Contemporary styling matched with seagoing ability
By Duncan Kent
The headquarters of Dufour Yachts, one of France’s largest production-boat builders, lies just a few miles inland from La Rochelle, an ancient port on the country’s Atlantic coast. More than 40 years have passed since founder Michel Dufour built his first production boat, Sylphe, and his 30-foot cruiser/racer, the Arpge, of which hundreds were sold.
In the mid-1990s, Dufour modernized both its factory and its designs, creating what it called the Classic line of comfortable cruising yachts. More recently, well-known designer Umberto Felci has drawn hulls with contemporary styling, complemented by Italian stylist Patrick Roso’s work with the interior spaces. Dufour has divided its product line into two brands, the Performance line of yachts that run from 34 to 44 feet and a series of 32- to 53-foot fast cruisers called Grand’large.
This past spring I traveled to La Rochelle to sail the Dufour 525, flagship of the Grand’large fleet. Designed as a comfortable liveaboard yacht, it features high freeboard, a seductive sheer, and an almost vertical stem.
The standard keel configuration is a steel plate with a cast-iron bulb at the bottom; an available deeper fin profile has a lead bulb. Both keels are matched to the 9/10 fractional rig, and the combination allows the yacht to accelerate quickly out of a tack and to carry a press of sail whenever needed.
The large, modern factory at Perigny has two production lines, each capable of building more than two dozen yachts at any one time. Hulls are laid up by hand in two halves so the deck joint can be released easily from the mold; the halves are then joined together. The interior starts with a rigid floor framework/inner-liner molding that is bonded in place. The frame not only strengthens the hull, but also contains slots to receive all the bulkheads and interior cabin furniture. The liner face creates a smooth interior for the many stowage bins located throughout the interior.
Foam stringers are bonded to the inside of the hull for stiffness and impact resistance. After the engine has been installed, fiberglass moldings for the heads and the cabin furniture are slotted into place and bonded to the hull. The process creates an extremely sturdy monocoque structure. The bulkheads go in next and are followed by the wooden joinery and cabinetry, wiring, plumbing, and other systems. When everything has been installed below, the balsa-cored sandwich deck is placed on the flat hull joint, which has been liberally coated with a strong waterproof Sikaflex adhesive. The joint is screwed down with large-diameter self-tapping screws and is covered by a solid-teak toerail. Plywood inserts are used to make a solid substructure under all deck-mounted hardware. Hulls can be painted any color using the Awlgrip system. It takes about 10 weeks to build a 525, which is tank-tested before commissioning.
The flat, uncluttered deck space makes it easy and safe to move around in port and at sea. Wide side decks continue aft to a spacious area at the aft end of the boat and provide easy access to the cockpit. Contemporary styling results in a low coachroof, which could require some sailors to bend down to get a good grip on the handrails. Dufour also avoids the trendy eye-shaped portlights often seen these days, instead utilizing squarish portlights.
The foredeck is clean, with the look of a superyacht, though without its typical flush hatches. The ground tackle is rugged. The primary anchor is a 55-pound Delta mounted on a twin bow roller; an electric windlass below the deck spins the chain into a deep anchor locker. A retractable bowsprit works well when it’s time to hoist the asymmetric cruising chute.
Twin helm stations are almost standard these days on most yachts over 40 feet in length, and with good reason. The setup provides excellent visibility not only under sail, but for maneuvering in a tight marina. The dual wheels also provide a clean passageway through the cockpit to the transom, which can be lowered and raised by an electric motor. Raising the transom keeps overall length to a minimum when docked in a marina. Access from the dock is via a fold-down boarding ladder. The transom covers a lazaret locker that’s large enough to hold a liferaft, a small inflatable dinghy, and the usual collection of diving tanks and related gear. Although there are no lockers under the cockpit seats, there is a sail locker on the foredeck that is large enough to handle fenders, lines, and sails (it is not available on the version with a forward crew cabin).
A large fixed teak table in the cockpit can seat 8 to10 guests in port, and an optional version houses a 12-inch chartplotter display. Under way, the table provides good handholds and foot rests.
The deck hardware, all by Harken, includes two 60.2STA primary winches beside the helms, two 53STA spinnaker winches farther aft, and two 48STA halyard winches mounted on the coachroof; electric winches are an option. The midboom-mounted mainsheet track and traveler run across the coachroof, and long genoa tracks are set well inboard on either side.
