Can a one-design offshore racing yacht be suitable for short-handed cruising too? This might actually be the case with the new Dehler 30
Dehler 30 OD: the most fun you can have on the water
While we cruised along at a relaxed 10 knots, flying the A5 asymmetric spinnaker with 13-14 knots of wind on the beam, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a very efficient way of getting around the Solent.
It was efficient in terms of both manpower and size of boat, because we weren’t on a 40ft grand-prix racing yacht with 10 crew on the rail.
Neither were we on a multihull. We – and there were just three of us – were on a 30-foot monohull, and only the helmsman and trimmer were doing any work.
Yes, it was a race boat, but as easy to sail as most cruisers and going about twice as fast.
Whichever way you look at it, our speed-to-effort ratio wasn’t bad.
The boat in question was the Dehler 30 One Design – an example of a new breed of boat that has been growing in popularity in recent years.
Anyone who keeps even half an eye on the racing scene can’t have helped notice the arrival and success of, among others, Jeanneau’s Sun Fast 3300, the JPKs and the J/99.
These are light, high-performance racers with a difference.
Unlike some of the other speedy 30-ish-footers – the Mumm 30, Melges 30, Farr 30, Farr 280 and the new kid on the block, the Cape 31, for example – they’re not designed with the emphasis on fully crewed inshore racing around the cans.
To be fair, neither was the Mumm 30 restricted to that, since it was used for the Tour de France à la Voile for 11 years (and, coincidentally, has recorded a peak speed of 28 knots).
But the point is that this new evolution of race boat has been conceived with short-handed offshore sailing very much in mind.
Some of the designs were inspired by the proposed double-handed offshore class in the Olympics that was subsequently abandoned, though that loss has been compensated for by the growing interest in two-handed racing following COVID lockdown restrictions.
Dehler 30 OD: Designed to be different
For a boat to be sailed offshore, it has to offer accommodation.
To be sailed by one or two people, it also has to stand up to its rig without a row of bodies stacked on the rail, so stability is of the essence.
It will be designed for ease of handling with a small crew, and performance will tend to be optimised for straight-line speed, often with the emphasis on reaching.
By contrast, inshore IRC racers will need to perform on relatively short courses, predominantly consisting of windward/leeward legs and with frequent mark-roundings.
Boats designed for one type of racing will rarely excel at the other.
That said, the designers and builders recognise that people who race short-handed offshore will probably want to race around the cans on occasions as well. The Round The Island Race isn’t exactly around the cans, but it’s always interesting to see which boats do well in which conditions.
This year was a brisk one with a lot of reaching, and eight of the top 10 places in IRC Division 1C were taken by Sun Fasts; six of them 3300s (1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th) and the other two by the 3300’s bigger and older sister, the 3600.
The first 3300s finished in under 7 hours, at an average speed for the 50-mile course of over 7 knots – or rather more than 7 knots over the actual distance sailed. I photographed a fair few of them from my RIB as they planed past, and they were shifting.
If you’re looking to buy a boat in this size range for short-handed offshore racing, the Sun Fast, the J/99 and the JPKs are among the prime contenders.
They have now been joined by the Farr X2 and the Dehler 30 OD, the latter being what Ian Griffiths chose.
He made his choice after looking at performance figures, VPPs (velocity prediction programs), IRC ratings and more, and his is the first Dehler 30 OD in the UK.
Ian is a relative newcomer to sailing, having sailed two legs of the Clipper Round-the-World race – taking in the Southern Ocean – with his daughter in 2019/2020.
His longer-term plan had been to buy a boat and take the family to the South Pacific, ‘to have a caravan on the water and cruise around’.
The Clipper was part of his preparation. ‘If I could survive some of the world’s most notorious oceans,’ he said, ‘I should be able to build up my confidence and know that I would be capable of looking after my family.’
As it turned out, his sailing ended up taking a different course. When it became clear that family cruising wasn’t going to happen, he channeled his competitive instincts – already exercised in other sports including motocross – into sailing.
‘We’re a competitive family,’ Ian explained, ‘so things shifted towards the competitive angle.’
He had been looking into short-handed offshore racing before lockdown restrictions boosted its popularity, thinking that it would be nice if he and his daughter could enter RORC races such as the Fastnet and Caribbean 600.
However, since his daughter’s university course clashed with the Fastnet, plans took yet another turn and he teamed up with Richard Gould, who had been his skipper in the Clipper race.
Ian and Richard started to plan an offshore racing campaign, with the 2023 Fastnet as their first big event.
To do that, of course, they would need a boat – and so began Ian’s quest to find one. Initially he looked at bigger boats too, including the Pogo 40, before ruling them out principally on the basis that a smaller boat would be easier to sail at close to its potential.
The Farr X2 was eliminated for reasons of cost, and so the list shortened. In a way the Sun Fast 3300 might have seemed the obvious choice, already having an impressive track record and with a similar IRC rating to the Dehler (typically around 1.033) despite its greater length, but Ian’s analysis pointed to the Dehler 30 OD.
Black Betty – named after the Clipper 70 on which he sailed – arrived this spring.
The go-fast factor
When you look at the features of the Dehler 30 OD and compare them with those of a typical modern cruising yacht, or even many inshore racers, it’s easy to see what sets it apart.
For a start, it weighs in at 2,800kg (just over 6,000lb). That’s not a lot for a boat with a 9m (29ft 5in) waterline.
The hull is vacuum-infused with E-glass and a cored laminate. A carbon mast comes as standard.
Below the waterline is a GRP fin keel with a 900kg (1,950lb) lead T-bulb on the bottom to keep the ballast as low as possible for minimum weight and maximum righting moment.
Internally the boat is far from stark by racing standards (cruising is mentioned several times in Dehler’s literature), but furnishings are minimal and the lightweight mesh hull-lining is removable.
