The effects of the scow-bow revolution are filtering down from offshore race boats, but what do they mean for a coastal cruiser? David Harding sailed the Dufour 37 to find out

Product Overview


Dufour 37 review: Cruiser with all the latest trends

Price as reviewed:

£260,188.00 (As tested inc. VAT )

The latest offering by Dufour, the Dufour 37 offers a hull shape that points to the direction of travel in the cruising market. You don’t have to be a dedicated follower of fashion in the world of offshore racing to have noticed the arrival of the scow-bow. The new generation, scow-bowed IMOCAS, Class 40s and Mini 650s are the ones leading the way. You might also have seen boats like Jeanneau’s Sun Fast 3300, with its semi-scow bow, going rather fast in races closer to home.

While all this has been happening on the race course, production cruising yachts have been developing fuller bow sections too. Not so very long ago, it was all about the sporty look of the fine entry – almost a case of the finer the bow, the sportier the boat. So what’s going on?

As ever, where racing boats lead, cruising boats follow – at least to some extent. What works on a lightweight racer doesn’t necessarily work on a heavier cruiser, so we might not see scow sections on mainstream cruising yachts just yet.

Nonetheless, some of the same fundamental principles apply. Cruisers had been developing such broad sterns that, when they heeled, the stern went up, the bow went down and the boat no longer wanted to sail in a straight line. Making the stern narrower was no good because it would leave less room for the barbecue in the cockpit and the double aft cabins down below, so the solution was to make the bow fuller.

Offshore racers had already twigged that fuller bow sections did wonders for downwind performance. For them, of course, most of their sailing is downwind in breezy conditions, so they can afford to optimise their designs for that sort of sailing. For coastal racing that’s going to include a range of wind strengths and upwind work too, a compromise is needed and the result is a shape more like that of the Sun Fast.

As for cruising yachts – well, fuller bow sections help balance broad sterns and, helpfully, they create enormous forecabins. This allows the master cabin to move into the bow on a boat of a length that has never had a master cabin in the bow before.

Sitting at the helm, you’re low down, right aft and close to the stern rail. Photo: David Harding

Moving forward on the Dufour 37

Having the master cabin forward makes sense in many ways. It’s quieter if you’re berthed stern-to in a marina (crew walking along the pontoon and through the cockpit, for instance), and you have much more room above the berth. It’s also quieter in an anchorage because it gets you away from the noise of the waves slapping under the stern.

Notable examples of new ‘broad at both ends’ designs include the GT325 and the Dufour 37 – not that it is 37ft long. Those of us familiar with the French custom of making their boats sound longer than they really are might think that Dufour is pushing things even by Gallic standards, calling this one a 37 when the hull is less than 33ft long. Their logic is that this 33-footer (hull length 32ft 9in) is roomier than almost any 37 of a generation or two ago.

In broad terms, the new arrival continues the direction of travel that Dufour established some time ago. It has a beamy hull with generous freeboard, a full-length chine just above the waterline, and a single rudder.

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If you were to see the Dufour 37 beam-on, you might not notice anything in particular apart from what appears to be a large window in the middle of the topsides (not all of it actually forms the window area – the rest is for show). It’s set into a stylishly contoured recess in the hull moulding that extends some way aft. Viewing the boat from the bow or the quarter, however, the full forward sections are clear.

The big question is how well they work on a cruising yacht with its greater weight, shallower draught and smaller sail area than its racing counterparts.

To find out, I hopped aboard with Dufour’s UK dealer, Universal Yachting, for a sail from Hamble to Yarmouth. The forecast promised a south-westerly of 12-18 knots. Combined with an ebb tide most of the way, it would give us a decent beat into a wind-over-tide Solent chop, so we would see how well this extremely high-volume boat coped.

The bridle for the mainsheet is simpler and more economical than a traveller but more efficient than strong-points on deck. Photo: David Harding

Before we passed Calshot and hardened up to head west, we had to reach down Southampton Water. That’s when it became clear that the boat was both quick and well balanced when pressed reasonably hard with the wind on the beam. A lot of boats become seriously hard-nosed and challenging to keep on track on a breezy reach.

