Dufour 34 Review

Issue: January 2005

One of the problems of growing older is that it becomes harder to fool yourself. When you are young it is easy to offer criticism of million-dollar boats you will never afford. As the years pass the presumptuousness of criticising what you will never afford becomes harder to ignore. You can no longer pretend you will one day afford an expensive boat. It is a depressing reality of age that there aren’t enough years left to amass large amounts of money by fair means, and no longer the initiative to use foul. 

Enough of the lecture. What I was driving at is that it was nice, after testing a series of yachts between 40 and 60ft, to meet a lively 34 which, priced at around $250,000 as you see it here (the base price is much lower see panel at end of story) is within the financial reach of many. The other thing about smaller boats is that they are more fun to sail than bigger ones. Larger yachts have their own characteristics; smaller ones offer tactile satisfactions, which are hard to beat. Construction is the same as for the Dufour 34’s bigger brothers the fibreglass hull is PVC-cored, vacuum-bagged with reinforcement by Twaron (a Kevlar variant made by Akzo Nobel). 

The deck is a one-piece moulding made by a technique Dufour calls infusion moulding, which they reckon saves weight and thickness and keeps the centre of gravity low. At 4700kg displacement the Dufour weighs in with the rest of its class (the light Bavaria 35 Match is 4500kg, Elan 333 is 4800kg) and her modestly sized rig (65 sq m of sail, 55 sq m if measuring 100 per cent foretriangle) gives her a sail area/displacement ratio of 19.9, a little less than some of her competitors. She has a simple two-spreader rig with discontinuous diagonals. You can specify two or three-cabin layouts. 

The two-cabin set-up (as on this boat) has the owner’s cabin forward and a double cabin on the portside aft. The starboard side aft holds the head and a big cockpit locker. If you choose the three-cabin arrangement, you lose the big cockpit locker and the head moves into the fore-cabin area, which makes it en suite with the master cab, which loses floor space. In either version the cabin settees are easily long and wide enough to sleep two bodies. The table, with drop-leafs either side, is set amidships. The owner’s cabin in the bow is a nice place to be. 

There is a hanging locker, shelving down the hull sides and across the bow area. And there is somewhere to sit not on the berth to put your socks on; very important if others are on board. The galley is on the portside and has a double sink and two-burner stove. The navigation area is big and comfortable; the designers did not yield to the temptation to save space here. The yacht’s interior is completely traditional, and perhaps because of that it works well. As the 34 is a European cruiser/racer, the cockpit is not particularly long but designer and builder have made the most of the available space. The destroyer wheel is right in the stern; the mainsheet traveller track is right in front of the binnacle. 

The sheet winches are right in front of the helm position, so the skipper can easily reach the Harklen 40 sheet winches, traveller control lines and backstay. This is important stuff; if the family is to go social sailing, happily, it is a good idea if the skipper (most likely dad) can do all the work, leaving the rest of the family undisturbed by tedious tasks like winching. And of course being shouted at by dad. The mainsheet block is on the cockpit sole and demands a downward camming action, so the skipper can’t happily sheet on without leaving his post. Best to sheet it on then work the traveller. What all this means is the space in front of the binnacle is uncluttered. The secondary winches are on the coachroof; clutches take care of the control lines. 

As on all boats with a big wheel set in a trench, you have to make sure the spaghetti stays out of the trench where it can jam the wheel. The transom and helmsman’s seat is a big one-piece moulding which lifts out to open the transom completely, for swimmers or for easy boarding. Teak pads on each gunwale are much warmer for the helmsman’s backside than fibreglass, and prominent moulded ridges in the floor provide the foot support to keep him in place when the boat heels. The joy of boats of this size is that they respond quickly and fluently to wind and helm interaction, but they have plenty of stability and the general demeanour of big craft. 

Sails are smaller, sheet loads are lighter and a 4700kg boat is easy to fend off when mooring or manoeuvring. We had the fully-battened Elvstrom main (an option) and No.2 jib. We also had 8-10 knots of breeze, with squirts of 12, on a late winter’s day, which was warm enough to encourage the sea breeze. This was the first sail of the season when shorts were feasible, revealing nasty white knees, which hadn’t seen the sun since Easter. On such a day, on an empty harbour, a sewage barge would have been fun to sail. But the Dufour 34 is no barge; it is a happy boat, easy to handle and easy to enjoy. 

The steering is not particularly fast (high-geared) but has plenty of feel. When the headsail tufts lift you need only a flex of the wrist to get them back where you want them to be, and the boat trucking beautifully upwind. We had a light day, so later I read Yachting World magazine to see how she went in a blow. They said, ‘…you can push her until the rail is underwater and still she shows no sign of rounding up, just a slight loading on the helm’. That big rudder obviously does its job. The 29hp Volvo (19hp is standard) is quiet and gives the 34 a top speed of well over 7 knots and an easy cruise of 6.7. The Dufour is a simple boat which is easy to learn and easy to sail. 

She looks good; the design themes of the bigger boats have transferred well to the smaller hull. The interior is logical and attractive and so is the price $249,000 as sailed including from the options list the deeper keel, fullybattened mainsail (and boom bag) and two blade folding prop. It is easy to sum up the Dufour 34; it is attractive, nimble and easy to handle. It won its size category (10-12m) in the 2003 European Yacht of the Year awards, judged by Europe’s boating magazines. After sailing a series of 40-plus footers in recent months it felt to me that the 34 gave away very little in comfort while scoring points on ease of use and responsiveness. It would be easy to choose the smaller boat, even if price was not a consideration. But it always is. 

Words by Barry Tranter