Jeremy Evans enjoys cruising around Mallorca’s Bahia de Pollensa, living aboard one of Michel Dufour’s classic designs
In the 1970s, Dufour was France’s biggest yacht builder, launching a plethora of new models including the Dufour 2800, which superseded the Dufour 27 in 1978.
More than 1,300 Dufour 2800s were built over seven years, making it one of Michel Dufour’s most successful designs.
Its popularity was due to a striking modern design, well ahead of its time, with a high-volume hull and a bright, airy saloon.
Combined with the promise of good sailing performance from an easily managed, race-bred hull and rig, it was a popular formula.
Three decades on, does the Dufour 2800 still deliver the goods? I spent a few days aboard a well-maintained example, Milike, to find out.
Design, construction & sailplan
High freeboard and a high coachroof with big windows sounds like a recipe for an ugly yacht.
But the Dufour 2800 is surprisingly well balanced and pleasing to the eye, with the advantage of large amounts of practical, well planned space both above and below decks.
The standard fin keel is deep enough to provide good sailing performance and long enough to dry out against a wall with normal due care.
A few Dufour 2800s were built with deeper ‘Club Special’ keels for enhanced performance at the cost of reduced access to shallow water.
The centreboard version has a minimum length stub keel for creek crawling, which seems likely to reduce performance, with possible maintenance worries should the centreboard get jammed up or down.
Steering is direct from tiller to unbalanced rudder, so the rig must be well balanced at all times to keep the helm light.
Unlike more modern yachts with bulbous sterns containing an ‘owner’s stateroom’ plus massive cockpit lazarettes and a swimming platform, the 2800 has a neat, trim transom that is less likely to get pushed around by following waves.
The rig is a typical development of Half Ton and One Ton Cup racers from the 1970s, with a small, easily handled mainsail dwarfed by a very large overlapping genoa, which can require a lot of effort to winch in.
As the breeze increases, you have to partially furl the genoa before reefing the mainsail.
The cockpit was clearly designed by a racing enthusiast, for cruising enthusiasts: safe, secure and well protected at sea with good footholds and handholds.
You have to accept that the tiller sweeps across the back of the cockpit and the mainsheet traveller crosses the companionway – typical features from a yacht of this age that demand some extra care – but there is enough comfortable space for a crew of three to sit in the cockpit on the benches, or up on the coamings.
The cockpit also works well at anchor or in a marina, though without the wide-open space and easy boarding via a sugar-scoop stern of more modern yachts.
With slab reefing led back to the cockpit, there is little need to go on deck at sea.
But when it is necessary, the flush, wide side decks and foredeck make it easy to move around the boat with grabrails along the coachroof and still good grip for your feet after more than 30 years’ wear.
And while Milike may be a little faded from the Mallorcan sun, the gelcoat of her white hull, blue coachroof and grey deck also looks pretty good after three decades, with no major problems from cracks, crazing or, heaven forbid, delamination.
As with any yacht, regular maintenance is required to ensure everything continues to work well.
Two years ago, all the original coachroof windows had to be replaced, which took a week of hard labour – they had become horribly crazed with age.
The most striking aspect down below on Milike was light pouring into the saloon through the new windows, illuminating the woodwork, headlining and an overall finish that still looks pretty good.
The galley functions equally well in a marina or under way, with a cooker, sink, fridge and cupboards close to hand.
It was originally fitted with a two-burner stove on gimbals balanced by a Camping Gaz cylinder attached directly underneath.
Moving the gas supply to a transom locker proved too challenging, so an Origo alcohol stove was installed instead.
It performed well initially but went ‘off the boil’ during our spring cruise due to sub-standard fuel.
The original gas geyser – unpleasant and slightly dodgy – has been replaced by a calorifier with a heating element, fitted in the cockpit locker to ensure there is hot water for the shower when connected to shore power or after running the engine.
A useful addition to Milike is the home-made, full-size dining table that stows vertically against the main bulkhead.
Moving forward, the moulded plastic sink facing the heads opposite is a lurid shade of faded tangerine, but who cares when it works well.
And unlike most comparable cruisers, you can even enjoy a hot shower with a surprising degree of comfort!
Without doubt, the Dufour 2800 is a proper sailor’s boat. She will appeal to folks who were brought up on dinghy sailing and expect immediate response from tiller, hull and rig.
Given that she’s a heavily laden, live-aboard cruiser, Milike was rewarding to sail and fun to steer, particularly upwind, while we spent an enjoyable few days exploring Bahia de Pollensa with its lovely anchorages near the northern tip of Mallorca.
