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Dufour Arpege 30

2008 November 10
November 2001

A good-quality French-built bluewater cruiser that is at its best in heavy weather

It is easy to forget, now that the combined might of Beneteau and Jeanneau dominate sailboat imports, that 30 years ago another French builder was the leading European exporter into the U.S. market. Michel Dufour, an innovative designer and builder produced several models and all were widely distributed in North America. These boats preceded those offered by Dufour and its Gib'Sea line today, which after a long hiatus, is back in the sailboat business. In the 1970s the Dufour Safari 27 and Dufour 35 were popular boats on this side of the Atlantic as was, to a lesser extent, the Dufour 41, which at the time was one of the largest production boats available anywhere. The most successful Dufour import, however, was the Arpege 30.

I confess that the Arpege 30, which was introduced in 1966 and had a fairly long production run of approximately 1,500 boats, had fallen off my personal radar screen of sailboats until two recent and far-flung trips. Last April I was in Oakland, California, attending the Pacific Sail Expo when, weary of the hype and hoopla of the show, I was out wandering, and I came across an Arpege 30 at a nearby dock, where it had been temporarily displaced from her usual berth by the show's shiny new models. "I wouldn't trade this boat for any one of those over there," said a bearded man in the cockpit, sipping coffee and gesturing toward the flapping banners. "I've been out to Hawaii and down to Mexico more times than I can count. This boat never lets me down." I pride myself on my knowledge of sailboats, and while I recognized the boat as an old Dufour, I couldn't quite place the model. "It's an Arpege 30," the man said helpfully, "built in '68, and still going strong."

A couple of months later I was in Brittany on the northwest corner of France, which is wonderfully indented with seaports, large and small. My writing assignment was complete, yet I still had a couple of days and a few hundred kilometers to use up on my rental car. I made my way northeast from the shipbuilding center of St. Nazaire to Vannes, meandering along the coast. In the holiday city of Porncichet, which drapes around a narrow, congested harbor, I stumbled upon a fleet of Dufour Arpeges. Unfortunately, my spoken French is limited to about 15 words, significantly reducing my usually adept conversational skills. Still, the language of sailors is universal, I was quickly invited aboard one of the boats and soon raising a glass of wine and proclaiming everything to be "bon."

First impressions
The Arpege 30 looks more like an American boat from the IOR era than the Euro-style boats that began flooding the market in the 1980s. Although the bow entry is quite sharp, there is also a sizable overhang. The sheerline is subtle and the counter stern is raised and pinched. The hull has a bit of tumblehome and looks well proportioned in the water. The coachroof has a step with a single dark Plexiglas portlight on each side. The single spreader sloop rig has a working sail area of 516 square feet, comparable to the C&C 30, a boat designed around the same time.

Below the water, the Arpege has a fairly shallow forefoot and fin keel with an exaggerated bulb that trails aft, almost as though the designer was adding a signature to the keel. Two keels were offered: a 4-foot, 5-inch standard version and a 5-foot, 4-inch deep version. Most boats in the United States seem to have the standard keel. The rudder is hung on an incredibly narrow but full-length skeg. It seems Dufour was not quite ready to commit to even a partial skeg in the mid-1960s when the boat was designed. The ballast-to-displacement ratio of just under 40 percent helps account for the Arpege's stiffness and seakindliness. Although the boat was moderately successful as a half-tonner, it came to be known as a small but capable bluewater cruiser. Several Arpeges have crossed the Atlantic, and at least one has circumnavigated.

The Arpege has held up very well through the years. In fact, Dufour recently purchased hull No. 1 and is in the process of restoring it for a company display. The Arpege hull is solid fiberglass and the deck may or may not have been cored. Michel Dufour was a pioneer in using molded liners to greatly streamline production. Liners are a mixed blessing, but in small boats, at least those less than 35 feet and under 10,000 pounds, they make a lot of sense, even if they do limit hull access. If the liner is well bonded to the hull, the pan, as it is sometimes called, can be a very sound way of supporting the hull and prefabricating furniture.
African mahogany was used for bulkheads that were well tabbed to the hull. The mast was stepped on the keel. The externally fastened keel is cast iron and fitted into a small recessed mold on a stub. The Arpege was really one of the first production boats to be sold in large numbers worldwide, and the overall construction was stout and efficient.
What to look for

While an owner in Maine reports that his boat has never had osmotic blisters in its 30-plus year life span, another in Florida warns to expect to do an epoxy blister repair job if it hasn't been done already. Older Dufours have had their share of blisters. One thing is certain, grinding or sandblasting the iron keel and treating it with epoxy is a good idea. Naturally any boat of this vintage (the youngest Arpege is at least 27 years old) will need to have all age-related items carefully checked. From standing and running rigging, to deck leaks and electrical wiring, updates may well be in order. Even if a boat was rerigged once, it may be ready again. Interestingly, my brother recently purchased a 1973 Wauquiez Centurion for a very good price and has spent the past year refitting her for ocean sailing. Like the Arpege, the Centurion was built in France and the original construction is impressive. I understand this may be an apples-to-oranges comparison, but an older, good-quality French-built boat may be well worth the cost of a retrofit, especially if the initial purchase price is low.

