Ever since Dufour Yachts was purchased by Cantiere del Padro several years ago, older Dufour designs have been systematically replaced with newer, more stylish models. Italian designer Umberto Felci first drew new 34-, 40-, and 44-foot performance cruisers, and now he's turned his eye to a new 38-footer that is the first in Dufour's revamped cruising line. The Dufour 385 may be built specifically for cruising, but it's hardly old-fashioned.
What struck me as I looked the boat over at the dock was how sailboat design is a game of inches. The 385 is not a radical departure from previous Gib'Sea models. It has significant beam and freeboard to allow for comfortable cruising accommodations. The coachroof has a conventional profile. The mainsheet leads to a short traveler on the coachroof forward of the companionway hatch. All pretty standard stuff. But what impressed me most about the 385 (and got me thinking about those inches) was how effectively Felci tweaked the numbers to produce a clean, updated look. The bow is just a bit more plumb, the cockpit is a bit wider, and the coachroof is more angled and just a bit lower—a matter of inches that change everything.
Under sail in 10 to 12 knots of wind, I found the 385 to be quick and responsive. The helm was smooth, and each of the dual helm stations had a comfortable seat on the coaming. The hull was easily driven and had a wide sweet spot. Upwind, boatspeed stayed right around 5 knots, and I could tack the boat by myself as the primaries are mounted close to the helm. The boat tacked through 90 degrees and acceleration out of each tack was crisp. On a beam reach with the kite we nudged the knotmeter up over 6 knots. Under power, boatspeed jumped to over 7 knots with the 30-horsepower diesel turning at 2,500 rpm.
Running the galley along the port side of the saloon gives the interior a decidedly Euro-feel. All other aspects of the layout are conventional (and well executed), and the accommodations plan passed my "would I be comfortable down here on a nasty passage" test. Joinery quality was good, and door hinges, cabinet latches, and light fixtures appeared beefy enough to endure the rigors of constant use offshore. But I was most impressed with the battery storage compartment, an 18-inch wide locker located in the bulkhead separating the two aft cabins. Storing the batteries, charger, and manual bilgepump down low in this compartment frees up stowage in other areas of the boat, keeps the weight of the batteries out of the bilge and on centerline, and makes them very easy to access. Not much sex appeal, but smart can be sexy, too.
Builder: Dufour Yachts USA, 410-268-6417, www.dufour-yachts.com
Price: $190,000 (base, FOB Baltimore, MD)
800 sq ft