Thanks to regular maintenance, cleaning and greasing, Milike’s winches and blocks are all original and working perfectly.
The big genoa provides most of the drive on a reach, pushing her comfortably past 7 knots, with a light, precise feel on the helm. With the genoa creating so much power forward of the keel, correct trim and the right amount of sail area are vital to keep the boat pleasantly balanced.
For best performance deeper downwind, the small mainsail needs a cruising chute or traditional symmetrical spinnaker – there’s plenty of space to stow a spinnaker pole on the side deck and a good foredeck working area for launching and retrieval.
Under power, Milike chugged along quietly with little vibration from her original Volvo MD7. Apparently always reliable, this engine has had one major overhaul and been repainted bright blue.
For a boat of her age, she manoeuvres reasonably well in a marina and we had no great problem negotiating her tight, bows-on berth.
As with any yacht, practice is necessary to feel confident whenever you go astern in crowded surroundings.
Tony Lean placed his order for a brand new Dufour 2800 while visiting the 1981 Earl’s Court London Boat Show.
Later that year, he travelled to the west coast of France to collect the newly launched Milike and sailed her directly to Mallorca, where Puerto Pollensa has been her happy home port for more than 30 years.
During that time, Tony has enjoyed cruising around the coast and the neighbouring island of Minorca with his family and friends, using two bath plugs to transform the deep footwell into a paddling pool for young children. Such is cruising life when you keep a yacht in the Mediterranean!
Tony’s regular crewman, Rodney Evans, a keen handyman, helps with maintenance and upkeep.
Tony and Rodney tend to visit at different times of the year, staying on board for a fortnight or more during spring, summer or autumn, which ensures Milike gets at least two months’ proper use and solid cruising each season. In terms of sailing pleasure, she has proved an excellent investment over three decades.
Our verdict on the Dufour 2800
What’s she like to sail?
Pleasing hull lines reflect excellent sailing performance, which made the Dufour 2800 a potent cruiser-racer in her day.
In light to moderate winds she is a delight to drive hard and high upwind, steering on the headsail telltales while perched on the weather cockpit coaming with the tiller extension easily to hand.
This provides a comfortable position with a good view ahead, though the huge overlapping genoa blankets the view to leeward.
In stronger winds and waves it is more secure to sit inside the cockpit where the tiller comes nicely to hand, with precise pull from the spade rudder.
It’s not a balanced rudder, so she will turn into wind if you let the tiller go (or fall over the side).
The cockpit has comfortable space for three adults or a young 2+2 family under sail.
The mainsheet can be grabbed by helm or crew, which is useful for instant tweaking, but you need to be wary of the track across the companionway.
While the mainsail is small and easily managed, the large masthead genoa requires prompt sheeting to avoid a lot of winding during tacks, which is typical of yachts from that era.
Many 2800s are fitted with slab reefing controlled from the cockpit, so only hoisting and dropping require a trip along the wide side decks to the mast.
A stack-pack with lazyjacks could be a worthwhile investment, though it’s not difficult to roll and secure the small mainsail neatly on top of the boom.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
We found the 2800 comfortable for three adults to spend a week living aboard in a marina and daysailing, despite some challenging weather.
Her large coachroof windows ensure light fills the cabin and you can get a very nice view of the outside world if you stand up in the saloon.
There is ample space for four or even more adults to socialise below in reasonable comfort.
The forecabin is spacious enough for an adult or two children to sleep quite comfortably, with the moulded heads and shower/bathroom unit sandwiched between main bulkhead and saloon.
Two decent single berths in the saloon are augmented by a tight quarterberth behind the chart table, which could play an important role on a long passage or for basic stowage.
Nav station and galley are well designed and more than adequate.
Would she suit you and your crew?
With 1,300 Dufour 2800s built between 1978 and 1984, there is a healthy second-hand market throughout Britain, Europe, the Caribbean and USA.
A huge variation in asking prices from well under £10,000 to over £15,000 reflects overall condition, specification and owners’ expectations.
The one we sailed was in very good condition for her age, with well-preserved gelcoat and solid laminate – these yachts were built to last and should provide many more years of sailing pleasure.
The Dufour 2800 is fun to sail and easy to handle with excellent accommodation in a light, airy, attractive interior.
A good example could be very comfortable for an adult couple who enjoy coastal cruising, or provide lots of fun for a young family, with two kids sleeping in the forecabin or playing in the safe confines of the deep cockpit while the yacht gently rocks at anchor.
First published in the May 2015 issue of YM.