The Dufour 37 made nothing of it, developing negligible weather helm in 15-18 knots of wind and surfing readily at over 8 knots down the wash kicked up by a passing powerboat.

Taking the rough

Out in the Solent we typically had between 16 and 20 knots of wind across the deck, so full canvas was the order of the day until an increase later to around 24 knots apparent (approaching 20 knots true) made life more comfortable with a slab in the main.

The Dufour was quick to show her performance credentials, making between 5.8 and 6.3 knots at 35° to the apparent wind, proving nicely responsive and remaining light on the helm. Significantly, she was unfazed by the occasional steeper wave, answering my question about whether the full entry and beamy, flat-sectioned hull would make her prone to slamming in a seaway – or at least in 15 knots of wind against tide in the Solent. She punched her way through decisively and threw very little spray back to the cockpit.

A FlatDeck furler keeps the jib’s tack close to the deck. Photo: David Harding

A beamy, chined hull like this provides a lot of form stability, allowing the boat to sail comfortably upright while carrying enough canvas to power through a chop in the conditions we experienced. Boats of this nature like to be sailed pretty flat, so don’t expect them to be as tolerant as more traditional designs if you let them heel beyond a critical angle.

Easy sailing on the Dufour 37

On the day of our test, the Dufour 37 proved that she’s fast and responsive enough to satisfy people who enjoy sailing for sailing’s sake – in moderate conditions, at least – yet sufficiently docile and undemanding not to frighten anyone of a more nervous disposition. Sail controls, as you would expect, are fairly basic.

Nonetheless, given that you’re almost invariably going to have the mainsheet forward of the cockpit on a boat like this, it’s good to see the purchase taken to a bridle rather than directly to strong points on deck. That’s an idea that the cruising world has, rather belatedly, borrowed from dinghies.

Another good compromise between cost and efficiency can be seen in the sheeting arrangement for the 108% headsail, which is an upgrade from the standard self-tacker. Instead of using cars and tracks, the Dufour has borrowed the race-boat idea of low-friction rings on barber-haulers.

Headsail sheets are led through low-friction rings
adjusted by barber-haulers, but the positioning needs refining. Photo: David Harding

In this case there’s no inhauler-outhauler adjustment and the positioning of the various elements needs tweaking to give control over the sheeting angle when the sail is reefed. A useful addition would be a strong-point on the gunwale to move the sheet lead outboard and help control twist on a reach. Fundamentally it’s a good system in need of a little refining.

As well as the overlapping headsail, upgrades on our test boat included laminate sails as opposed to the standard suit in Dacron. If you want to make the most of what appears to be quite a slippery hull, you could go further and add the Performance package, which gives you a deeper fin (standard draught is 1.9m/6ft 3in), adjustable backstays (always a good idea) and various other upgrades including a ‘performance cockpit table’. A folding prop (we had the fixed two-blader) is listed separately.

Back at deck level, things are much as you would expect on a modern family cruiser. Hardware is kept to a minimum (just two Lewmar 40 winches on the coachroof as standard) and lines from the mast are led aft under deck mouldings. A moulded upstand forms part of the hull-to-deck joint, creating flat-topped bulwarks.

In marina mode with the stern platform down, showing the sink and gas barbecue. Photo: David Harding

A wheel in each corner

Upgrades on our test Dufour 37 included the German mainsheet system, with the tails taken to coaming winches forward of the wheels (which were composite as opposed to the standard stainless). For my liking, the wheels are a little too far outboard. They’re also about as far aft as they could be and, because of the shallow cockpit, you feel quite low in relation to them when sitting outboard. You’re also rather hemmed in by the stern rail, so I found it more comfortable to stand. Such matters are subjective and no doubt one would adapt.

Helmsman’s seats (for anyone who really wants to sit behind rather than outboard of the wheel) hinge up for boarding over the stern. Between them on our test boat were the sink and barbecue, among the extras together with the hinge-down transom platform, synthetic teak in the cockpit, cockpit table, lifeline gates, various extra ports, an anchor windlass and the 30hp Volvo saildrive instead of the 19hp. The centre section of the stern seat, over the barbecue, hinges at the forward end, so the idea is that you do your al fresco cooking from the platform.

