing business, Dufour has long enjoyed a reputation for seaworthiness and comfort on the water, which has only grown as the company itself continues to grow and develop.
In the 1980s, the company, along with many of the other players in the world of yacht manufacturing, hit on some tough times. But ever since 1988, when Olivier Poncin took charge, the company has been on a rocket-sled ride upward, and the ride doesn't look like it's coming to an end soon.
Today, the Dufour company, which has increased production from around 50 hulls a year to around 600 hulls a year, is doing a booming business, expanding not only the numbers but variety of its products. This output includes the Classic series and the Gib'Sea series, a line of no-nonsense cruising boats that is comprised of the 33, a 43-footer, a 37-footer, a 51-footer and a 41-footer to be introduced this spring.
Designed by Poncin in conjunction with the J&J Design group, the Gib'Sea line looks very much like what you'd expect from a French cruising boat with its high topsides, spacious interior and carefully sculpted cabintrunk. An interesting and certainly very noticeable feature is the delphinière, or "dolphin nose," a kind of bowsprit-looking deck extension that is vaguely reminiscent of the bowsprits found on some of France's beloved Open 60 solo racing boats.
Although it takes a little getting used to and might even be dismissed by cynics as a gimmick, it does provide plenty of room to get around the forestay for grabbing moorings or dock lines from friends. It also keeps the anchor and rode clear of the the nearly plumb bow when dropping the hook. In short, the dolphin nose serves as a metaphor for the boat as a whole: smart, practical and seaworthy. Chalk up brand-new idea No. 1!
In addition to its striking bow, the hull is noteworthy for its tough construction, which includes a layer of Twaron, a Kevlarlike material that provides both rigidity and puncture resistance. Comprised of solid fiberglass, the hull includes a grid system beneath the cabin sole, which is bonded with the help of a hydraulic press to ensure the two are integrally joined. The keel is solidly attached with no less than 10 keel bolts, and hull liners add further rigidity to the hull. The deck is screwed to the hull on an inward turning flange with Sikaflex adhesive and a glassed-in wood backing to the flange to further strengthen the joint.
Topside, the 33 has good-sized side decks, stainless steel handrails on the cabintrunk and an aluminum toerail running from stem to stern so that going forward is a breeze. If you should happen to slip while working on the heeling foredeck you'll have something to stop you besides a stanchion between the legs.
The stanchions themselves support double lifelines, one of which is shackled directly to the hinged boarding ladder on the swim step so that it will fall away to provide a wide and easy access (un accès facile et large!) to the swim step. The deck has an effective molded-in nonskid for traction, and the shrouds are attached to sturdy external chainplates, so that they constitute a minimal impedance when traveling fore and aft.
The cockpit is well designed, with generous seats more than 6 feet long, providing a comfortable place to stretch out on a sunny day. Behind the wheel is another one of the innovations, a seat contour molded into the bottom side of the bottom step of the boarding ladder, so the helmsman can have a comfortable seat that won't get in the way when it's time to take the plunge.
I have to admit that when I first noticed this feature it struck me as flimsy, at best. But looks can be deceiving, and it turned out to be a practical, sturdy and even comfortable place to take a load off while steering downwind.
The boat has two separate backstays, not just a split backstay, which further frees up access to the swim step to the point where you could do a cannonball directly off the steering pedestal without a care. This might not be a priority for racers. But cruising in the Caribbean, for instance, where a number of these boats will inevitably do duty both with charter companies and private owners, a feature like this could be vital indeed.
Upwind, of course, I sat on the low side of the boat, where I could pretend to be Yve Parlier or Michel Desjoyeaux driving my sturdy vessel across the Bay of Biscay on my way to the Southern Ocean. The seat was comfortable and the Whitlock wheel lay within easy reach. The self-tailing primary winches and roller reefing line were also close at hand so that singlehanding would be a snap.
All the deck hardware was sturdy and up to the task, with Wichard blocks and winches throughout. Our test boat came equipped with lazy jacks and a "lazy bag" canvas sail cover, which is attached to the boom to help catch the mainsail when it is lowered. It then zips up to protect it from the elements.
Up on the bow, behind the dolphin nose, the anchor well contained a Delta Fastset 35-pound anchor from Simpson Lawrence, which was both launched and retrieved with the help of a sturdy, stainless steel anchor roller. For sailors worried about their manicures or hernias, an electric anchor windless is an option, but certainly not crucial, especially since the unusual bow and open-ended bow pulpit afford much more working space than you would usually find in a boat this size. Sometimes a design feature won't look like much on paper, but really does make a dramatic difference in terms of the real world. This is definitely one such feature.
