The Dufour 390 is an impressively roomy cruiser that also offers more performance than you might expect, says David Harding
Dufour 390: ‘Responsive, fun & forgiving to sail’
Dufour 390: ‘Responsive, fun & forgiving to sail’
Creating boats that stand out from the competition can be a challenge for builders of modern family cruising yachts.
That means buyers have to scratch beneath the surface to home in on the one that best suits their needs.
Do a little scratching, however, and the differences soon appear.
Take the Dufour 390, for example.
Here is a high-volume cruiser with, at a glance perhaps, much in common with other boats of similar length: lots of freeboard, a broad stern, twin wheels and a modest rig.
You will need to go below and take a look around on deck to see some of what sets the Dufour 390 apart because she’s nicely finished and full of practical features and neat touches.
Going for a sail will also help.
Despite her volume, and statistics that don’t point to a particularly sporty nature, she sails surprisingly well in both light airs and a breeze.
The designer, Umberto Felci, has squeezed more performance out of her than appearances might suggest.
She’s pretty well-mannered, too.
This new addition to Dufour’s range is generously proportioned by almost any standards.
Her substantial beam is carried well forward, giving the Dufour 390 notably broader shoulders than seen in her predecessors.
Combined with the high topsides, this creates a vast amount of space inside a hull that’s not quite 37ft (11.2m) long.
You have to include the moulded bowsprit-cum-anchor roller to reach the total length of just over 39ft (11.94m).
This boat is built for comfort in harbour and fun, forgiving sailing rather than high-end performance.
As such she doesn’t look exactly over-canvassed.
In fact her sail area/displacement ratio is a modest 16.3, based on the 100% foretriangle; a little less in practical terms if you choose the standard self- tacker and slightly higher with the optional 108% headsail on its FlatDeck furler.
When you look at the hull and deck more closely, you notice long chines that start well forward. The topsides are almost vertical down to the chines to maximise internal volume, then they tuck in to give a narrower waterline.
Further indications of performance aspirations include the respectably deep draught of 6ft 5in (1.95m) with the standard bulbed fin keel, or you can plump for the 5ft 9in (1.75m) alternative if you’re prepared to sacrifice a little sprightliness.
The owner of our test boat, Kevin, had chosen the deeper keel.
He also upgraded to the overlapping headsail, gaining the 75sq ft (7sq m) of canvas together with greater sail control and more drive off the wind among other benefits.
Differences in detail
The extra drive from the overlapper would certainly have helped offset the drag from the standard-issue, two-bladed fixed prop.
On our first outing in light airs and flat water the boat readily clocked 3.5 knots on the wind when the shifty breeze occasionally gusted to 6 knots or so.
Don’t expect this if you stick with the self-tacker, however, especially if you plump for in-mast reefing as well.
That will cost you a further 70sq ft (6.5sq m) and, of course, the compromises go way beyond the reduction in area.
It’s the usual choice between maximising efficiency and making sailing simple. Whatever the effects of the easy- handling sail options, they will be more pronounced in light airs and a seaway.
That’s when boats with modest rigs and high-volume hulls tend to suffer,as more performance-orientated designs disappear over the horizon.
In practice, since most cruising yachtsmen will switch on the engine in such conditions, it might not be too much of an issue.
Given the conditions during our first outing, we needed to head out a second time to do the boat- testing equivalent of leaving some rubber on the tarmac.
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When a suitable day appeared, we sallied forth to be greeted by winds that, according to BrambleMet, were gusting to 30 knots around the time we were heading down Southampton Water and remained in the mid 20s for the first hour.
Under full headsail and with one slab in the main, we reached towards Calshot with up to 8 knots showing on the log. It was a promising start, the boat feeling comfortable on a point of sail that tends to show up any wayward tendencies.
Once in clear water, we hardened up and punched into the breeze. Wind and tide together created only a modest chop in the Solent, but the Dufour 390 seemed unfazed by the occasional succession of steeper waves.
We seldom felt anything other than the gentlest of thuds or found more than the odd drop of spray making its way back to the cockpit.
Our sail plan seemed about right.
Even keeping the traveller amidships while maintaining plenty of leech tension elicited no serious protests as long as we feathered into the gusts, steered around the waves and took care to avoid stalling, though the boat understandably made it clear that she didn’t enjoy being sailed this way.
Travellers are often not included on family cruisers, making it harder to get them going comfortably and efficiently upwind in a breeze, as well as to maintain pointing in lighter conditions.
It’s good to see that Dufour fits one as standard.
Sailing in a breeze
Life inevitably became easier when we eased it down the track.
Our speed picked up from around 6 knots to 6.4 and any apparent loss of pointing would have been more than compensated for by the extra lift from the foils.
The boat sailed faster and flatter (typically at 15 to 20° of heel) and was more responsive.
In smoother water closer to the shore we picked up to 6.7 knots at times, still tacking through around 75°.
As usual, the polars indicate more pace and pointing than the test boat achieved, in this case showing over 7 knots at 35° in 25 knots of wind.
Many of the usual factors would have contributed to the disparity, including the fixed prop, rigging (1×19 all round) that needed tweaking up, tanks that were fairly full, the chop and the standard-issue Dacron sails.
Not helping either were jib tracks that didn’t extend far enough aft.
As I had noticed on the first sail in lighter airs, sheeting in the headsail closed the leech while leaving the foot slack and, of course, the effect was more pronounced in heavier conditions.
Something else that would increase the headsail’s efficiency is the ability to tension the backstay.
By default the 390 comes with twin backstays. A single, bifurcated stay with a tensioner is on the options list.
