Theo Stocker heads into the winter chop and some solid breeze to see if the new Dehler 46SQ lives up to the brand's promise of speed and quality
Powering to windward in one of the breeziest starts to a winter I can remember, it was hard to tell what was rain and what was spray. Sunshine and a gentle breeze would have been lovely, but wouldn’t have revealed much about the calibre of the boat. Two reefs in the main, green water on deck and gusts of Force 6 whistling in the rigging – now that’s a proper boat test. It’s also a whole lot of fun, especially when it’s on Dehler’s latest 46-foot flagship, the Dehler 46SQ.
The Dehler 46SQ isn’t new exactly – the 46 was launched in 2014 and this is the same Judel/Vrolijk hull – but it’s now had Dehler’s ‘SQ’ treatment, for ‘speed and quality’, first applied to the Dehler 38.
While there has been some of the usual window dressing, such as a choice of colours for the new backlit Dehler logo on the coachroof or new colour options for the galley work surface, many of the changes are significant.
An optional competition keel, deeper rudder, taller carbon rig and flatdeck headsail furler are intended to turbo-charge the sailing, as will the bowsprit supported by a bobstay to allow downwind sails to be set with proper luff tension, carbon wheels to make the helm lighter, fold-up helm foot blocks, and much lighter construction for the fold-down bathing platform to take weight out of the ends of the boat.
Structurally, the Dehler 46SQ is now vacuum infused epoxy resin over a Divinycell core with bulkheads of the same construction laminated into the hull and deck, with a laminated carbon keel matrix spreading rig, keel and mast loads. In short this boat is lighter, stiffer and more powerful.
The cruising updates are significant too. An optional cockpit arch may not add to performance, but it gets the mainsheet and traveller out of the cockpit; ideal if you’ve got family on board, as well as creating a point from which a cockpit sprayhood can fold down.
For heavy weather, a blade staysail can be set on a removable inner forestay to keep the boat balanced when heavily reefed, though sadly neither of these options were fitted to our test boat. The winches can now be powered; the bathing ladder has gained wider steps and new handrails; stowage has been increased; every coachroof window can now open, hinging outward below a sleek black gutter.
With the weather changing faster than government ministers, we grabbed a half-suitable forecast and cast off from Hamble Point marina. By the time we reached the bottom of the river, a rising south-easterly Force 4 made a reef in the main seem prudent, and we set off for the Solent on a close reach, trucking along at just over 8 knots.
Bearing away around Bramble Bank on a white sail reach the speed topped 9 knots. Once in more open, choppier water, we hardened onto the wind, making around 30º to the apparent wind.
A rain squall brought gusts of 25 knots, so with a couple of rolls in the genoa and another reef in the main, we settled onto a beat. Cranking on the backstay, adding some jib halyard tension and dropping the mainsheet down the traveller helped find the balance, and once we’d got it right, the helm lightened up and the Dehler 46SQ settled into a thoroughly enjoyable groove. Her deep single rudder never lost grip, but load on the wheel quickly told me when the sails weren’t balanced.
Wide-sterned boats, as all new boats currently are, require more power and balance to keep them in check. Thankfully, the Dehler 46SQ’s smooth lines aft and lack of aggressive hull chines made her easier to mollify than others.
On the whole, all the Dehler 46SQ deck hardware was up to the job. The Lewmar performance 50ST winches worked well, though for cranking the main on from the helm, I definitely needed the longer winch handle – a function of the German mainsheet system with its 2:1 purchase.
The traveller had enough power to pull the main up to windward, though the lazy purchase sometimes got caught as I lowered it back down. The three-quarter-width traveller track gave indispensable adjustment and I’d be loath to replace it with the cockpit arch, though this does make real sense for cruising. The instrument pods are flush with the coaming at the aft end of the cockpit seats rather than on the helm pedestals, making them easier to see when sitting outboard to helm.
The pods did slightly limit the mainsheet’s movement at the ends of the track and are potentially a little more vulnerable to being stood on. The boat we tested didn’t have grab handles mounted on the pedestals, which would make it easier to move around the wide stern without inadvertently grabbing the wheels.
Dehler 46SQ up to speed
The lifting foot brace was fitted neatly on top of the lazarette hatch supported at about 20º by a metal bracket. Visibility was good from the helm, though with the flatdeck furling headsail you do need to be on the leeward wheel to see under the sails.
Bearing away, the acceleration was palpable as the hull took off. We weren’t quite planing but easily topped 9 knots and nudged 10 on GPS. Helming down the swell required concentration, with inattention allowing the rig to power up, suggesting we were over-canvassed, or at least badly helmed by me. I would definitely opt for a third reef in the main and for the inner staysail. I couldn’t test either of these, but suspect that they would keep the boat on a tighter rein for more sedate passage making.
The cockpit of the Dehler 46SQ worked well. Although wide, the steel-framed table midships provided bracing in just the right place, and sloped coamings were comfortable to sit out on with a lip on the benches to brace your feet on. One green wave over the deck did send some water into the cockpit over the coaming, but a sprayhood coming further aft could prevent that.
The side decks were wide and unobstructed for easy movement on deck, with chainplates outboard, where they connect to the carbon hull matrix. Genoa cars are towable, though without sheet inhaulers to fine-tune the sheeting angle, which reflects the fact that while sporty, this boat is simple to sail and less ‘tweaky’ than others in her class.