Also of note up on the bow is the unusual split forestay chainplate. Specifically, on the Gib'Sea the rode travels under a stainless steel fitting that looks a little like a tuning fork, with the fork ends straddling the anchor roller to attach to the hull and the single portion attaching to the shroud. While I didn't have an opportunity to drop anchor during the test, anything that makes that process even slightly easier is good news.
Down below the 33 has a well-apportioned interior arrangement that is straightforward, but functional. Forward, there is a V-berth with lockers to port and starboard, providing the kind of storage space that is vital but often missing from modern cruising designs. The saloon has a straightforward and practical arrangement with straight, 6-foot, 6-inch settees that have flip-up seat backs allowing them to be opened up into generous sleeping berths. The aft-facing nav station to starboard uses the settee for a seat, and the galley is located to port against the quarter berth bulkhead so you can wedge yourself in when putting together sandwiches in a seaway. To starboard, adjacent to the nav station is a simple but roomy head with shower. The double quarter berth, which is equipped with yet another locker, offers plenty of room for two to get a good night's sleep.
Like the deck, the 33's interior gets better and better the closer you look, since it has been designed not only with a number of those idées nouvelles, but plenty of plain-old common sense.
The saloon, for example, is absolutely flooded with light thanks to the generous use of hatches and portlights. All joinerwork is done in carefully crafted Padang teak, which is imported from Africa and further enhances the open and airy look. Like many French-built boats, the saloon table has a clever central compartment for storing a couple of bottles of wine. Elegantly crafted handrails along the deckhead provide good handholds when moving fore and aft in rougher conditions. In the head, a removable panel in the aft bulkhead provides easy access to water shut-off valves and filter.
Perhaps most impressive in terms of comfort below is the opening portlight in the quarter berth, which looks out on the transom. It provides natural light to what can otherwise be a truly cavelike area of a boat. It also provides crucial ventilation for those hot nights when sleeping in this otherwise comfortable space would be nothing less than unbearable.
Engine access is excellent thanks to the hinged companionway steps and a pair of removable insulated wall sections in the quarter berth. Finally, although it's not really part of the interior, built into the starboard aft portion of the boat is a surprisingly large lazarette, complementing the commitment to locker space forward and in the quarter berth. For private owners who, unlike charter companies, are not just trying to pack in the maximum number of berths, the sacrifice of a second quarter berth for the sake of storage makes a lot of sense. There's plenty of room for sailors to get some rest on this boat, and they won't be constantly tripping over their own gear when moving about below.
Just a few weeks before taking the Gib'Sea out for a sail, my wife, Shelly, and I went for a weeklong cruise on Mobile Bay in Alabama on another 33-footer, so it felt perfectly natural to take the boat out with a crew of two. In fact, I've decided that 33 feet is just about the perfect size for a cruising couple: much smaller and you start feeling a bit cramped below; much larger and it can become a lot of work, unless you have the luxury of power winches and a full roller-reefing suit of sails.
Leaving the dock at the Racine Riverside Marine on the Root River in Wisconsin, the 20-horsepower Yanmar diesel and fixed, three-blade prop provided plenty of reverse power as we backed out into the channel. The boat maneuvered quite well, both in forward and reverse, which was a good thing since torrential rains a few days earlier had the river running brown and fast. We had to circle for nearly 10 minutes as we waited for the drawbridge to let us out on to Lake Michigan.
Once out on the open water, the semi-full-batten main went up smoothly and the jib unfurled easily so that we were on our way. The lake was lumpy and the winds light, but the boat sailed cleanly through the chop, both up wind and down. The helm was light and the boat responsive and well balanced-no surprise given the large, semibalanced rudder.
Although the 33 is hardly a turbocharged racer, the main had a very nice shape to it, and the outboard chainplates and jib tracks on the cabintrunk provided a sheeting angle that allowed some impressive sailing to windward. The roller-furling jib with its minimal overlap tacked cleanly from side to side, as did the boat itself. There's nothing more frustrating than an overbuilt cruising boat that looks salty from the dock but changes tacks with all the panache of a seasick hippopotamus. Even in the slop, the boat carried its way through the eye of the wind.
Heading back for the dock I realized I had that contented feeling that comes from putting a well-designed boat through its paces; the feeling of making one's way intelligently and efficiently through the water. The next time Shelly and I go charter cruising I'll be sure to ask the charter company whether its fleet includes the Gib'Sea 33.