For a production boat the Dufour is nicely finished. The high-volume hull creates a lot of space for a 33-footer. Photo: David Harding

Having the wheels right in the corners does create more space elsewhere in the cockpit, and space – in the cockpit, on deck and down below – is what the Dufour 37 is all about. When the boat’s heeled, you can sit on the cockpit seats and brace your legs against the table – a good reason for having it – or outboard of the coamings and lean back against the guardwires. The Dufour’s sidedecks are wide enough to make that comfortable.

All told it’s quite a user-friendly cockpit. Inevitably it feels more open than cockpits on deeper or narrower boats. That’s a function of wide sterns, high cockpit soles and low coachroofs. In port, at anchor and under sail in anything other than heavy weather, it’s just what you would want.

Stowing away

Cockpit stowage is in a locker to starboard. It’s half-depth if you have the second double cabin in the stern, as we did, or full-depth with just one cabin. More stowage is beneath the cockpit sole abaft the starboard wheel. A matching hatch to port leads to the gas locker.

Full bow sections lead to a forecabin of a size rarely, if ever, seen before on a sailing yacht of this length. Photo: David Harding

Leaving the cockpit and going down the companionway takes you into the saloon of what feels like a much bigger boat.

In the modern style it’s bright and airy, with pale-coloured joinery and an abundance of natural light flooding in through the large and plentiful ports and hatches.

Dufour’s double doors to the forecabin create a semi open-plan feel, and of course the forecabin is enormous. It features an island bed (it’s too grand to be called a ‘berth’) and a good amount of stowage, plus a window in the forward end of the coachroof that gives a view forward when you’re standing up.

What you don’t get (apart from your own heads compartment – there are limits) is hullside ports. You have them in the saloon instead. You look out through them from long, straight settee berths, between which is a substantial table hiding a box seat that slides out from underneath for use anywhere you choose.

Appealing features in the stylish galley include the all-Corian worktop and trim. Photo: David Harding

On our test boat with the three-cabin layout, the heads was in its forward position, opposite the galley. If you’re happy with one aft cabin, you have a bigger heads further aft with an access door to the stern locker. This creates a more open saloon, the space opposite the galley being occupied by a worktop with a large locker beneath and stowage outboard.

Structurally, a tray moulding covering the keel matrix is bonded to the floorpan and extends up to the bottom of the bunks. Both the hull and deck are formed by vacuum infusion. Among details worthy of note in the Dufour is that solid trim is still used around door frames, table edges and in other areas where the joinery might take a knock, whereas some builders have moved to veneered trim throughout.

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Like many of the current generation of family cruisers, the Dufour 37 is a clever piece of design. Boats like this will never be for the purist, but they’re a vast improvement over their equivalents from a couple of generations ago, which often had tubby, unbalanced hulls, shallow fins without bulbs, under-sized rudders and stumpy rigs. They were under-powered, under-ballasted and, all too often, singularly uninteresting to sail. Developments in design result in boats like the Dufour. I still have reservations about how boats of this shape will handle heavier conditions, given their considerable windage, modest ballast and reliance on form stability. Comfort in a seaway is another question, as anyone familiar with Ted Brewer’s Comfort Ratio will understand. For the conditions in which most people want to sail, however – away from the light or seriously heavy – the Dufour promises a satisfying performance and she’s an easy and comfortable boat to spend time aboard.


LOA:10.77m (35ft 4in)
Hull length:9.99m (32ft 9in)
LWL:9.31m (30ft 6in)
Beam:3.80m (12ft 6in)
Draught:1.90m (6ft 3in)
Displacement:6,747kg (14,874 lbs)
Ballast:1,860kg (4,100 lbs)
Ballast ratio:27.6%
Displacement / Length:237
Sail area (main & self-tacker):60m2 (646 sq ft)
SA/D ratio:17.06
Diesel:160L (35gal)
Water:180L (40gal)
Engine:Yanmar 19hp
RCD category:A
Designer:Umberto Felci
Builder :Dufour Yachts