Boats

Dufour 34

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All my days on the water should be as perfect as the day we took a Dufour 34 out for a spin after the Miami Boat Show. We caught the back end of a February cold front that produced steady 12-to-15-knot northerly winds, sunny skies, and comfortable temperatures. As we motored out of the marina, it was obvious that I couldn’t have scheduled this test any better. The smallest boat in the revamped, restyled Dufour line of Umberto Felci designs, the 34 is a peppy performance cruiser built to excel in exactly the conditions we encountered.

This boat's owner is a racer who likes to cruise. He's had the boat just a short time, but has already participated in several distance races and plans to cruise from Miami to the Bahamas as well. The boat was equipped for the test with factory Dacron sails (North 3DL sails are on the way), a 1,000-square-foot asymmetric spinnaker, and the standard (4-foot, 11-inch) keel for sailing on shoaly Biscayne Bay.

The boat moved easily through the water at a quiet 7 knots under power, and the helm was smooth and perfectly balanced. We soon set sail and went hard on the breeze, again churning out 7 knots, even with factory sails. Granted, we were riding a perfect breeze in flat water and the boat didn't have to fight with swells or gusts. It was a pleasure to drive and responded beautifully to subtle helm corrections. Tacking with the 140 percent genoa was straightforward, and we quickly accelerated up to speed as we settled in on the opposite tack. Tacking angles were between 75 and 80 degrees.

Teak-topped seats on the coaming provide a comfortable perch from which to drive on either tack. Welcome wedge-shape brace points (many boats I've seen in this range lack this important feature) that are molded into the sole and behind the helm provided solid footing as we heeled. Primary winches are mounted on the coaming within an arm's reach of the helm, and the mainsheet traveler runs along a track in front of the helm, making it simultaneously accessible and out of the way.

After grooving to windward for a while, we set the kite on the optional removable 4-foot carbon-fiber bowsprit (it's secured in a sturdy stainless ring on the bow roller) and blasted off on a broad reach. The apparent wind moved forward and boatspeed settled in at 7.5 knots, frequently nudging 8 knots. The helm provided the same two-finger responsiveness and control as it did upwind.

The deck layout successfully melds cruising and racing features. The comfortable teak-trimmed cockpit seats are deep, long enough to stretch out on, and provide excellent brace points. Cockpit coamings are angled outboard for secure seating to windward when the boat heels. Sitting against the angled coachroof bulkhead looking aft will no doubt be the place of choice for on-watch cruisers. The removable transom seat and split backstay provide easy access through the transom. A small swim platform and removable ladder are other cruiser-friendly features.

Racers will approve of the uncluttered cockpit; there's room for four race crew to work without getting in each others' way. They'll also appreciate the low-friction steering system, the oversized wheel, and steering-pod instrument mounts that are easy to see on both tacks. Deck hardware is high quality and sufficiently reinforced with backing plates. Running-rigging leads minimize friction and put sail controls in the cockpit exactly where a cruiser or racer would want them. The low, sleek coachroof profile and well-placed antiskid make it safe and easy to go forward. The teak toerail (bolted through the sturdy bonded hull-to-deck joint) provides a nice aesthetic touch.

The belowdecks layout is not revolutionary, but it does provide an effective, no-nonsense living space well suited to a night on the hook in a peaceful anchorage and to racing through the night on a distance course. Numerous opening ports and hatches provide excellent ventilation, and the straight saloon seats are comfortable and long enough to double as seaberths. Hand-holds and brace points are numerous and right where you need them. The nav center's large chart table, ample space to mount electronics, and comfortable seat are well suited to offshore work. And the moderately sized L-shaped galley, with a two-burner stove, small refrigerator, solid brace points, and counters with 3-inch fiddles, meets the requirements of a seagoing cook.

Two- and three-cabin accommodation plans are available. The boat I sailed was the two-cabin version (shown), which has the master stateroom forward, a smaller guest cabin aft, and a large sail locker. The common areas are the same on both versions. Both staterooms had adequate stowage and comfortable berths, though the forward berth comes to a pretty sharp point at the bow and may force those sharing it to negotiate for foot space. However, this is certainly not the first 34-footer to make this compromise, and the berth is well over 6 feet long. The aft cabin is necessarily tight because of the cockpit well, but is similar to most aft cabins in this size range. Stowage space is just what you'd expect on a mid-size performance cruiser and seems adequate for extended coastal cruising.

The level of finish of the bright Moabi mahogany veneer woodwork on the bulkheads and cabinets, the genuine teak-and-holly sole, and the systems and engine installation are a notch above satisfactory. Engine access behind the companionway steps is excellent.

The Dufour 34 is an excellent all-around boat that combines sailing performance, comfortable accommodations, and striking good looks in a package that could appeal to dyed-in-the-wool racers, cruisers who appreciate a fast, responsive boat, and even new sailors. It's just the right amount of boat for those who want the comfort and performance of a performance cruiser without sacrificing the ease and maneuverability of a smaller boat. Bill Springer

Price: $154,500 (base, FOB Baltimore, MD) includes aluminum mast with 9⁄10 fractional rig, swept-back spreaders, Dacron main and 140% roller-furling jib, rigid boomvang, split backstay, Harken deck hardware and winches, teak-trimmed cockpit seats, batteries, battery charger, two-burner gimbaled stove, refrigeration, seawater foot pump in the galley, hot and cold pressure water, stereo with 2 speakers, ground tackle, dock lines

Designer: Umberto Felci

U.S. contact: Dufour Yachts USA Inc., Annapolis, MD; 410-268-6417, www.dufouryachts.com

Construction: The hull is built of hand-laid, vacuum-bagged solid fiberglass below the waterline and is cored with PVC foam above the waterline. The PVC foam-cored deck is built by Resin Transfer Molding. Structural frames are laminated to the hull. The semi-elliptical rudder is cored with closed-cell foam. Mooring cleats and deck-hardware attachment points are backed with aluminum. The bolt-on standard keel is cast iron.

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