Dufour Classic 38 Review

Issue: October 1999

Boat design is primarily about the juggling of volume. Every cubic centimetre the designer demands for his creation’s interior must be paid for in weight, and if you add a gram of weight you have to add a square centimetre of sail. Not literally, but you know what I mean.

In the case of the Dufour 38 the designer has juggled his cubic centimetres very cleverly. For a hull length of 11.45m, beam is considerable at 3.85m and, in the French style, transom and stern quarters are also beamy. This means there is room for two double cabins in the stern quarters, plus one in the bow.

The result is a medium-displacement boat, at 6,500kg, driven by a masthead rig. Mastheaders have been ignored during the ‘nineties, partly because of fashion, partly because small, light boats work better with a big main, and partly because, in the decades immediately preceding, recreational sailors developed hernias and slipped discs while cranking on hectares of canvas in a building breeze.

But the universal use of headsail furlers has changed all that. If you have a big headsail on a furler, when the breeze builds to the point where winching becomes a hassle you simply roll away a bit more headsail. Easy. Another advantage is that the relatively short mast is easy to support and thus easier to keep in one piece, and in the boat. And it is stepped further aft than on a fractional rig, which can only help reduce the pitching moment.

The Classic 38 we sailed had three double sleeping cabins – the options shown on the brochure give a choice of one toilet or two (other options are available). The dinette (a solid arrangement which converts to a double bed) and navigation area are to starboard, and to port are a bathroom and the now-familiar galley arrangement down one side of the main saloon. The main bathroom is very big, and includes a seat in the shower area. The forecabin has its own en suite and about 5ft 10in headroom. If you put two sleeping cabins, a dunny and a navigation area down the back the galley has to go somewhere. The Dufour designer has put it opposite the settee, well forward, a better arrangement than most of this type as the cook can use the fixed settee as a backrest when the boat is on port tack.

Most comparable arrangements we have seen simply accept the fact that there will be no cooking if the weather cuts up. The stern cabins are mirror-imaged, with about 6ft headroom, and have plenty of room to change and climb into bed. Both feature low lockers; there is no hanging space. Each cabin has an opening window for ventilation. The forecabin has about 5ft 10in headroom; with its own ensuite is the prime real estate unless the boat is at sea.

Ventilating air comes from a large hatch; there’s a smaller one in the toilet. The saloon is big, with a table and settee of decent proportions. Ventilation is through a large hatch on the centreline, a smaller one over the galley, and two opening windows. The trim is in mahogany, all solid timber with no iron-on veneer. The builders promote this feature by including a lot of bevelled and rounded edges, which emphasise the solid wood feeling and give the interior a tangible atmosphere of substance. This Dufour is, after all, called the Classic.

The galley looks good and very easy to use. The working area (of Corian, that stuff that looks like marble) is huge, augmented by inserts over the twin sinks. The top-loading fridge, using 12-volt power, is very deep. The fiddles, too, are deep – about 50mm. The galley is equipped as standard with a full range of crockery carrying the Dufour logo. The Dufour has the usual touches of Gallic flair – the small, removeable dustpan set into the floor, the locker in the dinette to hold the obligatory bottles and, in this case, a fire extinguisher. In the front of the engine box is a little plastic opening to which you stick the extinguisher nozzle and squirt, in case of engineroom fire. I’d panic, open the engineroom hatch and lose my eyebrows. Again.

To fit in all that accommodation the tradeoff is a shortish cockpit, but that is compensated for to some degree by the beam. The helmsman’s seat is nicely humped and lifts out of the way for access to the transom, which has its own shower and retractable boarding ladder. Ahead of the helmsman each side is a wide locker for fenders, spare lines, the usual stuff, which can be reached by the helmsman without leaving the wheel. This means the skipper can toss a fender to the idiot crew who always forget to take one as they move forward when the boat approaches the dock.

The steering is a Whitlock system which means shafts and bevel gears instead of cables and pulleys. The result is very positive steering with no apparent load-up under pressure, although we had only a few very modest gusts of breeze. The mainsheet traveller is on the coachroof ahead of the main hatch; the sheet is controlled by the mainsheet winch on the port side of the hatchway.

This Classic 38 includes the usual clever detailing, like the stanchions which fit into slots in the toerail so that if you damage one replacement is easy. One idea I particularly liked is the genoa car locating pins which have little flaps on top to act as cams to lever the locating pin out of the hole in the genoa track.

This boat had the deep-keel option, with 1.9m draft. The keel is 2100kg of lead, thus providing roughly 32 percent of the boat’s dry displacement. All I can tell you about performance is that the Dufour Classic 38 ghosts beautifully in a near-vacuum and accelerates well in puffs, despite the drag from the fixed three-blade prop which transmits the power from the 40hp Volvo diesel (a very quiet installation with plenty of grunt).

This was under the standard headsail, a 125 percent genoa. We waited for wind, and while we waited the clouds rolled in and helped stuff up the photography. The boat’s instruments were still being calibrated so we could not even come up with boatspeed/windspeed comparisons. But the Dufour 38 moved handily whenever the gods favoured us with a zephyr or two. Which is important, as anything will blow along happily with a gale up its scuppers.

Story by Barry Tranter.