The Rochelais builder is revamping its Performance range and this is the first of the new breed. But is she cruiser or bruiser? Chris Beeson went to Marseilles to find out.
What’s she like to sail?
On the day we took her out she felt fabulous, conditions couldn’t have been better for her. With 6-10 knots wheezing asthmatically out of the south, her sportiness, a potential con in a bigger breeze, became a considerable pro. In a heavier boat, we would be nailed to the surface or burning diesel, but the 14,110 lb Dufour positively scampered off upwind, skimming across the smooth sea with her hi-tech sails judiciously tweaked. OK, she had loft-fresh sails, was unloaded, had empty water tanks and the conditions played to her strengths, but she was easy to trim and we were soon nudging the theoretical limits of the hull’s performance. The helm felt alive and she obeyed the slightest tweak of the wheel. Indeed, I was having so much fun that I felt positively encouraged to tweak the traveller and backstay, sensing the difference slight adjustments made.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to trim outhaul and halyard tension from the helm but my crew was similarly switched on and tweaked for me. In these conditions she’s a really engaging boat to sail – if you like to get engaged with sailing. If not, just set her up right and you’ll get where you’re going quickly. As the wind picks up, you’ll need more than the two reefs that the boom is designed to handle and she’ll be wet on deck upwind, but off the wind she’ll be an absolute hoot.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
It doesn’t look like any thought was given to the installation of a sprayhood. There’s probably room for a scuttle above the main hatch but even that’s not going to offer the crew much shelter. The removable bow roller worked well when we used it, but it might take a few anxious hours in a breezy anchorage for me to relax completely about its strength.
Down below, she’s comfortable enough and I slept very well in the forward cabin, but the finish is just a touch basic. Most of the joinery edges are unfinished, reminiscent of a large jigsaw, and the veneer looks a little like plastic, so she doesn’t create any sense of prestige below.
All this weight saving may be in line with her performance motif but it doesn’t do much for her cruising credentials. One opening hatch in the saloon isn’t enough for a 36-footer, not having a light above the stove seems an obvious oversight, and what’s with all the bolts? Clearly she’s not intended to deliver luxury, that’s not her raison d’être, but the Bénéteau First 35, another club racer with a proven track record, makes a better impression below deck.
Would she suit you and your crew?
She’s an immensely rewarding boat to sail if you enjoying tweaking various sail controls and ‘feeling’ at the wheel. If you’re a dinghy sailor looking to trade up to yachting, she’ll make you feel at home. Fast passage times are guaranteed. Her credentials as a club racer remain to be seen – I’m told she has a similar rating to the First 35 – and in that environment, the ability to set a symmetric spinnaker might be useful, but I’m sure the hardware can be retrofitted.
You can’t be too house-proud if you race her, because with all those shackles and D-rings swinging about below after sail changes, the joinery will take a beating and I don’t think she would wear it well. If you’re looking for fun, the Elan 350, which is also fairly thrifty below decks, should be on your list, too. If you’re looking for results, wait and see how she fares against the First 35.