Often it’s an evenhanded blend of design attributes rather than extreme features that make for a good sailboat. The Dufour 445 Grand Large offers just such a combination of moderate draft, displacement, sail area and freeboard. The result is an easy–to-handle, good-looking cruiser-racer.
Construction The Dufour 445 GL may be built by a company that has been molding fiberglass boats since 1964, but today’s Dufours are anything but a throwback to a bygone era. Vacuum-assisted resin infusion ensures that all the kerfs in the PVC foam core are filled with resin and that the skin on each side of the sandwich structure is uniformly bonded to the core. The resin for the one-piece deck is injected into a two-sided mold to produce a monocoque structure with finished surfaces on both inner and outer sides of the laminate. This eliminates the need to hide a poorly finished underdeck with a head liner. A quick look in the forepeak or a crawl through the aft portion of the boat reveals a hull laminate with a high fiber-to-resin-ratio that is free of voids and other imperfections. These are the traits that promote longevity and durability.
Some say the devil is in the details, but when it comes to sailboats, so are most of the good things. A close look at the Dufour 445 GL reveals features ranging from meticulously welded chainplates and a low-drag, four-bladed folding prop to a trap door closure for the retractable bow thruster. Fixed portlights in the hull let in light and all those below to enjoy a fine view.
The efficient anvil-shaped, cast-iron keel is attached with stainless steel keel bolts and has enough contact area at the garboard to spread sailing loads to transverse bilge reinforcements in the hull. Though iron is neither as efficient nor as maintenance-free as lead ballast, is is cost-effective, and Dufour, like many other European builders, continues to favor it. Fortunately, modern epoxy coatings do a better job these days of deterring rust.
The Dufour 445 GL is ISO Recreational Craft Directive Category A Ocean approved, which means the boat’s stability and structure meet strict standards mandated for ocean passagemakers. Those with bluewater itineraries in their future will be best served by the deeper-draft 7ft 3in keel.
On Deck The deck layout forward is functional, but provides plenty of comfort aft, thanks to its long cockpit benches and dual wheels, which permit easy access to a drop-down swim platform in the transom.
Primary winches are placed near each wheel and the double-ended German mainsheet can be tended from the helm, allowing a solo watch-keeper to steer, trim and tack the boat with ease. Another big plus are the transition heights from the cockpit sole to the seats and over the coamings to the deck—dimensions that make it easy to move from the canvas-covered cockpit to the nicely proportioned side deck. Sightlines from the two helms are excellent. Sturdy toerails and chainplates located just outboard of the cabintrunk provide a secure, unobstructed passage forward along the side decks.
Accommodations Designer Umberto Felci has given the Dufour 445 GL a wide beam carried well aft into a broad stern. The resulting volume not only provides useful buoyancy in the bow for carrying sail, but allows for a spacious forward cabin with a large, comfortable double berth. Just aft of the forward cabin, separate shower and head compartments flank a companionway leading to the spacious saloon, which includes a large table to port with a long L-shaped galley outboard to starboard.
Dufour has clearly given a lot of thought to the galley, which includes a well-gimbaled three-burner stove, a refrigerator with both top and side loading access, a built-in garbage bin, a wealth of drawers and bins, and plenty of counter space. Like all outboard sinks, the drainage on the one in the 445 GL will suffer when sailing to windward on a port tack. But that is an acceptable tradeoff in this interior, which is optimized for entertaining and comfortable living at anchor or in port. The two aft cabins with double berths can be used in lieu of sea berths while underway. Mirror-image berths forward are also an option.
The fit and finish of the joinery gets good marks, although as in all computer-cut, shop-built interiors, there’s a lot of raw-edged plywood. To its credit, Dufour seals all these edges, and the quality of its hardwood-veneered plywood is excellent. Useful drawers and lockers abound through the interior. There is a wine rack nestled below the cabin sole, a pair of lockers specifically for storing shoes and room for a generator between the two aft cabins.
Under Sail Underway, the conventional slab-reefed mainsail on our test boat was easy to manage, thanks to a set of lazyjacks attached to a boom-fitted sail cover. An electric winch mounted on the cabintop provided plenty of hoisting assistance.
The boat’s big 140 percent genoa was easily tamed thanks to the Z-Spar rig’s smooth rolling headsail furler. If home was San Francisco, as opposed to Long Island Sound, an owner might opt for a 120 percent genoa, which could be reefed to working jib proportions and still retain a decent shape.
The bottom line is that the big sloop tracks well and has a nice light feel to the helm. Her substantial beam and resulting form stability keep her upright without a rail full of crew. In 10-12 knots of wind we saw around 7 knots upwind. Be aware though, that our test boat was equipped with a deep keel, and you should be prepared to give up a little more leeway if you go with the 5ft 11in shoal-draft fin.
On-the-fly adjustable genoa car leads allow a crew to dial in the right sheeting angle each time they roll in or ease out a bit of the genoa. For racers, performance cruisers and those with kids to keep busy, there’s also a built in sprit pole lurking in the bow—just the thing to turn a mediocre light air sail into pure fun. With either an asymmetric spinnaker in a sock or a reacher wound up on an endless-line furler, you'll have a light-air alternative to diesel propulsion.
Under Power The Dufour 445 snapped into action as soon as the folding four-blade prop on the optional 75hp Volvo took hold. (The standard engine is 55hp.) At the lower end we slipped along at 5.5 knots sipping fuel, and at 2,800 rpm we nudged just above the 7.5 knot mark. The saildrive ran smoothly, and the engine was quiet. The boat turned on a dime, and once we picked up a little sternway she willingly backed down to either port or starboard. The bow thruster was icing on the cake and made docking this well-behaved boat even easier.
Conclusion The success of the Dufour 445 Grand Large lies in her “nothing too radical” pedigree. The boat is a cruiser-racer with a rig, deck layout and sailplan that offer a combination of performance, comfort and ease of use. The result is a boat that looks good and can be used for a lot of different types of sailing.
HEADROOM 6ft 4in
BERTHS 6ft 8in x 5ft 8in x 4ft (fwd); 6ft 6in x 4ft (aft)
LOA 44ft 3in // LWL 39ft 1in // BEAM 14ft 3in
DRAFT 7ft 3in (deep); 5ft 10in (shoal)
BALLAST 6,283lb (deep); 6,724lb (shoal)
SAIL AREA 802ft2 (100% FT)
FUEL/WATER/WASTE (GAL) 66/150/26
ENGINE 55hp Volvo (saildrive)
ELECTRICAL 100AH (engine); 200AH (house)
DESIGNER Umberto Felci and Dufour Yachts Design Team
BUILDER Dufour Yachts, La Rochelle, France
U.S. DISTRIBUTOR Dufour Yachts North America, 352-871-0362
PRICE $325,000 base