As well as being light and with a low centre of gravity, the Dehler 30 OD can carry an extra 200kg (440lb) on the high side in the form of water ballast.
Equivalent to three (67kg/10.5-stone) crew on the rail, it’s pumped in and out (or sucked out if the boat’s moving at any speed) through a self-contained system and can quickly be dumped by gravity from the windward to the leeward tank just before a tack.
As you would expect on a boat of this nature, the bow is a semi-scow design.
It also features reverse rake and the distinctive reverse-flare chines/chamfers seen on boats such as Rán VII to reduce weight and windage forward, stiffen the bow sections and help the air-flow around the foot of the headsail.
The moulded bowsprit can be removed for cruising.
Again as befits a boat designed with offwind sailing very much in mind, the deck-stepped mast is set well aft and supported by rod rigging with the shroud base taken right outboard to minimise compression.
A square-top mainsail is to be expected too, though one surprise is the single set of spreaders. They’re set well down the mast to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible.
A set of intermediates (D2s) joins the mast roughly where the root of the upper spreaders would be.
Such is the sweep-back on the spreaders – the boat is not designed to sail deep downwind angles – that twin backstays are fitted purely as tuning tools.
Deck spreaders to widen the sheeting angle for offwind sails can also be fitted. While none of this is radical, the Dehler 30 OD does have one secret weapon: the Stealth Drive.
The prop shaft is encased in a moulding that, together with the propeller, swings up inside the hull to leave a flush bottom.
This even allows the use of a fixed prop, because it retracts into a prop-box inside which are most of the skin fittings including the inlet and outlet for the water-ballast system.
The thrust from the 10hp Nanni diesel does not therefore need to be compromised in any way by folding blades.
What it all means in practice is that, by cruising standards, the Dehler is a real rocket ship.
If you’re used to plodding along at displacement speeds with the occasional surf when conditions get lively, and to broaching all over the ocean as soon as the boat heels more than 25°, you will find the speed and tractability of the Dehler 30 OD to be a revelation.
I’m used to sailing fully crewed race boats and to the grip of twin rudders (they’re deep on the Dehler), but I was impressed by the way the boat hopped on to a semi-plane when the gunwale was almost awash and the foot of the A5 skimming the water as we reached along with the apparent wind well forward of the beam.
Being able to plane when well heeled at relatively shy angles is all part of the plan with boats like this.
The helm remained finger-light and the boat crisp and responsive to every tweak of the tiller as we weaved our way past cruising boats that seemed dead in the water.
Even without the kite in 15 knots of true wind we maintained over 8.5 knots, and still clocked high 6s when hardened up with the apparent wind well within 30°.
With a wide range of A (asymmetric) sails to choose from, you would be highly unlikely to continue under plain sail with the apparent wind abaft the beam: the A5 or (for closer angles) the Code 0 would be set as soon as the angle and wind-speed allowed. Such is the boat’s ability to carry these sails that there’s little reason not to.
Of course there are compromises when it comes to cruising with a boat like this, quite apart from the draught.
It wouldn’t perform to its potential if laden down with too much cruising kit – not that there’s a vast amount of external space to stow it.
You have a locker right aft to starboard in the cockpit opposite the liferaft locker to port (which was missing its lid when we sailed).
Cruising sailors might find the boom on the low side, too. If you’re used to sailing a Finn, a Europe or an OK you will feel quite at home.
Plenty more stowage is down below in the bunks either side of the engine, the casing for the Stealth Drive and the other centrally mounted systems.
Impressive though the boat’s performance was during our sail, we were still only in the Solent in flat water and moderate winds.
I saw Ian and Richard again during the JOG Weymouth Race and later in the Round The Island. Conditions were too light and popply in the former for the Dehler to get into its stride.
It fared better in the Round The Island when its proper laminate sails had arrived (as opposed to the delivery sails in Dacron that we were using).
Peak speed to date is 16.4 knots and Ian has been keeping a bottle of Champagne on ice ready for when the 20-knot barrier is broken.
As for creature comforts – well, it’s light, bright and minimalist below decks but neatly finished.
You get an encloseable heads, a basic galley and decent berths for four people.
Because of the simple fitout and minimal trim, access to the fittings and systems is excellent. Other builders could learn from this.
Test verdict on the Dehler 30 OD
The most remarkable feature of the Dehler 30 OD is not only its performance, but also how little effort is needed to achieve speeds that one could only have dreamed of a few years ago.
If you want to get the best out of any boat in a racing context, of course that’s a different matter; a lot of work will be needed.
That’s what Ian and Richard are putting in now, and it will take time. In terms of manageability and the pleasure of fast, simple sailing, a boat like this has much to offer.
Being able to unfurl (or un-sock) a Code or A sail and hop on to the plane at double-figure speeds in only moderate conditions opens up all sorts of opportunities that have never existed before for monohull sailors.
Upwind performance isn’t lacking, either.
Ian and Richard had a tough beat back to Hamble after the Weymouth race, finding that the boat had plenty of power, especially with the water-ballast, and the ability to punch into a steep sea.
Would the Dehler 30 OD suit you and your crew?
Whichever way you look at it, the Dehler 30 is not a cruising boat. That’s not what it was designed for.
Nonetheless, if you like speed and efficiency and don’t need a shallow draught, there’s much to be said for a boat like this.
It narrows the gap between monohulls and multihulls such as the Farriers and Dragonflies.
With a monohull you have the draught and with a multihull you have the beam, though with Farriers and Dragonflies it can be reduced for marina berthing.
For dinghy sailors moving up and who don’t want to lose the fun of a flat-out planing reach, I can see the Dehler 30 being a real hit.
It would make a fast, fun weekender and coastal cruiser as well as an offshore racer.
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