The double-spreader rig is deck-stepped, and the spreaders have a 20-degree sweep angle and a continuous cap shroud. All the shrouds—cap, intermediate, and lower—terminate at the same deck chainplate, and there’s an optional backstay adjuster for the split backstay. There’s also a removable inner forestay for a storm jib, and a rigid vang is standard. The full-batten mainsail comes with lazyjacks, and the standard headsail is a 140 percent genoa mounted on a double-groove Facnor furler.
Patrick Roseo’s styling provides a feeling of ample space, light, and airiness throughout. Despite the low coachroof, headroom in the main saloon is a generous 6 feet, 5 inches. Numerous portlights contribute to the pleasing sensation of being in an open space.
In order to satisfy a wide range of potential buyers, eight different layouts are available; a buyer can choose to have three or four cabins, a forward cabin for a crew, and three or four heads. Other options include a linear or L-shaped galley, larger heads, and cozy settees. All layout options include two spacious aft cabins, each with 61/2-foot headroom and 5-foot-wide berths.
While every layout provides ample space in the cabins, not all three- or four-head versions feature separate shower stalls. The owner’s version, which I sailed, has the large master suite forward. The queen-size berth is on centerline; there is a separate shower, a seat, a dresser, and a large amount of storage space in lockers and shelf units. The mattress splits in two at the mid-point so that the bottom section can be raised up by gas struts to create a stowage space for larger items. Two large hatches overhead and two narrow ports in the topsides provide plenty of air and light.
The main settee and the dining table are to starboard in the saloon; the table can be unfolded to create a gracious space for six to eight guests. There’s a bottle-storage locker in a cupboard next to a second settee on the port side. The galley, aft to port, has a three-burner propane stove with an oven and grill, a microwave, top- and side-opening refrigerators (a freezer unit is an option), a double sink, a trash container, and plenty of storage space. The Corian countertops have teak fiddles. There’s enough space for a watermaker, a dishwasher, and a washing machine.
The navigation station, located to starboard at the foot of the companionway, is well appointed with a forward-facing seat, a full-size chart table, and plenty of storage space. A comprehensive electrical console contains all necessary circuit breakers, amp/volt meters, and fuel/water gauges.
We set sail with a solid 15-to-20-knot southwesterly rolling in from the Atlantic. Leaving La Rochelle in those conditions provided a nice test, and the 525 handled them well. We had no trouble reaching an economical cruising speed of around 8 knots with the optional 110-horsepower diesel and three-bladed prop. We hoisted the mainsail with a single reef but kept the 140 percent genoa at full size. The yacht balanced well with that sail setup and in those conditions. Sailing close-hauled, she tromped along with a dogged but comfortable gait and managed nearly 7 knots sailing at a true-wind angle of 32 degrees. There was a slight loading up of the helm in higher gusts.
When we eased the sheets and turned down onto a broad reach, the speed increased to just under 8 knots. Heading off another 10 degrees pushed boatspeed up to around 10 knots. Something broke in the headsail’s furling drum when we tried taking a few rolls in the genoa, leaving us to sail with full headsail in a steady 30 knots of wind. As to be expected, things got a little cranky on the helm, but over all, sailing off the wind was nothing but good news. The yacht tracked straight enough that there was rarely a need to adjust the helm despite the reefed main and full genoa.
On the wind, the yacht didn’t lose much momentum tacking despite the lively seas. In fact, she would come out of a tack with up to 4 knots of headway, which helped get boatspeed on the new tack back up quickly. Although the tacking angle could be as low as about 86 degrees, turning that tightly did reduce speed. We discovered that a better technique for the conditions was to make a slightly wider turn through the eye of the wind and, when the boat started to accelerate on the new tack, come back up onto the wind.
The 525 Grand’large is a handsome, powerful, stable, and stiff yacht. The deck layout is configured so that it can be handled with a minimum crew, and the deep-V’d bow helps produce a very comfortable motion in any sort of seaway. That’s an important trait for a passagemaking cruiser to have, and this one passes with flying colors.
Designer: Felci Design
Via Marconi, 57
250880 Padenghe (BS), Italy
Builder: Dufour Yachts
1, Rue Blaise Pascal
17187 Perigny, Cedex, France
U.S. agent: Dufour USA
1829 Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard
Annapolis, Maryland 21409
Displacement (light)31,000 lbs
Sail area (100% foretriangle) 1,169 sq ft
Auxiliary75-hp Volvo diesel w/Saildrive
110-hp Volvo w/shaft/folding prop
Sail area-displacement ratio19.0
Displacement-length ratio 152.1
Duncan Kent is a certified RYA instructor with over 50,000 miles under his belt. Based in England, he’s been reviewing yachts of all sizes for over 15 years.