When you’re testing in a decent breeze it’s always good to see how a boat copes when provoked, so I started by bearing away from a close-hauled course with the sheets pinned in.
The rudder gripped to around 30° of heel, whereupon we spun through the wind –albeit more gently than on some boats – and ended up hove to on the other tack.
Heaving to is worth checking out anyway, so we let the Dufour settle down and found that she fore-reached at about 3 knots with the wind on the beam.
Although the log was reading 3 knots, most of our speed was sideways.
In any event, it led to enough water-flow over the rudder for the boat to be turned dead downwind – still with the sheets pinned in – gybed, and brought back on to a close-hauled course.
My next act of provocation was to pinch her the point where the sails were still filling but the foils no longer generating lift.
This happened at around 2 knots.
Suitably stalled, she crabbed fairly briskly but once again responded to the rudder when asked, allowing us to re-engage forward gear by putting the nose down a few degrees and giving her a moment.
Keeping the Dufour 390 on track
All told, for a boat that most owners are unlikely to push particularly hard, she performed well and showed a high degree of tolerance, proving responsive, obedient and generally fun to sail.
All we had to be mindful of was her propensity to lose way rapidly, and that’s something you can’t ignore if you want to make life easy for whoever’s wielding the winch handles.
While the overlapping headsail is well worth having on any number of counts (including the ability to heave to without hassle), it does call for a little winching during tacks.
The lazy man’s approach is to let the boat build up speed on the new tack with the sail loosely sheeted in, then head into the wind for a few seconds to take the pressure out of the sail for easy winching.
With a relatively light, high-volume, flat-sectioned design, a few seconds is all you get before she loses way.
To sheet in the headsail, you’re given a pair of Lewmar 40 self-tailers just forward of the wheels that also handle a German-style split mainsheet.
Both sets of sheets run through clutches or jamming foot-blocks.
On the subject of characteristics common to modern cruisers, there’s something else you need to accept with beamy hulls that have a hard turn to the bilge and present a very different immersed shape when heeled.
That’s the need to apply constant corrections to the helm as the boat heels, comes upright and heels again in gusty conditions, and it’s the same downwind in a seaway.
Slimmer hulls and slacker sections make for easier handling and more relaxing sailing in many respects.
Form stability and internal volume are what sell these days, however.
And given the space inside the Dufour 390, she handles pretty well.
She’s also respectably handy under power, even if it does take a while before she steers to port in astern.
Ahead in a straight line, 2,500 rpm from the 30hp Volvo Saildrive (40hp as an upgrade) pushes her along quietly at 6.2 knots.
As for the ergonomics on deck and in the cockpit, everything works pretty well.
Half-depth cockpit lockers each side swallow a fair amount of kit and the sturdy central table incorporates useful (but rarely-found) stowage for smaller items that need to be readily accessible.
Accommodation on the Dufour 390
For a boat of this size, the Dufour 390 offers a good range of interior layouts.
On our test boat, Kevin had chosen the three-cabin, two-heads version: twin double cabins aft, the communal heads to port opposite the L-shaped galley and an en-suite heads in the forecabin.
One alternative is to have a massive athwartships double cabin in the stern.
Another is a three-cabin, three-heads arrangement with a linear galley to port, and a new option has been introduced with a single heads.
Joinery is Moabi as standard; otherwise teak or, as on Kevin’s boat, light oak.
It’s substantial, nicely finished and all made in-house by Dufour.
Down below under sail, nothing was obviously amiss except that the magnetic catches holding the doors open in harbour didn’t all do quite such a good job at 20° of heel.
There was no creaking or groaning, the boat appeared to stay the same shape on both tacks and handholds were generally in the right places.
Welcome details include split mattresses in the cabins to allow lee cloths to be rigged up, and large drawers giving access to the stowage beneath the port settee berth.
Abaft the berth – which is 6ft/1.83m long – the smallish chart table can be lowered in Dufour’s normal style and an infill cushion dropped in to form a berth extension.
Another Dufour special – on the options list this time – is the wine rack under the sole by the companionway.
Dufour 390 test verdict
Seen from a distance, the Dufour 390 is attractive in the modern style but does little to draw attention to herself.
Once you have spent time on board and sailed a few miles, however, you come to appreciate some of the features and detailing that are not found on every boat.
You tend to get more if you pay more, and of course there are many more expensive 39-footers (and 37-footers, with or without a moulded bowsprit) that you can buy.
Nonetheless, the Dufour’s designers and builders have done enough to make her different. You would expect some nice styling touches in a Franco-Italian boat and you get them. Even the door handles are nicely shaped for the hand.
Structurally there’s little that’s high-tech about the Dufour 390: a conventional, hand-laid solid laminate in the hull incorporating NPG resin.
Lifting the cabin sole reveals a stiffening matrix and stainless steel backing plates for the keel bolts.
It’s the parts you can’t see that often make the difference, but Dufour doesn’t have a reputation for cutting corners.
Would the Dufour 390 suit you and your crew?
It was interesting to see the Dufour 390 next to a Bowman 40 in the marina before our first sail: two boats of broadly similar ‘box’ length but the latter epitomising the more traditional style – deeper, narrower and heavier.
The Dufour represents all that’s modern, complete with hinge- down bathing platform, provision for an outside galley in the stern, a large fixed window in the coachroof abaft the mast that floods the interior with light, and so on.
In heavy weather or for true blue-water sailing, who wouldn’t choose something like the Bowman?
Yet for what the vast majority of today’s owners want from their boats, the Dufour 390 will be much closer to the mark.
She offers all the lifestyle features we have come to expect, and more besides.
The fact that she also performs well when pushed in conditions that not everyone would choose to go out in is undoubtedly a bonus.
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