Be aware that the deck nonskid will likely be well worn, and the quality of painted nonskid repairs will vary. Some owners have applied synthetic nonskid like Treadmaster. The boat originally came with gate valves on through-hull fittings, although it is unlikely any of those original valves are still operational.

On deck
A rather short but stout tiller was standard, and I have not heard of any boat that has been converted to wheel steering, although surely some must have been. Doing so really doesn't make any sense, because the small cockpit is ideal for a tiller. Quarter berths to port and starboard below mean there are no cockpit lockers, but there is a good-size lazarette astern. The boat I was aboard in France had converted this to a propane locker, with the bottles squeezed in amidst dock lines and fenders. The mainsheet traveler runs across the bridgedeck, restricting access to the companionway when under way but making the main convenient for efficient trimming.

The Arpege was considered beamy for its day, and the result is that the side decks are fairly wide, considering this is just a 30-foot boat. Originally the single lifelines tapered to the deck forward instead of connecting to the pulpit. Chances are good that double lifelines running to the pulpit have been retrofitted along the way. Most deck hardware was originally by Goiot and it has likely held up very well. There are opening hatches above the saloon and the head. Chances are the original mast and boom are still standing; it really is impressive how well anodized-aluminum sections have stood up in the harsh marine environment.

Down below
Michel Dufour was quite innovative when it came to interior layouts, and the Arpege was no exception. Instead of squeezing in a double berth forward, the small forepeak was dedicated to sail and other storage. A private athwartships head is aft of the forepeak. The saloon features opposite facing settees with pilot berths above. I like this arrangement. When coupled with a lee cloth, pilot berths are excellent sea berths located out of the traffic flow. I always commandeer a pilot berth if it's available.

The Arpege has an impressive galley for a 1960s-era 30-footer. Opposite the galley is the nav station, again an unusual feature in an older small boat, and the nav desk is large enough to work comfortably. The galley and the nav station can be closed off from the saloon for added privacy. There are quarter berths port and starboard, and if you can resist filling them up with gear, they make great sea berths. There is adequate storage below the settees and, of course, excellent storage in the forepeak. The table is designed to be stowed away and can also be used as a cockpit table. The finish work is really quite nice, trimmed in mahogany. There's even a built-in wine rack.

Most original Arpeges came with a Volvo diesel, which was very common for many smaller European boats, since Volvo owned the auxiliary market for years. The most common power plant was a two-cylinder 25-horsepower model that if well maintained should still run fine. It may be loud and a bit smoky, but if it's running, I wouldn't hasten to replace it. Repowering, however, seems to have been rather common and of the five boats I located on the secondhand market on the East Coast all had 2GM 20-horsepower Yanmars. Be sure to check this installation carefully. Either engine gives the Arpege adequate performance. The hull is easily driven and you should be able to motor along at more than 5 knots.

Access to the engine is decent from behind the companionway steps and through the quarter berths. Reaching the stuffing box is more challenging. The original plastic fuel tank held 11 gallons, although this has likely been replaced.

Under way
Two of the owners that I managed to communicate with in France explained that they sailed all over the Bay of Biscay every year and that the Arpege is really at its best in heavy weather. The chap I spoke with in Oakland, who has sailed his Arpege extensively offshore, confirmed this notion.

Mike Addelman owns a 1973 model that he sails on Biscayne Bay in Miami. When asked about the boat's performance parameters, Addelman told me via e-mail that he is surprised how well the Arpege points and not surprised that it tracks well too. While it doesn't accelerate like a modern boat, it doesn't slow down easily either. He noted that several years ago, he finished third in class in the Columbus Day Regatta despite a weekend of very light wind. Although he has not sailed his boat beyond the Bahamas, he has experienced some stiff breezes in the Gulf Stream. His only complaint is that the boat tends to develop weather helm. He flies an asymmetrical chute and claims that boat steers very well off the wind, with 7 knots being his top speed on a reach.

The Dufour Arpege 30 is one of those old fiberglass boats that seems to have fallen through the cracks on the used boat market. It is a good quality, offshore capable boat that can usually be purchased for less than $15,000. It is an interesting alternative to more familiar American-built boats.