On the foredeck, the cavernous deck locker would easily swallow spinnakers and fenders, with steps to climb down into it. Forward of that is the anchor, with a horizontal axis anchor windlass above a good deep drop into a large chain well. The chain exits below deck, under the bowsprit, through the chunky bow roller. An open pulpit gives access to the tack points for off wind sails on the bowsprit, supported by a bobstay for the high luff tensions these sails require.
A 9/10 Selden twin spreader, keel stepped mast is suited to this level of performance, and there’s a powerful Selden manual hydraulic backstay tensioner that is easily adjusted from the helm; it’ll pay to get dialled in on how much tension you need.
There are rope tail bins under the coaming by the helm seats, but you’ll want to add rope bags either side of the companionway for halyard tails. It’s a shame the cockpit table doesn’t have stowage for the usual clobber of phones, binoculars and bottles, though there is a handy cubby hole just inside the companionway for these.
There’s locker space aplenty in the form of two generous cockpit sole-depth lockers and two large lazarettte lockers aft of the wheels with more than enough space for dinghies, paddleboards and the like, with a gas locker for two bottles, plus rope tails, under the port helm seat. The liferaft is stowed between the lazarette lockers with top and aft opening.
Dehler 46SQ below
At sea, the Dehler 46SQ accommodation layout was seaworthy with plenty of handholds, few wide open spaces, and curved companionway steps. At the end of our sail it was a welcome and comfortable haven, finished in ALPI light oak (teak and mahogany are options), with light grey upholstery.
Overhead, there is a central handrail the length of the saloon, though at 210cm high this might be a challenge for smaller crew to reach, lower handholds above the settees, and generous wooden fiddles around all the main surfaces.
The boat we tested had a forward facing chart table at the forward end of the port saloon bench. There are also options to have it most of the way aft, but still facing forward, or to have it at the aft end of the bench facing aft. Personally, I’d opt for the latter to avoid traipsing through the saloon, and to be located next to all of the instruments and switches at the aft end of this bench.
The L-shaped galley to starboard is a sensible layout with a double sink with a splashback, a fridge with both top and front openings, a three-burner oven with crash bar, double sink, double slide-out bin, and oodles of stowage, making this a really practical galley for longer cruises.
Stowage is something that this boat has in abundance. Forward of the galley sink is a deep top-opening bin for glass or bottle stowage or for a pop-up TV if you tick that option. In the bulkhead next to the companionway steps there is an upright locker, another upright locker opposite the galley, and a narrow locker forward of the heads that is so deep you’ll struggle to reach the back of it.
It felt a little like Dehler had more space than they knew what do with, though in the otherwise generous heads compartment opposite the galley, enlarged for the SQ version, there’s oddly no wet locker for foulies but at least you won’t run out of space for booze. To starboard and forward of the galley is the saloon, with C-shaped seating around a large fold-out table on a fixed pedestal (with more locker space). Cleverly, the port saloon berth slides forwards electrically bringing your guests up to the table when you’re hosting.
Ambiance on board
There’s more stowage below and behind the saloon seating and in the overhead lockers, though these sacrifice some volume to an over-elaborate hinging arrangement. Hull windows at seated eye-level supplement the generous coachroof windows and hatches and unusually, these all open outwards thanks to the external hinges below a coachroof gutter, giving vast amounts of ventilation. Hidden strip lights create a nice ambiance, and all windows have blinds to maintain privacy.
Accommodation is comfortable. In the forward owner’s cabin there’s a large island berth (205cm by 170cm in the middle and narrowing to around 115cm at each end), handing locker space to port, a large heads compartment to starboard accessed by a cleverly engineered curved door, which maximises space, with headroom of 190cm. Water tanks are below the bunk, but there’s plenty of stowage besides that.
Of the two aft cabins, the starboard will always be a double (208cm by 170cm, narrowing to 120cm at the foot end), but there are now options for the port side to be a double, two singles or one single plus stowage. Our test boat had the two singles (208cm by 71cm) in the port cabin, which children may well prefer to sharing a double. Either layout offered good bed space, decent amounts of stowage, long shelves outboard giving more space for bits and bobs, and 198cm headroom. There’s plenty of space for six on board without feeling cramped.
Access to the 57hp Yanmar engine is good below the companionway steps. To avoid the engine box impinging on aft cabin bunk space, Dehler has turned the engine round and tucked the saildrive at the forward end, underneath the slope of the companionway steps. It’s a neat use of space, without sacrificing any accessibility, thanks to decent access hatches in the aft cabins.
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In replacing the 46 with the 46SQ, Dehler have worked hard to improve build quality, sailing characteristics and comfort on board, aiming for a niche in the market above that of production cruisers, and towards higher-end performance cruisers; think X-Yachts, Arcona and Elan. There is no doubt that they have improved on the previous model and the changes implemented all make a material difference. On the whole the level of finish appeared very good, with one or two little areas that could have been better thought through, notably access to the electronics wiring. Otherwise, the accommodation is stylish, comfortable and practical. Under way or in harbour, both the cockpit and the saloon work well and are pleasant spaces to be.