Dufour 36 Classic Review

Issue: December 2001

With apologies to Charles Dickens, the day we tried out the Dufour 36 Classic provided the best of sails and the worst of sails. It was the best of sails because, not long after we left the marina, a strange and unpredicted NW front came through and delivered 10-30 knots of breeze. But because we were surrounded by hills, it swung through 60 degrees or so every now and then, just to keep us on our toes. This may have been uncomfortable but it gave an instant insight into the Dufour’s sailing qualities under pressure.

It was the worst of sails because it was plain bloody nasty and unfair on an untried new boat, fresh out of the box. My idea of a good sail is 12 knots of breeze, steering a responsive hull with my toe on the tiller while daydreaming about mermaids. This was not one of those days.

It is pretty easy to understand why Dufour chose the name Classic for this series of yachts. The two Classics we have sailed were both capable cruiser racers with what could be called Millennial Traditional design and styling. They follow French tradition in that the cockpits are relatively short, though they manage to provide adequate seating and accommodation below is roomy. The hulls are traditional modern with most of the volume aft and a fairly low ballast/weight ratio.

The 36 Classic is available at five specification levels – the base model with 1.45m draft, three sleeping cabins and 18hp Volvo Penta diesel with fixed two-blade prop; the Cruising Version gets you a two-cabin layout, 28hp Volvo and a long list of extras.

Then there is the Grand Cruiser Pack II, which has a deeper keel, the Grand Cruiser Pack I (more cruising gear) and then the Performance Pack, which has a tri-radial spinnaker, full-batten main and lazyjacks and folding prop. Among a host of other options.

Our test boat had the two-cabin layout and included as standard the fully-battened main, lazyjacks, boom bag, and roller-furling genoa, none of which I would want to go without for weekend sailing. The 28hp Volvo Pennate was so quiet we unintentionally left it running both times we took out the Classic (once for the test and once for the pictures) because we couldn’t hear it.

The first time we took out the boat was the bad one. We took off with full main and genoa, the standard sail which is a No. 2. We had just put up the main and unrolled the headsail and were fiddling around getting the boat properly trimmed. We were in that interim stage, when the engine is still running, the sails are up, sheets and outhauls and vangs are being twiddled. No one on board was particularly familiar with the boat.

We were sailing in water surrounded by steep and tall hills, which masked the onset of the NW front. And we weren’t vigilant enough because we had chosen to believe the forecast, which was for a SW front later in the day.

The new breeze hit, then instantly began moving up and down the scale from 10 to 30 knots and back again. Down one stretch of the bay it was complicating the issue by oscillating through 60 degrees. In the gusts the Classic got the lee gunwale down but declined the invitation to broach and always answered her helm. We should have furled the genoa and waited out the front, but there was no time. One crewman was below, one was on the helm and one (me) taking pictures.

The skipper tried to go with a 60-degree lift and pushed the nose up to accommodate it but the lift stopped a bit short. Now we had the headsail aback, the classic situation for a broach-tack, but the Classic 36 continued to answer the helm and as the helm was put down the bow came back through the eye of the wind easily.

This is what I mean about the best of test sails. In 10 minutes we had learned all we needed to know about the Classic 36’s smooth-water performance. To learn about a yacht’s offshore performance requires more time than we can give these outings. While hanging on with my teeth I scribbled down a few boatspeed readings.

The Classic was doing 6.5 knots in 23 knots of wind, on the wind. Then 6.7 knots in 30 knots at 35 degrees, 6.4 knots in 14 knots at 40 degrees and a peak of 7.8 knots with 27 knots of wind at 120 degrees. I am not suggesting these are definitive figures – wind speed was varying so much that momentum was influencing boatspeed through the lulls, denying a true reading. But they are good figures for a moderate cruiser/racer hull with a waterline length of 9.18m displacing around six tonnes and dragging a fixed-blade prop.

There’s a lot of room down below. The master cabin is in the bow and guest cabin aft on the port side. The navigation table and dinette are to port, the galley and bathroom to starboard. This galley is, to use my own terminology, of “linear” layout, with stove, fridge and benchtop set more or less in a line down the hull side. The cook can brace against the substantial dinette seat back, but there is nowhere to brace against the boat’s pitching motion, which may or may not be a problem.

The captain’s cabin in the bow has an upholstered seat which, as I have mentioned before, makes it easy to put on your socks, an important detail when you’re living aboard. The cupboard is divided to provide both shelves and a hanging space. There’s a recess for books and shelving right around the cabin, both sides and on the bulkhead. The guest double aft cabin has a small hanging locker and extensive shelving. The bathroom has the shower head on a retractable flexible cable. Just ahead of the bathroom is a large hanging locker.

You climb up into the cockpit via the best companionway steps I have ever seen; nothing special, just wide and pitched at a logical angle to the vertical, a generous angle of steepness. The deck layout is conventional. The rig is masthead, with double spreaders, single lowers and a fixed babystay, while the upper diagonals are discontinuous. Each halyard is led back to winches and clutches on the coachroof. A mainsheet traveller is mounted on the coachroof with the traveller control lines being led through aft-facing cams, so they can be controlled from the cockpit.

While the genoa carrack positions are fixed by clips – control lines come only with the Performance Pack specification level (as does a folding prop).

The Classic 36 is a true graduate of the French school of design, which means it works well in all areas.

Its market competitors in Australia are also French; there is no home grown equivalent I can think of. It would be nice to be proved wrong.

PS: Why the reference to Dickens in the first paragraph ? It alludes to the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities which is, you may recall, about the French Revolution. Which is more or less what has happened to the world’s yacht building industry.

The price of the Cruising Pack 36 we tested was $226,545 including GST, but not including sails. 

Story by Barry Tranter